Book of Zephaniah

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The superscription of the Book of Zephaniah attributes its authorship 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” (1:1, NRSV). All that is known of Zephaniah comes from the text. The superscription of the book is lengthier than most and contains two features. The name Cushi, Zephaniah’s father, means ‘Ethiopian’. In a society where genealogy was considered extremely important because of God's covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the author may have felt compelled to establish his Hebrew lineage. In fact, this lineage is traced back to Hezekiah, who was king of Judah. The author of Zephaniah does not shrink from condemning the Cushites or Ethiopians. Chapter 2:12 contains a succinct but unequivocal message: “You also, O Ethiopians, / Shall be killed by my sword.” Zephaniah’s family connection with King Hezekiah may have also legitimized his harsh indictment of the royal city in 3:1-7.

As with many of the other prophets, there is no external evidence to directly associate composition of the book with a prophet by the name of Zephaniah. Some scholars believe that much of the material does not date from the days of King Josiah (ca. 640-609 BC), but is actually post-monarchic. Three general possibilities are that a person, possibly named Zephaniah, prophesied the words of the book of Zephaniah; the general message of a Josianic prophet is conveyed through the book of Zephaniah; or the name could have been employed, either during the monarchic or post-monarchic period, as a ‘speaking voice’, possibly for rhetorical purposes. Although it is possible that a post-monarchic author assumed the persona of a monarchic prophet to add credibility to his message, there is no evidence to support such a claim.

The prophetic book of the Bible attributed to Zephaniah occurs ninth among the twelve minor prophets, preceded by Habakkuk and followed by Haggai. Zephaniah (or Tzfanya, Sophonias, צפניה, Ẓəfanya, Ṣəp̄anyāh) means 'the Lord conceals',or 'the Lord protects'.

Contents

When it was written

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If the superscription of the book of Zephaniah is a reliable indicator of the time that the bulk of the book was composed, then Zephaniah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah (or Jeremias). King Josiah ruled over Judah from approximately 640-609 BC. Some scholars believe that the picture of Jerusalem which Zephaniah gives indicates that he was active prior to the religious reforms of King Josiah which are described in 2 Kings 23. These reforms took place in 622 BC. Scholars also cite the reference to “the officials and the king’s sons . . .” in 1:8 as evidence that the kingdom was still ruled by a regent for Josiah. The portrait of foreign nations in chapter 2 also indicates the late seventh century.

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