EZEKIEL , a major prophet who is said to have begun prophesying in the fifth year of Jehoiachin's exile in Babylonia, seven years before the final fall of Jerusalem; his prophecies are recorded in the book that bears his name. The name Ezekiel (Heb. יְחֶזְקֵאל; Gk. Iezkiēl; Vulg. Ezechiel [cf., in i Chron. 24:16, and for (י)חְזְקִיָּה(וּ)], = יְחִזְקִאֵל?) seems to be derived from יְחַזֵּק אֵל "may God strengthen" (namely, "the child" (so Noth, Personennamen, 202; others cf., Ezek. 3:8f., 14)).
location of the book in the canon
The talmudic arrangement of the major prophets is Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, the departure from the true historical order being justified thus: "The Book of Kings ends with doom, Jeremiah is all doom, Ezekiel begins with doom but ends with consolation, while Isaiah is all consolation, so we place doom alongside doom and consolation alongside consolation" (bb 14b). This arrangement appears in some early Bible manuscripts (Ginsburg, Introduction, 5), but manuscripts of
|Chs.||1:1–3:21||The call of the prophet.|
|Chs.||3:22–24:27||The doom of Judah and Jerusalem.|
|3:22–5:17||House arrest and dramatic representation of siege and punishment.|
|6:1–7:27||Prophecies against the mountains of Israel and the populations of the land.|
|8:1–11:25||A visionary transportation to Jerusalem.|
|12:1–20||Dramatic representation of the exile of Judah and its king.|
|12:21–14:11||On false prophets and the popular attitude towards prophecy.|
|14:12–23||No salvation through vicarious merit.|
|15:1–8||Parable of the vine wood.|
|16:1–63||Parable of the nymphomaniacal adulteress.|
|17:1–24||Parable of the two eagles.|
|18:1–32||God's absolute justice.|
|19:1–14||A dirge over the monarchy.|
|20:1–44||The compulsory new exodus.|
|21:1–37||The punishing sword: three oracles.|
|22:1–31||Unclean Jerusalem: three oracles.|
|23:1–49||The dissolute sisters, Oholah and Oholibah.|
|24:1–14||The filthy pot: a parable of Jerusalem.|
|24:15–27||Death of the prophet's wife.|
|Chs.||25:1–32:32||Dooms against foreign nations.|
|25:1–17||Brief dooms against Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia.|
|26:1–28:26||Doom against Phoenicia.|
|29:1–32:32||Seven oracles against Egypt.|
|Ch.||33:1–33||A miscellany from the time of the fall.|
|Chs.||34:1–39:29||Prophecies of Israel's restoration.|
|34:1–31||Renovation of the leadership of Israel.|
|35:1–36:15||Renovation of the mountains of Israel.|
|36:16–38||A new heart and spirit: the condition of lasting possession of the land.|
|37:1–28||The revival of the dead bones of Israel and the unification of its two scepters.|
|38:1–39:29||The invasion of Gog and his fall.|
|Chs.||40:1–48:35||A messianic priestly code.|
|40:1–43:12||A visionary transportation to the future temple.|
|43:13–46:24||Ordinances of the cult and its personnel.|
|47:1–12||The life-giving stream issuing from the temple.|
|47:13–48:35||Allocation of the land.|
the Ben Asher tradition (e.g., Leningrad, Aleppo) and the early printings follow the proper chronological order (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) as in present texts (cf. Kimḥi's introduction to Jeremiah; Minḥat Shai's introduction to Isaiah).
structure and contents
The talmudic bipartition of the book recalls Josephus' statement that Ezekiel "left behind two books" (Jos., Ant., 10:79) – possibly
|1 The year-count in the dates starts from the exile of King Jehoiachin (1:2; 33:21; 40:1), datable by a Babylonian chronicle to 2 Adar (mid-March) 597. However, II Chron. 36:10 has the exile beginning at "the turn of the year" – i.e., the next month, Nisan, the start of Nebuchadnezzar's 8th year (II Kings 24:12). The era of the exile thus began in Nisan (April) 597, and its years, like Babylonian regnal years, ran from Nisan to Adar.|
|2 The date formula in vs. 2 is manifestly an editorial gloss on that of vs. 1 (hence the third person and the absence of the month); the era of the 30th year is enigmatic (traditionally: from the discovery of the Torah in Josiah's reign [622 b.c.e.], or the jubilee year [see note 7 below]). Some take 30 to be the age of the prophet at his call (cf. Gen. 8:13).|
|3 Not the usual data formula: = II Kings 25:1 and perhaps taken from there.|
|4 LXX: 11th year, i.e. 586.|
|5 Month to be supplied from 32:1; LXX: 1st month (April 586).|
|6 About five months after Jerusalem's fall, in the summer of 586 (Tammuz [July]–Ab [August], Jer. 39:2; 52:6 f., 12), the 19th (Nisan–Adar) year of Nebuchadnezzar and the 11th (Tishri–Elul) year of Zedekiah.|
|7 Heb. Rosh Ha-Shanah; LXX: first month (Nisan [April]); tradition, comparing Lev. 25:9: seventh month (Tishri [Oct.]). Tradition thus makes the 25th year of exile a jubilee year; since 20 years before is called the 30th year (1:1, taking 1:2 as its gloss), tradition interprets it as counting to a jubilee that coincided with the discovery of the Torah in the reign of Zedekiah (see Targum and Kimḥi at 1:1).|
|1:1||30||4||5||Note2||Vision of heavenly beings.|
|1:2f.||5||–||5||July2 593||Vision of God's vehicle and call of the prophet.|
|3:16||A week later||Appointment as lookout.|
|8:1||6||6||5||Sept. 592||Vision of temple abominations.|
|20:1||7||5||10||Aug. 591||Prophecy of compulsory exodus.|
|24:1||9||10||103||Jan. 588||Beginning of Jerusalem's siege.|
|26:1||11||–||1||587–6||Prophecy of Tyre's destruction.|
|29:1||10||10||12||Jan. 587||Prophecy of Egypt's destruction.|
|29:17||27||1||1||April 571||Tyre's doom amended, substituting Egypt therefor.|
|30:20||11||1||7||April 587||Prophecy of Pharaoh's destruction.|
|31:1||11||3||1||June 587||Parable of Pharaoh as a fallen tree.|
|32:1||124||12||1||March 5854||Dirge over Pharaoh.|
|32:17||12||–5||15||March 5855||Lament over Pharaoh in Sheol.|
|33:21||12||10||5||Jan. 585||Arrival of fugitive with news of Jerusalem's fall6.|
|40:1||25||1/77||10||April/Oct. 5737||Vision of future temple.|
(cf. R. Marcus) a reference to the fact that chapters 1–24 are, on the whole, prophecies of Israel's doom, while chapters 25–48 are prophecies of consolation. The contents of the book may be subsumed under these two major rubrics, with further specification by subject and date. (See Table: Book of Ezekiel – Contents and Table: Dates in the Book of Ezekiel.)
