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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Malachi - Introduction

THE BOOK OF MALACHI is set in a period when the Second Temple was rebuilt and sacrificial worship was resumed. It was composed in the Persian period, and is addressed originally to the inhabitants of the Persian province of Yehud (Judah). Because of the reference to intermarriage ( 2.11 , some modern scholars assume that it belongs to a time closely preceding that of Ezra's actions on the matter (cf. b. Meg. 15a).

Some scholars have argued that the book was composed to provide an appropriate closing to the book of the Twelve, or that its conclusion ( 3.22–24, or a portion thereof) was written as a conclusion to the Twelve rather than to Malachi, or that substantial portions of the book were originally associated with some form of the book of Zechariah. None of these proposals is compelling.

Since Malachi means “my messenger,” it has been thought from the earliest times that it was not the name of the prophet, but an appellation, perhaps based on 3.1 , “Behold, I am sending My messenger to clear the way before Me.” The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation (ca. 3rd century BCE) does not read “Malachi” as a personal name, but translates it as “His messenger.” There is a tradition in the Targum that Malachi is Ezra; a similar tradition is brought to bear in b. Meg. 15a; an alternate tradition of R. Naπman claims that Malachi was Mordecai. Still the Rabbis of the classical period (and later Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Maimonides) maintained that Malachi is the name of the prophet. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are all understood by the Rabbis as the last of the prophets, and the Talmud mentions rulings and sayings by this prophet that seem to characterize him as an early sage, in addition to his being a prophet (see intro. to Haggai). Despite these traditions, it is likely that Malachi should be understood as a personal name.

The readers of the book of Malachi are asked to look at some pitfalls in everyday life and in the cult at the Temple, and particularly at how they affect the relationship between the LORD and Israel, resulting in a lack of prosperity. Issues concerning proper offerings, marriage practices, and tithes are especially prominent in the book.

Messages of cultic reform and proper worship are deeply interwoven with the conviction of the coming of a future day in which the LORD will trample all evildoers. Such optimism about an ideal future is typical in prophetic works. Further, the book asks its readers to identify proper behavior in these and all matters with following the Torah (or Teaching)of Moses. As a whole, the book is aimed at persuading its readership to follow the Torah of Moses, or at strengthening their resolve to continue to do so. This message must be understood within the book's historical setting, soon after the canonization of the Torah. Thus, the book presents a prophetic voice that ultimately asserts the superiority of Torah over prophecy.

The use of a disputation format in much of the book contributes rhetorically to that purpose, for it allows the arguments of evildoers to be heard, in order to be countered and neutralized. Further, it allows the readers some limited form of self‐identification with the actions of the evildoers, and as such serves as a call for them to examine themselves and repent.

The book uses imagery that refers to the structure of ancient patriarchal family groups. The LORD, as the main power figure, is imagined as a father, and at times (given the tone of the book) as an infuriated patriarchal figure. To be sure, this figure loves Israel/Judah, but within this world, the loved one should fulfill its role and obligations as the father figure envisages them. This type of metaphor is common in its historical setting, but it is difficult for many contemporary readers because our understanding of family life differs significantly from the one presumed in the book. Certainly modern readers who have had a damaging experience of an overbearing patriarch find the message of such texts difficult to accept (cf. the book of Hosea). Other aspects of the imagery of the book of Malachi, and particularly its ending, have brought much hope and comfort. In fact, the reference to Elijah in 3.23–24 was often understood as an affirmation of hope for a final liberation, one even greater than the exodus from Egypt, for after Israel's first liberation it eventually becomes enslaved, but it will not after the one promised in Malachi (see Pesiq. Rab. 4.3 ). Similarly the language of 3.4 is repeated often in traditional Jewish liturgy as an expression of hope about the restoration of appropriate worship in a future, third Temple.

Malachi 1.1–2.7 is read as the haftarah for the parashah of Toledot (Gen. 25.19–28.9 ), since these share the themes of Jacob and Esau, and Malachi 3.4–24 as that of Shabbat Ha‐Gadol, the Sabbath preceding Passover, most likely because of the association of Elijah and the forthcoming messianic liberation, which is traditionally connected to Passover. (In the Yemenite tradition Mal. 1.1–3.4 is read with the parashah of Toledot.)

[EHUD BEN ZVI]

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