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«Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000) 295-304. HAGGAI: MASTER RHETORICIAN M.J. Boda Summary Although the prophet among the Book of the Twelve with the fewest ...»

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Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000) 295-304.


M.J. Boda


Although the prophet among the Book of the Twelve with the fewest words, save

Jonah, Haggai takes his place among the prophetic tradition as one of its

greatest rhetoricians. Utilising historical critical techniques, past scholars

have often explained literary features in Haggai as evidence of the compilation

of various sources and forms. This article reconsiders this evidence and argues that the same evidence reveals creative rhetorical technique. Several instances of this technique are explored and this study reveals the prophet’s sensitivity to influence the intended audience, creativity to sustain the audience’s interest and delay tactics to produce greater impact on the audience. Some of the trends identified are traced to the prophetic tradition in general, others to the Persian Period prophetic tradition, while others are seen as unique to this book.

The past year, as we have lived through the transition from one century to another, has seemed like one long retrospect over the heights and depths of the 20th century. Although many have reached saturation point because of the overuse of this retrospective genre, it is an appropriate exercise for all, especially for those whose focus is the study of the Bible.

This past century began with historical critical methods widely accepted as the appropriate tools for accessing the meaning of the ancient biblical texts. Source, Form, Tradition, and Redaction Criticism were designed to provide clear windows for observing the origins of a text and these underlying origins were considered the locus of meaning. Near the middle of the century, however, these diachronic methods were forced to share centre stage with emerging synchronic approaches. These approaches, including Rhetorical and Canonical Criticism and influenced by New Criticism and Structuralism, focused more attention on the structure of the text itself in its final form rather than searching for meaning in the earlier stages of the development of the text. In more recent years, however, the 296 Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000) stage has become crowded with the introduction of Reader Response, Feminist and Postmodern approaches, focusing more attention on the modern reader of the ancient text. This century has been witness to oft times confusing, always controversial shifts in the way in which scholars handle biblical texts, shifts which have moved the guild from focusing on the world behind the text to the world before the text.1 With these hermeneutical shifts has come a greater appreciation of the role of the audience in the communication act and their participation in the creation of meaning. The audience was often lost in the diachronic search for the origins of biblical works as scholars sought for those responsible for speaking and writing these ancient texts. In synchronic and postmodern hermeneutical strategies a much greater role is afforded the audience, especially the modern reader.

A study of various scholarly contributions to the book of Haggai displays the excesses of a diachronic approach to the biblical text.

Employing skills from the disciplines of Source, Form and Redaction Criticism, scholars have focused increasingly on smaller and smaller pieces of the prophetic book.2 Haggai was especially challenging 1 Admittedly, this is a simplistic overview of the ebb and flow of biblical scholarship in a fascinating century. For further reflection see S.E. Gillingham, One Bible, Many Voices: Different Approaches to Biblical Studies (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); R.

Morgan and J. Barton, Biblical Interpretation (Oxford: OUP, 1988); the succinct overview in T. Longman III, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation (Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 3; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987); and the excellent reference series Guides to Biblical Scholarship edited by Dan Via (NT) and Gene Tucker (OT) and published by Fortress Press (Philadelphia). The designations of the world behind, within and before the text are adapted from W.R.

Tate, Biblical Interpretation: An Integrated Approach (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991).

2 Examples of this atomistic approach are many. For the entire book of Haggai see the analysis of F.S. North, ‘Critical Analysis of the Book of Haggai’, ZAW 68 (1956), 25-46. North’s reductionistic approach shrinks the book to a fraction of its final form.

For Haggai 1 see O.H. Steck, ‘Zu Haggai 1:2-11’, ZAW 83 (1971), 355-79, who used form critical methods to identify 1:4-8 as a saying addressing Judeans who had remained in the land during exile (people have houses) and 1:9-11 as addressing those who returned from Babylon (people busy with houses). D.L. Petersen (Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 [OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984], p. 49) identifies 1:1-2 as part of an original message to Zerubbabel and Jeshua which has been fused with 1:3-11 which was originally addressed to the people as a whole. Cf. R.A. Mason (Preaching the Tradition: Homily and Hermeneutics after the Exile [Cambridge: CUP, 1990], pp.

