Ninth of the 12 Minor Prophets of the Old Testament of the Bible, the Book of Zephaniah draws its name from the prophet Zephaniah, whose ministry places its authorship at c. 630 BC in Jerusalem. The book comprises sayings attacking imitations of foreign religious practices, idolatry, and those who doubt the threat of the Lord's wrath. The day of the Lord is thus a key concept, with possibility for deliverance if the people repent. The judgment on the day of the Lord will leave a humble remnant that will seek its refuge in the Lord. The oracles against foreign nations (chaps. 2 - 3) are believed to contain some genuine sayings of the prophet, but other sayings in these chapters probably date from the postexilic period.
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J H Eaton, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (1969); J A Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament (1976).
Zephaniah, Jehovah has concealed, or Jehovah of darkness. (1.) The son of Cushi, and great-grandson of Hezekiah, and the ninth in the order of the minor prophets. He prophesied in the days of Josiah, king of Judah (B.C. 641-610), and was contemporary with Jeremiah, with whom he had much in common.
The book of his prophecies consists of: (a) An introduction (1:1-6), announcing the judgment of the world, and the judgment upon Israel, because of their transgressions. (b) The description of the judgment (1:7-18). (c) An exhortation to seek God while there is still time (2:1-3). (d) The announcement of judgment on the heathen (2:4-15). (e) The hopeless misery of Jerusalem (3:1-7). (f) The promise of salvation (3:8-20).
(3.) A Kohathite ancestor of the prophet Samuel (1 Chr. 6:36).
(4.) The father of Josiah, the priest who dwelt in Jerusalem when Darius issued the decree that the temple should be rebuilt (Zech. 6:10).
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
The ninth of the twelve Minor Prophets of the Canon of the Old Testament; preached and wrote in the second half of the seventh century B.C. He was a contemporary and supporter of the great Prophet Jeremias. His name (Hebrew Zephanja, that is "the Lord conceals", "the Lord protects") might, on the analogy of Gottfried, be most briefly translated by the words God protect. The only primary source from which we obtain our scanty knowledge of the personality and the rhetorical and literary qualities of Sophonias, is the short book of the Old Testament (containing only three chapters), which bears his name. The scene of his activity was the city of Jerusalem (i, 4-10; iii, 1 sqq.; 14 sqq.).
The date of the Prophet's activity fell in the reign of King Josias (641-11). Sophonias is one of the few Prophets whose chronology is fixed by a precise date in the introductory verse of the book. Under the two preceding kings, Amon and Manasse, idolatry had been introduced in the most shameful forms (especially the cult of Baal and Astarte) into the Holy City, and with this foreign cult came a foreign culture and a great corruption of morals. Josias, the king with the anointed sceptre, wished to put an end to the horrible devastation in the holy places. One of the most zealous champions and advisers of this reform was Sophonias, and his writing remains one of the most important documents for the understanding of the era of Josias. The Prophet laid the axe at the root of the religious and moral corruption, when, in view of the idolatry which had penetrated even into the sanctuary, he threatened to "destroy out of this place the remnant of Baal, and the names of the . . . priests" (i, 4), and pleaded for a return to the simplicity of their fathers instead of the luxurious foreign clothing which was worn especially in aristocratic circles (i, 8). The age of Sophonias was also a most serious and decisive period, because the lands of Anterior Asia were overrun by foreigners owing to the migration of the Seythians in the last decades of the seventh century, and because Jerusalem, the city of the Prophets, was only a few decades before its downfall (586). The far-seeing watchman on Sion's battlements saw this catastrophe draw near: "for the day of the Lord is near" is the burden of his preaching (i, 7). "The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and exceeding swift: . . . That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds" (i, 14-15).
The book of the Prophet naturally contains in its three chapters only a sketch of the fundamental ideas of the preaching of Sophonias. The scheme of the book in its present form is as follows:
(a) i, 2-ii, 3
The threatening of the "day of the Lord", a Dies irae dies illa of the Old Testament. The judgment of the Lord will descend on Juda and Jerusalem as a punishment for the awful degeneracy in religious life (i, 4-7a); it will extend to all classes of the people (i, 7b-13), and will be attended with all the horrors of a frightful catastrophe (i, 14-18); therefore, do penance and seek the Lord (ii, 1-3).
(b) ii, 4-15
Not only over Jerusalem, but over the whole world (urbi et orbi), over the peoples in all the four regions of the heavens, will the hand of the Lord be stretched--westwards over the Philistines (4-7), eastwards over the Moabites and Ammonites (8-11), southwards over the Ethiopians (12), and northwards over the Assyrians and Ninivites (13-15).
(c) With a special threat (iii, 1-8)
The Prophet then turns again to Jerusalem: "Woe to the provoking, and redeemed city. . . She hath not hearkened to the voice, neither hath she received discipline"; the severest reckoning will be required of the aristocrats and the administrators of the law (as the leading classes of the civil community), and of the Prophets and priests, as the directors of public worship.
