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.


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The book of Zephaniah occupies the ninth place among the "Twelve" in all forms of the Old Testament, following Habakkuk and preceding Haggai.


The weakening of the northern defences of the Assyrian empire in the last days of Ashur-bani-pal (669-626BC) left open the path for invasions by hordes of the wilder peoples whose home lay in eastern Europe and west central Asia. These are variously grouped under such titles as Scythians and Cimmerians, and there are frequent references to their inroads in Mesopotamian records.

Herodotus states that they dominated western Asia for twenty-eight years; that they marched through Palestine, where they sacked the temple of Aphrodite at Ashkelon, and were prevented from entering Egypt only by heavy bribes. [i.105, 106.]

They appear in Assyrian inscriptions as early as the reign of Esarhaddon (681-669BC), under the name of Ashkuza.

The story of their invasion of Palestine has been doubted, but on inadequate grounds. The peril to Judah passed, and there seems little doubt that their incursions brought to an end the Assyrian power in the west. [Cp. Oesterley& Robinson, op. cit., i. Pp.412-415.]

It is probable that their appearance was the occasion of the first utterances of Jeremiah, and we may conjecture that Zephaniah's call came through the same series of events.


The book of Zephaniah consists of a single collection of oracles, mostly short.

In i.1-6 we have a general threat of destruction uttered against the worshippers of Baal.

i.7-8 announce a great sacrificial feast prepared by Yahweh.

i.9-11 and 12-13 are little pieces which foretell punishment to different groups of sinners.

i.14-18 supply a further description of the Day of Yahweh.

In ii.1-3 the prophet appeals to his people to repent, and ii.4-7 describe the ruin that is to fall on the Philistine cities.

In ii.8-11 Moab and Ammon are threatened, and verse 12 seems to be an isolated fragment from some threat against Egypt.

The doom of Assyria is pronounced in ii.13-14, to which an addition has been made in verse 15, based on Isaiah xlvii.8.

Ch.iii opens with a threat against Jerusalem in 1-7, followed by a prediction of a general overthrow in verses 8-10. [The universal application of this oracle has been disputed; Sellin, for instance, regards the mention of the foreign nations as due to interpolation.]

In iii.11-13 the prophet is once more dealing with Jerusalem and her fate.

The book closes with two exultant songs of deliverance in iii.14-15 and 16-20.

The latter has probably received additions in verses 19 and 20.


The general authorship of the book has not been seriously doubted, though different editors have found reason to suspect considerable interpolations. These, however, are to be explained, for the most part, by reference to the structure of the whole; there can be little doubt that some of the independent pieces were expanded before their inclusion in the collection. In one case, as we have observed (on ii.15), the addition can hardly have been made before the close of the Exile, and the final compilation of the book must be set down to the usual age of such compilations, i.e. the fifth century BC.

The ministry of this prophet is dated in the reign of Josiah by the heading of the book, and this is generally accepted as historically accurate.

The first oracle, and some other phrases suggest a time before the reform of Josiah, and it is possible that Zephaniah, like Jeremiah, was concerned in the promulgation of the principles on which the reform was based. The threats against foreign nations may have extended over a series of years.

There are traditions of a siege of Nineveh (recorded by Herodotus (i.103.)) in 625BC, and this may be referred to in ii.13-14. On the other hand, it seems more likely that this should date from a time some ten years later, when the Chaldaeans and the Medes were slowly drawing their net closer around the doomed city.

It should be added that some scholars regard iii.16ff., as an exilic or post-exilic utterance. But the signs of the Exile are not obvious until we reach verse 20, which, in any case, is a later addition, and the unsuitability of the passage as a continuation of verse 15 cannot be held to be decisive.


Zephaniah has a longer recorded pedigree than any other prophet, and it goes back to Hezekiah, who is usually, and with some reason, identified with the king of that name.

If that identification were correct, we have in Zephaniah a person unique among the canonical prophets, since no other is connected with the royal house of Judah.

For the rest, we are dependent on the book for our knowledge of the man.

Zephaniah, as shown in the oracles that have come down to us, is not a great original thinker, nor is he the kind of person who would be a real leader to his people. But he does stand in the line of the great prophets; he has the same passion for righteousness, and the same ethical conception of the character and demands of Yahweh. Like many another weaker spirit, he takes refuge, in a time of danger and calamity, in eschatology. His hope lies in an unprecedented interference of Yahweh in human affairs, in the vengeance that shall be taken on evildoers in his own and other lands, and in the forcible righting of all wrongs. His eschatology is of a comparatively early form; its most striking feature is the great sacrifice, which Yahweh will hold in "the day". The thought appears also in Isa.xxxiv.6 and Jer.xlvi.10, but in neither case is it strictly eschatological, and the former passage is later than the time of Zephaniah. In the "darkness" (i.15), which is to mark the day, we may have a reminiscence of Amos (cp. Am.v.18, 20), and we may take it for granted that most of the features that he envisaged are a part of the traditional eschatology. Zephaniah is, however, the first of our Old Testament writers whose mind is dominated entirely by eschatological ideas, and it is this, which gives him his importance in the history of Israel's religion.


The text is on the whole, fairly well preserved, and where we suspect error the Septuagint often helps us, e.g., in ii.2, 11, etc.

[It should be noted that many of the points mentioned in the footnotes to Zephaniah in Kittel's Biblia Hebraica (1906) belong to the sphere of higher criticism rather than that of text.]