186; 286, n. 6) for an excellent review of the debate over the unity/disunity of this pericope. H.W. Wolff (Haggai: A Commentary [Tr. M. Kohl; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988], p. 72) describes Haggai 2:1-9 in the following way: ‘All in all, therefore, we do not find here what form criticism would see as a self-contained discourse’, denigrating its integrity by identifying ‘clumsy or disjointed transitions’. What this means is that Haggai does not meet the stock forms Wolff has in his mind as he approaches the text.

Probably the greatest example of this trend is displayed in the controversy surrounding BODA: Haggai 297 because of the high percentage (odd among the prophetic books) of editorial text surrounding a short prophetic message.3 Furthermore the book has a high number of messenger formulae, not restricted merely to the beginning and end of pronouncements but also interjected in the centre.4 Finally, inconsistency in certain aspects of the editorial text invited speculation over the diverse origins of the material or variety of levels in the redaction of the book.5 While the goal of this study is not to disqualify diachronic attempts to distinguish between the literary and oral aspects of the book of Haggai, nor to brush over some of the challenging literary issues in a simplistic manner, the hope is that a greater appreciation of Haggai’s oral rhetoric will inform this discussion and display more clearly the unity of much of the oral material in the book. At the outset the focus will be on those rhetorical techniques used in Haggai which are shared by other prophetic books and especially those of the Persian period. Then attention will turn to unique techniques that are used by the prophet to communicate his message.

Haggai stands near the end of a long tradition of prophetic expression in the Hebrew community. His place in that tradition influences the way in which he communicates his message as he reflects several trends from the latter period of the prophetic institution.

2:10-14. Beginning with J.W. Rothstein (Juden und Samaritaner [Leipzig: Hinrich, 1908]), some have gone to the point where they have moved the material to a different place. Pfeill has written what is unquestionably the best review of the issue, demonstrating how this theory of Rothstein became a working assumption among scholars of Haggai until re-examination revealed its bankruptcy (‘When is a Go=y a “Go=y”? The Interpretation of Haggai 2:10-19’, in W.C. Kaiser, Jr. and R.F.

Youngblood, eds., A Tribute to Gleason Archer [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], pp.

261-78). The influence of Rothstein’s theory is displayed in Wolff’s commentary on Haggai which places the interpretation of 2:15-19 after that of 1:1-14.

3 The editorial third person material encompasses 25% of the book as compared with 59% for the oral pieces.

4 10% of the words in the book are messenger formulae (‫כֹּה אָמַר י ְהוָהְ צְבָאוֹ ת‬ ‫ )אָמַר  י ְהו ָה  צְבָאוֹ ת  ;נְאֻם־י ְהו ָה‬and 5% of the words are commands from God telling the prophet to tell someone something. See also J.E. Tollington, Tradition and Innovation in Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (JSOTSup 150; Sheffield: JSOT, 1993), p.


5 In particular there are two different ways of introducing the fact that Haggai received a word from God (‫ ;)02,01:2 :אֶל ;1:2 ;3,1:1 :בְּי ַד‬and diverse ways of presenting date formula (YEAR-MONTH-DAY: 1:1; DAY-MONTH-YEAR: 1:15;

2:10; MONTH-DAY: 2:1; DAY-MONTH: 2:18, 20). For the impact of the latter on redaction criticism see Wolff (Haggai, p. 59) as an example.

298 Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000) One feature of the book of Haggai, already mentioned above, that has created suspicion over the unity of the oral material is the constant interjection of messenger formulae. For many readers this grates against their modern sensibilities, especially those in Western contexts where rhetoricians are concerned with simple and direct speech. Is this the work of a later redactor or does it originate with the prophet himself? To answer this question necessitates a comparison of the use of messenger formulae in the various prophetic books.

–  –  –

Persian Period and thus not necessarily evidence of editorial reworking.

