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Review of Malachi (Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text), part 2

August 13, 2012

In this post I both explain the jarring Malachi 2:3-4 as well as offer part 2 of my review of Malachi: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text by Terry W. Eddigner (Baylor University Press, 2012). Part 1 of the review is here.

Eddinger begins each passage with his own English translation, then analyzes the Hebrew text verse by verse. Any reader will appreciate that Eddinger prints the full Hebrew text of a given verse, then reprints the various clauses and words when commenting on them. (This eliminates the need to constantly refer to another book when using Malachi.) The Hebrew font is large, clear, and easy to read. It’s fully pointed and includes the Masoretic markings that one would find in the BHS. Though at first I had wished to see the English translation verse-by-verse alongside the Hebrew, Eddinger’s decision to have English translations primarly at the beginning of a passage does force the reader more into the Hebrew itself. For the intended audience of “a second-year Biblical Hebrew student” whose focus is translation, grammar, and syntax, this is a good thing.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Eddinger discusses textual variants throughout the handbook. He especially focuses on LXX/Septuagint variants that receive attention from the BHS editors. His conclusions regarding variants often end with something like, “X makes sense in context and so should be retained.” Thoroughgoing text critics may be left wanting more evaluation or interaction with variants than this (as I was at times)–but this is a short handbook. The fact that the author highlighted such variants at all was an added bonus, as far as I’m concerned.

Eddinger gives excellent attention to grammatical and syntactical detail–down to an assimilated dagesh lene (1:13)! He treats clauses as wholes–for example, highlighting word order and fronting for emphasis. And he treats individual words and parts of speech. He never loses the forest for the trees, and he gives the trees their due attention, too. In conjunction with the “key words” chart at the beginning of a section and the appendix of all Hebrew words in Malachi, Eddinger often notes rare Hebrew words as such, giving something of their context in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. He seems to have HALOT, TDOT, BDB, and other technical commentaries readily at hand as he comments on the text. On 1:14 he writes,

נוֹכֵל is a rare word in the Masoretic Text, occurring only four times (only here in Malachi) and means “one who acts cleverly” or “deceitfully” thus, “a cheat.”

That is the sort of insight I could come to expect on a regular basis by the end of the handbook. I loved it for that.

In terms of grammar, his discussion of individual words includes syntax and morphology, with every single word parsed / morphologically analyzed and often more detail than that. Eddinger uses the qatal and yiqtol verb classification system. This may not line up with what every Hebrew student has read regarding tense/aspect in their first-year Hebrew class, but it does (at least according to some) carry significant advantages over “perfect” and “imperfect.” (See a mini-primer on the Hebrew verbal system here.)

Regarding the verses from Malachi with which I led off part 1 of this review, Eddinger explains them well:

פֶרֶשׁ refers to the contents of the bowels of sacrificed animals, which the priests were to burn as refuse at a location away from the altar (Exod 29:14; Lev 4:11; 8:17). The phrase [feces upon your faces] is a double entendre in meaning as the act is an act of humiliation and contact with the ‘unclean’ matter makes the priests ‘unclean’ for their priestly duties.

(I allude more to Malachi 2:3 here.)

I’ve found Malachi to be an indispensable companion for reading through Malachi in Hebrew. I do have one minor critique and one larger one, though.

First, the English Bible versification at the end of Malachi gives the book four chapters; it is just three in the Hebrew text. Malachi nowhere notes this (although it does note regarding the last three verses that “some LXX texts have these verses reordered.” Again, this is a handbook on the Hebrew text, but a simple explanatory note here as to why English Bibles have four chapters in Malachi and Hebrew Bibles three would have been beneficial.

Second, I found myself often distracted (though I didn’t want to be) by the presence of typographical errors or comma splices or run-on sentences. I hope future printings can correct these, since they take away from an otherwise great book. There would be no benefit in listing typos here, but there were some 20 or more spots where either a word was misspelled, there was disagreement of number between verb and subject, punctuation was missing, and so on. Fortunately the vast majority of these are in English and so easy enough to spot. (I.e., the reader can trust the Hebrew here.) But the author’s English translation sections especially seemed to be in want of a closer edit. I do hope future printings or editions can make adjustments here; I imagine students of Malachi will want to make use of this book for years to come.

Eddinger in the end is a worthy guide through the Hebrew of Malachi. The prophets often (suddenly!) shifted pronouns or speakers or subjects in their writing. Who is talking now: God, the prophet, both, or the people? Eddinger coolly walks the reader through such grammatical challenges, and others besides.

While the obvious use of Malachi is as a reference work in which to look up a given passage, it reads well as a whole, too. I eagerly await future books in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series.

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.

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