The marking of certain prophecies (or events) by dates possibly signifies their evidential value to the prophet (cf. his concern over being vindicated by events: 2:5; 12:26ff.; 29:21; 33:33) and may adumbrate the Second Isaiah's argument from prophecy (Isa. 41:26f.; 42:9; 44:8; 45:21; 46:10f.; 48:3ff.). First practiced by Jeremiah's biographer, the custom of dating is at its height in Ezekiel, and is followed by Haggai (1:1, 15; 2:1; 10; 20) and Zechariah (1:1; 7:1) – though Ezekiel's formula is unique.
From the prophet's call to the start of Jerusalem's siege the dated prophecies are condemnatory, and this is true of the great bulk of chapters 1–24 (cf. the scroll of "laments and moaning and woe" that the prophet eats in 2:10–3:3). During the siege years and briefly thereafter, the dated prophecies condemn Israel's neighbors – the subjects of chapters 25–32 (note the clustering of dates in the Egypt oracles, perhaps signifying an expectation of Egypt's imminent fall). The news of Jerusalem's fall is embedded in a miscellany of brief oracles related to the first part of the book (ch. 33), and is followed by consolatory prophecies of Israel's restoration (chs. 34–48). The sole dated prophecy among these opens the detailed program of the future theocracy's institutions in chapters 40–48.
The division of the book into pre-fall doom prophecies and post-fall consolations must thus be at once qualified by recognition of the intermediate status of the oracles against foreign nations; both thematically and chronologically they straddle the two major divisions. Moreover, the two divisions are not strictly homogeneous thematically (nor is it likely they ever were). Besides prophecies of doom, the first half of the book contains both calls to repentance (14:6; 18) and a few consolations (e.g., 17:22–24), of which 11:14–21 is palpably pre-fall (though intruded into its present context by association with what precedes it). Similarly, condemnation appears in the post-fall prophecies (e.g., 34:1–10; 36:3ff.) – entirely appropriate to its context. Nor is the block of foreign-nation oracles exhaustive: a veiled anti-Babylonian oracle comes earlier (21:33–37) and an explicit anti-Edomite oracle comes later (ch. 35), both integrated into their contexts. Nor is the dating strictly followed in the face of a good countervailing reason. Grouping the Egyptian oracles entailed an overlap between the last-dated of them and the arrival of the fugitive from Jerusalem. And the eventual substitution of Egypt for Tyre as Nebuchadnezzar's prey (in the dated appendix to ch. 29) advised setting the Tyrian prophecies ahead of the Egyptian, though the latter set in first.
The book thus shows signs of a deliberate editing and arrangement along thematic-chronological lines. Occasional erratic entities are not enough to destroy this overall impression.
The stylistic consistency of the book is striking. Excepting 1:2ff. (an editorial gloss to 1:1), it is couched in the form of a first-person report by the prophet of God's communications to him or the visions he was shown. Only five statements in the book are his own (4:14; 9:8; 11:13; 21:5). His reactions to popular sayings, even his complaints, are clothed as oracles of encouragement or exhortation (contrast, e.g., 33:30–33 with Jer. 15:10ff.). Oracle-reports begin with: וַיְּהִי (הָיָה) דְבר ה׳ אֵלי ("This word of the Lord came to me"). The prophet is addressed בֶּן אָדָם ("O man!" or "mortal!") often followed by an imperative to say or do something (the prophet rarely reports that he executed the order). The message proper is introduced by כֹּה אָמַר ה׳ ("Thus said the Lord"), whose frequency is explained by 2:4; 10:11; 3:27. Doom-prophecies regularly state the ground of the punishment, introducing it with יַעַן ("inasmuch as"), followed by the sentence of punishment, introduced by לכן ("so then" or "assuredly"). The characteristically Ezekelian concluding phrase is וְיָדְעוּ (וִידַעְתֶּם) כִּי אֲנִי ה׳ ("then they [you] shall know that I am the Lord") – with minor variations. A penchant for formulas is one of several affinities of Ezekiel to the priestly writings of the Pentateuch (see *Holiness Code).
analysis of the contents
The Call of the Prophet
(1:1–3:21). By the Chebar River (Akk. nār Kabari, a large canal that left the Euphrates near Babylon and passed through Nippur), the prophet is accosted and overwhelmed by a cloud-and-fire apparition of the divine vehicle – a wheeled platform, borne by four hybrid creatures – on which was enthroned the fiery Majesty (kavod) of the Lord. Fortified to face his defiant audience, the prophet is sent to announce to them God's coming punishment (cf. Jer. 1:7ff.; 18f.). He is fed a scroll on which the doom is inscribed (cf. Jer. 15:16). Afterward a wind bears him to the exile community of Tel Abib (Akk. til abūbi, "mound [abandoned since the time] of the Flood"), where he recovers from shock. Again he is addressed and appointed to be a lookout to warn Israel of the catastrophic consequences of their wickedness. This role delimits his responsibility: as a lookout, he is not accountable for the reaction of his audience – an important release for a prophet anticipating an indifferent or hostile reception.
