I. THE PROPHET
The postexilic community, consisting of the returned exiles from the Babylonian captivity and the people who remained in the promised land, 1 were not without civil and religious leaders, but they had not heard the word of a prophet since the time of the Exile. Now it happened. On the first day of the sixth month in the year 520 b.c., God again fulfilled his promise to raise up for his people a prophet who would convey to them everything he commands (Deut. 18:15, 18). Haggai had the privilege and the responsibility of being the first prophet of the postexilic era. 2
Haggai’s prophetic office and function are well attested. He is called “the prophet” in seven out of eleven occurrences of his name in the Bible (cf. Hag. 1:1, 3, 12; 2:1, 10; Ezra 5:1; 6:14). He apparently needed neither introduction nor identification. It seems that he was well known in the small postexilic community in and around Jerusalem. As a “messenger of the Lord” (1:13), he is represented in his book as an authoritative instrument of the word of God, whose main task it was to admonish and inspire leaders and people to rebuild the temple. That the people responded favorably to his message (1:12–15a) is a further indication of his authority as a true prophet of the Lord.
Apart from being a prophet, nothing else is known of him with certainty, and indeed we have no means of establishing his biography. As is the case with Obadiah and Habakkuk, nothing is mentioned about his ancestors or circumstances of birth, life, and death.
Haggai’s name is one of several in the OT derived from the root ḥag̱, “festival.” Haggi is the name of one of the clans of the tribe of Gad (Gen. 46:16; Num. 26:15), the feminine Haggit was the name of one of David’s wives (2 Sam. 3:4), and Haggiah was a descendant of Merari (1 Chr. 6:30). The more common form of the name is evidently Haggai, or more correctly Haggay. The Masoretic vocalization is supported by the Greek Aggaios and the Latin Haggaeus or Aggaeus. 3 Jerome and most modern scholars take the termination ay as adjectival, as in the case of the names Barzellai, Kelubbai, etc. The meaning of the name Haggai would then be “festal,” perhaps because he was born on a feast day. A parallel to his name is Shabbethai (Ezra 10:15), probably so-called because he was born on a sabbath (cf. Dominicus, “a Sunday’s child”). The name Haggai is also found in Aramaic letters, for example, on an ostracon from Elephantine that contains a greeting from a pagan to a Jew: “To my brother Haggai, your brother Yarho.” 4 It is also found on Hebrew seals and in Phoenician and South Arabic sources. 5
There are a number of improbable theories about the derivation and significance of the name Haggai. Köhler, Wellhausen, Frey, et al. see in Haggai a probable contraction for Hagariah, “YHWH has girded,” as Zaccai, the original of Zacchaeus, is a contraction of Zechariah. 6 The difficulty with this hypothesis is that Hagariah is not attested either in the OT or outside it- 7
The paucity of the biographical evidence and the peculiarity of the name Haggai, meaning “my feasts,” led T. André to the conclusion that Haggai, like Malachi, is in reality a symbolic title, given by a later hand to the anonymous writer of the book, because of the coincidence that the prophecies it contained were all dated on feast days: 1:1 on the New Moon’s day, 2:1 on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and 2:18 on the day when the “foundation” of the temple was laid. 8 This theory is unlikely, however. The comparison with the name Malachi presupposes an unacceptable interpretation of its meaning (cf. the Introduction to Malachi below), and the historical data provided in the book constitute “as good a ground for accepting the historical reality of Haggai as that, for example, of Habakkuk” (so G. A. Smith). That the name Haggai is well attested as a personal name makes it unlikely that it could have been a nickname (contra Baldwin).
