Habakkuk or Havakuk (Hebrew: חֲבַקּוּק, Standard Ḥavaqquq Tiberian Ḥăḇaqqûq) was a prophet in the Hebrew Bible. He was the eighth of the twelve minor prophets and the author of the eponymous prophetic book that bears his name. Though little concrete biographical data is available, it appears that he was active around the turn of the sixth century B.C.E., where he offered an impassioned theological plea for God to defend the Israelite nation against the marauding Babylonians.
In addition to the general importance of the text for Christian and Jewish theologians, the prophet's life is commemorated by Iranian Muslims and Jews, who believe that his final resting place is found in Hamedan province, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, who celebrate his feast day on December 2nd.
The etymology of the name "Habakkuk" is not clear, though it is possibly related to the Akkadian khabbaququ (the name of a fragrant plant) or the Hebrew root חבק, meaning "embrace." The article in the Catholic Encyclopedia provides additional philological details:
This convoluted etymology (and the unusual nature of the name itself) has caused some scholars to speculate that it may in fact be a pseudonym.
The prophet Habakkuk is a largely enigmatic figure, discernible only through the oblique hints offered by the text itself: a document that consists of five oracles about the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and a song of praise to God. Since the Chaldean rise to power occurred ca 612 B.C.E., it is assumed he was active about that time, which would make him an early contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah. Jewish sources, however, do not group him with those two prophets, who are often placed together, so it is possible that he was slightly later than they. Indeed, textual and historical evidence places the prophet in "Judah in the first part of the Babylonian crisis, from around 608 to 598 B.C.E."  In a similar vein, recent scholarship by William L. Holladay suggests that the initial prophetic portion of the text can be fairly precisely dated to November/December 601 B.C.E., as it describes both a drought (which is corroborated in Jeremiah 14) and a public recitation of the Torah (a septennial process that can be backdated from the time of King Josiah).
In terms of Habakkuk's station, many scholars suggest that he was a temple prophet, a representative of the organized Hebrew cult of the day. Koch summarizes the evidence for this position:
Likewise, the Jewish Encyclopedia argues that he was a traditionally seen as a Levite, "on the strength of the postscript to ch. iii. (verse 19, "on my stringed instruments"), which indicates that he owned instruments: only a Levite was authorized to use an instrument to accompany his songs in the Temple."
A certain insight into the character of the prophet can be gleaned from the contents of the book itself. In addition to his obvious passion for his homeland and his evident poetical abilities, Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he openly questions the wisdom of God. For instance, the first part of the first chapter sees the prophet crying out against injustice with the following lament:
This confrontational stance is relatively unique in the prophetic corpus and would seem to imply either tremendous confidence in his relationship with the Divine or a galling amount of hubris.
Finally, it must be noted that an Iranian biographical tradition exists, which claims that Habakkuk was a guardian of the Temple of Solomon who was captured by the Babylonians and detained in their prison for some years. After being freed by Cyrus the Great, he is thought to have traveled to Ecbatana, where he remained until his death.
In addition, the prophet Habakkuk is also a secondary character in the story of Bel and the Dragon, a deuterocanonical postscript to the Book of Daniel. In it, God is utilizes the prophet as an instrument of his will, miraculously commanding him to offer sustenance to the book's beleaguered titular character:
In the superscription of the Septuagint version of this account, Habakkuk is called "the son of Yeshua [Joshua/Jesus] of the tribe of Levi."
Another later reference to Habakkuk can be found in the non-canonical Lives of the Prophets that accompanied many early recensions of the Christian Bible. In this account, the prophet's lineage is discussed and the Bel and the Dragon episode (mentioned above) is alluded to:
However, given the relatively late compositions of these apocryphal tales, there is no reason to assume the veracity of any biographical information contained in them.
In addition to the plethora of Jewish rabbis and Christian theologians who have made use of the Book of Habakkuk in their sermons, exegeses, and doctrinal rulings, the historical figure of Habakkuk has, in and of himself, been revered in a number of different contexts. First, his final resting place is thought (by some) to be found in the city of Toyserkan (Western Iran), where an imposing conical mausoleum has been build to honor his memory. As noted in the Encyclopedia Iranica, "the tomb of Habaquq [Habakkuk] is sacred to both Jews and Muslims and many stories are told by locals about the miracles performed by this prophet for members of both communities." The spiritual prestige of the site is such that it is a popular pilgrimage destination for many residents of the province.
Also, his life is commemorated by various Communions of Eastern Christianity, including the Eastern Orthodox Church, who celebrate his feast day is December 2nd, and the Armenian Apostolic Church, where he (and the other Minor prophets) are feted on the 31st of July.
This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
|Prophets of Judaism & Christianity in the Hebrew Bible|
|Abraham · Isaac · Jacob · Moses · Aaron · Miriam · Eldad · Medad ·The seventy elders of Israel · Joshua · Phinehas|
|Deborah · Samuel · Saul · Saul's men · David · Solomon | Gad · Nathan · Ahiyah · Elijah · Elisha | Isaiah · Jeremiah · Ezekiel|
|Hosea · Joel · Amos · Obadiah · Jonah · Micah · Nahum · Habakkuk · Zephaniah · Haggai · Zechariah · Malachi|
|Shemaiah · Iddo · Azariah · Hanani · Jehu · Micaiah · Jahaziel · Eliezer · Zechariah ben Jehoiada · Oded · Huldah · Uriah|
Sarah · Rebecca · Joseph · Eli · Elkanah · Hannah · Abigail · Amoz · Mordecai · Esther · (Baruch)
Abel · Enoch · Daniel
|Non-Jewish: Kenan · Noah · Eber · Bithiah · Beor · Balaam · Job · Eliphaz · Bildad · Zophar · Elihu|
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