The appearance of the fiery presence of God to stand by his devotees (Ex. 16:10; Num. 14:10; 16:19), and His coming on a cherub to their aid (Ps. 18:8ff.) were elements of tradition. The Chebar River – like the Ulai and the Tigris of Daniel 8:2; 10:4 – may, as a "clean place" of running water (Lev. 14:5), have served as a revelation site (cf. Mekhilta, Petiḥta), in which case the theophany was not wholly unexpected. (The presence of prophets among the exiles seems not to have been unusual; cf. Jer. 29:15; Ezek. 13:9.)
Appointment as a lookout recurs in 33:1–21 in association with its natural concomitant, a call to repentance. Such calls are found otherwise only in 14:6 and chapter 18. Hence the common assumption that the role of a lookout calling for repentance belongs to the latter part of the prophet's career is to be rejected as baselessly shifting a theme attested only before the fall to the post-fall prophecy. (Equally baseless is the notion that as a lookout the prophet addressed the individual rather than the nation; cf. the explicit addresses in 18:31; 33:11.) To be sure, the prophet did not have in mind any but the exilic remnant of the "house of Israel" when he called for repentance – the Jerusalemites were inexorably doomed – but he regarded them as a nucleus of a new Israel, not as discrete individuals. Nonetheless, 3: 16b–21 is intrusive in its context; it may well have sprung from the prophet's later reflection upon his role and responsibility toward his audience during the first part of his career, which was dominated by a "negative" message. Its incorporation into the account of the call bespeaks a desire to collect here all the components of the prophet's first (and principal) role.
The Doom of Judah and Jerusalem (3:22–24:27)
house arrest and dramatic representation of siege and punishment (3:22–5:17)
The prophet is ordered to shut himself up, "bound," in his house, and to refrain from speaking and publicly censuring the people (cf. Amos 5:10; Isa. 29:21); he can speak only to deliver God's messages. The prophet's withdrawal is borne out by every notice of his contact with others (8:1; 14:1; 20:1; 33:30ff.). He is visited at home; he is never on the street or in the market, no reflex of daily life outside makes its way into his utterances. "For the most part Ezekiel lives in a separate world. Other people drift in and out of the book, but there is little direct contact" (Freedman). The only conversation recorded with other human beings is by the command of God (24:18ff.). Except for dramatic representations, the prophet does nothing. "Though told in story form, Ezekiel's account is more a spiritual diary of personal experience of God and his inner reaction to it than a record of objective occurrences" (ibid.). In accordance with his tendency to extremes, he carries Jeremiah's gloomy unsociability (Jer. 15:17; 16:2, 5, 8) to its last degree (an analogy from Second Temple times occurs in Jos., Wars, 6:300ff.). Release from his "dumbness" came only with the arrival of the fugitive bearing news of Jerusalem's fall (24:26f.; 33:2ff.).
Orders for a complex series of acts representing the coming doom follow: (a) a model of the siege of Jerusalem is to be built and prophesied against; (b) through lying motionless on his sides, the prophet is to "bear the punishment" (cf. Num. 14:34; this is the usual meaning of the phrase, see especially Ezek. 14:6–10) of Judah and Israel for a number of days equivalent to the years of their punishment; (c) he is to consume scant rations of a loaf of mixed grains and water to show the siege-famine; (d) he is to bake a cake (ʿugah, in direct contact with fuel or ashes, see *Bread) on human excrement (later exchanged for cattle dung) to symbolize the "unclean" food of exiles (cf. Hos. 9:3f.); (e) he is, finally, to shave his head and dispose of the hair in thirds to symbolize the annihilation of the population (cf. Isa. 7:20; Zech 13:8f.). Act (d) is intrusive and belongs thematically with the acts of chapter 12; it was attracted to this section by the food prescription of 4:10ff.
prophecies directed against the mountains (= the land; vs. 1) of israel and their heathen cult installations (chs. 6 and 7; cf. Lev. 6:30) and against the population
Chapter seven proclaims that "the end has come" (Amos 8:2; Gen. 6:13) for all classes of the populace.
a visionary transportation to jerusalem (chs. 8–11)
In a trance-vision, the prophet is taken to see the abominations in the Temple (ch. 8) and the destruction of Jerusalem by heavenly executioners (9:1–10:7). While he prophesies against a cabal of 25 leading men, one Pelatiah drops dead. A thematically associated denunciation of the Jerusalemites' design to supplant the exiles and a promise of the latter's restoration follows. In the course of the vision, the stages of the departure of God's Majesty from the Temple and the city are recounted (10:18f. (referring to vs. 4?); 11:22f.). The historical implications of this vision are discussed below.
dramatic representation of the exile of judah and its king (12:1–16)
After the event, the original references to the king's disguise in verses 6 and 12 were interpretatively adjusted to conform with the blinding of King Zedekiah (ii Kings 25:7). Verses 17–20 order the prophet to represent, as he eats, the fright of the Jerusalemites.
on prophecy (12:21–14:11)
Two denunciations of the popular dismissal of doom prophecies precede a long diatribe against false prophets of weal (= Jer. 23:25ff.), and sorceresses. Another oracle declares God inaccessible to the heathenish Israelites for normal oracular consultation (under the dispensation of wrath, only one-way communications from God to man obtained).
no salvation through vicarious merit (14:12–23; against Gen. 18:24, etc.)
The legendary worthies Noah, Daniel (apparently akin to the Ugaritic righteous ruler Dnil; Pritchard, Texts, 149ff.; COS I, 343–56), and Job could save themselves alone – not even their own children – from God's judgment. (This theme is related to the intercessory function of prophecy (cf. 13:5 with 22:30) and is thus linked to the preceding oracles.) Yet with Jerusalem, an exception will be made: some unworthies will escape with their children to Babylonia to justify God's dooming the city to Ezekiel's hearers who will thus be able to see for themselves what a depraved lot the Jerusalemites are.
three parables (chs. 15–17)
Chapter 15 contains the parable of the vine wood. Not the useful vine (Hos. 10:1; Jer. 2:21; Ps. 80:9, 15) but the useless vine wood is the fit image of Israel – good only for fuel, and hence consigned to destruction.
