The Book of Malachi (or Malachias) is the last book of the Neviim contained in the Tanakh, canonically the last of the Twelve Minor Prophets. In the Christian ordering, the grouping of the Prophetic Books is the last section of the Old Testament, making Malachi the last book before The New Testament.
The book is commonly attributed to a prophet by the name of "Malachi," as its title has frequently been understood as a proper name, although its Hebrew meaning is simply "My Messenger" (the Septuagint reads "his messenger") and may not be the author's name at all. The name occurs in the superscription at 1:1 and in 3:1, although it is highly unlikely that the word refers to the same character in both of these references. Thus, there is substantial debate regarding the identity of the book's author. One of the Targums identifies Ezra (or Esdras) as the author of Malachi. Priest and Historian Jerome suggests that this may be because Ezra is seen as an intermediary between the prophets and the "great synagogue." There is, however, no historical evidence yet to support this claim.
Some scholars note affinities between Zechariah 9-14 and the Book of Malachi. Zechariah 9, Zechariah 12, and Malachi 1 are all introduced as The word of Elohim. Some scholars argue that this collection originally consisted of three independent and anonymous prophecies, two of which were subsequently appended to the Book of Zechariah as what they refer to as Deutero-Zechariah, with the third becoming the Book of Malachi. As a result, most scholars consider the Book of Malachi to be the work of a single author who may or may not have been identified by the title Malachi. The present division of the oracles results in a total of 12 books of minor prophets, a number parallelling the sons of Jacob who became the heads of the 12 Israelite tribes. The Catholic Encyclopedia asserts, "We are no doubt in presence of an abbreviation of the name Mal'akhiyah, that is Messenger of Elohim."
Little is known of the biography of the author of the Book of Malachi, although it has been suggested that he may have been Levitical. The books of Zechariah and Haggai were written during the lifetime of Ezra (see 5:1); perhaps this may explain the similarities in style.
According to the editors of the 1897 Easton's Bible Dictionary, some scholars believe the name "Malachi" is not a proper noun but rather an abbreviation of "messenger of YHWH". This reading could be based on Malachi 3:1, "Behold, I will send my messenger...", if my messenger is taken literally as the name Malachi.
Several scholars consider both Zechariah 9-14 and Malachi to be anonymous and were therefore placed at the end of the Book of the Twelve. Wellhausen, Abraham Kuenen, and Wilhelm Gustav Hermann Nowack argue that Malachi 1:1 is a late addition, pointing to Zechariah 9:1 and 12:1. However, other scholars, including the editors of the Catholic Encyclopedia, argue that the grammatical evidence leads us to conclude that Malachi is in fact a name.
Another interpretation of the authorship comes from the Septuagint superscription, which can be read as either "by the hand of his messenger" or as "by the hand of his angel". The "angel" reading found an echo among the ancient Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers, and even gave rise to the "strangest fancies", especially among the disciples of Origen of Alexandria.
There are very few historical details in the Book of Malachi. The greatest clue as to its dating may lie in the fact that the Persian-era term for governor (peha) is used in 1:8. This points to a post-exilic (that is, after 538 BCE) date of composition both because of the use of the Persian period term and because Judah had a king before the exile. Since, in the same verse, the temple has been rebuilt, the book must also be later than 515 BC. Malachi was apparently known to the author of Ecclesiasticus early in the 2nd century BC. Because of the development of themes in the book of Malachi, most scholars assign it to a position after Haggai and Zechariah, close to the time when Ezra and Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 445 BC.