Glossary of Terms

The Book of Zechariah


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Zechariah, The Book of. O.T. book consisting of visions of the prophet Zechariah about a restored Jerusalem, chs. 1 to 8. Probably chs. 9 to 14 are two anonymous books from later prophets.

Zecharaiah. A prophet associated with Haggai, about 520 B.C., in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem after the exiles returned from Babylon. Ezra 5:1, Zech. 1:1.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Zechariah, the Book of, the eleventh of the so-called twelve Minor Prophets. The first eight chapters, nearly in their entirety, can be attributed to Zechariah, son (or grandson) of Iddo. Chaps. 9-11 and 12-14 comprise two separate collections from a later period, and will be discussed separately below.


The Book of Zechariah

Historical Setting: The words of Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah, describe the adverse conditions under which the Jewish community lived during the period after the return of some of the exiles to Judah following the edict of Cyrus in 538 b.c. The economy had suffered as a result of crop failure, there was insufficient food, and the value of personal wealth had been eroded by inflation. Haggai responded to this situation in 520 b.c. with an urgent message: the people were themselves at fault for leaving the Temple—destroyed by the Babylonians in 586—in ruins. But an eschatological turning point was at hand. No sooner would the people take up the task of rebuilding than God would act to restore the kingdom, which would rise to the glory of a messianic age under its Davidic prince Zerubbabel.

Zechariah took up the admonition where Haggai had left off, both chronologically (520-518 b.c.) and thematically (his message is more encompassing). No doubt due in part to his encouragement, the rebuilding of the Temple was carried forward, coming to completion in 516 b.c.

Structure and Message of Zechariah 1-8: The heart of Zechariah’s message is formed by a cycle of eight visions in chaps. 1-6, visions received by the prophet in a two-month period in 519. The fourth vision (chap. 3) is distinct from the others in form and theme, and depicts a trial in heaven in which Satan accuses Joshua, and in which God declares the latter free of reproach and then commands that he be consecrated for the high-priestly office. This passage both reflects the exalted position of the Zadokite high priest at this period and hints at the existence of inner-community controversy over his appointment.

The remaining seven visions form an intricate unit giving a symbolic representation of the Jewish community revolving around the rebuilt Temple in a land secured and sanctified by God. Significantly the central vision depicts an elaborate lampstand consisting of seven lamps, on the side of which rise two olive trees. This rich symbolism is interpreted in chap. 4 as representing the all-seeing presence of God (the lamps) and the two anointed emissaries of God on earth, Joshua and Zerubbabel (the olive trees). From this spiritual center of the universe (as indeed the Temple was regarded in the ancient world) the other visions reach out, depicting God’s securing the land against foreign oppressors and establishing prosperity (visions 2 and 3), God’s purging the community of all who violate the Torah (visions 5 and 6), and finally God’s securing the very outer reaches of the universe (visions 1 and 7).

The political setting addressed by this powerful symbolism can be inferred from the plaintive questioning of the angel in 1:12: ‘O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these seventy years?’ The Persian king Darius I (522-486 b.c.) had just crushed the widespread insurrections that had raised nationalistic hopes within many of the Persian vassal states, including Judah. Disappointment threatened the morale of the Jewish community, threatening among other things the Temple rebuilding effort. The visions of Zechariah offered assurance that God remained ‘exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion’ (1:14).

Chap. 1:1-7 and chaps. 7-8 draw various sayings of Zechariah into a framework around the visions. They offer clear evidence of the ethical sensitivity of this prophet, who has sometimes unfairly been described strictly as a cult prophet.

We have noted that the prophetic activity of Zechariah (and Haggai) bore fruit in the completion of the Temple. Are other effects discernible? The enigmatic passage in 6:9-14 offers a tantalizing piece of evidence. It describes the casting of crowns, apparently for the twin members of the Zadokite/Davidic diarchy, Joshua and Zerubbabel. But awkward adjustments to the text have led to the portrayal of a crown being placed solely on the head of Joshua. Zerubbabel has been dropped from the text. Many scholars have taken this as indirect evidence that the messianic fervor engendered by the two prophets had gone so far as to cause the Persians to fear further unrest in Judah, leading to the removal of the Davidic prince. At any rate, this text points to an important development. For the remainder of the Persian period (to 333 b.c.) and on into the Hellenistic (333-63 b.c.), Judah was to be a theocracy under the leadership of a succession of Zadokite high priests.

Zechariah’s message grows out of a tradition reaching back to the Temple theology developed by the Zadokite priests in the pre-exilic period and reaching literary culmination in the book of Ezekiel and the so-called Priestly writing. It is a tradition expressing the concerns and theological insights of a guild of priests devoted to maintaining a state of holiness through the proper maintenance of Temple and sacrifice that would be hospitable to the presence of the divine Glory upon which the well-being of the land depended. Along with Ezekiel it gives indication of significant developments in the history of the religion of Israel, including the increasing sense of the transcendence of God which encouraged speculation concerning divine intermediaries, the cultivation of the genre of the vision as a medium of revelation, and the movement toward an elaborate symbolism and a high eschatology anticipating later apocalyptic writings, upon which Zechariah and Ezekiel exercised considerable influence.

The precise chronological notes running through Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 were probably provided by an editor who gave these prophetic collections their final shape, a person with the type of historical concerns discernible behind the Chronicler’s history.

Zechariah 9-14: Zechariah 9-11, Zechariah 12-14, and the book of Malachi are three collections of prophetic materials each bearing the heading ‘An Oracle.’ It seems likely that at a late stage in the formation of the twelve Minor Prophets, these three collections were added in such a way as to yield the number twelve by attaching two to Zechariah and placing the third as a separate book under the name Malachi (resulting from reading Heb. malaÕki, ‘my messenger,’ as a personal name in Mal. 1:1). Though containing no explicit evidence for dating, it seems that all three collections consist of materials from the fifth and fourth centuries b.c., written by groups increasingly disillusioned with prevailing conditions, critical of their leaders, and given to apocalyptic visions as a means of preserving their hopes for final vindication.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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