Chapter 16 contains the parable of the nymphomaniacal adulteress. This lurid, even pornographic, parable, immoderate in its language and its historical judgments, combines these elements: the image of marriage for the covenant relation of God and Israel (Hos. 1–3; Jer. 2:2; 3:1); Jerusalem's Jebusite origin – used to argue the genetic depravity of Israel; the view that political alliances (whether voluntary or coerced) are equivalent to apostasy – both expressing reliance on powers other than God. At verse 44, the figure is skewed and loses its form. Jerusalem is unfavorably compared to her "sisters" Samaria and Sodom. Undeserving as she is, God will, out of faithfulness to His ancient covenant, yet redeem her and let her rule her sisters. Then she will be ashamed of her past.
It is likely that verses 44ff. are secondary; but to consider them post-fall because of the concluding promise of restoration is to miss the prevailingly condemnatory context of the promise. Contrast the reversed proportions of the same elements in the restoration prophecy of 36:16 –7.
Chapter 17 concerns the parable of the two eagles (Nebuchadnezzar and Psammetichus ii, see below), a cedar (Jehoiachin), and a vine (Zedekiah): a denunciation of Zedekiah for seeking Egyptian aid to rebel against, and thus break his vassal oath to, Nebuchadnezzar. An oath by yhwh is inviolable even if coerced (ii Chron. 36:13). A consolatory appendix (vss. 22ff.) predicting the replanting of a sprig of the cedar, and in no way part of the denunciation, evidently stems from the last period of the prophet.
god's absolute justice (ch. 18)
In this chapter Ezekiel maintains that there will be no vicarious suffering of one generation for another's sins (vss. 1–20), or condemnation of a presently good man for his wicked past (21–28); hence to repent is to live in God's grace. The argument was provoked by the current epigram (Jer. 31:28): "Fathers have eaten unripe grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge?," charging God with punishing the innocent descendants of wicked forefathers (cf. indeed ii Kings 23:26; 24:3f.; Jer. 15:4; Lam. 5:7), an "inequitable" procedure (vss. 25, 29). The prophet is at pains to deny any "vertical" bequeathal of guilt, either between generations (as in Ex. 20:5), or within a single generation. Thus only the guilty are punished, and even they may be reconciled with God by repentance.
The presentation is systematic and couched in casuistic-legal terms – the idiom of abstract expression familiar to the priest-prophet (cf. 14; 33:1–20). For the sake of symmetry, the argument is carried beyond the immediate issue to its obverse – the denial too of "vertical" bequeathal of merit. The form shows theology comprehended as law – specifically, God's rule of justice brought into line with Deuteronomy 24:16's directive to earthly judges. Notable too is Ezekiel's catalogue of righteous traits; its linguistic and substantive affinity with pentateuchal law is highlighted by contrast with other such catalogues in Isaiah 33:15ff. and Psalms 15.
a dirge over the monarchy (ch. 19)
In this dirge Ezekiel employs two images: that of a lioness and her cubs, and that of a vine and its branches.
the compulsory new exodus (ch. 20)
This is a review of Israel's past as a series of refusals to accept God's laws and concludes with an affirmation by God to balk its present intention of assimilation to the pagans. God will force His king-ship upon them, restore them by force to their land, and there receive their worship.
A plan to normalize the religious life of the exiles by renewing the sacrificial cult in Babylonia has been hypothesized as the provocation of this message. This chapter reveals important aspects of the prophet's theology of history: the predetermination of the exile (cf. Ps. 106:26); Israel's child-sacrifice as a punitive divine ordinance; concern for His reputation among humankind as the primary motive of God's dealings with Israel. The idea that Israel's restoration is a divine necessity which, if need be, will be forced upon Israel is developed less vehemently later in chapter 36.
the punishing sword: three oracles (ch. 21)
The first of these announces the indiscriminate work of God's sword "from the south northward" (such "horizontal" involvement of innocent with guilty contemporaries is not covered in ch. 18; contrast 9:4); the second is a song to a sharpened sword; the third, a dramatic picture of Nebuchadnezzar taking omens at the crossroad to determine whether his sword should strike Rabbath Ammon or Jerusalem. Verses 33ff., misleadingly addressed to Ammon, warn that ultimately the instrument of God's punishment (Babylonia) would itself be struck down by barbarians (cf. Isa. 10:12ff.). This is the only anti-Babylonian oracle in the book.
unclean jerusalem: three oracles (ch. 22)
The first is an arraignment of the "bloody city" (Nah. 3:1) – of Nineveh, whose terms recall Leviticus 18–20; the second, a reminiscence of Isaiah 1:20 – once silver, the city is now all dross; the third oracle, a variation of Zephaniah 3:1–8 – all the classes of the city are corrupt. The prophet's avowal that not a soul could be found to redeem the city in God's sight is a hyperbole similar to i Kings 19:14, Jeremiah 5:1ff., and Lamentations 2:14. It does not mean that Ezekiel and Jeremiah could not have been contemporaries (as Torrey argued).
the dissolute sisters, oholah (Samaria, i.e., "her own tent") and oholibah (Jerusalem, i.e., "my tent is in her") (ch. 23)
The relations of the two Israelite kingdoms with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia are represented – in the extravagant manner of chapter 16 – as the shameless sexual frenzies of two harlot sisters. From verse 36 on, the apostasy motif of chapter 16 appears in a disordered epilogue.
the filthy pot: a parable of jerusalem (24:1–14; cf. 11:3ff.), dating to the start of the siege, anticipating its purgation through fire.
the death of the prophet's wife (24:15–27)
The prophet must dramatically represent, by his abstention from mourning, the paralyzing shock that will engulf the exiles at hearing of the city's fall (cf. Jer. 16:5–7). However, for the prophet, the arrival of that news will end his dumbness (i.e., release him from obsession with Jerusalem's fall).
