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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Zephaniah - Introduction

For all the lengthy pedigree given for Zephaniah in 1:1 we know nothing about him. His descent is traced back to ‘Hezekiah’. Commentators offer the mutually cancelling views that either Hezekiah was so well known he did not need to be called ‘king’ or that, if it were really the Hezekiah he would have been called king! We cannot use either view for evidence as to why Zephaniah did not criticize the king in his prophecy (e.g. at 1:8 ). It is, perhaps, difficult to believe that one who criticized the political and religious establishment of his day so severely was of the royal line. Zephaniah seems to know Jerusalem well and to be familiar with the language and practices of its temple worship. The deduction from this that he was a ‘cult prophet’ runs into the same difficulties as the view that he was royal: could an official temple servant have been so devastating in his critique of it? He draws on very similar prophetic traditions to those found in Amos, Hosea, and Isa 1–39 . The suggestion that he is to be identified with an exiled priest of the name (2 Kings 25:18–21, Williams 1963 ) lacks both foundation and probability.

The superscription sets Zephaniah's ministry in the time of King Josiah (640–609 BCE). Many commentators have accepted this and seen his attacks especially on the religious syncretism of Judah as predating Josiah's reform of 621 BCE. It is argued that such abuses would not have existed after the clean-up described in 2 Kings 23:4–24 (e.g. Roberts 1991: 163). We may suspect that the account of Josiah's reform has been somewhat exaggerated, especially in the light of the subsequent fierce attacks of Jeremiah and Ezekiel on the religious life of Judah. Even if that is so, however, it is true that the book would suit a general movement of unrest following the period of Assyrian domination in the time of Manasseh such as gave rise to the Deuteronomic reform movement. (For a brief survey of the history of the period and assessment of the account of Josiah's reform, see Mason 1994: 35–43; for a recent questioning of the account of Josiah's reform in Kings, see Clements 1996: 10–13.) Some have argued for a post-reform Josianic date, or even a date in the reign of his successor Jehoiakim, sometimes on the grounds of 1:4 with its reference to the ‘remnant of Baal’, which suggests Josiah had done his work, or on the identification of the prophet with the exiled priest of the same name, or on the basis of Deuteronomic parallels in the book (e.g. Hyatt 1948, Williams 1963, Robertson 1990 ). However, the phrase in 1:4 may just mean ‘every vestige of Baal’ (Ben Zvi 1991: 67) while the Deuteronomic parallels are general and we do not know which influenced the other. The identification of the two Zephaniahs is purely hypothetical. The most extreme dating of Zephaniah in the second century BCE (while allowing for a 6th-century origin for 1:4–13, Smith and Lacheman 1950 ) has received little support. However, many would argue for a post-exilic date for the present form of the book (e.g. Ben Zvi).

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