AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Historical Background. | Contents of the Book. | Authorship of the Book. | The Prophet and his Teaching. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


As Haggai and Zechariah were contemporaries the historical background of their respective books is the same. [By the book of Zechariah we mean Zech.1-viii, the remainder of the book that bears his name belongs to a later century (see pp.419 ff.)]

During the last few years of the reign of Cambyses (he died in 522BC), the son of Cyrus and the second king of the Persian Empire, this monarch was absent from his kingdom. During his absence a Magian pretender, Gaumata by name, personated the king's brother Bardes (Smerdis), and usurped the throne. Persia, Media, and other provinces fell away from Cambyses. [The Magi were a high-priestly caste among the Medes, & belonged to the sect of the Zoroastrians. They were mainly occupied in carrying out the ritual in the worship of the gods (of later Zoroastrian belief). They were also healers of sickness. In addition, the giving of oracles was part of their activities; & of course, they were also concerned with occult practices.]

[For the details of this formidable revolt we are indebted to Herodotus iii.61-87, & the Behistun Inscription of Darius i. This inscription, recording the victories & great deeds of Darius, occurs on the face of the rock of this name, & is 500ft above the main caravan road between Baghdad & Teheran, 65 miles from Hamadan. The Insciption, which covers a space of 58ft. 6ins, is in cuneiform characters, & is written in three languages, Persian (the official language), Susian (the language of the great province of Elam), & Babylonian. For further details, see Rogers, A History of Ancient Persia, pp.95-98 (1929).]

The great hold that this usurper managed to obtain over the people is shown by the words of Darius i (Hystaspis):

"There was no man, Persian or Median, or one of our family, who could deprive Gaumata of the kingdom; the people feared him for his tyranny. ... No one dared to say anything against Gaumata until I came". [Behistun Inscription.]

The rebellion was quelled in 521BC with the death of Gaumata. But there were other troubles awaiting Darius. In the Behistun Inscription he tells us of widespread revolts. The empire was seething with restless discontent; Babylonia, Media, Armenia, Hyrcania, Parthia, Bactria, Sagartia, Persia, Arachosia on the borders of India - in a word, the whole of the eastern parts of the empire had risen, the various vassal rulers intending to gain independence.

The knowledge of these convulsions would soon have spread to all parts of the empire. And the intercourse that we know to have existed between the Jews of the east and those of Palestine (see, e.g., would have been the means of keeping the latter informed of what was happening.

To Haggai and Zechariah this tumult of nations meant the prelude to the advent of the Messianic kingdom. Hence the former says:

"Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desirable things of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith Yahweh Sebaoth." (ii.6, 7).

And again:

"I will shake the heavens and the earth, and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations. ... In that day, saith Yahweh Sebaoth, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant ... and will make thee as a signet; for I have chosen thee." (ii.20-23).

This was all spoken during the seventh and ninth months of the second year of Darius. But Zechariah, on the other hand, speaking in the eleventh month of the same year, says:

"All the earth sitteth still, and is at rest" (Zech.i.11).

This is, however, entirely in accord with what we know of the history. For by the end of the second year of his reign Darius had subdued all his enemies, and there was peace - for the time being. But we have the record of a second revolt of Babylonia, which was not suppressed until the spring of 519BC. This will perhaps explain why Zechariah, in viii.1-7, written presumably soon after what he had said in i.11, looks forward with certainty to the coming of the Messianic times.

The historical background explains why both Haggai and Zechariah regarded the approach of the Messianic kingdom as imminent, and why Haggai was so insistent on the need of the Temple being renovated; it was necessary that this should be ready for the dawn of the Messianic kingdom. There was no need for Zechariah to urge the rebuilding of the Temple, for by the time that he arrived upon the scene this had been seriously taken in hand (Zech.iv.9).


Small as the book is, it is of importance for the insight it gives of early post-exilic conditions in Palestine of which we have at the best but scanty knowledge.

The book consists of a series of very short addresses, and two pieces of narrative, also very fragmentary.

i.1 gives the date of the first two addresses, viz. the first day of the sixth month of the second year of Darius. Since he came to the throne in 522 BC, his second year was 520BC. The sixth month was approximately the last week of August and the first three weeks of September.

The first two addresses then follow: i.2-6 and i.7-11. Both are spoken to the people, and both contain rebukes to them for not undertaking the rebuilding of the Temple. There follows (i.12-15) a short piece of narrative describing how the people began the work of rebuilding. This is said to have been begun on the twenty-fourth day of the same month; but the sequel shows that something must have interfered with the actual starting of the work.