Doom Pronounced Against Foreign Nations (chs. 25–32)
These chapters consist of prophecies of doom pronounced against seven foreign nations involved in Judah's revolt (Jer. 27:3). Excepting Egypt, they failed to support Judah; they all survived her. The dating of these prophecies shows that their location is approximately chronological. Condemnatory of Israel's enemies, they are a preliminary to prophecies of Israel's restoration.
brief prophecies of doom against ammon, moab, edom, and philistia (ch. 25; cf. Jer. 47–49). prophecy of doom against phoenicia (chs. 26–28)
Four prophecies are directed against Tyre and one last against Sidon. Noteworthy is the representation of the island city as a ship loaded with merchandise (the amazing itemization of which is a prime source of information on east Mediterranean commerce of the time (see Bondi, Bartoloni in Bibliography); Ezekiel might have come by this from Phoenician traders and artisans known to have been pensioners of the Babylonian king; Pritchard, Texts, 308). Also remarkable is the image of the king of Tyre as an expelled denizen of God's garden (28:12–19) – a tantalizingly obscure variant of the Eden myth.
epilogue to chapters 25–28 (28:24–26)
The epilogue contains the promise that after its restoration, Israel will never again suffer the contempt of these neighbors, since they will all have been destroyed. Excepting Edom and Philistia who are vaguely charged with "taking revenge," the charges against these nations are their hubris and their contempt of Israel (both offensive to God). Why Tyre receives such a measure of wrath is unclear.
seven oracles against egypt (chs. 29–32)
The unusual clustering of dated prophecies may signify the prophet's expectation of Egypt's imminent fall to Nebuchadnezzar after the defeat of Apries (see below), and his concern for establishing the priority of his prophecies to that event. Egypt's offense is its unreliability as an ally (29:6 = Isa. 36:6), or Pharaoh's hubris. However, because Egypt tried to help Judah, it is promised a restoration (29:13ff.). The latest passage in the book is an appendix to the first Egyptian oracle. Nebuchadnezzar, having failed to reduce Tyre, is promised Egypt as his wages (on the historical background, see below). The presence of this amendment to the Tyre prophecies alongside the untouched – and by then confuted – original prophecies attests to the in-violate status of Ezekiel's oracles in his own (and subsequent age's) estimation. It is a warning against the easy assumption of later tampering with the prophet's words.
The standpoint of the prophecies against the nations is one of sensitivity to the diminution suffered by God owing to Israel's humiliation. Israel's fall gave occasion to its neighbors to gloat and aggrandize themselves. Heathen arrogance reached its limit; God must now act to assert his authority on earth. This necessarily entails the restoration of Israel, which is indeed anticipated several times in this section (25:14; 28:25; 29:16, 21). The interconnection of the doom of the nations and Israel's restoration is seen also in the sequence of chapters 35–36, on which see below.
A Miscellany From the Time of the Fall (ch. 33)
Verses 1–20: The kernel of this piece is the despairing cry of the people: How can we live, immersed as we are in sin (vs. 10)? It stimulates a clarification of the constructive aspect of the doom prophecy – the prophet's role as a lookout, warning his hearers of the consequence of their sin and urging them to repent and live. Previously isolated elements (3:16b–19; 14:6; 18:21ff.) are woven into a new whole, meeting the need of the hour. As in 18, a legal-casuistic style is the vehicle of doctrinal statement.
Verses 21ff.: The arrival of the fugitive with news of Jerusalem's fall brings an end to the prophet's dumbness – to what effect, remains obscure.
Verses 23–33, in form a single prophecy, comprise two heterogeneous pieces. Verses 23–29 are a scornful rejection of claims on the part of those dwelling in the land of Israel after the fall to retain title to the land despite their fewness (a later, pathetic version of 11:15b). Verses 30–33 promise the prophet that, although he is now no more than an entertainer to the people who flock to hear him, the imminent advent of doom will make them take his words seriously. Why this pre-fall piece is placed here is unclear.
All of chapter 33 belongs to the doom prophecy, but it reflects a situation just before and after the fall – later than that of chapter 24. It is dated later than the first dated foreign-nation prophecies (which themselves straddle the fall). The arrangement of chapter 33 after the block of foreign-nation prophecies is therefore reasonable.
Prophecies of Israel's Restoration (chs. 34–39)
renovation of the leadership of israel (ch. 34)
In a new tone of compassion, God inveighs against the bad shepherds who misguided his flock and promises personally to take it in charge (vss. 1–16; cf. Jer. 23:1ff.). The image is then skewed, and bucks and rams within the flock are blamed for having bullied the rest. A new David will be their shepherd, and under him they will enjoy all the covenant blessings of Leviticus 26:4–12.
the renovation of the mountains of israel (countering ch. 6; 35:1–36:15)
For encroaching upon Judah, the hill country of Seir will be desolated (cf. iii Ezra 4:50) – along with all others who dared lay hands on God's land (vs. 5). Then the hill country of Israel will prosper as never before, and reproaches of infertility, famine, and "bereaving its inhabitants" (through conquest by foreigners and deportations) will be removed forever.
a new heart and spirit: the condition of lasting possession of the land (36:16–38)
With inexorable logic the theology of Israel's career is expounded: exiled for its sins, Israel brought the Lord into disrepute among the nations. In order to establish His authority on earth, God must restore and glorify Israel. But to prevent a repetition of the disaster, God will alter the moral nature of the people, giving them a new heart and spirit and thus insuring that they will be faithful to him (cf. Jer. 32:39 [Ezek. 11:19]; Jer. 31:32f.). That the benefactions to Israel are merely incidental to God's concern for His reputation is repeatedly insisted upon (vss. 22, 32).
