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These books, from what are often called the twelve prophets, continue to recount the story of the return from Babylonian exile. They speak with immediacy and power to the generation that was responsible for writing down and organizing the Hebrew Scriptures and founding Judaism as a religion, not just an ethnic identity.
Haggai demonstrates how not to be a prophet, as his wildly optimistic and date-specific predictions don't come true. Zechariah then tries to restore the reputation of the prophets after Jeremiah denounces them as liars. A central issue is the rebuilding of the temple—how can it replace the celebrated temple of Solomon? Should it be built before the people even have the resources to build their own houses? When did God leave the temple, and what will convince God to return?
These postexilic prophets affirm the many traditions of the people of Judah and Israel, who are still reeling from exile, offering them hope and direction. They promise that God's justice will include punishment of their enemies and a full restoration of God's people.
John J. Collins is Holmes Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School. A native of Ireland, he has a doctorate from Harvard University, and earlier taught at the University of Chicago, and the University of Notre Dame. He has published widely on the subjects of apocalypticism, wisdom, Hellenistic Judaism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls and served as president of both the Catholic Biblical Association and the Society of Biblical Literature.