The common language at the time of Jesus

After the Babylonian captivity, Aramaic replaced Biblical Hebrew as the everyday language in Israel.  However, Biblical Hebrew was still used for religious purposes.  After Alexander the Great, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids ruled Israel for almost two hundred years.  Thus, the Jewish culture was heavily influenced by this Hellenistic culture.  Koine Greek was used not only for international communication, but also as the first language of some Jews.  This development was furthered complicated by the fact that the largest Jewish community in the world lived in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Egypt.  Many of these diaspora Jews would have Greek as their first language.  Thus, first the Torah, and then other Hebrew scriptures, were translated into standard Koine Greek, the Septuagint.

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Title (Hag 1:1-1:1)

“In the second year

Of King Darius,

In the sixth month,

On the first day

Of the month,

The word of Yahweh

Came by the prophet Haggai,

To Zerubbabel,

The son of Shealtiel,

Governor of Judah.

It also came

To Joshua,

The son of Jehozadak,

The high priest.”

There is a precise date to this prophetic happening, August, 520 BCE, the second year of the great King Darius of Persia (522-486 BCE).  During his reign, he ruled over nearly ½ of the known world, over 50,000,000 people.  The word of Yahweh came through the prophet Haggai, although there is no mention of his family.  Perhaps he was one of those returning from the exile in Babylon.  In the Book of Ezra, chapter 5, Haggai and Zechariah were explicitly mentioned as prophets.  There was also a eunuch servant Haggai in the Book of Esther, but there seems to be no connection to this Haggai.  This Haggai was to prophesize to Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, who was the grandson of one of the last kings of Judah, King Jehoiachin (598 BCE).  Thus, he could be in the Davidic line.  He probably died sometime around 520 BCE, sometime around the events described here.  King Cyrus had appointed Zerubbabel to be the Governor of Judah in 538 BCE, when he was among the first exiles sent back to Jerusalem.  Joshua, the son of Jehozadak was the high priest in Jerusalem from 515-490 BCE.

Title (Zeph 1:1-1:1)

“The word of Yahweh

That came to Zephaniah,

Son of Cushi,

Son of Gedaliah,

Son of Amariah,

Son of Hezekiah,

In the days

Of King Josiah,

Son of Amon,

Of Judah.”

As with many other prophets, the word of Yahweh came to Zephaniah.  However, there is a long description of his lineage.  He was the son of a Cushi that could mean a Cushite, an Ethiopian, or a dark-skinned person.  There was a Gedaliah who was a governor of Israel after the exile, but the setting is earlier here.  There 9 different people with the name of Amariah mentioned in the biblical literature.  This one could have been the son of King Hezekiah of Judah who ruled from 716-687 BCE.  That is quite possible since Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BCE) who was the son of King Amon (642-640 BCE).  Thus, Zephaniah may have been a prophet with royal blood.

Yahweh was going to use the Chaldeans (Hab 1:6-1:7)

“I am rousing the Chaldeans.

They are

A fierce impetuous nation.

They march through

The breadth of the earth.

They seize dwellings,

Not their own.

They are terribly dreadful.

Their justice

Proceeds from themselves.

Their dignity

Proceeds from themselves.”

Who are these Chaldeans?  For nearly a hundred years (612-539 BCE), they ruled the ancient near eastern territory of Mesopotamia as the neo-Babylonian empire.  They basically took over from the Assyrians in 612 BCE, but were eventually defeated by the Persians in 539 BCE.  The Chaldeans were originally from southern Babylon, but were integrated into the Babylonian society.  These Chaldeans were a Semitic people who probably spoke Aramaic.  Yahweh was going to use them, even though they were a fierce impetuous country.  They went all over the place seizing homes and territories.  Thus, they were terrible dreadful people.  They even had their own kind of justice and dignity that they declared for themselves.

The sons of the northern king attack the south (Dan 11:10-11:10)

“The sons of the northern king

Shall wage war.

They shall assemble

A multitude

Of great forces.

They shall advance

Like a flood.

They shall pass through.

They shall again carry the war

As far as his fortress.”

The sons of the northern King Seleucus II were King Seleucus III (225-223 BCE) and King Antiochus III (222-187 BCE) both of whom ruled after him. They decided to attack the southern king of Egypt. They assembled a great army and advanced like a flood to the fortress of Egypt.

The kings of Persia (Dan 11:2-11:2)

“Now I will announce

The truth

To you.

Three more kings

Shall arise

In Persia.

The fourth shall be

Far richer

Than all of them.

When he has become strong,

Through his riches,

He shall stir up all

Against the kingdom of Greece.”

Next this angel Gabriel was going to tell Daniel the truth about 3 or 4 more Persian kings. This assumes that Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE) was the king at that time. The 3 more are probably Cambyses II (530-522 BCE), Darius I (522-486 BCE), and Xerxes I (486-465 BCE), who all went to war with Greece. The 4th Persian ruler might have been Artaxerxes (465-424 BCE). Notice that most of these Persian rulers ruled for long periods of time with their biggest enemy being Greece.

The interpretation of the four great beasts (Dan 7:16-7:18)

“I approached

One of the attendants

To ask him

The truth

Concerning all this.

So,

He said

That he would disclose

To me.

The interpretation

Of the matter.

‘As for these four great beasts,

Four kings

Shall arise

Out of the earth.

But the holy ones

Of the Most High God

Shall receive the kingdom.

They shall possess

The kingdom forever,

Forever and ever.’”

In a strange way, Daniel approached one of the people in his dream or vision to ask for an interpretation of his dream. In fact, it seems to be just one of the attendants standing around there. Daniel wanted to know the truth and the interpretation about these 4 beasts. Then, this attendant told him that the 4 beasts were 4 kings that rose up and ruled. However, the holy ones of the Most High God got possession of the kingdom. They were then going to have possession of this kingdom forever. It was not clear whether the other 4 kings had ruled this same kingdom or other kingdoms.