Though the gentle conclusion of the prophecy (vss. 33–38) mitigates it somewhat, it emerges as even more thoroughly theocentric than the related doctrine of the compulsory exodus in chapter 20.
the revival of the dead bones of israel and the unification of its two scepters (ch. 37)
Once again a popular saying ("Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost …") provides the stimulus for a prophecy, this time a prophetic vision. With the prophet's participation (as in the vision of Jerusalem's destruction, 11:4–13) "all the house of Israel," by now reduced to "very many and very dry bones," are miraculously reconstituted.
The imagery of the second oracle is related: Ezekiel is ordered to represent symbolically the reunification of the monarchy by joining two sticks, inscribed, respectively, "Judah's" and "Joseph's." The happiness of the future kingdom under God is summed up in four everlasting boons: possession of the promised land, rule by David, God's covenant of well-being, God's presence in His sanctuary among them.
The conclusion of chapter 37 brings to an end the account of Israel's restoration and renovation, and the last verse adumbrates the theme of the program of chapters 40–48. Between the two, however, appear the prophecies on Gog, presupposing the situation arrived at by the end of chapter 37.
the invasion of gog and his fall (chs. 38–39)
Lured by the prospect of loot, Gog (whose name is modeled on that of King Gyges of Lydia, but who is not, here, a historical personage) and his barbarian allies will march down from the north against defenseless Israel. God, however, will destroy his great host on the mountains of Israel, thus demonstrating to Israel that He is their God, and to the nations that Israel's former misfortune resulted from God's wrath, not His weakness.
Influence of earlier prophecies on this depiction of Gog's fall is acknowledged in 38:17. The menace of a nameless northern nation occurs in Jeremiah 1:14; 4:6; and other passages; and a concerted assault of pagans, in Isaiah 29:1ff.; Micah 8:11ff. According to Isaiah, Assyria was to perish on the mountains of Israel, not by the sword of man (14:24ff.; 31:8). In pre-exilic prophecy, however, the assault of the heathen was punishment for Israel's sins, and their collapse must precede Israel's redemption. Ezekiel adapted these unfulfilled prophecies to the exilic situation. A heathen assault could come now only against a restored Israel, and it could not be punitive. Inspired by the ancient model of Pharaoh's fall at the sea, Ezekiel conceives the motive of the assault to be the prospect of pillaging a defenseless people (Ex. 15:9); the significance of the heathen's fall is derived from the same model: to shed glory on God (Ex. 14:4; cf. Ezek. 39:13).
A Messianic Priestly Code (Kaufmann; chs. 40–48)
Following the general topical order of the priestly writings in the Pentateuch, a description of the future sanctuary, regulations for the cult and its personnel, and provisions for settlement in the land are set out in detail. Modernization and rectification of past wrongs are pervasive motives.
a visionary transportation to the future temple (40:1–43:12; a counterpart to chs. 8–11)
A blueprint of the Temple area is narrated as a tour through its courts, gates, and rooms, the prophet being guided by an angelic "man" with a measuring rod and line. The design appears to follow the latest form of the Solomonic Temple, with some schematization (e.g., the preference for the number 25; cf. the 25th year, 40:1). The prophet witnesses the return of the divine Majesty through the east gate, by which it had exited in 11:1, into the inner sanctum. Thence an oracle issues, condemning the past contiguity of the palace and the Temple as a defilement of the latter, and banning it for the future.
ordinances of the cult and its personnel (43:13–46:24)
These sections deal with the altar, the reorganization of the clergy (Zadokites alone to remain full priests, the rest to be degraded to menials for having served at the "idolatrous" rural sanctuaries), their regulations and perquisites, the territorial "sacred oblation" which is to be set aside for them and the temple, a brief cultic calendar. Mention of the "oblation" attracts regulations concerning the "chieftain" (king), to whom holdings on each side of the oblation are assigned (in consequence, his ancient right [or abuse] of expropriation (i Sam. 8:14) is abolished). Besides his role in the cult, his responsibility for maintaining justice is touched upon (45:9ff.).
The discontinuity and loose order of this section suggest that it is a composite that took shape piecemeal.
the life-giving stream issuing from the temple (47:1–12).
The vision of this marvelous stream, through which the prophet is led by his angelic guide, bridges the topic of the Temple and cult and that of the land, which follows.
the allocation of the land (7:13–48:35)
The boundaries of the future Land of Israel are essentially those of Numbers 34:1–12, and consequently exclude Transjordan, historically Israelite. Another rectification is the right extended to permanently resident aliens to share in tribal holdings. Yet another is the equalization of the tribal holdings: all receive equal latitudinal strips of land with some coastal plain, some highlands, and some bit of the Jordan-Dead Sea depression. Jerusalem will bear the new name "yhwh is there" (cf. 37:26–28).
the text and its integrity
According to critical scholars, the text of Ezekiel is among the most corrupt of the Bible. That technical passages (e.g., the account of the divine vehicle, the list of Tyre's merchandise, the Temple blueprint) – at best difficult to understand – should have suffered in transmission is not surprising. However, poetry too has been garbled (cf. chs. 7; 21). The Greek ("Septuagint") often provides a remedy, but at the same time raises new questions because of its frequently shorter text. In the light of the Greek, the received Hebrew text appears conflate – i.e., it exhibits variants, synonymous readings, and tags that have been collected from several versions of the prophet's words. The texts of Ezekiel and Jeremiah were peculiarly susceptible to expansion and the addition of tags owing to the fact that they are very formulaic, their idiom being modeled upon the two most highly stylized and formulaic works of early Israelite tradition – the pentateuchal priestly writings and Deuteronomy respectively.
On occasion, allusions to events later than the prophecies that contain them indicate post-event touching up (see, e.g., on ch. 12, above). Since none reflects events later than the last-dated item in the book (see below), the assumption that someone other than the prophet is responsible for them is unnecessary.
