Book of Malachi

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The Book of Malachi, often called simply, Malachi, is an ancient Jewish writing canonized into the Minor Prophets section of the Nevi'im while Christians place it in their old testament. The text is written as a prophetic dialogue between the followers of Yahweh and their god. It was written in Biblical Hebrew around 445 BCE. The author is traditionally attributed to Malachi, although some scholars believe that is a title, not a name, and therefore the book is anonymous. In the writing, Yahweh accuses his followers of scrimping on his sacrifices and tithes and demands that they give him his proper due, or he will punish them. And, if they do start making better sacrifices, he will help them out.

Malachi is quoted 19 times in 11 different books of the New Testament, most likely because portions of Malachi contain a messianic prophecy. However, the messianic prophecy from this text is very different from any described by the authors of the New Testament.

Authorship and Dating

Church tradition attributes this book to a prophet named Malachi, and many scholars of Biblical Hebrew accept that tradition, but others disagree saying the work is anonymous with no author's name given because the Biblical Hebrew מלאכי [Mal'achi] translates to "my messenger." This means that the typical English translation of "The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi," (Malachi 1:1 NIV), could just as easily be read, "The word of the Lord to Israel through my messenger." There is no evidence that Mal'achi is a name rather than simply a title, in fact, Mal'achi is used again in 3:1 where in nearly every English translation translates it, not to the name "Malachi," but the title, "my messenger."

The oldest surviving manuscript of Malachi comes from portions found among the Dead Sea Scrolls circa 250 BCE. The fragmentary scrolls 4Q76 and 4Q78 contains some verses from chapters 2-4. Because there are no surviving manuscripts of the original text, scholars have to use the content of the copied manuscripts to infer when the autograph was written. One clue is the Biblical Hebrew word לפחתך [Lefechatecha] which contains the Assyrian loan-word peha for "governor." The Israelites probably didn't start using Assyrian loan words until after their exile and the text also suggests that the temple has already been rebuilt (since it's all about making sacrifices), which requires a date no later than 515 BCE. For reasons I am not yet aware, scholars believe Malachi was written around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, which suggests a date circa 445 BCE.

Content

The text is written as a prophetic dialogue with the author writing from the perspective of Yahweh, giving commands and answering questions as though they were asked by Israelites. It begins with Yahweh saying he loves the descendants of Jacob, but hates descendants of Esau and will forever destroy the land of Edom. Then, Yahweh condemns his followers who try to save money by sacrificing animals that are not blemish-free, condemns priests for not following his commandments properly, condemns the tribe of Judah for allowing some of their descendants to marry people of different religious beliefs, says a messenger will eventually come and punish those who don't offer proper sacrifices and keep the Mosaic law, and demands that his followers tithe properly.

One interesting note is that the author claims Moses received Yahweh's commandments on Mt. Horeb rather than Sinai, suggesting the author preferred the Elohist portions of the Torah.

Status

I have several translations of this book from various bibles, and have read the NIV translation.

Review

Good

  • The only good thing I see from this book is that it gives us a window into history for how barbaric and unenlightened people used to be, and serves as a reminder just how bad things can get.

Bad

  • The book doesn't have very much continuity. It is a list of demands, grievances, and threats, but their all intermixed. The book would read much better if the various categorized were grouped together.
  • Yahweh says he will smear the faces of priests with the feces of blemished sacrifices (2:3). That's pretty hilarious, but it gives you the idea of how provincial Yahweh was, even in such a later book.
  • As a reward for properly tithing, Yahweh says he will keep pests from eating the crops of his followers, which will make them the envy of all other people (3:10-11). Again, this is hilariously provincial, but it's also the same sort of "protection" used by the Mafia.
  • For as short as this book is, it has a lot of textual variants (see the footnotes in the NIV). This is an indication that it was not preserved very well, and that it's accuracy should be trusted even less than other ancient works.
  • The author has Yahweh saying he hates divorce (2:16), however, divorce is a very reasonable way of dealing with bad marriages or bad spouses.
  • As a final parting, the author has Yahweh saying that anyone who doesn't follow Mosaic law will be burned alive and their ashes will be trampled by the feet of the righteous (4:1-4). I'm in favor of using punishment to deter immoral behavior, but I do not approve of the death penalty, and certainly not execution through torture.

Ugly

  • The work just reinforces the horribleness of Yahweh as described in the Torah; he's spiteful, vindictive, and jealous. A bit pathetic, to be honest.
  • Yahweh demands the sacrifice of pristine animals (1:6-14) and lots of money (3:8-9), neither of which could possibly be useful to him, so it's entirely wasteful. However, it would be very useful to his priests.
  • Most English translations have Yahweh saying he "hated" Esau (1:3). Not exactly all loving, is he? Also, this book doesn't expand on the story of Jacob and Esau, in which Jacob is actually the villain and Esau is innocent.
  • The reason for the sacrifices, rewards, and punishments is described as being a covenant made between Yahweh and Jacob and all his descendants. However, such a contract is not ethical. While parents have a duty to teach their children responsibility, and this often means requiring their children to do things they don't want to do, a parent cannot ethically make binding legal contracts for their children, and certainly not for generations into the future. For example, it would be wrong for someone to make a contract requiring their great-great-grandchild to pay a fee to a debtor.
  • The author describes the act of marrying someone who has different religious beliefs as "detestable" and says anyone doing so must be banished, even if they personally still believe in and worship Yahweh (2:11-12). In fact, the shame isn't the burden of the individual, but of everyone in their family. This is the sort of immoral nonsense that leads to honor-killings.

Links

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