Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


(Seventh Century B.C.E.)

HABAKKUK (Heb. חֲבַקּוּק; cf, Akk. ḫambaququ or ḫhabbaququ, a fragrant herb), prophet at the time of the *Chaldeans ' ascent to power in the early seventh century B.C.E. (Hab. 1:6), a time apparently after the Egyptian defeat at Carchemish (Jer. 46:2) and Hamath, when the Babylonian forces under Nebuchadnezzar occupied the area. The Book of Habakkuk is the eighth unit within the book of tere ʿasar, "the twelve," and consistently follows *Nahum in all textual witnesses. Habakkuk contains only three chapters (totaling 56 verses) and is traditionally divided into two parts according to content: narrative (chapters 1 and 2) and prayer (chapter 3). In many places the text is either enigmatic or corrupt. The Pesher Habakkuk from Qumran comments only on the first two chapters of our biblical book, thus supporting the view that the third chapter was not part of the original book (see below). The narrative consists of a series of five short prophetic utterances. The first (1:2–4) is a complaint (reminiscent of Jeremiah 12:1–2 and much of the book of Job) against God for allowing violence and injustice to prevail unchecked in the land, one of the great theological problems in biblical thought. The second utterance (1:5–12) is a divine oracle prophesying that the instrument of judgment – the Chaldeans – is near at hand. The depiction of the Chaldeans is ambivalent and its precise sense is debated. On the one hand, the Chaldeans are God's instrument; on the other hand, their description fits the typical biblical description of "the enemy" (e.g., Deut. 28:49–53; Isa. 5:26–30; Jer. 4:13; 5:15–17; 6:22–23). In 1:10 the prophet speaks of the Chaldeans' power in language usually reserved for describing the power of God: "And they scoff at kings, and princes are a derision to them" (cf. "who brings princes to nought, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing" Isa. 40:23) and in the last words of verse 11: "guilty men, whose own might is their god" (in 1QpHab it is written "he makes his own might to be his god"). Thus, the instrument of justice is none other than the wicked enemy. The ambivalent description of the Chaldeans and the reiteration of the original question about divine justice have brought scholars to conclude that the Chaldeans are not the answer to the prophet's complaint but a heightened form of that complaint. When he speaks of the injustice in the world, Habakkuk is referring to the Chaldeans and their deeds. Like others who asked why the unjust thrive, Habakkuk relates the question to a specific historical situation. The third utterance (1:13–17) asks why God allows the wicked to devour the righteous, to which the fourth utterance (2:1–5) responds: eventually the wicked shall fail, but the righteous shall live by their faithfulness. The first biblical appearance of qeẓ ("end") in its apocalyptic sense is in Habakkuk, and subsequently in the Bible this usage is found exclusively in Daniel (8:19; 11:13, 27, 35; 12:4–13). Indeed, Dan. 10:14 looks like a "fulfillment" of Hab. 2:3.

The fifth utterance (2:6ff.) takes the form of five parables that begin with "woe to him" and stresses the punishment that the wicked will receive (some of the parables are found differently phrased in other books of the Bible, e.g., Isa. 14, 51; Jer. 22:13, which indicates their popularity among the people of Judah). The fifth parable contrasts idols – brilliantly ornamented, but utterly lifeless and dumb – to the divine glory of God, which strikes the whole world dumb.

The prayer comprising chapter 3 is divided into four sections (3:1–2, 3–7, 8–15, 16–19), the second and third sections recalling God's deeds, and the first and fourth constituting the essence of the prayer. Most scholars hold that chapter 3 was not part of the original Book of Habakkuk and bears no connection to the first two chapters. Other scholars, however, believe the entire book to be a single, continuous literary piece, and view chapter 3, which describes the punishment of the wicked, as a response to the questions raised in chapter 1. The prayer opens with "Upon Shigionoth" (3:1). The term šiggāyôn also occurs in the rubric of Ps. 7:1, and is probably borrowed from Akkadian šigû ("lamentation," "type of prayer"). The closing, in the manner of the Psalms with "For the Leader with string music" (la-menaẓẓe'aḥ bi-neginotai; 3:19), seems to be the introduction to another composition, now lost. In a spirit similar to that found in the beginning of the Blessing of *Moses , the Song of *Deborah , and Psalm 77 (17ff.), the prophet entreats the return of God's compassion. The prayer cites as precedent God's actions at the time of the Creation (Isa. 51:9; Hab. 3:2). Just as in other poetry in the Bible and in Ugaritic and Mesopotamian sources, the creator god had to fight off the forces of chaos such as the sea (Hab. 3:8, 9). References to historical battles combine with mythic ones. The sun and moon are personified and the ancient plague god *Resheph (3:5) brings pestilence. There may be a reference to the horned god Haby known from Ugaritic texts in Habakkuk 3:4. In the historical past, God delivered His people and His anointed one, smiting the wicked and "laying him bare from thigh to the neck" (Hab. 3:13). After recounting the past, the prophet looks to the future and prays: "May I be relieved on the day of trouble, when the [Chaldean?] people invade with their troops" (3:16). Habakkuk concludes by describing the effects of drought (3:17), a symbol of evil, but nevertheless his hope and faith: "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will exult in the God of my salvation" (verse 18).

