I end my long read of the Old Testament with the last three minor prophets.
Haggai is one of the shortest books of the bible, being only two chapters long. It is set in 520 BCE, about 18 Years after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, founder of the Achaemenid empire. Cyrus had pronounced a return of various displaced peoples and a rebuilding of temples destroyed by the Babylonians. This included the Temple of Jews. Cyrus is sometimes seen as a broad reformer or humanitarian, though other historians see this as vested in old traditions; The New Monarch grants reforms and gifts upon achieving supremacy over the old.
So Haggai is set after the Captivity and is a prophecy in regards to the construction of a new temple. It abjures the people to construct a new temple and then reports that having seen the anger of God, they do. It has similar themes to other minor prophets; Following Gods will leads to good things, going against it to bad. The nation has fallen and now risen, a prophecy of good things to come after they pass through destruction. All in all there isn’t a lot to say about it.
The book is interesting in that it’s set after the end of the Exile. The Exile obviously holds a central place in Judaism, especially after the destruction of the second temple. The recurrence; the temple destroyed, being dispersed into foreign lands beneath ‘strangers’ has a central resonance. Haggai is a prophet speaking in the end of the first exile, unaware of the second.
Zachariah was a contemporary of Haggai, writing in the period of Darius the Great. Darius was the ruler of the Academician Empire starting in 522 BCE, and it achieved it’s greatest extent during his rule. These are the persons which would challenge and invade Greek lands, and of them we have accounts not merely from the bible, but also from Greek and Persian sources.
Zachariah is concerned with the history of the Jewish people and in particular the end of the Exile. It presents first an allegorical history, leading towards the end of the Exile as both a promise of hope and a warning. “God…” it seems to say “… has warned us before and made good on his threats but look, he also keeps to his promises, so lets not forget that this time alright?” In this it conforms to other works in the bible but in a more particular way. Like Haggai, Zachariah is writing from a period in which the temple is being reconstructed and prophecies of previous era’s seem, on some level, to be coming true. Perhaps not precisely in the way those prophets would imagine, as the Jewish people still did not govern themselves, and the reconstruction was at the will of an Empire that wished obedient Satraps, but still.
The later portions of Zachariah thus reflect a prophecy more optimistic than some; speaking of a bright future for Israel in which it will be a leader among nations.
It should be noted that while a good portion of scholars accept a single authorship for the book in the 6th century, not all do. Because the later portion of the text has no historical referents and seems to jive with themes from later works, some believe it was authored a century or more later and appended to Zachariah.
We end the old testament with Malachi, which is short and sweet and a bit of an anti-climax I am afraid. It is only four chapters long, and contains virtually no historical information. Because it uses a Persian term, most scholars place it after the rebuilding of the temple and the end of the Exile, so after 515 BCE. This seems logical as a more ancient source would refer to a king rather than a governor, and might use a Babylonian term during the majority of the exile.
Malachi is largely an admonition to the priests to be more faithful. A list of grievances, and a sort of nag against those who should hold God most high not performing their duties. Surely not the first or the last polemic against a corrupt priest class.
One historical note is important however. Malachi makes several Messianic promises, and these show up in Christianity and the New Testament, as obviously Christians hold that Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. For Jews they stand as things to look for in the coming Messiah.
Alright, so over the course of what is three years, rather than the one I set out for, I have finally finished the Old Testament and am ready to begin the New. I haven’t quite decided how I will tackle the four gospels, but I might try a different format so as to not get repetitive. I might also do a post on my thoughts on the entirety of the Old Testament.