MALACHI, BOOK OF


MALACHI, BOOK OF, the last (12th) book of the section of the Bible called *Minor Prophets. In the Qumran fragment 4QXIIa, however, Malachi seems to be followed by Jonah. It contains "The pronouncement of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi" (Mal. 1:1). The Hebrew word (Heb. מַלְאָכִי) (malʾakhi) means "My messenger." According to A. von Bulmerincq, the word could be a shortened form of מַלְאָכִיָּה (malʾakhiyyah, "messenger of the Lord"). However, since this name is not found elsewhere in the Bible, the Septuagint, in which it appears as malʾakho ("by the hand of His messenger"), is probably right in not regarding it as a personal name. The Targum follows the masoretic text, but adds a note to the effect that "My messenger" is *Ezra: "by the hand of My messenger whose name is called Ezra the scribe." The same tradition is mentioned and accepted by Jerome. Had Ezra been the author of the book, however, it is unlikely that his authorship would have been thus concealed. In fact, the occurrence of the word in the title is naturally explained as derived from Malachi 3:1: "Behold, I send My messenger" (cf. Mal. 2:7). It is noteworthy that whereas the activity of Haggai and Zechariah is noted in Ezra 5:1; 6:14, no mention is made of Malachi, a further indication that the book, should be regarded as anonymous, the title having been added by the compiler who had given similar editorial titles to the anonymous oracles beginning with *Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1. The reason behind the separation of the Book of Malachi from the preceding Book of Zechariah is that the "Malachian" chapters constitute a characteristic unit, different from Deutero- and Trito-Zechariah (Zech. 9–11; 12–14). The separation also provides a twelfth prophetic book, corresponding to the traditional twelve tribes of Israel.

The contents of the Book of Malachi fall into six clearly marked sections introduced by a statement of the Lord or of the prophet, which is then challenged by the people or the priests, and defended by the Lord Himself in words of reproach and doom. The Lord's love for Israel, in contrast with His treatment of Edom, is emphasized at the outset (Mal. 1:2–5). The second speech reproaches the priests for their neglect of the sacrificial cult (1:6–2:9): their attitude should express a proper regard for the ritual of the Lord's worship, yet any offering, however imperfect, has been thought good enough for His altar. In this, as no doubt in other matters, the priests show themselves unworthy of their forefather Levi, by misleading "the many" into sin with their lax rulings. Let the priests, therefore, take warning, and return to their ancient ideals. This section seems to have been subsequently expanded by the insertion of 1:11–14. The aspect of God as their common father should inspire correct relations between Jew and Jew, and not such conduct as repudiating Jewish wives for the sake of marrying non-Jewish women (2:10–16). In its present form, this speech reproaches the Jews for contracting mixed marriages. The view of Ch.C. Torrey (JBL, 17 (1898), 1–15) and F.F. Hvidberg (Weeping and Laughter in the Old Testament (1962)) that a reproach for the adoration of foreign gods is actually meant has little to commend it. A problem, however, arises from the secondary character of 2:11b–13a, or 11–12. Several modern scholars have challenged the genuineness of this passage for literary reasons and consider it a later addition. Without these verses, 2:10–16 contains no reference to mixed marriages, but rather attacks the abuse of divorce by Jews, exhorting them to remain loyal to the wives of their youth (cf. Prov. 5:15–20). If the sacredness and religious value of marriage are implied, the reproach indicates that men were divorcing wives casually and callously. It is also possible to read the section as an attack on divorcing Jewish women for the purpose of marrying gentile women, who are described as (2:11) "daughter of a foreign god" (see below). Such a union is opposed by "the One" (2:15) who desires "divine seed" (Hebrew zera elohim), elsewhere called "holy seed," (Hebrew zera kodesh; Ezra 9:2), i.e., children who are not products of sexual intermingling with gentiles. The connection between loyalty to a Jewish wife and to God was facilitated by the characterization of marriage as berit, "covenant," a notion first attested in Ezekiel 16:8.

