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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.


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Zacharias (Heb. zekharyahu and zekharyah; meaning “Yahweh remembers”, Sept. ZaXaria and ZaXarias), son of Barachias, son of Addo, a Prophet who arose in Israel in the eighth month of the second year of the reign of King Darius, 520 B.C. (Zach., i, 1), just two months after Aggeus began to prophesy (Agg., i, 1). The urgings of the two Prophets brought about the building of the second temple (I Esdr., v and vi). Addo was one of the chief priests who, in the first year of the reign of Cyrus 538 B.C., returned with Zorobabel from captivity (II Esd., xii, 4). Sixteen years thereafter, during the high priesthood of Joacim (verse 12), Zacharia, of the family of Addo (Heb. of verse 16), is listed as a chief priest. This Zacharia is most likely the Prophet and author of the canonical book of the same name. It is not at all probable that the Prophet Zacharias is referred to by Christ (Matt., xxiii, 35; Luke, xi, 51) as having been slain by the Jews in the Temple; that Zacharias was the son of Joiada (II Par., xxiv, 20). Moreover, the Jews of Zorobabel’s time obeyed the Prophet Zacharias (Zach., vi, 7); nor is there, in the Books of Esdras, any trace of so heinous a crime perpetrated in the Temple court.

THE BOOK.—The prophecy of Zacharias is one of the books admitted by both Jews and Christians into their canon of Sacred Writings, one of the Minor Prophets. This article will treat its contents and interpretation, canonicity, author, time, place, and occasion.

I. Contents and Interpretation.—A. Part First: i-viii: Introduction, the purpose of the book, the return of the people to Yahweh (i, 1-6).

(I) The eight visions of the Prophet, on the night of the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of the second year of the rule of Darius in Babylon (i, 7-vi, 8). (a) The horsemen in the myrtle grove (i, 7-17). Their mounts are chestnut, bay, and white. They bring the news from far and wide; all lands are at rest, nor is there any sign of an impending upheaval of the nations such as is to precede the liberation of Israel from thraldom. And yet Yahweh will comfort Sion, He will rebuild the city and the Temple. (b) The four horns and four smiths (i, 18-21).—The former are the nations that have tossed to the winds Juda and Israel and Jerusalem; the latter are the powers that in their turn will batter down the foes of Yahweh. (c) The man with the measuring line (ii, 1-13).—He is bidden not to measure Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem will have no need of walls; Yahweh Himself will be unto it a wall of fire, He will dwell within it. The vision now becomes Messianic, extends far beyond the immediate future, and represents all the nations of the world round about the new Jerusalem. (d) Jesus the high priest before the angel of Yahweh (iii, 1-10).—Clothed in filthy garments, accused by Satan, the high priest stands in shame. His shame is taken away. Clean raiment is put upon him. The promise is made of the rehabilitation of the high priest in the temple that Zorobabel is to build; and the Messianic forecast is uttered of the sprout (Heb. cemah, the servant of Yahweh (cf. Is., iv, 2; Jer., xxiii, 5; xxxiii, 15), who will be sent in the stead of the Levitic priesthood. (e) The seven branched lamp of the temple (iv, 1-14).—An olive tree on either side feeds the lamps. The seven lamps and their lights are the seven eyes of Yahweh that run to and fro over the whole earth (verse 10). The olive trees are “the two sons of oil”, the anointed priest Jesus and King Zorobabel. The picture is that of the providence of Yahweh and His two agents in the theocratic government of restored Jerusalem; this providence is a type of the economy of grace in the Messianic kingdom. Verses 6b-10a seem to be out of place and to belong rather to the end of the chapter or after iii, 10; this latter is the opinion of Van Hoonacker, “Les douze petits prophe tes” (Paris, 1908). (f) The flying parchment-roll (v, 1-4).—Upon it is the curse of Yahweh that enters in to consume the house of every thief and perjurer. The scene of the prophetic vision has shifted backward several hundred years to the days of the thunderings and denunciations of Isaias, Amos, and Osee; from that distant viewpoint are seen the effects of Israel’s sins and Yahweh’s maledictions,—the Babylonian exile. (g) The woman in the epha (v, 5-11).—She is forced into the measure, the lid is shut to, a leaden weight is laid thereon; she is hurried off to the land of Sennaar. The picture is symbolic of the wickedness of Israel transported perforce to Babylon. (h) The four chariots (vi, 1-8).—Bearing the wrath of Yahweh, to the four corners of the earth they are driven; and the one that goes to the north takes the vengeance of Yahweh upon the nations of the North who have kept His chosen people in captivity. It is to be noted that this series of eight visions begins and ends with similar pictures,—the horses of varied hues whose riders bring back word that all the earth is at rest and whose drivers, in like manner, are the bearers of the message of Yahweh.