The third address occurs in ii.2-9. This, too, is preceded by the date, the twenty-first day of the seventh month (the year, though not mentioned, is the same as before). This is again an exhortation to rebuild the Temple, so that it looks as though the people, for some reason, had soon lost heart in their resolve, and needed further urging from the prophet.

Then follows another short piece of narrative (ii.10-14) recording a discussion between Haggai and the priests about clean and unclean. This, too, is dated. But the date, which is the one of real importance in the book, is given because, as the sequel shows (ii.18), it was that on which the rebuilding of the Temple was actually begun, viz. the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of the second year of Darius, i.e. about the middle of December 520BC.

Following upon and joined to this narrative-piece comes the fourth address (ii.15-19), which tells of the prosperity now to be looked for since the work had been seriously taken in hand. This was uttered on the same day.

Lastly, there is the fifth address (ii.20-23), also delivered on the same day. It is spoken to Zerubbabel, who is designated the Messiah by the prophet.

The overthrowing of kingdoms, which indicates the near approach of the Messianic kingdom, is announced.


The opening verse of the book mentions Haggai as having uttered these short addresses, and there can be no doubt that they were originally spoken by him. But that the book as it stands came from his hand cannot be the case.

The addresses as we now have them are very greatly curtailed resumes. If the prophet himself had written them he would assuredly not have contented himself with such fragments. [Some authorities believe the book to be an extract from some historical work; this is a possibility that cannot be dismissed off-hand; but there is not sufficient evidence to make it certain.]

But more decisive is the fact that the prophet is always spoken of in the third person. That is very unlikely to have been the case had Haggai himself penned the writing.

In all probability it is the work of a contemporary who has recorded the salient points of the prophet's addresses. To him will also be due the exact dates so characteristic of the book. It is probable that we have in this particular a mark of Babylonian influence.

On the other hand, some scholars hold that we have here the writing of the prophet himself, which, in the first instance, was written in the first person and later modified to the third person by an editor, probably a contemporary, who was familiar with the facts. To this editor was due the introductory sentence prefixed to each oracle.

It is pointed out in justification of this view that elsewhere narratives in the third person are devoted mainly to the experiences of the prophets, and have little to say of their teaching. [If this explanation is correct the book will have belonged originally to type C (see above, pp.229 ff.), though in its present form it must be classed as type B.]


The short period of Haggai's activity, so far as the evidence of the book goes, extended from the beginning of September to the middle of December 520BC.

That he came from Babylonia, where he had hitherto lived among the exiles, is suggested by the prominent mention of Darius at the opening of the book, and by the fact that the Babylonian chronological system is followed. According to this the year began in the spring. But what makes this practically certain is his attitude as recorded in ii.12-14. This passage shows clearly that Haggai belonged to the circle of priests and scribes who during the Exile were busily occupied with the study and elaboration of the Law.

Not that Haggai was himself a priest. For he says:

"Ask now the priests concerning the law" (ii.11);

but his knowledge of the minutia of the Law shows that he must have been in close touch with the priestly circles. There is nothing at all to show that any priestly activity in this sense existed in Palestine at this period; it was in Babylon that legalistic Judaism took its rise.

The priests to whom Haggai refers came with him from Babylon. Haggai is called a prophet; but as compared with the pre-exilic prophets he is hardly deserving of the title.

The chief activity of the prophets had been the teaching of the ethical righteousness of Yahweh and His demand that his chosen people should show their faithfulness to Him by moral living and spiritual worship. Stern denunciation of sin, whether in the social, political, or religious life of the people. The certainty of divine judgement on the wicked, and the promise of a restored people when purified.

Of all this there is scarcely a trace to be found in the teaching of Haggai. Drought and unfruitfulness are not spoken of as being a punishment for moral wrong (contrast Am.iv.6-11), but simply because the people had not taken in hand the rebuilding of the dilapidated Temple. Haggai is almost wholly concerned with urging the people to undertake this renovation and with the promise of the advent of the messianic time when this is accomplished.

His designation of Zerubbabel as the Messiah shows that his mind was concentrated only on earthly things; of higher religious thought or of the reign of righteousness in the Messiah's kingdom there is not a word. His whole mental outlook and utilitarian religious point of view (see i.9-11) is sufficient to show that he can have no place among the prophets in the real sense of the word.


Upon the whole, the Hebrew text is in good order; but a certain number of corruptions occur (e.g. in i.7, 9, 10, 12; ii.6, 15, 17); glosses are inserted in i.13; ii.5, 15.

The Septuagint represents an obviously better text in most of these passages, so also in i.8; ii.7.

It contains an addition in ii.9 which does not occur in the Hebrew text, but which certainly stood there originally.

Thus, in spite of the generally good state of the Hebrew text, the use of the Septuagint is demanded.