The Malachi document, like most of the books in the Book of the Twelve, begins with a superscription
. Malachi 1:1 is of the usual type, a simple sequence of nominal clauses.
On the one hand the superscription presents a clearly-marked new beginning while presupposing the text of the preceding documents. On the other hand, by using the same generic title, “weighty word,” found also in Zech 9:1 and 12:1, it also establishes continuity with the Deutero-Zechariah chapters Zechariah 9–14. Yet, since only Mal 1:1 contains a personal name, only the Malachi document is regarded as an independent prophetic writing, while in contrast the textual units Zechariah 9–11 and 12–14 are considered integral parts of the Zechariah document.
The superscription consists of two independent generic designations set alongside one another. The first is משׂא
, “weighty word,” and the second is דבר־יהוה
, “word of Yhwh
.” This latter expression is expanded by the naming of the addressee (“to Israel”) and the mediator (“Malachi”). Each of these elements is in itself a generic concept within the framework of prophetic superscriptions.2
Their combination as a clustered superscription is unique, but it seems that the two are not intended to be mutually exclusive; rather, they augment one another. Still, the impression of some kind of tension remains.
The generic concept of משׂא
signals a prophetic claim; in any case it is found only in prophetic books. The concept “word of Yhwh
” is the more comprehensive, משׂא
the narrower. The word משׂא
is derived from the root נשׂא
, “to bear,” and properly means “burden” (cf., e.g., Jer 17:12–11). As a rule the burdens are so heavy that they have to be borne by animals, and they can be too severe even for them (e.g., Exod 23:5). But in the superscriptions the word must have a special, technical meaning and represent a genre.
– Judging from the etymology, this technical meaning must reflect something that represents a severe “burden” for the addressees.3
We may well suppose that the prophet had in mind something weighty, pressing down on those he addressed, something under which they would suffer, and he sought to express it in a single word.
– A consideration of the rhetorical units under this heading reveals a striking number of sayings directed against foreign nations (e.g., Isa 13:1; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1). The conspicuous resemblance to the usage of משׂא in Zech 9:1 and 12:1 supports the idea that Mal 1:1 should be directly linked to Zech 9:1 and 12:1. While the theme of foreign nations is prominent in Zechariah 9–14, that is only marginally the case in the Malachi document, as when in Mal 1:4–5 the downfall of the people of “Edom” is announced.
“Word of Yhwh”
The generic term “Word of Yhwh
” indicates a claim that in the writing to follow Yhwh
is speaking. In Israelite understanding the word of Yhwh
was conveyed through individuals who could “hear” the divine voice directly and intuitively. This idea likewise implied that these persons had access to Yhwh
unavailable to others. Such a claim to exclusive access to the divine voice was notoriously difficult to prove to hearers, but when the corresponding speech was recorded in writing and given a prophetic title the act demonstrated at least that there was a community that acknowledged the claim of access to the divine voice and attested to that by its personal responsibility for passing on these words to later generations.
Another element frequently encountered in prophetic superscriptions is the naming of the addressees, who are to be presumed everywhere in the body of the text where no others are explicitly named. “Israel
” is, in principle, understood to be the people of God even though it is appropriate in different contexts to question exactly what the author understands the people of God to be.4
In the Malachi document the name “Israel” is only used in secondary additions (Mal 1:5; 2:11; 2:16).5
We may therefore suppose that the naming of Israel in the superscription either presupposes these additions that mention Israel or that those additions have a literary-historical connection to the superscription.
The name “Malachi”
Authorial names are characteristic elements of the superscriptions of prophetic books, so in Mal 1:1 מלאכי
must be a personal name
, even though the LXX understands “malaki
” as an office and the name lacks any further descriptive notes usually added to identify the person, e.g., a patronymic or place of origin (Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Zeph 1:1).6
The name “Malachi” is difficult to interpret. If it was a short form of one of the common Hebraic theophorical phrases מלאכי
would mean “my/a messenger (is Yhwh
).” The most likely association would be with the conveyance of the good news of a successful birth. While such a message would have been brought by a human agent, the joyful news would point to its true author—God—who caused the birth to be successful.
If this is a proper name that need not mean that the core of the Malachi document can be traced to a historical person bearing that name.7
The personal name may have commended itself as applicable to the author because the title מלאכי
appears twice within the writing itself—in secondary additions. In Mal 2:7 it is applied to the priestly calling, something not properly related to a prophetic writing. In Mal 3:1 the title is given to a person who prepares for Yhwh
’s coming. The combination of the superscription with that passage would yield “See, I am sending Malachi,” in which case the prophet Malachi would himself be the messenger who prepares the way for God, perhaps precisely by calling the people to repentance (Mal 3:7).8
Even if we see that interpretation as improbable, it is certainly a wordplay on the prophet’s name.
The name “Malachi” is introduced by the prepositional phrase ביד
, literally “by the hand,” which adopts the formula in Hag 1:1. Odil Hannes Steck has pointed out that the formula bǝyad
“is applied to Moses, Joshua, and prophets, both individual figures and collectives, concentratedly and materially to the transmission of Yhwh
’s commandment and the announcement, in particular, of Yhwh
’s judgment, but also of salvation.” He then asks whether “Malachi [is] then seen both materially and literarily as the last in a series of mediators of the word of Yhwh
(Moses, Joshua, prophets) that runs through the Torah and Nebiim?”9
Such a series of prophets is also explicitly given in 2 Chr 36:15–16, where the preposition bǝyad
is likewise used.
Absence of situation A comparison with other prophetic superscriptions shows that in Mal 1:1 there is no reference to the situation in which the word of God was given. That is remarkable since the writings of Haggai and Zechariah, also postexilic, contain very precise datings of the individual sayings. It may be that the authors of the superscription thought the words of the Malachi document reflected phenomena and conflict that were not tied to a specific historical situation but might be repeated in many such situations throughout time.
Superscriptions are seldom among the oldest elements of a text because their necessity appears only in the course of its being written down. In the case of Mal 1:1 it is striking how little the two generic terms applied suit the unique form of the writing. The Malachi document is characterized by disputation speeches
, and no such thing can be found in Zechariah 9–14. In spite of that, Zechariah 9–11; 12–14; and the Malachi document bear the same generic designation, “weighty speech.” There is also the question whether the two parts of the superscription belong together literarily or whether they were introduced at separate stages. Since they cannot be combined in a way that makes sense, they may well have been added by different redactors. Because the generic term משׂא
does not fit a collection of disputation speeches it would have been chosen as a superscription in order to connect the Malachi document with Zech 9:1 and 12:1.10
As for the disputed question whether the Malachi document was added to the Zechariah writing when the latter still ended with Zechariah 8 or after chapters 9–14 had already appended to the collection, the generic usage in Mal 1:1 speaks in favor of the latter hypothesis.
Likewise the second generic concept of דבר־יהוה
, “word of Yhwh
” refers back to the superscriptions of preceding parts of the Book of the Twelve (Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1; Mic 1:1; Zeph 1:1), which suggests that it, too, was chosen in the context of incorporating the Malachi document into the Book of the T...