The prophet Haggai is the first prophet after the Babylonian exile, the tenth among the minor prophets and the author of the book named after him. The time of his ministry can be established precisely due to the dates of his prophesies – 520 BC. His name means “festival” or “born in festival”.
There is no reliable evidence about the prophet’s life. According to the hagiography of the prophets, possibly originating from earlier Hebrew sources that have survived to our days in various versions (ascribed to Sts. Epiphanius of Salamis, Dorotheus of Tyre and Hesychius of Jerusalem), Haggai was born in Babylon into a priest family and came back to Jerusalem as a young man together with Zerubabel. Here he witnessed the rebuilding of the temple. After death he was buried with honors near the sepulcher of the priests. The Persian king Cyrus allowed the Jews to go back to Judaea and rebuild the demolished Temple of Jerusalem. However, the work was terminated as the Jews were too poor to continue the restoration works, caring about their own houses instead (Haggai 1: 4, 9). The prophet’s preaching encouraged the Jewish people to rebuild the temple (Haggai 1: 12–15). Haggai exhorted people to repent and, in corroboration of his words, quoted the Lord’s promise to increase fertility of the land: “as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2: 14–19). The Book of Haggai consists of four prophesies.
The Haggai iconography is in line with the general pattern of portraying the prophets: Haggai is pictured wearing a chiton, in his left hand he holds a scroll with an inscription (Haggai 1: 7, 8), his right hand is either raised in a blessing gesture or a gesture expressing the reception of God’s grace (the open palm of his hand is turned outward). The established iconography of Haggai didn’t exist. One of the earliest images of the prophet is found on the mosaics of the altar in the katholikon of the St. Catherine Monastery on Sinai (550–565 AD) on which he is portrayed half-length as a middle-aged man with short hair.
An image of Haggai is believed to have been painted on the early 15th century frescoes in the Church of the Archangel Michael in the Skovorodsky Monastery. On the Book of Prophet’s miniature dated 1489 (Russian State Library), Haggai is portrayed full-length as a gray-haired old man with short wavy hair, in a gray-blue chiton and a white sankir colored himation. His right hand is raised in the Sign of the Cross, in his left hand he holds a scroll. One of the earliest icons of Haggai in the prophets’ row of the iconostasis survived on a 1497 icon from the Assumption Cathedral of the St. Cyril of Belozersk Monastery (State Russian Museum). Haggai is presented half-length in the central part of a three-part icon (together with the prophets Nathan and Samuel) as a gray-haired old man with a V-typed beard. In the painter’s guide of the Novgorod redaction (16th century) Haggai is described as “аки Илья пророкъ. Ризы санкирь сь бълилы. Исподъ лазорь”; in the Herminia by Diounysius of Fourne (the early 18th century) as a “an old man with a round beard” saying” “Put your hearts in your ways”.
The feast day of the prophet Haggai is celebrated on December 29th (December 16th in the old style) and the Holy Fathers Week.
Zhanna G. Belik,
Ph.D. in Art history, senior research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum, custodian of the tempera painting collection.
Olga E. Savchenko,
research fellow at the Andrei Rublyov Museum.
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