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Introduction to the OT Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets

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General Info

In the Protestant Canon, the section containing the twelve books from Hosea to Malachi are known as the “Minor Prophets”.  Each of the twelve books are named for its author and main character.  Some bible readers believe that they are called “minor” (as opposed to the “Major Prophets” section of the same canon) because of the erroneous perception that they may be of lesser importance, but this assumption is not true.  A few early Greek manuscripts even placed the books of the Minor Prophets before the majors in their canon.  The term “minor” was used strictly due to their shorter length, as compared with the longer writings of the “major” prophets.

On the Hebrew scrolls, we find all twelve plus the book of Lamentations on a single scroll, but Lamentations was included in the “major” section (along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) in the OT Protestant canon, likely due to its association with Jeremiah.  The twelve books are placed roughly in chronological order and close out the OT Protestant canon.  The majority of OT scholars believe that the twelve works were brought together on a scroll within a century of the completion of the last book (Malachi).

In the Hebrew Bible Canon, the twelve books of the minor prophets (along with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) are grouped into a section called the Nevi’im Aharonim, or the “Latter Prophets”.  The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings make up the Nevi’im Rishonim section, or “Former Prophets”, and Daniel and Lamentations are located in the the Ketuvim, or “Writings” section.

The first known extra-biblical reference to “the twelve prophets” is found in the Apocryphal book Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) that was written about 200 BC.  In a section honoring Jewish heroes including David, Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezekiel and others, we read “May the bones of the Twelve Prophets send forth new life from where they lie, for they comforted the people of Jacob and delivered them with confident hope” (49:10 - NRSV).  It thus appears that these twelve volumes were already considered a single unit by this time.  The earliest  reference of the Book of the Twelve as the “Minor Prophets” is found in Augustine’s The City of God (18.25), completed about 425 AD.

As we noted in our Introduction to the Major Prophets, the latter prophets continued to deal with selected portions of Israel’s history, including details and circumstances surrounding their own actions, visions, and messages, but the heavier emphasis has generally shifted to place more emphasis on the prophetic aspects.  See our About the OT Hebrew Prophets article for more on the functions, messages and other general information of the prophets.  See the introductions to the individual books for Author and Date information.

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Historical Background

As we noted in the Historical Background of the Major Prophets, we can divide the era of the writing prophets (mid eighth century to mid fifth century BC) into four periods, the time of the Divided Kingdom ending with God’s judgment and exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, God’s later judgment and exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, Judah’s time in Babylonian exile, and the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem.  The ministries of the Major Prophets ended in the third period with Daniel’s ministry to the Jewish exiles in Babylon in the mid-sixth century BC.  The ministries of the Minor Prophets roughly coincided with those of the major’s, but also extended into the fourth.

In the first time period, during which the empire of Assyria was the dominant power over the area, the prophets Amos and Hosea ministered in Israel, Joel ministered in Judah (and possibly Obadiah proclaimed judgments against Edom, but a later date appears to be more likely), and Micah ministered to both Kingdoms.  Meanwhile, Jonah reluctantly preached to Nineveh in Assyria (before Assyria reached the apex of her power).  The prophets of this era warned of disobedience to the covenant and lack of social justice, and urged the people to repent in order to escape judgment.  The people did not heed their warnings, so the period ended with God’s judgment and exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (722 BC).

During the second period, Micah continued in Judah after the fall of Israel and was joined by Habakkuk and Zephaniah.  Meanwhile, Nahum prophesied in Assyria, including proclaiming their fall.  This was fulfilled when Babylon defeated Assyria in 612 BC to become the dominant power in the area.  By this time, Judah’s disobedience had reached the point where the message of the prophets became one of inevitable judgment, but was also tempered by a reassurance of future deliverance and restoration.   The period ended with God allowing Babylon to conquer Judah and exile the people in three phases (605, 597, and 586 BC).  Obadiah probably proclaimed judgment against Edom for their collusion with Babylon shortly after Judah’s exile.  Micah also prophesized the coming Messiah (Mic 5, see also Mt 2:1-12) who would ultimately bring peace to Israel.

