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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Habakkuk - Introduction

THE BOOK OF HABAKKUK consists of a report of a dialogue between the prophet and the LORD (Hab 1–2 ) and a prayer or psalm (Hab 3 ). It is most significant that a book that contains mainly human speech is considered to be “the (prophetic) pronouncement that Habakkuk, the prophet, saw (i.e., perceived in a revelation/vision).” In other words, the written report of the words of a prophet to God becomes a revelation or divinely originated vision. (The same process may have led to the consideration of the book of Psalms, for instance, as Scripture.)

From the perspective of the intended readers, it would be absurd for the text to maintain that a true prophet of the LORD prophesied about events that have already happened; therefore, the text presents Habakkuk's vision as preceding the fall of Babylon. Needless to say, nothing about the date of composition of the book or a historical Habakkuk can be learned from this observation. The most that can be said is that the book presumes the situation that began with the rise of Babylonian power around 612 BCE, and therefore is not earlier than that date. The text assumes a readership (and authorship) that was aware that Babylonia was the main power in the area at some point. For readerships that were also aware of the fall of the Babylonian (or Chaldean) empire—as any Persian period readership would be—the book is not so much about why justice does not emerge, but is rather about living under injustice. How do readers relate the known attributes of the LORD to an international system in which the dominant imperial power “slays nations without pity,” or “seizes homes not their own” and which surely does not place its trust in the LORD? How is a pious person supposed to deal with this situation? From the perspective of such readers the fact that Babylonia has already fallen makes a prominent contribution to the persuasive power of the book and its message.

As mentioned above, following the superscription, the book contains a report of a dialogue between the prophet and the LORD. It is possible to divide this dialogue into four parts: (a) Habakkuk's first complaint ( 1.2–4 ), (b) The LORD's response ( 1.5–11 ), (c) Habakkuk's second complaint ( 1.12–17 ), and (d) Habakkuk's report of the LORD's response (ch 2 ). The book concludes with the prayer or psalm of Habakkuk (ch 3 ). This section has its own title or subtitle (see 3.1 ) and contains a short, human petition to God to manifest God's power ( 3.2 ), a lengthy report about an appearance of the LORD in the world (a theophany)(vv. 3–15 ), and above all concludes with an expression of human confidence in the LORD (vv. 16–19 ).

Many scholars maintain that some sections of the text (especially the prayer) existed prior to the book. The book as it stands, however, presents all three chapters as “the (prophetic) pronouncement that Habakkuk, the prophet, saw (i.e., perceived in a revelation/ vision).”

A long commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk has been preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This commentary, called by scholars Pesher Habakkuk, understands this prophetic work as being actualized in its author's own day, centuries after Habakkuk was written. Specifically, it identifies Habakkuk's Chaldeans, a name for the Babylonians, with the Kittim, almost certainly the Romans. This offers clear proof of how prophetic works were read and studied within a Jewish group that lived in the late Maccabean period as works that contain information about the life of their community of readers rather than arcane reports of past historical periods.

[EHUD BEN ZVI]

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