(d) iii, 9-20
A consolatory prophecy, or prophetic glance at the Kingdom of God of the future, in which all the world, united in one faith and one worship, will turn to one God, and the goods of the Messianic Kingdom, whose capital is the daughter of Sion, will be enjoyed. The universality of the judgment as well as of the redemption is so forcibly expressed in Sophonias that his book may be regarded as the "Catholic Epistle" of the Old Testament.
(e) The last exhortation of Sophonias (3:9-20
also has a Messianic colouring, although not to an extent comparable with Isaias.
III. CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET
Sophonias' prophecy is not strongly differentiated from other prophecies like that of Amos or Habacuc, it is confined to the range of thought common to all prophectic exhortations: threats of judgment, exhortation to penance, promise of Messianic salvation. For this reason Sophonias might be regarded as the type of Hebrew Prophets and as the final example of the prophetic terminology. He does not seek the glory of an original writer, but borrows freely both ideas and style from the older Prophets (especially Isaias and Jeremias). The resemblances to the Book of Deuteronomy may be explained by the fact that this book, found in the Josian reform, was then the centre of religious interest. The language of Sophonias is vigorous and earnest, as become the seriousness of the period, but is free from the gloomy elegiac tone of Jeremias. In some passages it becomes pathetic and poetic, without however attaining the classical diction or poetical flight of a Nahum or Deutero-Isaias. There is something solemn in the manner in which the Lord is so frequently introduced as the speaker, and the sentence of judgment falls on the silent earth (i, 7). Apart from the few plays on words (cf. especially ii, 4), Sophonias eschews all rhetorical and poetical ornamentation of language. As to the logical and rhythmical build of the various exhortations, he has two strophes of the first sketch (i, 7 and 14) with the same opening ("the day of the Lord is near"), and closes the second sketch with a hymn (ii, 15)--a favourite practice of his prototype, Jeremias. A graduated development of the sentiment to a climax in the scheme is expressed by the fact that the last sketch contains an animated and longer lyrical hymn to Jerusalem (iii, 14 sqq.). In Christian painting Sophonias is represented in two ways; either with the lantern (referring to i, 12: "I will search Jerusalem with lamps") or clad in a toga and bearing a scroll bearing as text the beginning of the hymn "Give praise, O daughter of Sion" (iii, 14).
IV. CRITICAL PROBLEMS OFFERED BY SOPHONIAS
The question of authorship is authoritatively answered by the introductory verse of the book. Even radical higher critics like Marti acknowledge that no reason exists for doubting that the author of this prophecy is the Sophonias (Zephaniah) mentioned in the title ("Das Dodekapropheton"), Tübingen, 1904, 359). The fact that this Prophet's name is mentioned nowhere else in the Old Testament does not affect the conclusive force of the first verse of the prophecy. Sophonias is the only Prophet whose genealogy is traced back into the fourth generation. From this has been inferred that the fourth and last ancestor mentioned Ezechias (Hizkiah) is identical with the king of the same name (727-698). In this case, however, the explanatory phrase "King of Judah" would undoubtedly have been put in apposition to the name. Consequently the statement concerning the author of the book in the first part of the introductory verse appears entirely worthy of belief, because the statement concerning the chronology of the book given in the second half of the same verse is confirmed by internal criteria. The descriptions of customs, especially in the first chapter, showing the state of religion and morals at Jerusalem are, in point of fact, a true presentation of conditions during the first years of the reign of King Josias. The worship of the stars upon the flat roofs, mentioned in i, 5, and imitation of the Babylonian worship of the heavens that had become the fashion in Palestine from the reign of Manasses is also mentioned by the contemporary Prophet, Jeremias (xix, 13; xxxii, 29), as a religious disorder of the Josianic era. All this confirms the credibility of the witness of i, 1, concerning authorship of Sophonias.
Critical investigations, as to where the original texts in the Book of Sophonias end and the glosses, revisions of the text, and still later revisions begin, have resulted in a unanimous declaration that the first chapter of the book is the work of Sophonias; the second chapter is regarded as not so genuine, and the third still less so. In separating what are called the secondary layers of the second chapter nearly all the higher critics have come to different conclusions -- quot capita, tot sensus. Each individual verse cannot be investigated here as in the detailed analysis of a commentator. However, it may be pointed out in general that the technical plan in the literary construction of the speeches, especially the symmetrical arrangement of the speeches mentioned in section II, and the responses spoken of in section III, forbid any large excisions. The artistic form used in the construction of the prophetic addresses is recognized more and more as an aid to literary criticism.
