The interlocutors in the book of Malachi.
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Hays, Nathan James, 1988-
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The book of Malachi is marked not only by the words of the prophet but also by voices distinct from and often in opposition to the prophet: the interlocutors. In this work I address two questions. First, to what extent do the interlocutors represent actual behaviors and viewpoints among the Judeans? Second, what are the characteristics of the group(s) lying behind the interlocutors? To address these questions, I adopt an empathetic approach to the interlocutors and develop a mirror-reading methodology adapted for Malachi. I conclude that the interlocutors of Malachi reflect real viewpoints and behaviors among some Judeans in early fifth-century BCE Yehud. One group, a combination of priests and lay people, stands behind these interlocutors. This group, which I term the “mourners,” complained to Yahweh about the significant economic and political hardships facing Yehud (Mal 1:13aα). These complaints drew upon the Judean literary tradition but also upon priestly ideology to blame Yahweh for causing a chaotically inverted world in which Yahweh failed to maintain the created order (2:17b; 3:14–15). The mourners believed that, even though the Judeans continued to bring offerings to the temple, Yahweh refused to accept them and instead allowed the hardships in Yehud to continue. The citations of the interlocutors in Mal 1:7b, 12b do not express the priests’ contempt for the cult but rather their perception that Yahweh was rejecting their offerings. At some point, the economic woes facing Yehud compelled the Jerusalem priests to initiate a cultic reform in which they issued new instructions, preserved in Mal 1:8a, that allowed the Judeans to bring sacrificial victims of a quality barred by previous cultic regulations. Connected to this reform, the priests also did not enforce strict tithing requirements (see 3:6–12). The prophet Malachi condemns this reform, identifying it as the reason for Yahweh’s rejection of the cult. Malachi likewise denounces some Judeans for engaging in intermarriage and divorce (2:10–16). The priests are also responsible in Malachi’s view for failing to give proper instruction on tithing, intermarriage, and divorce, in addition to their flawed cultic teaching (2:1–9).