Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Plausible Circumstances for the Prophecy of Habakkuk

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Plausible Circumstances for the Prophecy of Habakkuk

Article excerpt

Bell & Howell Information and LEarning: Foreign text omitted. ...

The stimulus for the present study comes from two disparate sources-a student's question about twenty years ago and a more recent scholar's proposal. The question was one raised in an OT survey course by a student of mine, a candidate for a master's degree, Kathrene Duhon, whether the wording of Hab 3:17 might be associated with the drought described in Jer 14. The proposal is that of J. J. M. Roberts in his commentary on Habakkuk, that the psalm in Hab 3 is the content of the vision promised in Hab 2:2-3, and that 2:4b is to be translated, "The righteous person will live by its [that is, the vision's] faithfulness."1 By this understanding, then, the psalm is not a curious addition to the prophetic material in chs. 1-2 at all, as has often been assumed, but rather an integral part of the proclamation of the prophet.

The possibility that a current drought gave rise to Hab 3:17-18 has been explored before,2 but I am not aware of a study relating these verses to the drought of Jer 14. The latter drought is not dated, but fifteen years ago, using various lines of indirect evidence, I made a proposal for a date. The present analysis applies that date and its associated circumstances to the prophecy of Habakkuk, given the implications of the student's question and of the proposal for Hab 3 just mentioned.

Let me here summarize my proposal for a date for the drought in Jeremiah: I propose three lines of evidence pointing toward the date of November/December, 601 B.C.E. for the public response to the crisis. These are briefly as follows.3

1. It is implied in Jer 14:12 that the onset of the drought called forth a public fast; the only other instance of "fasting" mentioned in Jeremiah (36:9) does carry a date. There were evidently no regular days of fasting in Judah until the time of the exile, certainly no others in "the ninth month" (Chislev, November/December). The wording of 14:12 implies a memorable public event associated with a crisis (compare Joel 1:14), and the crisis can hardly be other than the drought. Wilhelm Rudolph explores the possibility that the fast mentioned in 36:9 was called because of a drought, perhaps that of ch. 14; he cites a passage in the Mishnah which states, "If the first of Chislev was come and no rain had fallen, the court enjoins on the congregation three days of fasting."4 It is plausible, then, to assume that it was the drought of Jer 14 that called forth the fast referred to in 36:9. IMAGE FORMULA14

3. Suggestive is the fact that Jer 8:8-13 implies both a drought (v. 13) and a recitation of the law (vv. 8-9). If, as I have suggested, the law of Deuteronomy was recited every seventh year during the festival of booths (September/October), in accordance with the stipulation in Deut 31:10-11, and if one marks these septennial readings from the time of the discovery of Deuteronomy in Josiah's eighteenth year (2 Kgs 22:3), then the third such public reading would take place during the autumn of 601,10 when, by my suggestion, the drought would already have been under way.

Form-critically I accept the possibility raised by Otto Eissfeldt that Jer 14:1-15:9 represents Jeremiah's ironic counter-liturgy to whatever public liturgy was offered in the crisis of the drought.11 This suggestion in turn raises the question whether the prophetic material in Habakkuk does not embody that public liturgy. I shall return to this possibility below.

It would not be useful here to survey the total range of scholarly views on the setting or settings of the book of Habakkuk; a convenient view of this range may be found in Marvin Sweeney's treatment of the book in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.12 In general I shall move out from Roberts's analysis.

The material in 1:2-2:4 gives little difficulty. Roberts's outline is as follows: Habakkuk's Initial Lament, 1:2-4; God's Response, 1:5-11; Habakkuk's Second Lament, 1:12-17; Yahweh's Second Response, 2:1-4. …

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