Book of Zechariah

Book of Zechariah

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The Book of Zechariah is the penultimate book of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

 and Christian Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

, attributed to the prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

 Zechariah.

Historical context


Zechariah’s ministry took place during the reign of Darius the Great , and was contemporary with Haggai
Haggai
Haggai was a Hebrew prophet during the building of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and one of the twelve minor prophets in the Hebrew Bible and the author of the Book of Haggai. His name means "my holiday"...

 in a post-exilic
Babylonian captivity
The Babylonian captivity was the period in Jewish history during which the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were captives in Babylon—conventionally 587–538 BCE....

 world after the fall of Jerusalem in 586/7 BCE. Ezekiel
Ezekiel
Ezekiel , "God will strengthen" , is the central protagonist of the Book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ezekiel is acknowledged as a Hebrew prophet...

 and Jeremiah
Jeremiah
Jeremiah Hebrew:יִרְמְיָה , Modern Hebrew:Yirməyāhū, IPA: jirməˈjaːhu, Tiberian:Yirmĭyahu, Greek:Ἰερεμίας), meaning "Yahweh exalts", or called the "Weeping prophet" was one of the main prophets of the Hebrew Bible...

 wrote prior to the fall of Jerusalem, while continuing to prophesy in the earlier exile period. Scholars believe Ezekiel, with his blending of ceremony and vision, heavily influenced the visionary works of Zechariah 1-8. Zechariah is specific about dating his writing (520-518 BCE).

During the Exile many Jews
Jews
The Jews , also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation...

 were taken to Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, where the prophets told them to make their homes , suggesting they would spend a long period of time there. Eventually freedom did come to many Israelites, when Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus II of Persia , commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much...

 overtook the Babylonians in 539 BCE. In 538 BCE, the famous Edict of Cyrus
Cyrus in the Judeo-Christian tradition
Cyrus the Great figures in the Hebrew Bible as the patron and deliverer of the Jews. He is mentioned twenty-three times by name and alluded to several times more....

 was released, and the first return took place under Sheshbazzar. After the death of Cyrus in 530 BCE, Darius consolidated power and took office in 522 BCE. His system divided the different colonies of the empire into easily manageable districts overseen by governors. Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel was a governor of the Persian Province of Judah and the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate king of Judah. Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian Captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia . The date is generally thought to...

 comes into the story, appointed by Darius as governor over the district of Yehud (Judah).

Under the reign of Darius, Zechariah also emerged, centering around the rebuilding of the temple. Unlike the Babylonians, the Persian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 went to great lengths to keep “cordial relations” between vassal and lord. The rebuilding of the temple was encouraged by the leaders of the empire in hopes that it would strengthen the authorities in local contexts. This policy was good politics on the part of the Persians, and the Jews viewed it as a blessing from God.

The prophet



His name
Zechariah (given name)
The male given name Zechariah is derived from the Hebrew זְכַרְיָה, meaning "God has remembered". It is a theophoric name, the ending -iah being a short Hebrew form for the Tetragrammaton....

 means "Yahweh
Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of God in the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jews and Christians.The word Yahweh is a modern scholarly convention for the Hebrew , transcribed into Roman letters as YHWH and known as the Tetragrammaton, for which the original pronunciation is unknown...

 has remembered." Not much is known about Zechariah’s life other than what may be inferred from the book. It has been speculated that his ancestor Iddo was the head of a priestly family who returned with Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel
Zerubbabel was a governor of the Persian Province of Judah and the grandson of Jehoiachin, penultimate king of Judah. Zerubbabel led the first group of Jews, numbering 42,360, who returned from the Babylonian Captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia . The date is generally thought to...

 , and that Zechariah may himself have been a priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 as well as a prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

. This is supported by Zechariah's interest in the Temple
Solomon's Temple
Solomon's Temple, also known as the First Temple, was the main temple in ancient Jerusalem, on the Temple Mount , before its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar II after the Siege of Jerusalem of 587 BCE....

 and the priesthood, and from Iddo's preaching in the Books of Chronicles
Books of Chronicles
The Books of Chronicles are part of the Hebrew Bible. In the Masoretic Text, it appears as the first or last book of the Ketuvim . Chronicles largely parallels the Davidic narratives in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings...

.

Authorship


Some scholars accept the book as the writings of one individual. For example, George Livingstone Robinson's dissertation on chapters 9-14 concluded that those chapters had their origin in the period between 518 and 516 BCE and stand in close relation to chapters 1-8, having most probably been composed by Zechariah himself. However, most modern scholars believe the book of Zechariah was written by at least two different people. Zechariah 1-8, sometimes referred to as First Zechariah, was written in the 6th century BCE. Zechariah 9-14, often called Second Zechariah, contains within the text no datable references to specific events or individuals but most scholars will give the text a date in the fifth century BCE. Second Zechariah, in the opinion of some scholars, appears to make use of the books of Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

, Jeremiah
Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the second of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Isaiah and preceding Ezekiel and the Book of the Twelve....

, and Ezekiel
Book of Ezekiel
The Book of Ezekiel is the third of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, following the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and preceding the Book of the Twelve....

, the Deuteronomistic History, and the themes from First Zechariah. This has led some to believe that the writer(s) or editor(s) of Second Zechariah may have been a disciple of the prophet Zechariah. There are also some scholars who go even further and divide Second Zechariah into a Second Zechariah (9-11) and Third Zechariah (12-14) since each begins with a heading oracle.

Composition



The return from exile is the theological premise of prophet's visions in chapters 1-6. Chapters 7–8 address the quality of life
Quality of life
The term quality of life is used to evaluate the general well-being of individuals and societies. The term is used in a wide range of contexts, including the fields of international development, healthcare, and politics. Quality of life should not be confused with the concept of standard of...