(2) As a sequel to the eight visions, especially to the fourth and fifth, Yahweh bids Zacharias take of the gold and silver brought from Babylon by a deputation of Jews of the captivity, and therewith to make crowns; to place these crowns upon the head of Jesus the high priest, and then to hang them as a votive-offering in the Temple (vi, 9-15). The critics generally insist that it was Zorobabel and not Jesus who was to be crowned. They err in missing the prophetic symbolism of the action. It is the high priest rather than the king that is the type of the priest of the Messianic kingdom, “the Man Whose name is the Sprout” (Heb. text), Who shall build up the Temple of the Church and in Whom shall be united the offices of priest and king.

(3) The prophecy of the fourth day of the ninth month of the fourth year of the rule of Darius in Babylon (vii and viii). Almost two years after the eight visions, the people ask the priests and Prophets if it be required still to keep the fasts of the exile. Zacharias makes answer as revealed to him; they should fast from evil, show mercy, soften their hard hearts; abstinence from fraud and not from food is the service Yahweh demands. As a motive for this true service of God, he pictures to them the glories and the joys of the rebuilt Jerusalem (vii, 1-9). The Prophet ends with a Messianic prediction of the gathering of the nations to Jerusalem (viii, 20-23).

B. Part Second: ix-xiv: the two burdens.—Many years have gone by. The temple of Zorobabel is built. The worship of Yahweh is restored. Zacharias peers into the far away future and tells of the Messianic kingdom.

(I) First burden, in Hadrach (ix-xi): (a) The coming of the king (ix-x).—The nations round about will be destroyed; the lands of the Syrians, Phoenicians, and Philistines will fall into the hands of invaders (ix, 1-7). Israel will be protected for the sake of her king, Who will come to her “poor and riding upon an ass”. He Who was spoken of as the Sprout (iii, 8; vi, 12) will be to the new Jerusalem both priest and king (iii, 8; vi, 3). (b) The shepherds of the nations (xi).—The literal, and typical meanings of this passage are very obscure, and variously interpreted by commentators. The spoliation of the pride of the Jordan, the destruction of the land from the cedars of Lebanon to the oaks of Basan, south cf the Sea of Galilee (verses 1-3) seems to refer to an event long passed—the breaking-up of the independence of the Jewish state 586 B.C.—in the same way as does Jer., xxii, 6, 7. The allegory of the three shepherds cut off in one month (verses 4-8) is remarkably like to Jer., xxii and xxiii. Probably these wicked rulers are: Sellum, who was deported into Egypt (Jer., xxii, 10-12); Joakim, son of Josias, who was “buried with the burial of an ass” (ibid., 13-19); and his son Jechonias who was cast out into the land of the stranger (ibid., 24-30). The foolish shepherd (verses 15-17) is probably Sedecias. In verses 9-14 we have Zacharias impersonating the shepherd of Juda and Israel, trying to be a good shepherd, failing, outcast, sold for thirty pieces of silver, and in all this typifying the Good Shepherd of the Messianic kingdom.

Second burden, the apocalyptic vision of Jerusalem‘s future (xii-xiv): (a) The nations shall be gathered against Jerusalem (xii, 1-3); but Yahweh shall smite them in His power, by means of the house of David (verses 4-9); and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will mourn as one mourneth for an only son (verses 10-14). The prayers of the people of Jerusalem to Yahweh, Who says “they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced”; and their grief at the wrongs that they have done Him are all typical of the Messianic kingdom,—Yahweh is the type of Jesus, the prayers and mourning of Jerusalem are the type of the prayers and mourning that Jesus will inspire in the Church while its members look upon Him Whom they have pierced (cf. John, xix, 37). As a result of Yahweh’s victory over the nations, idolatry will be stamped out of Juda (xiii, 1-6). (b) The theme of the shepherds is taken up again.—Yahweh’s shepherd shall be smitten; the sheep shall be scattered; two-thirds of them shall perish; one-third shall be gathered, to be refined as silver and tested as gold (xiii, 7-9). The prophetic scene suddenly shifts. Zacharias vividly depicts the details of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the first part of his burden, he had foreseen the transference of the Holy City from Seleucids to Ptolemys and back again, the hellenizing and paganizing of Judaism under Antiochus Epiphanes (168 B.C.), the profanation of the temple by Pompey and its sacking by Crassus (47 B.C.). Now, after the casting out of the shepherd of Yahweh, the city is again in the power of the enemy; but, as of old, Yahweh is still her protector (xiv, 1-7). There-after “the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and his name shall be one”. The punishment of the foe shall be terrible (verses 8-19). All things shall be holy to Yahweh (verses 20-21).

II. Canonicity.—Zacharias is contained in the canons of both Palestine and Alexandria; Jews and all Christians accept it as inspired. The book is found among the Minor Prophets in all the canonical lists down to those of Trent and the Vatican. The New Testament writers often refer to the prophecies of the Book of Zacharias as fulfilled. Matthew (xxi, 5) says that in the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the details were brought to pass that Zacharias (ix, 9) had predicted; and John (xii, 15) bears like witness. Although, in xxvii, 9, Matthew makes mention of Jeremias only—yet he refers to the fulfilment of two prophecies, that of Jeremias (xxxii, 6-9) about the purchase of the potter’s field and that of Zacharias (xi, 12, 13) about the thirty pieces of silver, the price set upon the type of the Messias. John (xix, 37) sees in the Crucifixion a fulfilling of Zacharias’s words, “they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced” (xii, 10). Matthew (xxvi, 31) thinks that the Prophet (xiii, 7) foretold the scattering of the Lord’s disciples.

