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

Haggai - Introduction

THE REBELLION OF JUDAH against the Babylonian empire led to the fall of Jerusalem (586 BCE), the destruction of the Temple, a severe decrease in population due to death and deportation, and the end of monarchy in Judah. The Babylonian empire fell at the hands of a Persian dynasty (the Achaemenid dynasty) in 539. As a result, the Babylonian province of Judah became the Persian or Achaemenid province of Yehud. According to 2 Chronicles 36.22–23, the Persian conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus II (reigned 559–530) issued a proclamation in his first year after the conquest of Babylon (538) that stated, “The LORD, God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of his entire people, may the LORD be with him, and let him go up [to Jerusalem, to build the Temple]” (cf. Ezra 1.1–4 ). The book of Haggai is set about eighteen years later, in the second year of the Persian king Darius I, that is, 520 BCE, and clearly implies that the Temple was still not rebuilt at that time. The book contains reports of theologically based exhortations to undertake the work of reconstruction and discusses the central role of the Temple in the life of the community. (Historians agree that the construction of the Jerusalem Temple was encouraged or even mandated by the Persian imperial center.)

The book of Haggai consists of four narrative reports about four particular divine communications and their circumstances. These communications are set in a precise historical timeframe: namely, the second year of Darius (520), and specifically, the first day of the sixth month, the twenty‐;first day of the seventh month, and the twenty‐;fourth day of the ninth month (this last date has two reports). Such specific dating, beyond what is found in other prophetic books (except for the beginning of the following book, Zechariah), creates an important temporal framework within the narrative, and, in addition, strengthens the rhetorical claim for the reliability of the account.

The four reports are integrated into a close literary unit. They are kept together by the figure of Haggai, with whom they are explicitly and repeatedly associated, by their common introduction, structure, and even choice of words. Each of the reports provides a kind of snapshot, and all together they address the restoration of the Temple, Judah, and Jerusalem in the Persian period. The main focus of the book as a whole is the Temple, or to be more precise, the necessary character, centrality, and legitimacy of the Second Temple.The book of Haggai, in its present form, must have been written later than the last date mentioned in the text (24th of Kislev, 520 BCE), at some point within the Persian period. The matters mentioned above, however, remained central in the discourse of Judah throughout the Persian and Hellenistic period, and thereafter. Questions of leadership in the Second Temple polity are also addressed in this book.

In Jewish tradition, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are the last prophets; after them, prophecy ceased. According to tradition, they were among the members of the “Great Assembly,” a group that was the precursor of the Sanhedrin, and after their death, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel, though “bat kol” (lit. the “daughter of the voice,” or echo) remained available to Israel (see b. Yoma 9b; b. Sot. 48b; b. Sanh. 11a). This “echo” of the voice of God is sometimes available to the Rabbis in their deliberations about legal interpretation (halakhah), but it is not on the same level as prophecy, and the “echo” cannot overrule legal decisions arrived at by the established methods (b. B. M. 59b). As the final representatives of the prophetic tradition, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi represent the link in the transmission of the oral Torah between prophets and sages. Certain sages in the Talmud mention rulings and sayings by Haggai, or Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi (e.g., b. Yebam. 16a; b. Kid. 43a; b. Hul. 137b). Further, according to talmudic traditions, not only the books included in the Twelve were written by the members of the Great Assembly (b. B. Bat. 15a) but the Targum of the prophets was written under the guidance of these three prophets (b. Meg. 3a). The Haggai of the biblical book of Haggai, however, is not characterized in these terms.

[EHUD BEN ZVI]

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