 God wants his renewed people to enjoy, containing many encouraging promises to them. Chapters 9-14 comprise two "oracle
Oracle
In Classical Antiquity, an oracle was a person or agency considered to be a source of wise counsel or prophetic predictions or precognition of the future, inspired by the gods. As such it is a form of divination....

s" of the future.

Chapters 1 to 6


The book begins with a preface , which recalls the nation's past history, for the purpose of presenting a solemn warning to the present generation. Then follows a series of eight visions , succeeding one another in one night, which may be regarded as a symbolical history of Israel, intended to furnish consolation to the returned exiles and stir up hope in their minds. The symbolic action, the crowning of Joshua
Joshua the High Priest
Joshua the High Priest was, according to the Bible the first person chosen to be the High Priest for the reconstruction of the Jewish Temple after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Captivity The name is also spelled 'Jeshua' in some English versions , and, as with the earlier Joshua, is...

 , describes how the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of God's Messiah
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

.

Chapters 7 and 8


Chapters and , delivered two years later, are an answer to the question whether the days of mourning for the destruction of the city should be kept any longer, and an encouraging address to the people, assuring them of God's presence and blessing.

Chapters 9 to 14


This section consists of two "oracles" or "burdens":
  • The first oracle (ch. ) gives an outline of the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming of the Messiah.
  • The second oracle (ch. ) points out the glories that await Israel in "the latter day", the final conflict and triumph of God's kingdom.

Themes



The purpose of this book is not strictly historical but theological and pastoral
Pastoral
The adjective pastoral refers to the lifestyle of pastoralists, such as shepherds herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water and pasturage. It also refers to a genre in literature, art or music that depicts such shepherd life in an...

. The main emphasis is that God is at work and plans to live again with His people in Jerusalem. He will save them from their enemies and cleanse them from sin.

Zechariah's concern for purity is apparent in the temple, priesthood and all areas of life as the prophecy gradually eliminates the influence of the governor in favour of the high priest, and the sanctuary becomes ever more clearly the centre of messianic fulfillment. The prominence of prophecy is quite apparent in Zechariah, but it is also true that Zechariah (along with Haggai) allows prophecy to yield to the priesthood; this is particularly apparent in comparing Zechariah to "Third Isaiah" (chapters 55–66 of the Book of Isaiah
Book of Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is the first of the Latter Prophets in the Hebrew Bible, preceding the books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah and the Book of the Twelve...

), whose author was active sometime after the first return from exile.

Most Christian commentators read the series of predictions in chapters 7 to 14 as Messianic prophecies, either directly or indirectly. These chapters helped the writers of the Gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

s understand Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, which they quoted as they wrote of Jesus’ final days. Much of the Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

, which narrates the denouement of history, is also colored by images in Zechariah.

Apocalyptic Literature


One reason why the Book of Revelation
Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the final book of the New Testament. The title came into usage from the first word of the book in Koine Greek: apokalupsis, meaning "unveiling" or "revelation"...

 is colored by images in Zechariah is because Chapters 9-14 of Book of Zechariah is an early example of Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature
Apocalyptic literature is a genre of prophetical writing that developed in post-Exilic Jewish culture and was popular among millennialist early Christians....

. Though not as fully developed as the apocalyptic visions described in the Book of Daniel
Book of Daniel
The Book of Daniel is a book in the Hebrew Bible. The book tells of how Daniel, and his Judean companions, were inducted into Babylon during Jewish exile, and how their positions elevated in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. The court tales span events that occur during the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar,...

, the "oracles", as they are titled in Zechariah 9-14 contain apocalyptic elements. One theme these oracles contain is descriptions of the Day of the Lord, when "the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle" (Zechariah 14:3). These chapters also contain "pessimism about the present, but optimism for the future based on the expectation of an ultimate divine victory and the subsequent transformation of the cosmos". This can be seen in the description of the Lord ordering "Strike the shepherd so that the sheep may be scattered" (Zechariah 13:7), implying that not only will God judge the other nations, but he will judge the leaders of Israel. There is also imagery that is surreal, mythical imagery, rather than real images, as in Zechariah 11:1-2 "Open your doors, O Lebanon,/so that fire may devour your cedars!/Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined!/Ail, oaks of Bashan,/ for the thick forest has been felled!" The final word in Zechariah proclaims that on the Day of the Lord "There will be no Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day" (14:21), proclaiming the need for purity in the temple, which would come when God judges at the end of time.
[Revised Standard Version has this: "There will be no trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day." In the Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text, Jewish Publication Society, it is: "and in that day there shall be no more a trafficker in the house of the Lord of hosts."]

Sources

  • The Student Bible, NIV. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992.
  • D. Guthrie, (ed.) New Bible Commentary. New York: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970.
  • Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion And Dynasty: A Theology Of The Hebrew Bible. Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0830826155
  • Carroll Stuhlmueller, Haggai and Zechariah: Rebuilding With Hope. Edinburgh: The Handsel Press Ltd., 1988. ISBN 978-0905312750.

External links


Translations
  • Zechariah (Judaica Press) translation [with Rashi
    Rashi
    Shlomo Yitzhaki , or in Latin Salomon Isaacides, and today generally known by the acronym Rashi , was a medieval French rabbi famed as the author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as a comprehensive commentary on the Tanakh...

    's commentary] at Chabad.org
    Chabad.org
    Chabad.org is the flagship website of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. It serves not just its own members but Jews worldwide in general. It was one of the first Jewish internet sites and the first and largest virtual congregation.-History:...

  • Online Bible at GospelHall.org (ESV, KJV, Darby, American Standard Version, Bible in Basic English)