This was originally written as an extended note for a Lectionary reading in December, 2015. It may be of some interest, however, to people who wonder how we got the various components of our traditional scriptures.
Modern Christians think of
Malachi as the last book of the Old Testament, and so it is in printed Protestant Bibles. In ancient times,
however, there was no Bible – no single large “book” containing all or
major parts of the scriptures.
(There’s a good reason you
have never heard of “the
The Judean scriptures in
Hebrew occupied 22 to 24 separate scrolls, and in their Greek translations closer
to 30 scrolls. (The Torah was originally five scrolls; thus, the pentateuch, the five-scroll work.) “The scriptures,”
therefore, consisted of one or more large cabinets with pigeonholes. Such cabinets (called capsa in Latin) contained the many scrolls
scribes needed in their studies.
The only order of the “books” was by content: the Exodus narrative followed the Genesis narrative, as you could discover by reading the two scrolls. Scrolls like Psalms, Job, and Proverbs were shelved as the presiding scribe thought fit. Prophetic scrolls were probably grouped vaguely by historical period of the prophet mainly involved.
Fixed order of scrolls was established in
written form only after the invention of the codex, the “book.”
Christians adopted the codex (quires of pages fastened at the side – our “book”) around 200 CE. The great advantage of the codex was that it could hold the contents of many scrolls. The Christians first used it to combine all four Gospels into one "book," the Gospel. (By the third century a separate codex, the Epistle, contained the New Testament "letters.")
[About the codex… ] The …
new book format appears initially to have had little success for Latin and
Greek literary texts, for which the roll was used exclusively. It appears to have been wholeheartedly
accepted by Christians, however, so much so that the new religion… is often
credited with establishing the codex as the standard format of the book,
gradually supplanting the roll.
(Georgios Boudalis, The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity,
The first complete Bibles,
containing both Old and New Testaments in Greek – huge works, very expensive [for
example, codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus] – were made by or for a
few wealthy churches in Egypt and Syria beginning in the 4th century, a
generation after Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman empire. (Jews kept using scrolls for their
scriptures until sometime in the early Middle Ages – and still use scrolls
today for their Torah readings in Synagogue.)
The third pamphlet had the
heading, “Burden: the word of Yahweh to
(The Greek translation of
the heading of the pamphlet is, “Burden of the word of the Lord concerning
The heading of this third
pamphlet, therefore, does not contain a proper name. “My messenger” is a title, not a name – until
later pious folks needed it to be a name.
It was then decided that this whole pamphlet was a separate prophecy
by someone named Malachi.
This process of turning
the title into a name probably happened when it was decided that the big scroll
contained the writings of exactly TWELVE prophets. The last pamphlet was peeled off to be the
twelfth “book” of the scroll. That probably happened sometime between 350 and 200
Thus the “book” of Malachi is actually an anonymous pamphlet that was added to the other “minor” (that is, “small”) prophetic scrolls to make up the “twelve” someone had decided was the number needed.
This pamphlet has its own
character and historical setting (a century or so after the exile), addressed
to a time when the temple service had degenerated and some social evils (like
divorce) had appeared. Such conditions
were present in Judah before the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which began around 450