III. Author.—In the foregoing analysis of the contents of Zacharias, we have stated the author, time, place, and occasion of the book. The author of the entire prophecy is Zacharias. The time of part first is the second and fourth years of the reign of Darius in Babylon (520 and 522 B.C.). The time of part second is probably toward the end of the reign of Darius or the beginning of that of Xerxes (485 B.C.). The place of the entire prophecy is Jerusalem. The occasion of the first part is to bring about the building of the second Temple; that of the second part is perhaps the approach of the Prophet’s death. The traditional view taken by Catholic exegetes on the unity of authorship of the book is due in part to the witness of all manuscripts of the original text and of the various versions; this unanimity shows that both in Judaism and the Church there has never been a serious doubt in the matter of the unity of authorship of Zacharias. Solid reason, and not mere conjectures, are necessary to shake confidence in this traditional view. No such solid reasons are forth-coming. Internal evidence is appealed to; but internal evidence does not here favor divisive criticism. Quite the reverse; scope and style are one in the prophecy.

A. Unity of scope.—The entire prophecy has the same scope; it is permeated throughout with the very same Messianic forecasting. The kingdom and priesthood of the Messias are obscurely depicted in the visions of the first part; vividly in the two burdens of the second part. Both sections insist upon the vengeance to be wrought against foes of Juda (cf. i, 14, and vi, 8, with ix, 1 sq.); the priesthood and king-ship united in the Christ (cf. iii, 8, and vi, 12, with ix, 9-17); the conversion of the gentiles (cf. ii, 11; vi, 15, and viii, 22, with xiv, 16, 17); the return of Israel from captivity (cf. viii, 7, 8, with ix, 11-16; x, 8 sq.); the holiness of the new kingdom (cf. iii, 1, and v, 1 sq., with xiii, 1); its prosperity (cf. i, 17: iii, 10; viii, 3 sq., with xi, 16; xiv, 7 sq.).

B. Unity of style.—Whatever slight differences there are in the style of the two sections can be readily enough explained by the fact that the visions are in prose and the burdens in poetry. We can understand that one and the same writer may show differences in form and mode of expression, if, after a period of thirty-five years, he works out in exultant and exuberant poetic form the theme which, long before and under very different circumstances, he had set forth in calmer language and prosaic mould. To counter-balance these slight stylistic differences, we have indubitable evidence of unity of style. Modes of expression occur in both parts which are distinctive of Zacharias. Such are, for instance: the very pregnant clause “and after them the land was left desolate of any that crossed over and of any that returned into it”,—Heb. me’ober Zimisshab (vii, 14, and ix, 8); the use of the Hiphil of ‘abar in the sense of “taking away iniquity” (iii, 4, and xiii, 2); the metaphor of “the eye of God” for His Providence (iii, 9; i, 10; and ix, 1); the designations of the chosen people, “house of Juda and house of Israel”, “Juda, Israel, Jerusalem“, “Juda and Ephraim”, “Juda and Joseph” (cf. i, 12, 19; viii, 15 etc., and ix, 13; x, 6; xi, 14 etc.). Moreover, verses and portions of verses of the first part are identical with verses and portions of verses of the second part (cf. ii, 10, and ix, 9; ii, 6, and ix, 12, 13; vii, 14, and ix, 8; viii, 14, and xiv, 5).

C. Divisive criticism.—It is generally allowed that Zacharias is the author of the first part of the prophecy (chapters i-viii). The second part (ix-xiv) is attributed by the critics to one or many other writers. Joseph Mede, an Englishman, started the issue, in his “Fragmenta sacra” (London, 1653), 9. Wishing to save from error Matt., xxvii, 9, 10, he attributed the latter portion of Zacharias to Jeremias. In this exegesis, he was seconded by Kidder, “The demonstration of the Messias” (London, 1700), 199, and Whiston, “An essay towards restoring the true text of the Old Testament” (London, 1722), 92. In this way was the Deutero-Zacharias idea begotten. The idea waxed strong and was prolific. Divisive criticism in due time found many different authors for ix-xiv. By the end of the eighteenth century, Flugge, “Die Weissagungen, welche den Schriften des Zacharias beigebogen sind” (Hamburg, 1788), had discovered nine disparate prophecies in these six chapters. A single or a manifold Deutero-Zacharias is defended also by Bauer, Augusti, Bertholdt, Eichorn (4th ed.), De Wette (though not after 3d ed.), Hitzig, Ewald, Maurer, Knobel, Bleek, Stade, Nowack, Wellhausen, Driver etc. The critics are not agreed, however, as to whether the disputed chapters are pre-exilic or post-exilic. Catholic Biblical scholars are almost unanimous against this view. The arguments in its favor are given by Van Hoonacker (op. cit., pp. 657 sq.) and answered convincingly.


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