This interpretation is underscored by Zephaniah’s inclusion in his list of those who will be destroyed by God, “those who cause the wicked to stumble” (and not simply “the wicked” as the NRSV, quoted here, has it).

The text is a difficult one. The Hebrew word wehamakshelot, “and those who cause (the wicked) to stumble,” is formulated as a feminine participle. The feminine formulation is not well understood; perhaps the prophet condemns a class of women, for example, cultic prostitutes, who have played some role in the matter. Because of the difficulties with the term, many interpreters have sought to emend the text to something that appears to make more sense in the context, for example, “and I will make the wicked stumble,” or the like (so NRSV).

The Greek Septuagint and the Old Latin text of Zephaniah 1:3 simply eliminate the phrase altogether. Many scholars therefore conclude that the phrase is a gloss that was only introduced into the text at a much later time. Such a decision would therefore eliminate the focus on the wicked in this passage and leave it as a general portrayal of the destruction of creation. This of course lends itself easily to an eschatological scenario that calls for the end of all creation.

But the phrase does appear in the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Targum and the Latin Vulgate. The Peshitta and the Vulgate are particularly noteworthy since both are dependent in part on the Septuagint. Also there is plenty of room to include this passage in a lacuna of the Naḥal Hever Greek manuscript of the Twelve Prophets found in the Judean Desert.

Based upon the readings of these manuscripts, we must conclude that the phrase is in fact original to Zephaniah and that it expresses not an eschatological scenario of the end of creation, but a typical use of mythological language concerning the state of creation to focus the prophet’s concerns with those very real human parties who are to be condemned.