Habacuc

                     The eighth of the Minor Prophets, who probably flourished towards the end of the
                     seventh century B.C.      Habacuc (Habakkuk)

                                       I. NAME AND PERSONAL LIFE

                     In the Hebrew text (i,1; iii, 1), the prophet's name presents a doubly intensive
                     form Hàbhàqqûq, which has not been preserved either in the Septuagint:
                     Ambakoum, or in the Vulgate: Habacuc. Its resemblance with the Assyrian
                     hambakûku, which is the name of a plant, is obvious. Its exact meaning cannot
                     be ascertained: it is usually taken to signify "embrace" and is at times explained
                     as "ardent embrace", on account of its intensive form. Of this prophet's
                     birth-place, parentage, and life we have no reliable information. The fact that in
                     his book he is twice called "the prophet" (i, 1; iii, 1) leads indeed one to surmise
                     that Habacuc held a recognized position as prophet, but it manifestly affords no
                     distinct knowledge of his person. Again, some musical particulars connected
                     with the Hebrew text of his Prayer (ch. iii) may possibly suggest that he was a
                     member of the Temple choir, and consequently a Levite: but most scholars
                     regard this twofold inference as questionable. Hardly less questionable is the
                     view sometimes put forth, which identifies Habacuc with the Judean prophet of
                     that name, who is described in the deuterocanonical fragment of Bel and the
                     Dragon (Dan., xiv, 32 sqq.), as miraculously carrying a meal to Daniel in the
                     lion's den.

                     In this absence of authentic tradition, legend, not only Jewish but also Christian,
                     has been singularly busy about the prophet Habacuc. It has represented him as
                     belonging to the tribe of Levi and as the son of a certain Jesus; as the child of the
                     Sunamite woman, whom Eliseus restored to life (cf. IV Kings, iv, 16 sqq.); as the
                     sentinel set by Isaias (cf. Is. xxi, 6; and Hab., ii, 1) to watch for the fall of
                     Babylon. According to the "Lives" of the prophets, one of which is ascribed to St.
                     Epiphanius, and the other to Dorotheus, Habacuc was of the tribe of Simeon, and
                     a native of Bethsocher, a town apparently in the tribe of Juda. In the same works
                     it is stated that when Nabuchodonosor came to besiege Jerusalem, the prophet
                     fled to Ostrakine (now Straki, on the Egyptian coast), whence he returned only
                     after the Chaldeans had withdrawn; that he then lived as a husbandman in his
                     native place, and died there two years before Cyrus's edict of Restoration (538
                     B.C.). Different sites are also mentioned as his burial-place. The exact amount of
                     positive information embodied in these conflicting legends cannot be determined
                     at the present day. The Greek and Latin Churches celebrate the feast of the
                     prophet Habacuc on 15 January.

                                       II. CONTENTS OF PROPHECY

                     Apart from its short title (i, 1) the Book of Habacuc is commonly divided into two
                     parts: the one (i,2-ii, 20) reads like a dramatic dialogue between God and His
                     prophet; the other (chap. iii) is a lyric ode, with the usual characteristics of a
                     psalm. The first part opens with Habacuc's lament to God over the protracted
                     iniquity of the land, and the persistent oppression of the just by the wicked, so
                     that there is neither law nor justice in Juda: How long is the wicked thus destined
                     to prosper? (i, 2-4). Yahweh replies (i, 5-11) that a new and startling display of
                     His justice is about to take place: already the Chaldeans -- that swift, rapacious,
                     terrible, race -- are being raised up, and they shall put an end to the wrongs of
                     which the prophet has complained. Then Habacuc remonstrates with Yahweh,
                     the eternal and righteous Ruler of the world, over the cruelties in which He allows
                     the Chaldeans to indulge (i, 12-17), and he confidently waits for a response to his
                     pleading (ii, 1). God's answer (ii, 2-4) is in the form of a short oracle (verse 4),
                     which the prophet is bidden to write down on a tablet that all may read it, and
                     which foretells the ultimate doom of the Chaldean invader. Content with this
                     message, Habacuc utters a taunting song, triumphantly made up of five "woes"
                     which he places with dramatic vividness on the lips of the nations whom the
                     Chaldean has conquered and desolated (ii, 5-20). The second part of the book
                     (chap. iii) bears the title: "A prayer of Habacuc, the prophet, to the music of
                     Shigionot." Strictly speaking, only the second verse of this chapter has the form
                     of a prayer. The verses following (3-16) describe a theophany in which Yahweh
                     appears for no other purpose than the salvation of His people and the ruin of His
                     enemies. The ode concludes with the declaration that even though the blessings
                     of nature should fail in the day of dearth, the singer will rejoice in Yahweh (17-19).
                     Appended to chap. iii is the statement: "For the chief musician, on my stringed
                     instruments."