Recurrently, a piece will show a juncture at which a breakdown in form (20), a skewing of theme (16; 23; 34), or change of mood (17) appears. Repetitions (see on ch. 33), discontinuities, and erratic blocks (38–39; 40–48) argue against the originality and integrity of a piece. But whether such phenomena point to another hand rather than to later reflections or editorial activity of the prophet himself is a matter of dispute among critics. The common assumption that a circle of disciple-transmitters existed who had a large part in the shaping of the present text and its disjunctures lacks any evidential basis.
locale and historical background
Information supplied by contemporary records suffices to test the claim of the book that its contents fall between July 593 and April 571 b.c.e.
Just before breaking off, the Babylonian Chronicle reports that in December 594 Nebuchadnezzar called out his army against Syria – for the first time since his conquest of Jerusalem in 597. It seems hardly coincidental that (a) just at that time a new king, Psammetichus ii, came to the throne of Egypt, who showed a lively interest in Syria, and (b) an anti-Babylonian conspiracy of Phoenicians and Palestinians was formed in Jerusalem in Zedekiah's fourth year – 594/3 (Jer. 27).
In the same year Jeremiah had his altercation with Hananiah ben Azzur, who prophesied the imminent fall of Babylon and the return, within two years, of King Jehoiachin and his exiles (Jer. 28).
The situation of the exiles can be gathered from Jeremiah's letter to them, which was sent about this time (Jer. 29). There, too, prophets (whom Jeremiah brands as false) encouraged in the people expectations of a speedy end to their exile – which Jeremiah was at pains to quash. He not only exhorts them to be reconciled to their captivity, he communicates to them an oracle (ch. 24) unconditionally condemning Jerusalem to a horrible end. Hope in the future of Jerusalem is futile and wrong; the future belongs to the exiles from whom the nation will be regenerated (so 24:6f.).
In 591 Psammetichus made a state visit to some shrines on the Syrian coast, probably not without political overtones. About two years later, evidently in collaboration with Egypt and its Palestinian allies, Judah revolted. Nebuchadnezzar called out a powerful army which laid siege to Jerusalem in January 588. Shortly afterward, Psammetichus died, but his successor, Apries, maintained his policy. An Egyptian force marched into Palestine, giving Jerusalem temporary relief (Jer. 37:5; 34:21). But it was soon beaten back, and the siege resumed until famine brought Jerusalem to its knees in the summer of 586.
None of the neighbors of Judah was destroyed in the revolt; Tyre and Egypt are known to have preserved their independence. During or directly after Jerusalem's ordeal, Tyre was besieged by Nebuchadnezzar for 13 years (Jos., Apion, 1.21), the end being reckoned between 575–72. The city came under Babylonian control, but was not sacked. Only in 568/7 did Nebuchadnezzar finally move against Egypt (Pritchard, Texts, 308d); the outcome of that campaign is unknown, but Egypt remained independent until its conquest by Cambyses of Persia in 525.
The whole span of Ezekiel's dates falls within the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (605/4–562). He and he alone appears in the book as the conqueror of Judah and the appointed scourge of God for the nations. Every clear historical allusion in the book is to this, or some preceding, period. Especially significant is the book's ignorance of events later than its last date. Its author lived to see the failure of his Tyre prophecy, and emended it in 571. However he did not know that not Nebuchadnezzar, but Cambyses, would conquer Egypt (525) – which would not then go into a 40-year exile; and that Babylon's end would not be sanguinary and fiery (21:36ff.) but virtually bloodless (539). Persia is mentioned only as an exotic adjunct to the forces of Tyre and Gog – indicating that the author was ignorant of what happened from 550 on, when Cyrus united Media and Persia into the nucleus of the Persian Empire. If the author(s?) of 34–48 lived later than 538, they would have seen the confuting of all their restoration prophecies and programs by events. In sum: no post-571 anachronism has left its mark in the book to necessitate the assumption of another hand than Ezekiel's.
That the locale of the prophecy is Babylonia is said several times (1:1; 3:11; 15; 11:24) and implied by the era of "our exile" (33:21; 40:1). Several prophecies have an explicitly exilic standpoint or audience (11:15ff.; 12:11ff.; 13:9; 14:22; 20:34ff.; 24:21b; note also the peculiarly Ezekelian usage of "on the soil of Israel," unnatural for someone living in the land of Israel, 12:22; 18:2; 21:7; 33:24).
At the same time, the almost exclusive focus on Jerusalem in the doom prophecies and the passionate addresses to her have given rise to the view that at least part of the prophecy originated in Jerusalem – the present exilic cast of the whole being editorial (so Rashi at 1:3, combining statements in the Mekhilta to Ex. 12:1 and 15:9). However, the lack of a convincing explanation for such an alleged editorial transfer of originally Jerusalem prophecies to Babylonia leads one to ask whether the anomaly of Ezekiel's prophecy, given its Babylonian setting, is really so implausible.
Ezekiel fails to discriminate between exiles and home-landers in his diatribes; his audience is an undifferentiated "rebellious house," i.e., they are unconscious of any deep-dyed guilt and expect shortly a turn for the better in their fortunes; and they are encouraged in this by their prophets (ch. 13). The situation corresponds to what is known from Jeremiah to have obtained in Jerusalem the year prior to Ezekiel's call (see above). However, Jeremiah's letter reveals that precisely the same situation obtained among the Babylonian exiles. So much so that Jeremiah's major concern is to create a cleavage between the exiles and the Jerusalemites with regard to their hopes for the immediate future. Both his exhortation to become reconciled to a long captivity and his prediction of an inexorable and total doom for Jerusalem are intended to make the exiles despair of Jerusalem's survival, to tear them from the hopes they attached to the city. Only so could they be brought to repentance and the realization of their destiny as the "good figs" (Jer. 24:7).
