1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Haggai

HAGGAI, in the Bible, the tenth in order of the “minor prophets,” whose writings are preserved in the Old Testament. The name Haggai (חגי, Gr. Ἀγγαῖος, whence Aggeus in the English version of the Apocrypha) perhaps means “born on the feast day,” “festive.” But Wellhausen[1] is probably right in taking the word as a contraction for Hagariah (“Yahweh hath girded”), just as Zaccai (Zacchaeus) is known to be a contraction of Zechariah.

The book of Haggai contains four short prophecies delivered between the first day of the sixth month and the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month—that is, between September and December—of the second year of Darius the king. The king in question must be Darius Hystaspis (521–485 b.c.). The language of the prophet in ii. 3 suggests the probability that he was himself one of those whose memories reached across the seventy years of the captivity, and that his prophetic work began in extreme old age. This supposition agrees well with the shortness of the period covered by his book, and with the fact that Zechariah, who began to prophesy in the same autumn and was associated with Haggai’s labours (Ezra v. 1), afterwards appears as the leading prophet in Jerusalem (Zech. vii. 1-4). We know nothing further of the personal history of Haggai from the Bible. Later traditions may be read in Carpzov’s Introductio, pars 3, cap. xvi. Epiphanius (Vitae prophetarum) says that he came up from Babylon while still young, prophesied the return, witnessed the building of the temple and received an honoured burial near the priests. Haggai’s name is mentioned in the titles of several psalms in the Septuagint (Psalms cxxxvii., cxlv.-cxlviii.) and other versions, but these titles are without value, and moreover vary in MSS. Eusebius did not find them in the Hexaplar Septuagint.[2]

In his first prophecy (i. 1-11) Haggai addresses Zerubbabel and Joshua, rebuking the people for leaving the temple unbuilt while they are busy in providing panelled houses for themselves. The prevalent famine and distress are due to Yahweh’s indignation at such remissness. Let them build the house, and Yahweh will take pleasure in it and acknowledge the honour paid to Him. The rebuke took effect, and the people began to work at the temple, strengthened by the prophet’s assurance that the Lord was with them (i. 12-15). In a second prophecy (ii. 1-9) delivered in the following month, Haggai forbids the people to be disheartened by the apparent meanness of the new temple. The silver and gold are the Lord’s. He will soon shake all nations and their choicest gifts will be brought to adorn His house. Its glory shall be greater than that of the former temple, and in this place He will give peace. A third prophecy (ii. 10-19) contains a promise, enforced by a figure drawn from the priestly ritual, that God will remove famine and bless the land from the day of the foundation of the temple onwards. Finally, in ii. 20–23, Zerubbabel is assured of God’s special love and protection in the impending catastrophe of kingdoms and nations to which the prophet had formerly pointed as preceding the glorification of God’s house on Zion. In thus looking forward to a shaking of all nations Haggai agrees with earlier prophecies, especially Isa. xxiv.-xxvii., while his picture of the glory and peace of the new Zion and its temple is drawn from the great anonymous prophet who penned Isa. lx and lxvi. The characteristic features of the book are the importance assigned to the personality of Zerubbabel, who, though a living contemporary, is marked out as the Messiah; and the almost sacramental significance attached to the temple. The hopes fixed on Zerubbabel, the chosen of the Lord, dear to Him as His signet ring (cf. Jer. xxii. 24), are a last echo in Old Testament prophecy of the theocratic importance of the house of David. In the book of Zechariah Zerubbabel has already fallen into the background and the high priest is the leading figure of the Judean community.[3] The stem of David is superseded by the house of Zadok, the kingship has yielded to the priesthood, and the extinction of national hopes gives new importance to that strict organization of the hierarchy for which Ezekiel had prepared the way by his sentence of disfranchisement against the non-Zadokite priests.

The indifference of the Jews to the desolate conditions of their sanctuary opens up a problem of some difficulty. It is strange that neither Haggai nor his contemporary Zechariah mentions or implies any return of exiles from Babylon, and the suggestion has accordingly been made that the return under Cyrus described in Ezra i.-iv. is unhistorical, and that the community addressed by Haggai consisted of the remnant that had been left in Jerusalem and its neighbourhood after the majority had gone into exile or fled to Egypt (Jer. xliii.). Such a remnant, amongst whom might be members of the priestly and royal families, would gather strength and boldness as the troubles of Babylon increased and her vigilance was relaxed, and might receive from Babylon and other lands both refugees and some account at least of the writings of Ezekiel and the Second Isaiah. Stimulated by such causes and obtaining formal permission from the Persian government, they would arise as a new Israel and enter on a new phase of national life and divine revelation.