                                        III. DATE AND AUTHORSHIP

                     Owing chiefly to the lack of reliable external evidence, there has been in the past,
                     and there is even now, a great diversity of opinions concerning the date to which
                     the prophecy of Habacuc should be ascribed. Ancient rabbis, whose view is
                     embodied in the Jewish chronicle entitled Seder olam Rabbah, and is still
                     accepted by many Catholic scholars (Kaulen, Zschokke, Knabenbauer, Schenz,
                     Cornely, etc.), refer the composition of the book to the last years of Manasses's
                     reign. Clement of Alexandria says that "Habacuc still prophesied in the time of
                     Sedecias" (599-588 B. C.), and St. Jerome ascribes the prophecy to the time of
                     the Babylonian Exile. Some recent scholars (Delitzsch and Keil among
                     Protestants, Danko, Rheinke, Holzammer, and practically also Vigouroux,
                     among Catholics, place it under Josias (641-610 B.C.). Others refer it to the time
                     of Joakim (610-599 B.C.), either before Nabuchodonosor's victory at Carchemish
                     in 605 B.C. (Catholic: Schegg, Haneberg; Protestant: Schrader, S. Davidson,
                     König, Strack, Driver, etc.); while others, mostly out-and-out rationalists, ascribe
                     it to the time after the ruin of the Holy City by the Chaldeans. As might be
                     expected, these various views do not enjoy the same amount of probability, when
                     they are tested by the actual contents of the Book of Habacuc. Of them all, the
                     one adopted by St. Jerome, and which is now that propounded by many
                     rationalists, is decidedly the least probable: to ascribe, as that view does, the
                     book to the Exile, is, on the one hand, to admit for the text of Habacuc an
                     historical background to which there is no real reference in the prophecy, and ,
                     on the other,, to ignore the prophet's distinct references to events connected with
                     the period before the Bablyonian Captivity (cf. i, 2-4, 6, etc.). All the other
                     opinions have their respective degrees of probability, so that it is no easy matter
                     to choose among them. It seems, however, that the view which ascribes the
                     book to 605-600 B.C. "is best in harmony with the historical circumstances under
                     which the Chaldeans are presented in the prophecy of Habacuc, viz. as a
                     scourge which is imminent for Juda, and as oppressors whom all know have
                     already entered upon the inheritance of their predecessors" (Van Hoonacker).

                     During the nineteenth century, objections have oftentimes been made against the
                     genuineness of certain portions of the Book of Habacuc. In the first part of the
                     work, the objections have been especially directed against i, 5-11. But, however
                     formidable they may appear at first sight, the difficulties turn out to be really
                     weak, on a closer inspection; and in point of fact, the great majority of critics
                     look upon them as not decisive. The arguments urged against the genuineness of
                     chapter ii, 9-20, are of less weight still. Only in reference to chapter iii, which
                     forms the second part of the book, can there be a serious controversy as to its
                     authorship by Habacuc. Many critics treat the whole chapter as a late and
                     independent poem, with no allusions to the circumstances of Habacuc's time,
                     and still bearing in its liturgical heading and musical directions (vv. 3, 9, 13, 19)
                     distinct marks of the collection of sacred songs from which it was taken.
                     According to them, it was appended to the Book of Habacuc because it had
                     already been ascribed to him in the title, just as certain psalms are still referred
                     in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate to some prophets. Others, indeed in smaller
                     number, but also with greater probability, regard only the last part of the chapter
                     iii, 17-19 as a later addition to Habacuc's work: in reference to this last part only
                     does it appear true to say that it has no definite allusions to the circumstances of
                     Habacuc's time. All things considered, it seems that the question whether
                     chapter iii be an original portion of the prophecy of Habacuc, or an independent
                     poem appended to it at a later date, cannot be answered with certainty: too little
                     is known in a positive manner concerning the actual circumstances in the midst
                     of which Habacuc composed his work, to enable one to feel confident that this
                     portion of it must or must not be ascribed to the same author as the rest of the
                     book.

