Book of Habakkuk
The Book of Habakkuk, often called simply, Habakkuk, is an ancient Jewish writing canonized into the Minor Prophets section of the Nevi'im while Christians place it in their old testament. The text is a dialogue and psalm written in Biblical Hebrew around 586 BCE. The text says it was "received by Habakkuk," but doesn't explicitly say Habakkuk is the author, though Hebrew tradition attributes the work to him. In the dialogue, Habakkuk asks Jehovah questions, and he gives semi-related responses. The book ends with a song of prayer.
Authorship and Dating
The book opens by saying the following oracle was "received" by Habakkuk (1:1), and chapter 3 starts saying the song of prayer is Habakkuk's (3:1). There are no other mentions of Habakkuk in any other contemporary writings, and no descriptions of him of any kind. Of course, that didn't stop Jews and Christians from ascribing all sorts of attributes and motives to him later.
The initial sentence doesn't seem to fit with the work, and scholars wonder if the song of prayer was part of the original manuscript as well (see Content). If this is the case, it would mean that Habakkuk's name doesn't appear anywhere in the actual text. This causes me to wonder if the dialogue and song of prayer were originally anonymous works which were later attributed to Habakkuk.
There are no known original manuscripts. The oldest surviving partial manuscripts I'm aware of include a commentary of Habakkuk found among the Dead Sea Scrolls dated to around 50 BCE (which also contains the text), and Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever also dated to around 50 BCE. The only historical event that is hinted at in the text is the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians which historians date to 586 BCE. In Jewish tradition, Habakkuk is a prophet, so they have no choice but to believe the work was written before the events in the text, they suggest circa 600 BCE. To rational people, the book must have been written after the event, so nothing earlier than 586 BCE.
In the text, Habakkuk poses a question to Jehovah and Jehovah ignores the question and gives a semi-related reply. Habakkuk asks another question, in the same vein as the first, and, again Jehovah ignores the question and answers a different question. Finally, Habakkuk recites a song of prayer remembering the good old days when Jehovah helped the Hebrews slaughter their enemies.
Interestingly, the third chapter is not included in the Dead Sea Scroll commentary. This, and the fact that the third chapter is a completely different writing style, has caused scholars to question if the third chapter was part of the original work. Some scholars argue that the Qumran sect ignored the third chapter in their commentary because it didn't fit their theology, but this seems unlikely to me because chapter three seems like the same sort of stuff found all over the other Jewish books the Qumran kept. The ending of chapter three, suggesting that it was written for a music director to be played on stringed instruments, seems like an footnote added after the fact.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted by Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians and again in the Epistle to the Ephesians (which is attributed to Paul, but might not have been written by him) and a third time in the Epistle to the Hebrews which is attributed to Paul, but probably wasn't written by him.
This is the only book other than the Book of Psalms to use the words "סלה [selah]" and "שגיון [shigionoth]," two words which exist nowhere else in antiquity and whose meaning is now forgotten. Selah appears to be a primitive form of music annotation, perhaps as a rest or playing style, and shigionoth is, perhaps, a genre or style of music. No other books use these words, even those that contain songs. One other word referring to songs, "נגינותי [neginotai]," the plural of neginath, is translated to "on my stringed instruments," though it probably means something simpler like "songs."
Strangely, 3:3 reads, "God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran." These two locations are popular throughout the Tanakh, but it doesn't make much sense in the modern understanding of Jehovah to suggest that he traveled from one land to another.
I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.
- The whole book seems to be pro-authoritarianism. The passages in 1:10 and 1:14 describe it as a bad thing to not have someone ruling over you.
- The majority of the dialogue is just a list of bad behaviors.
- Habakkuk's song of prayer in 3:2 doesn't fit with the dialogue. In the dialogue, he complains that Jehovah doesn't intervene to stop all the evil in the world, but he opens his prayer with, "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord."
- In 1:9, the Biblical Hebrew word "פנים [paniym]" is used which doesn't have a known meaning. This makes it impossible to know what this passage says. Some translations just ignore the word altogether like the Contemporary English Version, while others have offered up a host of variations including:
- "Their hordes advance," New International Version
- "their faces shall sup up," King James Version
- "all their faces forward," English Standard Version
- "everyone is terrified," Good News Translation
- Habakkuk's first question is, "why do you allow terrible things to happen and not answer our prayers," to which Jehovah responds with, "I'm going to raise up the Chaldeans to do terrible things to everyone." This not only ignores the question, but is a horrific thing to do! Almost in response to Jehovah failing to answer, Habakkuk asks a second question which is essentially the same as the first, "If you can't tolerate wrong, why don't you stop evil people from killing good people?" Jehovah again ignores the question and instead says "you'll just have to be patient, bad things will eventually happen to bad people."
- Jehovah is quite racist in 1:6 calling all Chaldeans "ruthless and impetuous people."
- Habakkuk's "prayer" in 3:2-19 is just him bragging about all the people Jehovah has slaughtered.
- The end of Habakkuk's prayer in chapter 3 is both depressing and gruesome. After describing the glory days when Jehovah was helping the Hebrews slaughtering all their enemies, he points out that Jehovah hasn't done anything for them in ages, and, though they're starving to death, he still loves Jehovah and looks forward to the day when he will come back and help them slaughter once more.