The prevalence of wrongdoing had provoked skepticism about divine justice. The fourth section asserts against these doubts that the Lord is the God of judgment and will restore the rights of the people; His messenger is already at hand to purge indifferentism from worship and immorality from conduct (Mal. 2:17–3:5). A. von Bulmerincq's assumption that Ezra is the "messenger" of 3:1 is unlikely, because the conception here is rather that of a heavenly being. According to the next section, the people's neglect in paying tithes and other sacred dues has been punished with drought, locusts, and failure of crops; however, the punctilious payment of the withheld tithes will be rewarded with abundance (3:6–12). This fifth section thus enforces the duty of giving tithes. The last section promises the despondent pious Jews vindication for themselves and punishment for the ungodly ones on the Day of Judgment (3:13–21). Religion may seem useless, warns the author, but the Lord remembers His own, and will soon distinguish them openly from the irreligious. The book closes with an appeal to observe the Law that the Lord gave to Moses at Horeb, and with the announcement that the prophet Elijah will come before the threatened judgment (3:22–24). The appeal to the "Law of Moses" is part of the redactional process of Scripture in which Torah is declared superior to the Prophets and Hagiographa. Thus, Joshua 1, which opens the Prophets, emphasizes the book of Torah. Malachi, which ends the Prophets, closes with Torah, and Psalm 1, which opens the Hagiographa opens with Torah. These concluding words are likewise an addition, namely a later interpretation of 3:1, saying that the anonymous "messenger" is Elijah. Nonetheless, the addition shares with the body of the book its deuteronomic orientation: the book evidently regards the entire tribe of Levi as priestly, the closing appeal names Horeb instead of Sinai as the mount of revelation. These facts favor an early rather than a late post-Exilic date. Other features bear this out.

Like Haggai and Zechariah 1–8, the Book of Malachi is an expression of the changed outlook of prophecy in post-Exilic times. The topics noted above clearly relate the book to the post-Exilic period, when the Temple had been rebuilt (1:10; 3:1, 10), the province of Judea was ruled by a representative of the Persian government (1:8), and there had been time enough for the loss of earlier religious enthusiasm. The three main abuses attacked in the text are the degeneracy of the priesthood (1:6–2:9), intermarriage with foreign women (2:11), and the people's remissness in the payment of tithes (3:8). These abuses, especially the second and the third, are mentioned prominently in the Book of *Ezra and Nehemiah, and are those which both reformers strenuously set themselves to correct (Ezra 9:2; 10:3, 16–44; Neh. 10:31, 33–40; 13:10–14, 23–29). The independent character of Malachi's attack against divorcing Jewish wives in order to marry foreign women (Mal. 2:10–16) suggests a date of composition prior to that of the work of Ezra (Ezra 9:2; 10:3, 16–44). This earlier date is made still more likely if the reproach against mixed marriages in Malachi 2:11b is a later insertion, one which precisely reflects the preoccupations of the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. The time of Ezra's activity, unfortunately, is uncertain. Following A. van Hoonacker and S. Mowinckel, above all, many scholars have assumed that Ezra was not active under Artaxerxes I (in 458 B.C.E.), but under Artaxerxes II (in 398 B.C.E.; cf. Ezra 7:8). The problems of mixed marriages and unpaid tithes, however, existed also in the time of Nehemiah (Neh. 10:31, 33–40; 13:10–14, 23–29), i.e., between 445 and about 424, the year Artaxerxes I died (cf. Neh. 2:1; 13:6). The insertion of Malachi 2:11b–13a may thus date from that period, and it may reasonably be inferred, therefore, that the original Book of Malachi dates prior to the age of Nehemiah and Ezra. In fact, most modern scholars agree that the prophet prepares the way for the work of those reformers.

There is no evidence of sufficient strength to substantiate a later date. The assumptions of H. Winckler (Altorientalische Forschungen, 2 (1898), 531ff.) and O. Holtzmann (ARW, 29 (1931), 1–21), who date the book to the first half of the second century B.C.E., are highly speculative and, at the present state of knowledge, inadmissible. The opinion of A. von Bulmerincq, who identifies the "messenger" of Malachi 3:1 as Ezra, becomes still more doubtful if Nehemiah is considered to have preceded Ezra. The period of Nehemiah's absence at the Persian court in approximately 430 B.C.E. (Neh. 13:6) has been proposed as the time of composition by S.R. Driver (An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (18976), 357) and A. Gelin (Introduction à la Bible, 1 (1957), 572), but an earlier date is the most likely. One of the chief duties of the priest was still the proclamation of the Oral Law (Mal. 2:6–9), and not as yet the solemn reading of the Written Law, as in Nehemiah 8–10. In fact, the prophet seems to be influenced by earlier deuteronomistic theories concerning the priests; at the same time, it is doubtful whether he knew the Priestly Code regulations on tithes found in Numbers 18:20–32, where the tithe is designated in its entirety for the maintenance of the levites (whereas, according to deuteronomic legislation (Deut. 14:22–29; 26:12–15), the levites only took part of the tithe). It appears that the Priestly Code, in its present form, is not presupposed by the Book of Malachi.

An earlier date for the composition of Malachi is also suggested by the allusion to the destruction of Edom in Malachi 1:3–4. The Arab invasion of this Transjordanian kingdom cannot be dated with precision, but Edom was apparently entirely taken over by Arab tribes toward the end of the sixth century B.C.E. Since the remaining Edomites still expected a restoration of their ruined country (1:4), approximately 500 B.C.E. is a more probable date for the composition of the Book of Malachi than the first half of the fifth century. A.C. Welch even thought that the book dated from the age of the prophet Haggai (520 B.C.E.). The bad harvests and locust plagues alluded to in 3:11 would then reflect the same situation as in Haggai 1:6, 9–11; 2:16–17. However, the existence of the Temple as implied by Malachi indicates a somewhat later date. All things considered, it may reasonably be assumed that the book dates from approximately 500 B.C.E.

