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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 64, 2016

STACY DAVIS, Haggai Malachi (Wisdom Commentary Volume 39; Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2015). Pp. 126. Paperback. US$29.94.

Haggai and Malachi both address the post-exilic community’s crisis regarding the restoration of the temple. Haggai succeeds in urging the reluctant people to rebuild the temple; whereas Malachi calls for reformation of the ineffective temple system. For both prophets the issue at stake is God’s reputation. Describing them as “deeply masculine texts” (107) that are rarely tackled by feminist scholars, Davis addresses their issues of gender, class and religion as they intersect with power and authority. Undertaking detailed scholarly rhetorical analyses, she includes the perspectives of several feminist scholars (Jewish, Christian and secular) to make a significant contribution to studies of Haggai and Malachi, and demonstrate their relevance in current contexts.

In Haggai the people’s lack of commitment to the temple sacrificial system constitutes a theological crisis that threatens the authority and livelihood of the priests and their families. Whether the people’s delay in rebuilding the temple is because of economic, motivational or theological issues, Haggai interprets the prevailing drought and crop failure as the result of God’s judgment (1:6–11). In an excursus, Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos compares Haggai’s call to rebuild the temple with the rebuilding of her community’s church that had been destroyed by volcanic eruption. The precedence and extravagance of her church over the needs of the poor struggling people inhibited reading of Haggai. However, the ministry of St Francis of Assisi in rebuilding his community’s church and caring for the poor prompted her to reinterpret Haggai’s and her community’s building programs as providing worship space that enabled the gospel to be brought to life (12–15).

Addressing Haggai 2:6–9, Davis condemns God’s appropriation of other nations’ treasures for the glorification of the temple as exploitative. She argues that Haggai’s imperialist language is inappropriate for an egalitarian feminist ideology and current eschatological questions (21–22). Haggai 2:10–19 addresses the issue of holiness in the post-exilic community. Davis notes that while previous prophetic metaphors for uncleanness have been female oriented (e.g., unfaithful wives in Jer 2–3, Ezek 16, 23 and Hos 1–2, and menstruating women in Ezek 36:17); Haggai employs the male simile of corpse contamination. The people’s unholiness affects food production and must be cleansed. Rebecca M. Jones helpfully explains that with the absence of the temple there is no means of sacrificial cleansing available. Haggai concludes with the encouraging message to Zerubbabel, governor of Judea, that YHWH will destroy all imperial powers and provide hope for the future (2:20–23).

Malachi’s first oracle (1:1–5) presents God’s love for Jacob and hatred of Esau as proof of his love. Rejecting such arbitrary divine love, Davis argues that God lacks nurturing abilities and that his primary objective is his self-promotion as a superhero, ‘the Man’ (44). Rabbi Steven Leapman defends Esau and his descendants as victims of “arrogance and restrictive ethnicity” (47), asking why the diminishment of one line is required for the establishment of another? Yet, thanks to Malachi and others, Esau’s story “is heard and honoured” (47). In the longest oracle God condemns the priests for accepting defective sacrificial animals (1:6–2:9). As a powerful male (“father,” “master” and “great King” 1:6, 14) God demands respect and honour. However, the priests and the people seem unperturbed, preferring to ignore and shame God. With shame usually being associated with women in the ancient world, Davis observes that “God appears to be fighting like a girl—and losing” (57).

Addressing the textual ambiguities of 2:10–16, she discusses a range of literal and metaphorical interpretations of marriage, faithlessness and divorce. God, who may be portrayed as Israel’s wife (v. 14), is powerless at changing Israelite practices (vv. 15–16). In the next oracle YHWH’s messenger, the messenger of the covenant (arguably the same figure), refines the wayward priests with fire and soap (2:17–3:5). Then YHWH judges the general population, especially sorcerers, adulterers, oppressors, and those who swear falsely and neglect the needy. O’Brien queries whether controlling, authoritative and punishing metaphors are essential to biblical imagery of God (80).

Recalling preaching in the African-American churches of her youth, Davis queries Malachi’s justification for tithing with its promise of blessing (3:6–12). Rejecting prosperity gospel teachings and exploitation of vulnerable generous women, she, nevertheless, values tithing for poor relief so that all may flourish. Davis argues that 4:4–6 forms a fitting conclusion to the prophetic canon with Moses initially receiving the Torah and Elijah finally restoring the covenant. Davis’ commentary makes a scholarly contribution to feminist and general scholarship on prophets that are often overlooked.

Review by
Whitley College, University of Divinity