Review of Malachi (Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text), part 1
“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty.
–Malachi 2:3-4 (NIV)
Although Words on the Word has since taken fuller shape, two primary motivations in my beginning this blog were (a) to read and review good books and commentaries and (b) to interact with the original Biblical languages. This post offers a good opportunity to do both. Here I review Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text by Terry W. Eddigner (Baylor University Press, 2012).
The Hebrew prophet Malachi holds a significant place in the Hebrew Bible. Malachi is the last prophet of the Book of the Twelve (minor prophets) and the last book in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The last two verses of Malachi are Yahweh’s promise to send the prophet Elijah–a promise fulfilled, Christians believe, by John the Baptist. It sets up the beginning of the Gospels well.
The Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series is a deliberately unique contribution to the field of commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. Okay, I suppose all commentary series intend to make unique contributions, but this one really does. It fills a void. Although the student of the Hebrew of the minor prophets is fortunate to perhaps be able to access Baker’s fine exegetical commentary (Malachi is in this volume), there is still a dearth in general of OT commentaries that comment extensively on the Hebrew text and grammar. In that sense I’ve been happy to see the careful attention this series gives to the Hebrew text. (Bonus: this book and some the others in the series that I’ve briefly glanced through give good treatment of discourse analysis.)
It’s important to note from the outset that Malachi (as a book in this series) is not a “full blown commentary.” It’s a “Handbook on the Hebrew Text,” which does “not attempt to replace the second step of consulting commentaries and secondary literature….” In keeping with this aim, Terry W. Eddinger gives the reader a short (five pages) introduction, yet it is plenty to be able to work well within the Hebrew text of Malachi. (And a bibliography with references throughout points readers in the direction of other Malachi-related literature.) Eddinger especially emphasizes the structure and “literary forms and devices” in Malachi. He views the structure of Malachi as consisting of a superscription, six oracles, and two appendices. Literarily, Eddinger says, Malachi is a prose and poetry hybrid, “perhaps the best example of such in the Hebrew Bible.”
There is a linguistic glossary at the back of the book, so when Eddinger says, “Hortatory style is the predominate literary form and is found in all but two verses,” the uninitiated reader can quickly determine that hortatory means “a word, clause, or sentence of direct dialogue.” This is perhaps an over-general or vague definition (the Jonah book in this series has, “Hortatory discourse is meant to exhort someone to act in a particular manner”), but I found that not to be the norm for the succinct and useful glossary.
One commendable feature is the “key words” chart at the beginning of each oracle. Malachi is the first book in this series to offer such a feature. Eddinger highlights important words that the reader will want to know as he or she makes his or her way through a pericope. Then–in what was my favorite part of this book–Eddinger has a chart at the back of the book that lists every Hebrew word in Malachi and verse references for all its occurrences. (Future printings or editions of this book could soup up this chart even more with English glosses of the Hebrew words, for the purposes of vocabulary acquisition.) Several times in making my way through Malachi and this handbook, I referred to the Hebrew word chart. A second appendix lists all the times the “divine messenger formula” (e.g., אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת) occurs in Malachi.
Eddinger begins each passage with his own English translation, then analyzes the Hebrew text verse by verse. In part 2 of this review (to post Monday), I’ll look at the guts of Eddinger’s handbook, that is, the verse-by-verse exposition, including his explanation of the verses that led off this post.
UPDATE: Part 2 of the review is here.
Thank you to Baylor University Press for providing me a free copy, in exchange for an unbiased review (which ends up being a two-part review in this case–by my choice). You can find the Baylor product page for Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text here. It’s on Amazon here.