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Malachias (Malachi)

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( Hebrew Mál'akhî ), one of the twelve minor prophets.


It is the last book of the collection of the twelve Minor Prophets which is inscribed with the name of Malachias. As a result, the author has long been regarded as the last of the canonical prophets of the Old Testament. All that is known of him, however, is summed up in the tenor of his preaching and the approximate period of his ministry. The Jewish schools identified him quite early with the scribe Esdras. This identification, which is without historical value and is based according to St. Jerome on an interpretation given to Mal., ii, 7, was at first probably suggested by the tradition which beheld in Esdras the intermediary between the prophets and the "great synagogue ", whose foundation was attributed to him and to which he was considered to have transmitted the deposit of doctrine handed down by the prophets (Pirqe Abhôth, I, 2). The position of intermediary fully belonged to Esdras on the hypothesis that he was the last of the prophets and the first member of the "great synagogue ". The name Malachias figures at the head of the book in the Septuagint. The Alexandrine translator, however, did not understand Mal., i, 1, to contain the mention of the author's proper name; he translates the passage: "The word of the Lord by the hand of his Angel," so that he has evidently understood the Hebrew expression to be the common noun augmented by the suffix; he has, moreover, read Mál'akhô instead of Mál'akhî . We cannot say whether this reading and interpretation should not be considered as an effect of Jewish speculations concerning the identity of the author of the book with Esdras, or whether an interpretation of this kind was not at the foundation of the same speculation. However that may be, the interpretation of the Septuagint found an echo among the ancient Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, and even gave rise, especially among the disciples of Origen, to the strangest fancies.

A large number of modern authors likewise refuse to see in Mál'akhî the proper name of the author. They point out that in Mal., iii, 1, the Lord announces: "Behold I send my angel ( mál'akhî )...". According to them, it is from this passage that the name Mál'akhî was borrowed by a more recent author, who added the inscription to the book (i, 1). But, in the first place, this epithet Mál'akhî could not have the same value in i, 1, as in iii, 1, where it is the noun augmented by the suffix ( my angel ). For in i, 1, the Lord is spoken of in the third person, and one would expect the noun with the suffix of the third person, as in fact is given in the Septuagint ( his angel ). The messenger of the Lord is moreover announced in iii, 1, to arrive thereafter (cf. iv, 5; Hebrew text, iii, 23); consequently no one could have imagined that this same messenger was the author of the book. There would remain the hypothesis that Mál'akhî in i, 1, should be understood as a qualifying word signifying angelicus --- i.e. he who was concerned with the angel, who prophesied on the subject of the angel (iii, 1). This explanation, however, is too far-fetched. It is at least more probable that Mál'akhî in i, 1, should be understood as the proper name of the author, or as a title borne historically by him and equivalent to a proper name. We are no doubt in presence of an abbreviation of the name Mál'akhîyah , that is "Messenger of Yah".


The Book of Malachias in the Hebrew comprises three chapters. In the Greek Bible and in the Vulgate in contains four, chapter iii, 19 sqq., of the Hebrew forming a separate chapter. The book is divided into two parts, the first extending from i, 2, to ii, 16, and the second from ii, 17, to the end. In the first the prophet first inveighs against the priests guilty of prevarication in their discharge of the sacrificial ritual, by offering defective victims (i, 6-ii, 4), and in their office of doctors of the Law (ii, 5-9). He then accuses the people in general, condemning the intestine divisions, the mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles (ii, 10-12), and the abuse of divorce (ii, 13-16). The second part contains a discourse full of promise. To a first complaint concerning the impunity which the wicked enjoy (ii, 17), Yahweh replies that the Lord and the angel of the New Testament are about to come for the purpose of purifying the sons of Levi and the entire nation (iii, 1-5); if the people are faithful to their obligations, especially with respect to the tithes, they will be loaded with Divine blessings (iii, 6-12). To a second complaint concerning the afflictions that fall to the lot of the just, while the wicked succeed in everything (iii, 13), Yahweh gives answer that on the day of his justice the good will take a glorious revenge (iii, 14 sqq.). The book closes with a double epilogue; the first recalls the remembrance of Moses, and the laws promulgated on Mount Horeb (iv, 4; Hebrew text, iii, 22); the second announces the coming of Elias before the day of Yahweh (iv, 5-6; Heb., iii, 23-24). The unity of the book taken as a whole is unquestionable; but many critics consider as the addition of another hand either both the epilogues or at least the second. There is indeed no connexion between these passages and what goes before, but from this consideration alone no certain conclusion can be drawn.


