The 12 Minor Prophets

Twelve "minor prophets" form one "book" concluding the Prophets, the middle section of the Hebrew Bible.

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The "Twelve Minor Prophets" is the eighth and last "book" in the second section of the Hebrew Bible, the Nevi'im, or Prophets. It is, as its name implies, not a unified whole but a collection of 12 independent books, by (at least) 12 different prophets.

"Minor" refers not to their importance but to their length: All were considered important enough to enter the Hebrew Bible, but none was long enough to form an independent book. One of these, Obadiah, is only a single chapter long, and the longest (Hosea and Zechariah) are each 14 chapters. They range in time from Hosea and Amos, both of whom date to the middle of the eighth century B.C.E. ,to parts of the books of Zechariah and Malachi, which are probably from the beginning of the fourth century B.C.E.

One theme that unifies the 12 prophets is Israel's relationship with God. What does God demand of humans? How do historical events signify God's word? These are questions that appear throughout Biblical prophecy. But nowhere in the Bible does a single book present as wide a variety of views on these subjects as does the collection of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Even within a single time period, there is a remarkable diversity of views.

Hosea and Amos

Both Hosea and Amos were composed in the second half of the eighth century, in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The king of Israel from approximately 790 to 750 B.C.E. was Jeroboam II (son of Joash), who built Israel into a wealthy trading empire by controlling the trade routes to Damascus on both sides of the Jordan. In response to this, Amos focused in his prophecies on the economic disparities created by Israel's newfound wealth, criticizing the wealthy Israelites' lack of concern for the fate of the poor. He castigated those who "lie on beds of ivory, sprawled on their couches, eating the fattest of sheep and cattle from the stalls who drink from wine bowls, and anoint themselves with the choicest oils, but are not concerned about the ruin of (the House of) Joseph." (Amos 6:4-6). ("Joseph" is one term used to refer to the Northern Kingdom.)

In contrast, Hosea focused on the theme of Israel's loyalty to God. The new wealth and new openness to foreign trade created, in Hosea's view, other forces threatening Israel's exclusive loyalty to God. One such force is the influence of Assyria: "Ephraim (i.e. the Kingdom of Israel, centered around the inheritance of the tribe of Ephraim) went to Assyria and sent embassies to the "great king," but he cannot heal you, nor can he remove your hurt." (Hosea 5:13) Hosea describes God as longing for the day when Israel will declare "Let us return to God, for He attacked us but will heal us, smote us, but will bandage us...we will know, no, rather we will run quickly to know God" (Hosea 6:1-3).

Micah

The next of the Minor Prophets, working historically, was Micah, who prophesied at the end of the eighth century in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He was active at the same time as Isaiah, whose prophecies are recorded in first part of the long Biblical book bearing this name. During this time period, the Assyrian empire threatened to conquer Judah, and here we encounter a difference of views and emphases between prophets of the same period. Micah was a practical and national thinker; Isaiah had a more universal vision. Whereas Isaiah's vision of the End of Days is universal, ending with the famous sentence "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4), Micah adopts but changes this vision, adding two sentences that focus particularly on the nation of Judah: "Each man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make him afraid, for thus has the mouth of the Lord God of Hosts spoken. For though all the nations will go in the name of their individual god, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever" (Micah 4:4-5).

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Shawn Zelig Aster is Assistant Professor of Bible at Yeshiva University.