In spite, however, of the plausibility of this theory, it seems preferable to adhere to the story of Ezra i.-iv. Apart from the weighty objections that the Edomites would have frustrated such a recrudescence of the remnant Jews as has been described, it must be remembered that the main stream of Jewish life and thought had been diverted to Babylon. Thence, when the opportunity came under Cyrus, some 50,000 Jews, the spiritual heirs of the best elements of the old Israel, returned to found the new community. With them were all the resources, and the only people they found at Jerusalem were hostile gentiles and Samaritans. Full of enthusiasm, they set about rebuilding the temple and realizing the glowing promises about the prosperity and dominance of Zion that had fallen from the lips of the Second Isaiah (xlix. 14-26, xlv. 14). Bitter disappointment, however, soon overcame them, the Samaritans were strong enough to thwart and hinder their temple-building, and it seemed as though the divine favour was withdrawn. Apathy took the place of enthusiasm, and sordid worries succeeded to high hopes. “The like collapse has often been experienced in history when bands of religious men, going forth, as they thought, to freedom and the immediate erection of a holy commonwealth, have found their unity wrecked and their enthusiasm dissipated by a few inclement seasons on a barren and hostile shore.”[4]

From this torpor they were roused by tidings which might well be interpreted as the restoration of divine favour. Away in the East Cyrus had been succeeded in 529 B.C. by Cambyses, who had annexed Egypt and on whose death in 522 a Magian impostor, Gaumata, had seized the throne. The fraud was short-lived, and Darius I. became king and the founder of a new dynasty. These events shook the whole Persian empire; Babylon and other subject states rose in revolt, and to the Jews it seemed that Persia was tottering and that the Messianic era was nigh. It was therefore natural that Haggai and Zechariah should urge the speedy building of the temple, in order that the great king might be fittingly received.

It is sometimes levied as a reproach against Haggai that he makes no direct reference to moral duties. But it is hardly fair to contrast his practical counsel with the more ethical and spiritual teaching of the earlier Hebrew prophets. One thing was needful—the temple. “Without a sanctuary Yahweh would have seemed a foreigner to Israel. The Jews would have thought that He had returned to Sinai, the holy mountain; and that they were deprived of the temporal blessings which were the gifts of a God who literally dwelt in the midst of his people.” Haggai argued that material prosperity was conditioned by zeal in worship; the prevailing distress was an indication of divine anger due to the people’s religious apathy. Haggai’s reproofs touched the conscience of the Jews, and the book of Zechariah enables us in some measure to follow the course of a religious revival which, starting with the restoration of the temple, did not confine itself to matters of ceremony and ritual worship. On the other hand, Haggai’s treatment of his theme, practical and effective as it was for the purpose in hand, moves on a far lower level than the aspirations of the prophet who wrote the closing chapters of Isaiah. To the latter the material temple is no more than a detail in the picture of a work of restoration eminently ideal and spiritual, and he expressly warns his hearers against attaching intrinsic importance to it (Isa. lxvi. 1). To Haggai the temple appears so essential that he teaches that while it lay waste, the people and all their works and offerings were unclean (Hag. ii. 14). In this he betrays his affinity with Ezekiel, who taught that it is by the possession of the sanctuary that Israel is sanctified (Ezek. xxxvii. 28). In truth the new movement of religious thought and feeling which started from the fall of the Hebrew state took two distinct lines, of which Ezekiel and the anonymous authors of Isa. xl.-lxvi. are the respective representatives. While the latter developed their great picture of Israel the mediatorial nation, the systematic and priestly mind of Ezekiel had shaped a more material conception of the religious vocation of Israel in that picture of the new theocracy where the temple and its ritual occupy the largest place, with a sanctity which is set in express contrast to the older conception of the holiness of the city of Jerusalem (cf. Ezek. xliii. 7 seq. with Jer. xxxi. 40, Isa. iv. 5), and with a supreme significance for the religious life of the people which is expressed in the figure of the living waters issuing from under the threshold of the house (Ezek. xlvii.). It was the conception of Ezekiel which permanently influenced the citizens of the new Jerusalem, and took final shape in the institutions of Ezra. To this consummation, with its necessary accompaniment in the extinction of prophecy, the book of Haggai already points.

Authorities.—The elaborate and valuable German commentary of A. Köhler (Erlangen, 1860) forms the first part of his work on the Nachexilische Propheten. Reinke’s Commentary (Münster, 1868) is the work of a scholarly Roman Catholic. Haggai has generally been treated in works on all the prophets, as by Ewald (2nd ed., 1868; Eng. trans., vol. iii., 1878); or along with the other minor prophets, as by Hitzig (3rd ed., by H. Steiner, Leipzig, 1881), Keil (1866, 3rd ed., 1888, Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1868), and Pusey (1875), S. R. Driver (1906), W. Nowack (2nd ed., 1905), K. Marti (1904), J. Wellhausen (3rd ed., 1898); or with the other post-exile prophets, as by Köhler, Pressel (Gotha, 1870), Dods (1879) and others. The older literature will be found in books of introduction or in Rosenmüller’s Scholia. The learned commentary of Marckius may be specially mentioned. On the place of Haggai in the history of Old Testament prophecy, see Duhm, Theologie der Propheten (Bonn, 1875); A. B. Davidson, The Theology of the Old Testament (1904); A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Doctrine of the Prophets; G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, vol. 2 (1903); Tony Andrée, Le Prophète Aggée; Ed. Meyer, Entstehung des Judentums (1896).  (W. R. S.; A. J. G.) 

  1. In Bleek’s Einleitung, 4th ed., p. 434.
  2. See the note on Ps. cxlv. 1 in Field’s Hexapla; Köhler, Weissagungen Haggai’s, 32; Wright, Zechariah and his Prophecies, xix.
  3. After the foundation of the temple Zerubbabel disappears from history and lives only in legend, which continued to busy itself with his story, as we see from the apocryphal book of Esdras (cf. Derenbourg, Hist. de la Palestine, chap. i.).
  4. G. A. Smith, Minor Prophets, ii. 235.