PART THIRTEEN – DANIEL AND THE MINOR PROPHETS
Only 13 books left in the Old Testament!
This book is supposedly an account of the activities and visions of Daniel, a Jew exiled at Babylon. However, modern consensus considers the book pseudonymous, with the stories of the first half legendary in origin, and the visions of the second half the product of later anonymous authors. Although it supposedly takes place during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, scholars now date its writing to the second century BCE. The reasons are explained very succinctly in the introduction to the book in the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, so I will not repeat them here.
The Minor Prophets
After Daniel all we have left in the OT are the 12 Minor Prophets, most of whom you’ve probably never heard of. But don’t dismiss them or attempt to skip over them, thinking they’re not important. Although large parts of the readings really are boring, there are some significant prophesies in here that will relate to the NT; I’ll point them out as they come along. There are a few interesting stories as well. Anyway, they’re all short…
The key to making sense of these last few books is understanding the context. I tried reading the bible once before, several years ago, and I remember nothing of these guys except an endless cacophony of doom and gloom. That’s because I didn’t grasp where they were coming from. This time, after learning a bit of the background and related history, I can put the endless cacophony of doom and gloom into perspective. It’s just as awful, but now I sort of get what it’s about.
So who are these guys?
- Hosea prophesied during a dark era of Israel’s history, the period of the Northern Kingdom’s decline and fall in the 8th century BC.
- As Joel contains no explicit references to datable persons or events, scholars’ opinions on its origin vary widely, anywhere from 900-400 BCE.
- Amos prophesied c. 750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II (786–746 BC), making his the first biblical prophetic book written. His major themes of social justice, God’s omnipotence, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy.
- Obadiah prophesies divine judgement against Edom. Jewish tradition says that he was a descendent of Job’s friend Eliphaz, and a servant to King Ahab, which puts him in the 9th century BCE, but the politics described in the book imply mid-5th century BCE. And some Christians believe he was the third centurion sent out by Ahaziah against Elijah. Confusing, much?
- Next is Jonah – everyone knows this fish tale. It’s set in the mid-8th century BCE, but was probably not written until after the exile, in the late 5th to early 4th century BCE.
- Micah lived in the 8th century BCE; however scholars believe that only the first 3 chapters of his book date to that time, with the rest being revised and completed later, sometime after the exile.
- Nahum prophesied about the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, in the 7th century BCE, although the exact date of his writing is debatable.
- Habakkuk also prophesied during the 7th century BCE, although there is speculation that chapter 3 may be a later edition. His message that “the just shall live by his faith” is referenced in the NT epistles.
- Just who Zephaniah was isn’t very clear, but he may have been a contemporary of Jeremiah. Like Jeremiah, he preached religious reform (ie return to the covenant and religious laws).
- No one really knows who Haggai was, but he wrote his book around 520 BCE, just before the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. His purpose was to urge the Israelites to get on with it.
- Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai. His book begins with a series of 8 visions, followed by predictions in chapters 7-14 that most Christians interpret as Messianic prophesy. Both Haggai and Zechariah are mentioned in Ezra.
- And finally! Malachi’s identity is uncertain, but he likely wrote around the same time as Haggai and Zechariah. And again, his purpose was to correct the lax religious and social behavior of the Israelites post-exile.
It probably goes without saying, but none of these final books of the OT are going to be happy or uplifting. Brace yourselves!