The time of Haggai’s activities as a prophet poses no problem, because all his prophecies are dated precisely. It is evident that his ministry was of short duration. All his messages were delivered within the space of fifteen weeks during the second year of Darius I (521–486 B.C.), that is, in the year 520 B.C. 9 With the help of evidence from a vast number of Babylonian texts and from new moon tables calculated from astronomical data, it has proved possible to synchronize the old lunar calendar with the Julian calendar with accurate results. 10 Baldwin provides an appropriate table with the dates given in Haggai and Zechariah, with their equivalents. In Haggai’s case it amounts to the following:
The first day of the sixth month (1:1) = 29 Aug. 520
The twenty-fourth day of the same month (1:15) = 21 Sept. 520
The twenty-first day of the seventh month (2:1) = 17 Oct. 520
We agree with the view that there are no reasons to doubt the historicity of the dates, which were attached to the prophecies of Haggai probably from the very beginning. 11
An interesting question concerning the time of Haggai’s ministry is whether it could be extended both ways: prior to 29 August and after 18 December 520 B.C. Rudolph answers this question in the affirmative. The first date mentioned in the book is the prophecy addressed to Zerubbabel and Joshua. According to Rudolph this was only the report of the people’s reaction to Haggai’s message to them, which was given an unspecified period of time before. To enhance this conclusion Rudolph alters the text of 1:3, and asserts that the prophecy of 1:1–11 was addressed solely to the leaders. Both assumptions are unlikely (see the commentary). According to Rudolph, Haggai’s prophetic activities extended to the time of the completion of the temple in the spring of 515 B.C. 12 This conclusion is deduced from Ezra 6:14: “So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai [bineḇûʾaṯ ḥaggay] the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo” (NIV). The expression bineḇûʾaṯ ḥaggay is rather vague and does not allow for a specific conclusion regarding the scope of Haggai’s (and Zechariah’s) ministry. We agree with the point of view that the task of the rebuilding of the temple was finished, not so much during Haggai’s ministry but as a result of his (and Zechariah’s) prophecies (so NEB; cf. Van der Woude). Baldwin, therefore, correctly asserts that there is no means of knowing what happened to Haggai after 18 December 520.
We may assume that he died soon after he had delivered his last message, or else that he vanished from the scene, because Zechariah adequately continued his mission. 13 The assumption that Haggai died shortly after 520 B.C. is an additional argument in favor of the theory that he was a man of old age when he delivered his messages. According to Jewish tradition he had lived the greater part of his life in the Babylonian captivity. Partly on this tradition and partly on inference from Hag. 2:3, some scholars hypothesize that he was one of the elderly people who had seen the former temple, had subsequently gone into exile, and was now a very old man. 14 We agree with G. A. Smith, Van der Woude, et al. that this theory may be probable, but it is not conclusive. We simply do not know where and when Haggai was born, where he lived, and at what age he was called as the “messenger of the Lord.” 15
This conclusion is also applicable to the thesis defended by W. A. M. Beuken, according to which Haggai was originally one of the Judean farmers who were left behind in Palestine. 16 The motivation for this theory is that his name does not appear on the lists of returned exiles (Ezra 2; Neh. 7 and 12), that he obviously had an intimate knowledge of the agricultural circumstances of his time, and that he referred to “the people of the land” (2:4), assuming that they belonged to the sedentary population. These and similar arguments, however, are not convincing. If Haggai was a child at the time of the return, the omission of his name from the list in Ezra 2 would be understandable (so Baldwin). The references to the adverse agricultural circumstances must be seen in the context of the curse and blessing formulas of the covenant (cf. Lev. 26; Deut. 28; and the commentary below on 1:6, 9; 2:6–7). The expression “the people of the land” does not distinguish the sedentary population from the returned exiles (cf. the commentary on 2:4). Thus we really have no convincing evidence about Haggai’s former life and must acknowledge that we simply do not know.
According to an ancient Christian tradition Haggai belonged to a priestly family. He was born in Babylon and came to Jerusalem while he was still a youngster. He was an eyewitness of the rebuilding of the temple and after his death was buried with honor near the sepulchres of the priests (cf. Mitchell, who quotes Dorotheus and Hesychius in this regard). Some scholars draw attention to the fact that in the versions certain Psalms are attributed to Haggai and Zechariah, a fact which seems to add support to Haggai’s priestly descent. With Zechariah, Haggai appears on the titles of Pss. 137, 145–148 in the LXX, of 111, 145, and 146 in the Vulgate, and of 125, 126, and 145–148 in the Peshitta. The assumption that Haggai and Zechariah perhaps were responsible for the recension from which the Greek translation was being made (so Baldwin) would suggest that they also were responsible for the recensions of the Hebrew text from which the Vulgate and the Peshitta were being made, which of course would be unlikely, especially in the case of Pss. 111, 125, and 126.