During the third and fourth periods, the Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon (539 BC) and the following year, issued an edict allowing the Jews to return to their homeland.  There is no mention of any specific messages of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah in Babylon, however both returned to Judea about 520 to 516 BC to minister and encourage the people during the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple.  Finally, Malachi returned about 450-430 BC, becoming the last of the “postexilic” prophets.  He encouraged reform of faulty worship and teaching practices, and closed his writing (and the OT) by predicting the coming of a new Elijah.  This was fulfilled by John the Baptist (Mk 9:11-12, Lk 1:11-17) who heralded the arrival of Jesus the Messiah (Jn 1:19-35).

The roughly four centuries period between the close of the Minor Prophets and the first recorded New Testament events are often called the “silent years”.  There was no official  from the prophets that officially declared the end of OT prophecy, but after an extensive period of time, it became obvious that prophetic activity had ceased.  In chapter nine of 1Maccabees, we find the Jews mourning the death of their leader Judas Maccabee in the Battle of Elasa.  We read, “So there was great distress in Israel, such as had not been since the time that prophets ceased to appear among them” (1Macc 9:27).

Even though prophetic activity halted, the Sovereign God continued to work during these four centuries until, at the right time (Gal 4:4-5), the apparent silence was broken.   The angel Gabriel appeared to the Jewish priest Zechariah and announced that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son who would go before the people in the power and spirit of Elijah and prepare them for the coming Messiah (Lk 1:5-25).  This son of course was the aforementioned John the Baptist.

See the Historical Background of the OT History Books and the historical backgrounds of the individual book introductions for additional information.

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The following is a rough timeline spanning the ministries of the Minor Prophets.  See Chronology of the Monarchy Timeline for additional info.  We have not listed the prophet Joel, whose ministry has been estimated anywhere from the ninth to the fifth century BC.

931 BC Division of the Kingdom into the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah
~840 BC Obadiah Prophet of Judah to Edom (Alternate Date)
835-796 BC Joash (aka Jehoash) King of Judah (Jehoiada the Priest performed the kingly duties until Joash became of age)
~835 BC Joel Prophet of Judah (Possible Date)
793-753 BC Jeroboam II King of Israel
791-740 BC Uzziah (aka Azariah) King of Judah
~780-750 BC Jonah Prophet of Israel to Assyria
~765-750 BC Amos Prophet of Judah to Israel
~755-715 BC Hosea Prophet of Israel
~740-690 BC Micah Prophet of Judah
~740-685 BC Isaiah Prophet of Israel
~728-686 BC Hezekiah King of Judah
722 BC Israel Conquered and Exiled by Assyrians
~660-630 BC Micah Prophet of Judah
640-609 BC Josiah King of Judah enacts Reforms
~635-622 BC Zephaniah Prophet of Judah
627-580 BC Jeremiah Prophet of Judah
~620-604 BC Habakkuk Prophet of Judah
612 BC The Babylonians (Chaldeans) Conquer and Destroy Nineveh (Assyrians)
605 BC Babylon Invades Judah, Exiles Daniel and many other Jews
~605-535 BC Daniel Prophet to Exiled Judah
597 BC Second Invasion by the Babylonians, Exiles Ezekiel and many other Jews
~593-570 BC Ezekiel Prophet to Exiled Judah
586 BC Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Exile of much of the remaining Population
~576~539 BC Obadiah Prophet of Judah to Edom (Most Likely Date - sometime within this range)
539 BC Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) Captures Babylon and Establishes Persian Empire
538 BC First Return of Exiled Jews to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel
~520-518 BC Zechariah Prophet to Returned Exiles in Judah
~520 BC Haggai Prophet to Returned Exiles in Judah
~516 BC Rebuilding of the Temple Completed
~478 BC Esther and Mordecai Foil a Plot to Exterminate Jews in Persia
458 BC Ezra and other Exiles Return to Jerusalem
~450-420 BC Malachi Prophet to Returned Exiles in Judah
445 BC Nehemiah Returns to Jerusalem, Begins Rebuilding the Walls
~400 BC Writing of the Last Books of OT - Possibly assembled by Ezra

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

See Themes, Purpose and Theology of the Major Prophets.

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

See Interpretation Hints and Challenges of the Major Prophets and Interpreting Prophetical and Apocalyptic Literature.    The second linked article also deals with two major challenges to understanding predictive prophecy, the timing of the predictions fulfillment and the types of fulfillment (literal vs figurative), along with other rules of interpretation.

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