Zephaniah (//, Hebrew: צְפַנְיָה, Modern: Tsfanya, Tiberian: Ṣəp̄anyāh, "Concealed of/is YHWH") is the name of several people in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Tanakh; the most prominent one being the prophet who prophesied in the days of Josiah, king of Judah (640–609 BCE) and is attributed a book bearing his name among the Twelve Minor Prophets. His name is commonly transliterated Sophonias in Bibles translated from the Vulgate or Septuagint. The name might mean "YHWH (YH), phonetically (IAH), has concealed", "[he whom] YH has hidden", or "YH lies in wait".
The best known Biblical figure bearing the name Zephaniah is the son of Cushi, and great-great grandson of King Hezekiah, ninth in the literary order of the Twelve Minor Prophets. He prophesied in the days of Josiah, ruler of the Kingdom of Judah (640–609 BCE), but before Josiah's reform in 621 BCE, and was contemporary with Jeremiah, with whom he had much in common. The unique source containing the minimal knowledge of his personality and rhetorical and literary qualities is the short, three chapter book of the Old Testament which bears his name. The scene of his activity was the city of Jerusalem, which he seems to know well. The existence of two Zephaniahs linked to the book is considered purely hypothetical.
Under the two preceding kings of Judah, Amon of Judah and Manasseh of Judah, the cult of other deities, especially Baal and Astarte, had developed in Jerusalem, bringing with it elements of alien culture and morals. Josiah, a dedicated reformer, wished to put an end to perceived misuse of the holy places. One of the most zealous champions and advisers of this reform was Zephaniah, and his writing remains one of the most important documents for the understanding of the era of Josiah.
Boldly predicting the destruction of Judah for the evil committed by its occupiers, the prophet spoke against the religious and moral corruption, when, in view of the idolatry which had penetrated even into the sanctuary, he warned that God would "destroy out of this place the remnant of Baal, and the names of the ... priests" (Zeph 1:4), and pleaded for a return to the simplicity of their fathers instead of the luxurious foreign clothing which was worn especially in aristocratic circles (1:8).
The age of Zephaniah was also a key historical period, because the lands of Western Asia were overrun by foreigners due to the migration of the Scythians in the last decades of the seventh century BC, and because Jerusalem was only a few decades before its downfall in 586 BC. In light of these events, a message of impending judgment is the primary burden of this figure's preaching (1:7).
The Book of Zephaniah contains the fundamental ideas of the preaching of Zephaniah. The scheme of the book in its present form is as follows:
He is commemorated with the other minor prophets in the calendar of saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 31. On the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar and in the Roman Martyrology, he is commemorated on December 3.
His book is an inspiration for the hymn, Dies irae.
Other individuals named Zephaniah include:
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