Some scholars infer from Hag. 2:12–14 that Haggai must have been a priest because he showed interest in the cultic procedures. But this is hardly conclusive. On the contrary, that Haggai was directed to acquire an official ruling from the priests (2:12–14) distinguishes him from the priests. This conclusion is substantiated by the Hebrew tradition, which did not reckon Haggai among the priests, and by modern scholars like Marti. Haggai is deliberately and emphatically called “the prophet,” and nowhere is it even suggested that he had a priestly affiliation. 17
An alternate view advocated by some scholars is that Haggai must have been a cultic prophet, i.e., one whose work was closely associated with the sanctuary. 18 This hypothesis is unacceptable, however. If Haggai really was associated with the temple, why had he allowed the house of God to remain a ruin? We have no evidence whatsoever that Haggai had a function in the cult. He naturally was very much concerned about the cult, 19 but this does not imply that he was a cultic prophet. Rudolph rightly distinguishes between the two possibilities. 20
We agree with Van der Woude’s evaluation of Haggai’s prophetic ministry. In spite of the short duration of his ministry and the fact that his book is the second smallest in the OT, he may be considered one of the great figures in Israel. 21 In a time of deep decline and discouragement, his single-minded and ardent preaching again gave the people of God new perspectives on their relationship with God and on the promised blessings. In encouraging the people to rebuild the temple, Haggai gave them a new spiritual center, without which they would have perished as the people of God in the vortex of history.
1 K.-M. Beyse, Serubbabel und die Konigserwartungen der Propheten Haggai und Sacharja (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1972), p. 34, agrees that the people addressed by Haggai were essentially the returned exiles, but with the inclusion of the sedentary population. According to K. Galling, Studien zur Geschichte Israels im persischen Zeitalter (Tubingen: Mohr, 1964), p. 136, Haggai addressed himself to the returned exiles only.
2 The identity and date of the so-called Trito-Isaiah are disputed. According to C. Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, OTL, tr. D. M. G. Stalker (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), pp. 295–96, Trito-Isaiah’s ministry must have been somewhere between 537 and 521 B.C. In this case, he would have been an older contemporary of Haggai. See also W. A. M. Beuken, Haggai-Sacharja 1–8: Studien zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der fruhnachexilischen Prophetie (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1967), pp. 222–29, for the relationship between Haggai and Trito-Isaiah.
5 Cf. F. Vattioni, “I sigilli ebraici,” Bib 50 (1969) 360, sub 2; F. Benz, Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions, Studia Pohl 8 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1972), p. 307; W. W. Muller, ZAW 75 (1963) 308; ANET, pp. 492, 548–49.
10 Cf. R. A. Parker and W. H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology 626 BC-AD 75 (Providence: Brown University, 1956). Cf. also H. H. Grosheide, Ezra-Nehemia I, COT (Kampen: Kok, 1963), pp. 112–13; J. van Goudoever, Biblical Calendars (Leiden: Brill, 1959).
11 So Van der Woude. See also Beuken, op. cit., pp. 25–26, whose investigation into the dates of the prophetic literature led him to the conclusion that there are no reasons for denying the authenticity of the dates in Haggai (and Zechariah). The only exception among the scholars in this regard is Ackroyd, “Studies in the Book of Haggai,” JJS 2 (1951) 171–73.
12 So Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), p. 88; and J. Bright, The History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), p. 372. According to J. Morgenstern the temple was completed in September 516 B.C., HUCA 22 (1951) 365ff.; 27 (1956) 159ff.; VT 5 (1955) 63 note. So also Baldwin.
13 Cf. Beyse, op. cit., p. 37: Haggai’s religious-political expectations especially with regard to the Davidic dynasty were not generally accepted. Zechariah changed it accordingly, and so supersedes Haggai, who subsequently vanished from the scene.
14 H. Ewald, Die Propheten des Alten Bundes, vol. 3 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1867), p. 178, is of the opinion that Haggai had seen the first temple, as are Van Hoonacker, Mitchell, Elliger, Ackroyd (in Peake’s Commentary on the Bible). Others deny this possibility: Von Orelli, André Marti, G. A. Smith, Sellin, Junker, Deissler, Sellin-Fohrer (Introduction to the Old Testament, tr. D. Green [New York: Abingdon, 1968]), Deden, et al. Beuken, op. cit., p. 219, considers this possibility not entirely without support.
16 See esp. the section in his book, op. cit., pp. 216–29, concerning Haggai’s milieu. Beyse, op. cit., pp. 50–51, contradicts Beuken’s point of view. According to him Haggai returned with Zerubbabel from exile.
18 Cf. Jones, et al. Cf. also G. Sauer, “Serubbabel in der Sicht Haggais und Sacharjas,” in Das ferne und nahe Wort, Fest. L. Rost, ed. F. Maass, B ZAW 105 (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1967), p. 206; and now also J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (London: SPCK, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), p. 232: “Haggai was himself in all probability a cult prophet.”
21 Beyse, op. cit., p. 65, agrees with J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Blackwell, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), p. 421, that the postexilic prophets (Haggai and Zechariah) may not unfairly be described as epigones, against the evaluation of W. Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten, HKAT 3/4, 3rd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1922), p. 311, that with them we have the signs of declining prophecy.