Each prophetic book presents the poems, prophecies, and thoughts of the prophet for whom it is named. It's not always clear whether a particular book is the work of the prophet himself or his disciples.
The prophets arose mostly at times of crisis in Israel. Each prophet's primary message was directed to the people of his own day, calling on them to turn from wickedness and return to the faith. The prophets were reformers, religious teachers, and political advisors. They held up the ideals of moral duty, adherence to religious truth, and national renewal. Notwithstanding our modern notion of a prophet as someone who foretells the future, long-term predictions were not the primary concern, although messages about the Messianic Era were important.
We know very little about Amos. The text says that he prophesized during the reign of Uzziah (783 to 742 BC). He was born in the southern country of Judah and moved to the northern kingdom of Israel, evidence that the two countries were bound by tradition and religion and separated only by politics. The book is a compilation of short poems, presumably written down by the prophet himself, exhorting the northern kingdom to social reform before impending devastation.
Hosea describes events in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of king Menahem (around 745 - 737 BC). His earliest prophecies are from the year of Jeroboam's death around 746 BC. Hosea's brief poems describe the difficult social upheavals faced in the north. The separate poems were linked together, either by the prophet himself or by his followers, to form a single scroll.
Isaiah addresses people living in Judah under the Davidic kings. Jerusalem is the Holy City that God will protect, the Temple and sacrifice are in place, the Assyrians are a threat. The later parts of Isaiah describe how the cities of Judah are desolate, the Temple is in ruins, and the people are in exile in Babylon.
We know very little about Micah. His prophesies date to around 722 to 701 BC, through the Assyrian conquest of Samaria and Israel (722 BC). The text was revised and expanded after the fall of Jerusalem, and perhaps during the time of rebuilding (485 BC or later), to reflect changed circumstances.
It's impossible to date Zephaniah's book or career exactly, although his attack upon corruption in worship suggests (to some) a time before Josiah's reform in 621 BC. The text implies that he was prophesying during Josiah's reign. He must have been a citizen of Jerusalem, part of the "establishment."
The prophecies of Nahum date from around the time of the fall of Nineveh, a disciple of Joel and teacher of Habakkuk.
The text places his prophecies just after the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, as Nebuchadnezzer was coming to power in Babylon.
Ezekiel was taken to Babylon with the exiles in 597 BC, and prophesied there during the exile from 593 to 563 BC. His period overlaps the conquest of Judah in 587 BC. The book records his prophecies, although there was some revision (perhaps by Ezekiel himself) plus later supplements by his disciples.
Jeremiah stands as a giant amongst the other prophets. Only Isaiah rivals him in stature. Jeremiah prophesied and witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. He also witnessed the exile, but remained in Jerusalem rather than go to Babylon.
Lamentations was obviously written at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It is a lament for the destruction and suffering during and after the siege. The second and fourth parts were written soon after the catastrophe, the first and fifth near the end of the exile. The third section could be post-exilic. Tradition attributes Lamentations to Jeremiah.
Obadiah condemns the Edomites for ravaging Judah after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, so he presumably was writing between 585 and 500 BC (by which point the Edomites had been conquered by Arab tribes). Tradition, on the other hand, says this is the same Obadiah who is mentioned in I Kings 18, living during the reign of King Ahab (about 869 - 850 BC), and that the references to future events are prophetic.
Zechariah and Haggai
The two prophets were contemporaries, their prophecies dating from the second wave of exiles returning from Babylon, when construction started on rebuilding the Temple.
According to tradition, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all wrote during the same period, around 350 BC, and were all members of the Great Assembly that compiled several of the books of the Prophets.
There is no agreement on when Joel prophesied, except that it was after the Return, so somewhere from 539 to 331 BC. Nothing is known about his life, and there are no clues in the text.
The text itself offers no clues about historical period, and isn't tied to any other text. Jonah himself lived in the days of Jeroboam II (786 - 748 BC).
The book of Daniel is set during the Babylonian Exile (580 BC and after), and tradition says it was written at that time, with an oracular preview of several centuries of future history. The author of Daniel expresses his opposition to enforced Hellenism. The book stands firmly in opposition to the reign of tyrants, and declares their days are numbered.
The books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Job are classed as "wisdom literature"--poems and philosophy, emphasizing moral imperatives based on religion.
The book is a compilation of songs of praise, thanksgiving or supplication, "a response to God's presence in history." Few psalms offer any indication of date or other circumstances. They were certainly composed over many generations. Many psalms are attributed to David (1000 BC), and a few are attributed to Moses (1250 BC). Popular tradition has it that David composed
the entire book and included psalms by other authors.
As with so many other Biblical books, undoubtedly large parts were handed down orally at first and later in writing, until the book took its final form. Religious tradition ascribes Proverbs to Solomon (920 BC), renown for his wisdom, and credits King Hezekiah's court with compiling and editing.
Tradition says that Job was written by Moses.
Song of Solomon
Called "Canticles" in the Latin tradition, the book is actually a compilation of about 25 songs, mainly love and wedding songs. The two lovers mentioned in the songs are presumably Solomon and the famed Shunammite beauty (according to I Kings 1:1-4). The traditional view holds these songs were all written by Solomon, and then compiled/edited into final form by Hezekiah's court, same as for Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.
The Hebrew name of the book is Koholet, the name the author gives himself. The word probably derives from "assembly" or "school," so the author is "the one who assembles" sayings or things heard; which is why the Greek name Ecclesiastes ("member of the assembly") was given to this book. The author describes himself as a son of David, and ancient tradition accepted uncritically that this was a work of Solomon.
Written by The Straight Dope Staff Members Dex and Eutychus.