Zechariah’s authorship (Zechariah 4)

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Illustration: The traditional —–8not actual) tomb of Zechariah

Before the seventeenth century A.D. the authorship of Zechariah was uncontested. The book was believed to have been written in its entirety by the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo (Zechariah 1:1). Zechariah began his ministry in 520 B.C., a mer two months after Haggai commenced his own.

During the seventeenth century A.D., on the basis of Matthew 27:9 (which quotes Zechariah 11:12-13 but ascribes it to the prophet Jeremiah), the suggestion was made that the latter half of Zechariah (chapters 9-14) was actually written by Jeremiah. Since then the unity of Zechariah has been questioned by many critical scholars. Some hold that the entire work was written before the time of Zechariah, while others are convinced that it was written long after his day. The various arguments include:

  • The first eight chapters allude to the historical situation during the restoration of the temple and include the dates when the visions occurred, while the last six chapters contain no such allusion or dates.
  • There are marked differences in style and vocabulary between chapters 1-8 and 9-14.
  • The reference to Greece in 9:13 suggests to some scholars a composition date in the late fourth century B.C., after Greece under Alexander the Great had conquered the Near East. Since Persia, not Greece, was the prevailing power in Zechariah’s day, many believe this particular verse to have been written after the fall of the Persian empire.

There is little disagreement that chapters 9-14 are different from 1-8 or that the two sections were written at different times. This does not necessarily preclude, however, the assumption that Zechariah did in fact write the entire book.

  • The fact that Zechariah 1-8 dates its prophecies, while chapters 9-14 do not, can be accounted for without postulating a second author: The first section relates to the crucial events of 520 to 518 B.C. focusing on specific individuals and time frames. This specificity in purpose requires a more concrete historical setting. The second section is for the most part eschatological (focused on the end times) and oriented toward the distant future. The first section was most likely written well before the second. Zechariah was a young man in 520 B.C. (2:4) but may have written chapters 9-14 decades later.
  • The prophet need not have maintained one writing style throughout his ministry. The apocalyptic-type visions of chapters 1-8 are reminiscent of what we see in Ezekiel (completed ca. 575 B.C.) and Daniel (completed ca. 520 B.C.) Zechariah 9-14, on the other hand, returns to a more classical style of prophecy.
  • With regard to 9:13, the Hebrew Scriptures already refer to Greece (“Javan”) before Zechariah’s time (Isaiah 66:19, Ezekiel 27:13); Greece was a significant power already in the sixth century B.C. By 520 B.C. the Greeks were a considerable irritation to the Persian empire, and within a few decades the Persians would assemble one of the greatest armies of ancient history to deal with them – and suffer a catastrophic defeat. Indeed, the Persians may already have experienced a major setback in Greece by the time of the writing of Zechariah 9-14, and yet those chapters could still be the work of Zechariah himself (the battle or Marathon was fought in 490 B.C.).

Several solutions have been offered for Matthew’s reference to Jeremiah. Some have argued that since the Talmus places Jeremiah at the head of the collection of prophetic books, any prophetic quote might be considered as belonging to the literary collection of Jeremiah. Others suggest that Matthew originally ascribed the passage to Zechariah but that the name Jeremiah crept in through scribal error. Matthew may have been quoting Zechariah but referring the reader to the prophecy found in Jeremiah 19:1-13 and 32:6-8, which had been repeated and explained in Zechariah’s work.

In addition to the arguments presented above, the work shows internal signs of unity. The first and second sections are both concerned with the divine protection of Jerusalem, judgement against Israel’s enemies, the Messiah (Zechariah 3:8, 9:9) and the oupouring of the Spirit (4:6, 12:10).


 

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