The passage most frequently considered an addition of a later date is iii, 14-20, because the tone of a herald of salvation here adopted does not agree with that of the prophecies of the threatening judgment of the two earlier chapters. It is, however, the custom of the Prophets after a terrifying warning of the judgments of Jahve to close with a glimpse of the brilliant future of the Kingdom of God, to permit, as it were, the rainbow to follow the thunder-storm. Joel first utters prophetic denunciations which are followed by prophetic consolations (Joel in Vulgate, i-ii, 17; ii, 19-iii); Isaias in ch. i calls Jerusalem a city like Sodom and directly afterwards a city of justice, and Micheas, whose similarity to Sophonias is remarked upon by critics, also allows his threats of judgment to die away in an announcement of salvation. One of the guiding eschatological thoughts of all the Prophets is this: The judgment is only the way of transition to salvation and the consummation of the history of the world will be the salvation of what is left of the seed. For this reason, therefore, Sophonias, iii, 14-20 cannot be rejected. The entire plan of the book seems to be indicated in a small scale in the first address, which closes ii, 1-3, with an exhortation to seek the Lord that is with a consolatory theme directly after the terrible proclamation of the Day of the Lord.
The queries raised by the textual criticism of the Book of Sophonias are far simpler and nearer solution than those connected with the higher criticism. The conditions of the text, with exception of a few doubtful passages, is good and there are few books of the Biblical canon which offer so few points of attack to Biblical hypercriticism as the Book of Sophonias.
Written by M. Faulhaber. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
REINKE, Der Prophet Zephanja (Munster, 1868); KNABENBAUER, Comment. In proph. min. (Paris, 1886); VAN HOONACKER, Les douze pet. proph. (Paris, 1908); LIPPL, Das Buch des Proph. Sophon. (Freiburg, 1910), containing (pp. ix-xvi) an excellent bibliography; SCHWALLY, Das Buch Zephanja (Giessen, 1890); SCHULZ, Comment uber den Proph. Zephanja (Hanover, 1892); ADAMS, The Minor Proph. (New York, 1902); DROVER, The Min. Proph. (Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah)(Edinburgh, 1907); the complete commentaries of STRACK-ZOCKLER, NOWACK; MARTI; and G.A. SMITH.
Commemorated December 3
Prophet Sophonias, who is ninth in order among the minor Prophets, was the son of Chusi (Cushi), from the tribe of Levi, or according to some, the great-grandson of King Hezekias. He prophesied in the years of Josias, who reigned in the years 641-610 BC. His book of prophecy is divided into three chapters. His name means "Yah is darkness".
Dismissal Hymn (Second
As we celebrate the memory of You Prophet Sophonias. O Lord, through him we beseech You to save our souls.
Kontakion (Fourth Tone)
You was shown to be illumined by the Divine Spirit, O Prophet Sophonias, proclaiming God's manifestation, and you preached: Rejoice greatly, O daughters of Sion and of Jerusalem; behold, your King comes, bringing salvation.
One of the twelve Minor Prophets who describes himself as "the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, King of Judah" (Zeph. i. 1). He seems, therefore, to have been a descendant of Hezekiah, King of Judah, since otherwise only the name of his father would have been given (comp. Isa. i. 1; Ezek. i. 3; Joel i. 1). If he was of royal descent, he probably lived in Jerusalem; and evidence of this is seen in his prophecies, where he describes various parts of the city. According to the first verse of the book which bears his name, he flourished during the reign of Josiah, and on the basis of his utterances the majority of modern scholars date his activity prior to the reforms so rigorously inaugurated and promulgated after 621, the pictures of corruption and the approaching foe being most appropriately referred to the situation in Judah during the early years of Josiah and the Scythian invasion. The contents of the book of this prophet fall into two parts: i. 1-iii. 8, the coming judgment on the world, including Israel and the nations; and iii. 9-20, a promise of universal salvation.
Zephaniah's special denunciations are directed against false worship and irreligion. The calamity will find every one, even in the hiding-places of Jerusalem; Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria shall be overwhelmed by punishment and disaster; Jerusalem in particular, being rebellious, corrupt, and disobedient to the word of Yhwh, shall fall under the divine wrath. Yet, on the other hand, God's promise is made known to the nations, that He will so purify them that they may call on Him, and all shall bring Him offerings. After the storm of judgment Israel shall be humble, and shall trust in Yhwh alone. New social conditions shall arise, and justice and righteousness shall prevail, so that the redeemed shall rejoice in the Lord.
Zephaniah is a forceful book. Its language is vigorous and picturesque, and betrays an acquaintance with the Earlier Prophets. The ideas most emphasized are the providential control of the nations of the world, the necessity of purity and justice as opposed to the prevalent corruption and injustice of the day, and the refining value of judgment and suffering.
Emil G. Hirsch, Ira Maurice Price
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Davidson, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, in The Cambridge Bible for Schools, 1896; Nowack, Die Kleinen Propheten, in Handkommentar zum Alten Testament, 1897; Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, ii., in The Expositor's Bible, 1898.E. G. H. I. M. P.
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