What is the rhetorical purpose of these interjections? The higher percentage in the book of Amos may offer a suggestion. This prophet struggled with the issue of the authority and authenticity of his prophetic words at least once during his career.6 If this is the cause of these higher percentages, it appears that, on the level of rhetoric, the constant interjection of messenger formulae may be evidence of a desire to assure the hearers that God is speaking. The extreme crisis in prophecy in Amos’ day created the need for these consistent reminders. This may be a window into a sceptical attitude of the Persian community towards prophecy that may have been fostered by the late pre-exilic crisis in the prophetic movement.7 A second rhetorical strategy seen consistently throughout Haggai’s work and reflecting a trend of the Persian Period prophetic movement is the use of interrogatives to draw in the audience (cf. Zc. 1:5, 6; 7:5-7;

Malachi passim).8 Haggai uses this strategy at his first opportunity as he turns from the leadership to the people at large in 1:4. He will use a question again in 1:9, at a crucial turning point in the prophetic message of chapter 1 (see further below), a series of three in 2:3, two more in 2:12-13 and a final one in 2:19. The interrogative mood engages the audience in a powerful way, forcing them to reflect on the 6 For an excellent review of the scholarly interpretation of the confrontation between Amaziah and Amos see G.V. Smith, Amos: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), pp. 236-43; see also J.D.W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos (Leiden: Brill, 1958), pp. 1-30; G.M. Tucker, ‘Prophetic Authority: A Form-critical Study of Amos 7:10-17’, Interpretation 27 (1973), 423-34; Z.

Zevit, ‘A Misunderstanding at Bethel:

Amos VII 12-17’, VT (1975), 783-90; Y. Hoffmann, ‘Did Amos Regard Himself as a nabi)?’, VT 27 (1977), 209-212; H.W. Wolff, Joel and Amos (Hermeneia; tr. W.

Janzen, W.D. McBride, C.A. Muenchow; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), pp. 306-316;

S.M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis:

Fortress, 1991), 238-52.

7 Jeremiah also faced opposition from false prophets and does use the messenger formulae the most of any prophet in the Latter Prophets (65 for ‫ אָמַר י ְהו ָה‬and 67 for ‫,)נְאֻם־י ְהו ָה‬even though the sheer size of his corpus reduces the ratios significantly.

See Tollington, Tradition, p. 65, n. 1.

8 See B.O. Long, ‘Two Question and Answer Schemata in the Prophets’, JBL 90 (1971), 129-39, and J.W. Whedbee, ‘A Question-Answer Schema in Haggai 1: The Form and Function of Haggai 1:9-11’, in G.A. Tuttle, ed., Biblical and Near Eastern Studies: Essays in Honor of William Sanford Lasor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), pp. 184-94, for further discussion of the roots of this form type, although its use in the Persian period takes on an altered style. Verhoef reveals differences between the dialogues in Haggai and Malachi, but this does not eradicate the general trend of this

period (P.A. Verhoef, The Books of Haggai and Malachi [NICOT; Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1987], p. 45).

300 Tyndale Bulletin 51.2 (2000) message in a deeper measure than in mere pronouncements. It is used by Haggai both to bring judgement (1:4, 9; 2:12-13, 19) and to express sympathy (2:3).9 A third rhetorical strategy is shared not with the Persian Period books

as much as with the prophets of the late pre-exilic and early exilic period:

Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This rhetorical technique quotes a saying among the people that is then promptly refuted by the prophet (cf. Je. 2:5, 14, 23, 28, 29, 36; 31:29; Ezk. 12:22-25, 26-28; 18:1-2).10 Haggai uses this technique masterfully at the outset of his message in Haggai 1:2, where in the hearing of the leadership (Zerubbabel, Jeshua) he cites the attitude of the people towards the rebuilding project.

To this point Haggai’s rhetorical techniques are attested in the later period of prophetic expression. But there are a few techniques that Haggai employs which are unique to him. Most of these employ features of rhetorical technique already covered above, but do so in a way unique to Haggai. The first one, the phrase (‫)81,51:2 ;7,5:1( שִׂימו ּ לְבַבְכֶם )עַל‬ is unique to Haggai.11 This idiom calls the audience to deep reflection over past behaviour and experience. Its occurrence in 1:5 and 7 creates an envelope around the exposure of past experience.12 9 Both Pierce and Craig have exploited these question styles for redactional ends, suggesting that they point to the unity of Haggai-Zechariah-Malachi (Pierce) or at least Haggai-Zechariah (Craig, although see his note: p. 244, n. 33). The difficulty with these arguments is that the question styles are much too diverse for a common editor.

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