The 12 Minor Prophets

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

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Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, & Zephaniah

The next of the Twelve Prophets are Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk (especially chapters 1-2) and Zephaniah, all of whom prophesied around the time of the destruction of Judah, at the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries. Despite the fact that they all

prophesied in the same period, they hone in on different issues.  Zephaniah refers to idolatry and corruption in Jerusalem, describing the punishment of the impending "day of the Lord" (Zephaniah 1:7). Nahum's prophecy speaks about the fall of Nineveh,which was conquered by the Babylonians in 612 BCE. Habakkuk focused on the social injustice in Judah and announced its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.  "Behold, I bring up upon you the Chaldeans (a term often used to refer to the tribes in southern Babylonia), a bitter and furious people, going to the ends of the earth to take over others' habitations" (Habakkuk 1:6). Obadiah picks up the theme of the destruction, raging against the Edomites for despoiling Judah while the Babylonians destroyed the cities.

Haggai, Zechariah, & Malachi

The last group within the Twelve Prophets is Haggai, Zechariah (especially chapters 1-8), and Malachi, all of whom prophesy after the Babylonian exile. (The history of this period, when the second Temple was being rebuilt,is described in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) Each of the three was preoccupied with a different issue. Haggai encouraged the people to rebuild the Temple, despite their grinding poverty. Zechariah (in chapters 1-8) focused on the theme of God choosing and desiring Israel: "Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, behold I come and I will dwell within you, says the Lord" (Zechariah 2:14). Malachi spoke about the social and religious problems of the return to Zion: neglect of sacrifices (Malachi 1:6-14) and intermarriage (Malachi 2:11-12).

The historical setting of several passages in the Twelve Prophets are debated: Scholars argue about the dating of Habakkuk 3 and Zechariah 9-14, and it is quite probable that Zechariah 9-14 were written earlier than the time of Zechariah. The dating of the entire book of Joel is also uncertain. Joel chapters 1-2 prophesy about a plague of locusts that would come upon the land, and urge the people to pray and repent.  It is not clear if this refers to an actual plague or is a metaphor for an anticipated invasion of Judah.

Jonah

One of the Twelve Prophets stands out as unconnected to any historical event. This is the book of Jonah, also the only one to deal solely with universal themes, rather than with Israel's particular relationship with God. In chapters 1-2, Jonah attempts to escape from God's Presence; through his interactions with the sailors in chapter 1, he comes to see God as the source of life, and to long for God. In chapters 3-4, Jonah confronts God's policy of reward and punishment, and is forced to undergo the experience of losing something he needs. Through this lesson, God teaches Jonah that His love for humans is overarching and that God is therefore inclined to be merciful and to prefer repentance to punishment.

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