The opinion brought forward some time ago, that the book of Malachias was composed in the second century B. C. , has received no support. Critics are practically agreed in dating the book from about the middle of the fifth century B. C. The text itself does not furnish any explicit information, but many indications are in favour of the assigned date :

(a) mention of the Peha (i, 8), as the political head of the people takes us back to the Persian period; the title of Peha was indeed that borne by the Persian governor especially at Jerusalem (Haggai 1:1 ; Ezra 5:14 ; Nehemiah 5:14-15 );

(b) the book was not composed during the first years that followed the return from the Babylonian captivity, because not only the Temple exists, but relaxation in the exercise of worship already prevails ( Malachi 1:6 sqq. );

(c) on the other hand it is hardly probable that the discourses of Malachias are of later date than Nehemias. In the great assembly which was held during the first sojourn of Nehemias at Jerusalem, among other engagements, the people had taken that of paying the tithes regularly ( Nehemiah 10:38 ), and history testifies that in this respect the adopted resolutions were faithfully carried out, although in the distribution of the tithes the Levites were unjustly treated ( Nehemiah 13:5, 10, 13 ). Now Malachias complains not of the injustice of which the Levites were the object, but of the negligence on the part of the people themselves in the payment of the tithes (iii, 10). Again, Malachias does not regard mixed marriages as contrary to a positive engagement, like that which was taken under the direction of Nehemias ( Nehemiah 10:30 ); he denounces them on account of their unhappy consequences and of the contempt which they imply for the Jewish nationality ( Malachi 2:11, 12 );

(d) it is not even during the sojourn of Nehemias at Jerusalem that Malachias wrote his book. Nehemias was Peha, and he greatly insists upon his disinterestedness in the exercise of his functions, contrary to the practices of his predecessors ( Nehemiah 5:14 sqq. ); but Malachias gives us to understand that the Peha was severely exacting (i, 8);

(e) The date of composition can only fall within some short time before the mission of Nehemias. The complaints and protestations to which this latter gives expression ( Nehemiah 2:17 ; 4:4 sq. ; 5:6, sqq. , etc.) are like an echo of those recorded by Malachias (iii, 14, 15). The misfortune that weighted so heavily upon the people in the days of Malachias (iii, 9 sqq.) were still felt during those of Nehemias ( Nehemiah 5:1 sqq. ). Lastly and above all, the abuses condemned by Malachias, namely, the relaxation in religious worship, mixed marriages and the intestine divisions of which they were the cause ( Malachi 2:10-12 ; cf. Nehemiah 6:18 ), the negligence in paying the tithes, were precisely the principal objects of the reforms undertaken by Nehemias ( Nehemiah 10:31, 33, sqq. , 10:38 sqq. ). As the first mission of Nehemias falls in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I ( Nehemiah 2:1 ), that is in 445 B. C., it follows that the composition of the Book of Malachias may be placed about 450 B. C.


The importance lies (1) in the data which the book furnishes for the study of certain problems of criticism concerning the Old Testament, and (2) in the doctrine it contains.

(1) For the study of the history of the Pentateuch, it is to be remarked that the Book of Malachias is directly connected with Deuteronomy, and not with any of those parts of the Pentateuch commonly designated under the name of priestly documents. Thus Mal., i, 8, where the prophet speaks of the animals unfit for sacrifice, brings to mind Deut., xv, 21, rather than Lev., xxii, 22 sq.; the passage in Mal., ii, 16, relating to divorce by reason of aversion, points to Deut., xxiv, 1. What is even more significant is that, in his manner of characterizing the Tribe of Levi and its relations with the priesthood, Malachias adopts the terminology of Deuteronomy ; in speaking of the priests, he brings into evidence their origin not from Aaron but from Levi (ii, 4, 5 sqq.; iii, 3 sq.). Consequently, it would be an error to suppose that in this respect Deuteronomy represents a point of view which in the middle of the fifth century was no longer held. Let us add that the first of the two epilogues, with which the book concludes (iv, 4; Hebrew text, iii, 32), is likewise conceived in the spirit of Deuteronomy.

The examination of the Book of Malachias may be brought to bear on the solution of the question as to whether the mission of Esdras, related in I Esd., vii-x, falls in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (458 B. C. ), that is to say, thirteen years before the first mission of Nehemias, or in the seventh year Artaxerxes II (398 B. C. ), and therefore after Nehemias. Immediately after his arrival in Jerusalem, Esdras undertakes a radical reform of the abuse of mixed marriages , which are already considered contrary to a positive prohibition ( Ezra 10 ). He tells us also that, supported by the authority of the King of Persia and with the co-operation of the governors beyond the river, he laboured with full success to give to religious worship all its splendour ( Ezra 7:14, 15, 17, 20 - 8:36 ). And nothing whatever justifies the belief that the work of Esdras had but an ephemeral success, for in that case he would not in his own memoirs have related it with so much emphasis without one word of regret for the failure of his effort. Can data such as these be reconciled with the supposition that the state of affairs described by Malachias was the immediate outcome of the work of Esdras related in I Esd., vii-x?

(2) In the doctrine of Malachias one notices with good reason as worthy of interest the attitude taken by the prophet on the subject of divorce (ii, 14-16). The passage in question is very obscure, but it appears in v. 16 that the prophet disapproves of the divorce tolerated by Deut., xxvi, 1, viz., for cause of aversion.

