Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: Back in the Land

These three prophets are principally concerned with the status of the Temple, the new religious hierarchy, and the religious obligations of the post-exilic community.

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Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 may well have originally consisted of one compendium, compiled by the original ("proto-Zechariah") Zechariah's disciples, which--besides the literary evidence linking the two--would make sense of the fact that we have no haftarah (prophetic reading in the synagogue) from the short book we now call Haggai.  The career of the prophet Haggai--about whom little is known-- took place in or about the year 520 B.C.E., earlier than that of Zechariah. (Because Haggai is the only prophetic book from which there is no haftarah), Plaut provides little biography on him.)   This article is excerpted from The Haftarah Commentary, and is used with the permission of UAHC Press.

Haggai and Zechariah:  Rebuild the Temple!

The exiles who returned home from Babylon in 538 B.C.E. began plans for rebuilding the Temple, but adverse economic and political conditions delayed the project. Nothing happened until two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, passionately pleaded with the people to continue and complete the building. Zechariah (his name means "the Eternal has remembered") was active between 520 and 518, and the sacred task was at last taken up again and finished in 516-515.

latter prophets

Zechariah

According to Meyers  (Anchor Bible: Haggai, Zechariah 1-8) "Haggai and Zechariah ... must be given enormous credit for using their prophetic ministries to foster the transition of a people from national autonomy to an existence which transcended political definition and which centered upon a view of God and his moral demands."

We know nothing about the personal life of the Prophet (Zechariah), except that he was the son of Berachiah and the grandson of Iddo. We have only the book that goes under his name, and it happens to be one of the most difficult in the Tanakh. Rashi and Ibn Ezra long ago noted its problems, which are exacerbated by a clearly visible difference between the first eight chapters and the last six. It appears to many scholars that chapters 1‑8 are by one person (called First or Proto‑Zechariah) and 9‑14 by another (called Second or Deutero-Zechariah).

The former relate eight visions suffused with angels and other rich symbolism, with ethical pronouncements and a spirit of hope. These chapters also take note of the two most important personages of Yehud (Judah), the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David. 

A Second "Zechariah"

Chapters 9‑14 (of Zechariah) lack most of these features. Instead, they contain a series of pronouncements against other nations and prophecies about the end of days. The Temple is not mentioned (probably because it was already completed); and where the First Zechariah extols the governor, the Second Zechariah heavily criticizes him. The fact that Greece (yavan) is mentioned suggests that this portion of the book was written after the time of Alexander the Great (died 323 B.C.E.).

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Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

W. Gunther Plaut (1912-2012) was a leading figure in modern Reform Judaism. He was rabbi emeritus and senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, Canada. Rabbi Plaut is the author of numerous books including The Torah: A Modern Commentary and The Haftarah Commentary.