The Prophet Aggeus is a mysterious figure in the history of Christianity.
Among the frescoes scheduled for display in "Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums Collection" which opens Sunday will be an image of this Old Testament mystic.
In Hebrew, Aggeus, the 10th among the minor prophets of the Old Testament, is called Haggay, and modern Catholics know him as Haggai.
The prophet's personal life is veiled in uncertainty. The book that bears his name is brief and contains no detailed information about its author.
The few passages that speak of him simply refer to the occasion on which he delivered a divine message in Jerusalem, during the second year of the reign of Persian King Darius I (B.C. 520).
Jewish tradition has him born in Chaldea during the Babylonian captivity (587-538 B.C.), and coming to Jerusalem as a young man with returning exiles and being buried in the Holy City among the priests.
He has been represented as an angel in human form, as one of the men who were with Daniel when he saw the vision (related in the Bible), as a member of the so-called Great Synagogue, as surviving until the entry of Alexander the Great into Jerusalem (331 B.C.), and even until the time of Jesus Christ.
The historical record is a vacuum.
The story of Aggeus relates that, upon returning from Babylon (536 B.C.) the Jews, full of religious zeal, promptly set up an altar to the God of Israel and reorganized sacrificial worship. Then they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, and some time later laid the foundation of the second temple, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II.
But the Samaritans prevented the Jews from proceeding with reconstructing the temple by appealing to the Persian authorities.
Historical references say the work was interrupted for 16 years, during which circumstances, such as the Persian invasion of Egypt in 527 B.C., a succession of failing harvests and the indulgence in luxury and self-seeking by the wealthier classes of Jerusalem, caused the Jews to neglect the restoration of the temple.
Aggeus realized that Persia had its own political struggles and wouldn't be able to interfere with the temple reconstruction. So he rebuked the apathy of the Jewish peoples in the name of God.
The book of Aggeus is made up of four prophetic utterances, each one headed by the date on which it was delivered, the encyclopedia states.
The first day of the sixth month (August) of the second year of Darius' reign: Aggeus urges the Jews to resume the work on the temple, and not to be turned aside from the duty by luxury. It also represents a recent drought as a divine punishment for their past neglect.
Three weeks after this message, work was started on the Temple.
The 20th day of August: Aggeus foretells that the new temple, which then appears so poor in comparison with the former Temple of Solomon, will be incomparably more glorious one day.
The 24th day of the ninth month (November-December): He declares that as long as God's house is not rebuilt, the life of the Jews will be tainted and blasted, but that the divine blessing will "reward their renewed zeal," according to the encyclopedia.
The same day: The utterance tells of the divine favor, that, in the approaching overthrow of the heathen nations, will be bestowed on Zorobabel, the leader and representative of the royal house of David.
It also should be remembered that, although the prophecies of Aggeus were meant to secure the immediate rearing of the Lord's house, they are not without a much higher import.
The meaning of the first two passages in the original Hebrew differs somewhat, but all three passages contain a reference to Messianic times.