The Messianic doctrine of Malachias especially appeals to our attention. In Mal. iii, 1, Yahweh announces that he will send his messenger to prepare the way before Him. In the second epilogue of the book (iv, 5, 6; Heb., text, iii, 23 sq.), this messenger is identified with the prophet Elias. Many passages in the New Testament categorically interpret this double prophecy by applying to John the Baptist, precursor of our Lord ( Matthew 11:10, 14 ; 17:11-12 ; Mark 9:10 sqq. ; Luke 1:17 ). The prophecy of Malachias, iii, 1, adds that, as soon as the messenger shall have prepared the way, "the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire," will come to His temple. The Lord is here identified with the angel of the testament; this is evident from the construction of the phrase and from the circumstance that the description of the mission of the angel of the testament (vv. 2 sq.) is continued by the Lord speaking of Himself in the first person in v. 5.

A particularly famous passage is that of Mal., i, 10-11. In spite of a difficulty in the construction of the phrase, which can be avoided by vocalizing one word otherwise than the Massoretes have done (read miqtar , Sept. thymiama , instead of muqtar in verse 11), the literal sense is clear. The principal question is to know what is the sacrifice and pure offering spoken of in v. 11. A large number of non-Catholic exegetes interpret it of the sacrifices actually being offered from east to west at the time of Malachias himself. According to some, the prophet had in view the sacrifices offered in the name of Yahweh by the proselytes of the Jewish religion among all the nations of the earth; others are more inclined to the belief that he signifies the sacrifices offered by the Jews dispersed among the Gentiles. But in the fifth century B. C. neither the Jews dispersed among the Gentiles nor the proselytes were sufficiently numerous to justify the solemn utterances used by Malachias; the prophet clearly wants to insist on the universal diffusion of the sacrifice which he has in view. Hence others, following the example of Theodore of Mopsuestia, think they can explain the expression in v. 11 as referring to the sacrifices offered by the pagans to their own gods or to the Supreme God ; those sacrifices would have been considered by Malachias as materially offered to Yahweh, because in fact Yahweh is the only true God. But it appears inconceivable that Yahweh should, by means of Malachias, have looked upon as "pure" and "offered to his name" the sacrifices offered by the Gentiles to this or that divinity; especially when one considers the great importance Malachias attaches to the ritual (i, 6 sqq., 12 sqq.; iii, 3 sq.) and the attitude he takes towards foreign peoples (i, 2 sqq.; ii, 11 sq.). The interpretation according to which chap. i, 11, concerns the sacrifices in vogue among the Gentiles at the epoch of Malachias himself fails to recognize that the sacrifice and the pure offering of v. 11 are looked upon as a new institution succeeding the sacrifices of the Temple, furnishing by their very nature a motive sufficient to close the doors of the house of God and extinguish the fire of the altar (v. 10). Consequently v. 11 must be considered as a Messianic prophecy. The universal diffusion of the worship of Yahweh is always proposed by the prophets as a characteristic sign of the Messianic reign. That the phrase is construed in the present tense only proves that here, as on other occasions, the prophetic vision contemplates its object absolutely without any regard to the events that should go before its accomplishment. It is true that Mal., iii, 3-4, says that after the coming of the angel of the testament the sons of Levi will offer sacrifices in justice, and that the sacrifice of Juda and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord. But the new institutions of the Messianic reign might be considered, either inasmuch as they were the realization of the final stage in the development of those of the Old Testament (and in this case they would naturally be described by the help of the images borrowed from the latter), or inasmuch as they implied the cessation of those of the Old Testament in their proper form. In Mal., iii, 3-4, the religious institutions of the Messianic reign are considered from the former point of view, because the language is consolatory; in Mal, i, 10, 11, they are considered from the latter point of view, because the language here is menacing.

Certain authors, while admitting the Messianic character of the passage, think that it should be interpreted not of a sacrifice in the strict sense of the word, but of a purely spiritual form of devotion. However, the terms employed in v. 11 express the idea of a sacrifice in the strict sense. Moreover, according to the context, the censured sacrifices were not considered impure in their quality of material sacrifices, but on account of the defects with which the victims were affected; it is consequently not on account of an opposition to material sacrifices that the offering spoken of in v. 11 is pure. It is an altogether different question whether or not the text of Malachias alone permits one to determine in a certain measure the exact form of the new sacrifice. A large number of Catholic exegetes believe themselves justified in concluding, from the use of the term minhah in v. 11, that the prophet desired formally to signify an unbloody sacrifice. The writer of the present article finds it so much the more difficult to decide on this question, as the word minhah is several times employed by Malachias to signify sacrifice in the generic sense (i, 13; ii, 12, 13; iii, 3, 4, and in all probability, i, 10). For the rest, the event has shown how the prophecy was to be realized. It is of the Eucharistic sacrifice that Christian antiquity has interpreted the passage of Malachias (cf. Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, 1).

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