The language of Habakkuk in general, and especially in the two middle sections of the prayer, is vigorous and rich, and abounds in ancient poetic and rhetorical forms, of which analogous examples appear in early biblical poetry (Blessing of Moses, Song of Deborah, etc.). It occasionally resembles Ugaritic poetry in construction, and at times also in the use of rhetoric (as in the use of climactic parallelism, 3:2, 8, 13), and archaic diction. Linguistic features that once argued for a late dating of the book (such as the absence of the definite article) might also be taken as signs of antiquity.

According to Seder Olam Rabbah 20, Habakkuk lived at the time of Manasseh (698–642 B.C.E.). Critical scholars now contend that he lived in the time of Jehoiakim (608–598 B.C.E.), and some place him earlier, at the end of Josiah's reign (639–609 B.C.E.), when the Assyrian kingdom was destroyed. However, Y. Kaufmann dates the prayer to the brief reign of Jehoiachin (597 B.C.E.). The hypothesis of B. Duhm that the word Kasdim (Chaldeans, 1:6) is to be emended to Kittim (Heb. כִּתִּים), and that it refers to the campaigns of Alexander the Great, has not been found acceptable. The *Dead Sea Scrolls show that as early as the time of the Second Temple the word "Chaldeans" was interpreted as referring to the Roman campaigns in the Orient in the sixties of the first century B.C.E. (see *Pesher ).

According to legend, Habakkuk was the son of the Shunammite woman (Zohar, 1:7; 2:44–45). This identification is apparently based on his name, for the verb ḥbq ("to embrace") is employed in connection with the annunciation of the birth of the woman's son in II Kings 4:16. In the apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon, which tells of Daniel's exploits against Babylonian idolatry, Habakkuk is presented as a contemporary of Daniel, probably because both mention the arrival of the Chaldeans (Hab. 1:6; Dan. 1:1). In the same story he is considered to be the son of Jeshua the Levite (Bel, 1). This reference is apparently to a levite family called Jeshua, which is mentioned in Ezra 2:40, et al. According to Rabbi Simlai (2nd generation amora), Habakkuk based all the 613 commandments received by Moses on the single principle that "the righteous shall live by his faith" (Hab. 2:4; Mak. 23b–24a). This may be a response to the Christian use of the verse by Paul as a proof-text for the doctrine of justification by faith rather than by works (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11).

[Yehoshua M. Grintz and Dvora Briskin-Nadiv / S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Arts

The prophet Habakkuk has inspired no literary works of major importance but is of some significance in art and music. He is identified with the prophet brought by an angel to nourish Daniel in the lions' den, and thus his attributes are an angel and a basket of bread. In Christian typography he is one of the prophets who foresaw the Nativity. He appears alone on the wooden doors of Santa Sabina, Rome (fifth century); in the 12th-century Christian Typography of Kosmas Indicopleustes (Vatican); and on the door of the Vierge Dorée (Amiens Cathedral, 13th century). The famous 15th-century statue by Donatello known as Lo Zuccone ("The Bald One") represents Habakkuk. Formerly in the Florence Campanile, it is now in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, Florence. A 17th-century statue by Bernini in the Chigi Chapel at Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, shows the angel lifting Habakkuk by his hair. He is frequently seen in company with Daniel. There are examples on fourth-century sarcophagi; on a sixth-century Coptic textile; again in the Kosmas Indicopleustes manuscripts; on a 13th-century bas-relief from the portal of the Virgin, Laon Cathedral; and on stained-glass windows in Auch (16th century) and Cambridge (17th century).

The psalm-like third chapter of Habakkuk is included among the cantica in the liturgy of all Christian denominations, and is generally sung to a simple psalmodic formula. There are a few art-music settings of this section, such as F. Giroust's Domine quidvi auditionem for chorus (1779) and, in the 20th century, cantatas entitled Habakkuk by György Kósa (1954) and Jacques Berlinski (b. 1913).


B. Duhm, Das Buch Habakuk (1906); E. Sellin, Das Zwőlfprophetenbuch (1930); M.D. Cassuto, in: Keneset, 8 (1943), 121–42: W.H. Ward, Habakkuk (ICC, 1911, 19483); W.F. Albright, in: H.H. Rowley (ed.), Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Presented to T.H. Robinson (1950), 1–18; Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 3 (1960), 360–8; O. Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, an Introduction (1965), 416–23 (incl. bibl.); Ginzberg, Legends, index; M.H. Segal, Mevo ha-Mikra, 2 (19674), 488–90. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Avishur. Enẓiklopediyah Olam ha-Tanakh, vol. 15b (1993), 88–115; M. Graham, in: DBI, 1:475–78 (with bibliography); J.J.M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (1991); M. Sweeney, in: VT, 41 (1991), 63–83; idem, in: ABD, 3:1–6; CAD 17/2, 413–14; P. Xella, in: DDD, 377; F. Andersen, Habakkuk (AB; 2001).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.