                                   IV. LITERARY AND TEXTUAL FEATURES

                     In the composition of his book, Habacuc displays a literary power which has
                     often been admired. His diction is rich and classical, and his imagery is striking
                     and appropriate. The dialogue between God and him is highly oratorical, and
                     exhibits to a larger extent than is commonly supposed, the parallelism of thought
                     and expression which is the distinctive feature of Hebrew poetry. The Mashal or
                     taunting song of five "woes" which follows the dialogue, is placed with powerful
                     dramatic effect on the lips of the nations whom the Chaldeans have cruelly
                     oppressed. The lyric ode with which the book concludes, compares favourably in
                     respect to imagery and rhythm with the best productions of Hebrew poetry.
                     These literary beauties enable us to realize that Habacuc was a writer of high
                     order. They also cause us to regret that the original text of his prophecy should
                     not have come down to us in all its primitive perfection. As a matter of fact,
                     recent interpreters of the book have noticed and pointed out numerous
                     alterations, especially in the line of additions, which have crept in the Hebrew
                     text of the prophecy of Habacuc, and render it at times very obscure. Only a fair
                     number of those alterations can be corrected by a close study of the context; by
                     a careful comparison of the text with the ancient versions, especially the
                     Septuagint; by an application of the rules of Hebrew parallelism, etc. In the other
                     places, the primitive reading has disappeared and cannot be recovered, except
                     conjecturally, by the means which Biblical criticism affords in the present day.

                                       V. PROPHETICAL TEACHING

                     Most of the religious and moral truths that can be noticed in this short prophecy
                     are not peculiar to it. They form part of the common message which the prophets
                     of old were charged to convey to God's chosen people. Like the other prophets,
                     Habacuc is the champion of ethical monotheism. For him, as for them, Yahweh
                     alone is the living God (ii, 18-20); He is the Eternal and Holy One (i, 12), the
                     Supreme Ruler of the Universe (i, 6, 17; ii, 5 sqq.; iii, 2-16), Whose word cannot
                     fail to obtain its effect (ii, 3), and Whose glory will be acknowledged by all
                     nations (ii, 14). In his eyes, as in those of the other prophets, Israel is God's
                     chosen people whose unrighteousness He is bound to visit with a signal
                     punishment (i, 2-4). The special people, whom it was Habacuc's own mission to
                     announce to his contemporaries as the instruments of Yahweh's judgment, were
                     the Chaldeans, who will overthrow everything, even Juda and Jerusalem, in their
                     victorious march (i, 6 sqq.). This was indeed at the time an incredible prediction
                     (i, 5), for was not Juda God's kingdom and the Chaldean a world-power
                     characterized by overweening pride and tyranny? Was not therefore Juda the
                     "just" to be saved, and the Chaldean really the "wicked" to be destroyed? The
                     answer to this difficulty is found in the distich (ii, 4) which contains the central
                     and distinctive teaching of the book. Its oracular form bespeaks a principle of
                     wider import than the actual circumstances in the midst of which it was revealed
                     to the prophet, a general law, as we would say, of God's providence in the
                     government of the world: the wicked carries in himself the germs of his own
                     destruction; the believer, on the contrary, those of eternal life. It is because of
                     this, that Habacuc applies the oracle not only to the Chaldeans of his time who
                     are threatening the existence of God's kingdom on earth, but also to all the
                     nations opposed to that kingdom who will likewise be reduced to naught (ii,
                     5-13), and solemnly declares that "the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of
                     the glory of Yahweh, as the waters cover the sea" (ii, 15). It is because of this
                     truly Messianic import that the second part of Habacuc's oracle (ii, 4b) is
                     repeatedly treated in the New Testament writings (Rom., i, 17; Gal., iii, 11; Hebr.,
                     x, 38) as being verified in the inner condition of the believers of the New Law.

                     COMMENTARIES: CATHOLIC:--SHEGG (2nd ed., Ratisbon, 1862); RHEINKE (Brixen, 1870);
                     TROCHON (Paris, 1883); KNABENBAUER (Paris, 1886); NON-CATHOLIC:--DELITZSCH (Leipzig,
                     1843); VON ORELLI (Eng. tr. Edinburgh, 1893); KLEINERT (Leipzig, 1893); WELLHAUSEN (3rd
                     ed., Berlin, 1898); DAVIDSON (Cambridge, 1899); MARTI (Freiburg im Br., 1904); NOWACK (2nd
                     ed., Göttingen, 1904); DUHM (Tübingen, 1906); VAN HOONACKER (Paris, 1908).

                     FRANCIS E. GIGOT
                     Transcribed by Thomas J. Bress

                                       The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII
                                    Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
                                    Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
                                  Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
                                 Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

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