The work reflects the various currents of thought and modes of life in the Jerusalem of about 500 B.C.E., affording an interesting and valuable glimpse of the post-Exilic community in the period between the age of Haggai and Zechariah on the one hand, and the time of Nehemiah and Ezra on the other. The situation in Judea was one of depression and discontent. The expectations which earlier prophets had aroused had not been fulfilled. The return from Babylon had brought with it none of the ideal glories promised by Deutero-Isaiah. The completion of the Second Temple (515 B.C.E.) had been followed by disillusionment over the anticipated prosperity announced by Haggai in 520 B.C.E., by consequent indifference to worship, skepticism as to divine justice, and moral laxity. In view of these conditions, the message of Malachi is to reassert the true relation of the people to their God, and to recall the nation to religious and moral earnestness, especially in regard to questions of ritual and marriage. Yet the author is no formalist. Ritual observances are of value in his eyes only as expressions of spiritual service; for example, he supposes that God does not accept offerings presented by disloyal husbands (2:13b–14). Moral and social offenses are fiercely condemned by the prophet (3:5), and from the concept of the brotherhood of all Jews under one Father (2:10), he deduces the duties which they have toward each other, and the wrongfulness of the selfish practice of divorce prevalent in his day (2:14–16).

The Book of Malachi is a significant landmark in the religious history of Israel. Despite its emphasis on the observance of ritual, it shows genuine prophetic spirit. Its denunciation of those who divorced their Jewish wives to marry "the daughter of a strange god" reflects the prophetic ideal of a permanent covenant between God and His people, which had been represented as a marital relation since the days of *Hosea. The denunciation also involves a protest against the influences of foreign marriages, the prohibition of which was to be made effective, at least in Yehud, by the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra. The influence of the closing words of the book (3:22–24) on later messianic expectation is apparent in the Jewish post-biblical literature (Ecclus. 48:10; Suk. 52b; Mid. Ps. to 42:1; Targ., Lam. 4:22; Targ. Yer., Deut. 30:4) and in the New Testament (Matt. 17:3, 4, 10–13; 27:47, 49; Mark 9:4–5, 11–13; 15:35–36; Luke 9:30, 33; John 1:21, 25). In the New Testament the end of Malachi serves as a proof text to identify John the Baptist with Elijah.

[Edward Lipinski /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

The author of Malachi was considered the last of the prophets, along with Haggai and Zechariah. Upon their death, the spirit of prophecy departed from Israel (Yoma 9b). Malachi was identified with Ezra by R. Joshua b. Korḥa and with Mordecai by R. Naḥman. The sages, however, declared that Malachi was his proper name (Meg. 15a). Targum Jonathan to the words "by Malachi" (1:1) added the gloss "who is known by the name of Ezra the scribe." R. Joshua validated this viewpoint by explaining the references in Malachi to the "daughter of a strange god" (2:11) as identical with the "foreign women" described by Ezra (10:2; Meg. 15a). Malachi was a member of the Great Synagogue, and traditions were later reported in his name (cf. RH 19b).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

W. Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten (19223); S.R. Driver, The Minor Prophets: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (1906); G.L. Robinson, The Twelve Minor Prophets (1953); A. Gelin, in: La Sainte Bible… de l'Ecole Biblique de Jérusalem (19603); W.L. Sperry, in: The Interpreter's Bible, 6 (1956); D.R. Jones, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Introduction and Commentary (1962); E.G. Kraeling, Commentary on the Prophets, 2 (1966). SPECIAL STUDIES: K. Budde, in: ZAW, 26 (1906), 1–18; O. Holtzmann, in: ARW, 29 (1931), 1–21; A.C. Welch, Post-Exilic Judaism (1935), 113–25; A. Pautrel, in: DBI suppl., 5 (1957), 739–46; H.J. Boecker, in: ZAW, 78 (1966), 78–80; L. Kruse-Blinkenberg, in: Studia Theologica, 20 (1966), 95–119; 21 (1967), 62–82; Kaufmann, Y., Toledot, 4 (19675), 366–77; M. Margalit, in: Kahana (ed.), Sefer Terei Asar (1930), 193–212. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPY: R. Smith, Micah-Malachi (Word; 1984), 296–342; B. Jones, Book of the Twelve (1998); A. Hill, in: ABD, 4:478–85; idem, Malachi (AB; 1998), incl. bibli.; ibid, 95–129, incl. illus.; S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 61–74; J. O'Brien, in: DBI, 3:110–13.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.