The implications of Jerusalem's fate were thus hardly less profound for the exiles than for the Jerusalemites themselves (indeed most of the exiles were from Jerusalem, ii Kings 24:14ff.). Had Jeremiah been in Tel Abib he would have found no topic of more absorbing concern to his audience than the future of the city; and his letter shows what the tenor of his message to them would have been: "laments, and moaning, and woe."
An exiled Ezekiel's preoccupation with Jerusalem (not quite exclusive; his calls to repentance are directed at the exiles, cf. Jer. 24:7, end) is unexceptionable. Anomalous among prophets is his continuously addressing an audience that is apparently hundreds of miles away. But the appearance is misleading. Prophecies against foreign nations, an established genre, always involve an incongruity between the ostensible audience (the foreign nations) and the real one – the Israelites for whose ears the prophecies are really meant and for whom they bear a vital message. Similarly an exiled prophet's address to Jerusalem would have been meant for the ears of his immediate environment. Since in fact and spirit that environment was thoroughly Jerusalemite, the prophet would not have sensed any incongruity between his ostensible and his real audience. Whatever anomaly attaches to an exiled Ezekiel's prophecy arises out of the anomalous coexistence of two Jerusalemite communities hundreds of miles apart at this juncture of history.
That Ezekiel was far from Jerusalem during his career as a prophet is the most plausible explanation of his Temple vision in chapters 8–11. This congeries of strange cults and sinister plotting going on all at once at different locations in the temple precinct is evidently a montage whose elements are drawn principally, but not exclusively, from the syncretistic cult fostered by Manasseh and eradicated by Josiah (cf. ii Chron. 33:7; ii Kings 23:11; we do not know whether Josiah's reforms completely survived his death). As the report of a divine vision, the account had powerful significance even to an audience removed from its scene.
influences upon the prophet
Of the man Ezekiel all that is known is that he was a priest (1:3), married to a woman who died during the siege of Jerusalem (24:15ff.). He was, presumably, among the aristocrats who were deported with King Jehoiachin in 597. By then he had acquired the priestly learning and attitudes that characterize his prophecy: knowledge of the layout of the Temple and its regimen; of the historico-religious traditions of Israel, and of the idiom of priestly writing of the Pentateuch that dominates his prose (critics dispute the direction of the influence: some attributing to Ezekiel the invention of certain priestly idioms; most allowing the influence at least of the Holiness Code (Lev. 17–26) upon the prophet – the issue is a pivot of pentateuchal criticism); and sensitivity to the "clean" and the "unclean" (e.g., his frequent allusion to menstrual uncleanness, niddah), and, above all, to the awesome holiness of God.
Passion and a fertile imagination, tending to the baroque, shine through his writings. He is the master of the dramatic, representational action (which has a portentous, mysteriously causal character; in 24:24 the prophet is called a prefiguring "sign," mofet). He was famous for his (often lurid) imagery (21:5). His actions and his images are more numerous and more complex than those of any of his predecessors. As a visionary too he has no peer; indeed he innovated a genre: the transportation-and-tour vision, so common in later apocalypse. It is no wonder that people flocked to his "entertainments" (33:32).
Ezekiel was immersed in the whole range of Israel's prophetic tradition. Archaic models inspire him – prophesying under seizure by "the hand of yhwh" (cf. Elijah [i Kings 18:46] and Elisha [ii Kings 3:5]), transportation by the "wind of yhwh" (cf. Elijah, i Kings 18:12; ii Kings 2:16). He is the only prophet after Moses who not only envisions the future but lays down a blueprint and a law for it. He reflects nothing of the eschatological vision of the unity of humankind under God introduced into Judahite prophecy by Isaiah (2:2ff.; 18:7; 19:24f.; Mic. 4:1ff.; Hab. 2:14; Zeph. 3:9; Jer. 3:17), but holds on to the earlier view that, while God rules over all, His special grace and holiness are, and will be, confined to Israel.
Yet Ezekiel was deeply indebted to classical, literary prophecy as well. Instances of this have been pointed out in the analysis of the contents of the book. It need be remarked here only that by far the most striking affinities of Ezekiel's prophecy are with Jeremiah. The two have in common a vocabulary and a stock of concepts and figures (eating God's words (Jer. 15:16), the harlot sisters (3:6ff.), the bad shepherds (23:1ff.), the lookout (6:17), and many more) beyond what may be explained by mere contemporaneity. That Ezekiel had heard (of) Jeremiah before 597 is to be assumed (cf. Ezek 9:4); that he continued to receive word of his prophecies afterward is likely, since such word did reach the exiles (Jer. 29:24ff.).
ezekiel's message and its effects
For Ezekiel the key to the agony of Judah was to be found in the curses attached to God's covenant (as in Lev. 26; Deut. 28), which, since the age of Manasseh, had cast a pall over Judahite religious thought (cf. ii Kings 21:10ff.; 22:19ff.; 24:3). As Ezekiel saw it, the entire history of Israel was one continuous breach of covenant, for which the fall was the just and predicted punishment. In the face of nihilistic cynicism (18:1, 25), he insisted on the justice, the reasonableness, and the regularity of God's dealings with men. That is the ground of his denunciation and of his call to repentance as well.
What was not anticipated in the early curses was the aspersion cast on God's power by their operation. It had been assumed that with punishment would come contrition (Lev. 26:41) and repentance (Deut. 30:1ff.), to be followed by reconciliation and restoration. That seems to be the presupposition of Ezekiel's call (to the exiles) to repent (18:30ff.). But in view of the injury to God's reputation (cf. 36:20, a projection onto others of an inner-Israelite reaction?), the idea took hold of the prophet that Israel's rehabilitation could not depend on the gamble that Israel would indeed repent. Frustrated by the people's obduracy, the prophet announced a compulsory new exodus (20:32ff.), underlying which was the necessity of vindicating God's power. Contrition would come later (20:43; cf. 16:61; 36:31) and was no longer a precondition of redemption. As for repentance, God would see to it that after the people were restored they would remain permanently reconciled with, and obedient to, God; not they, but He would make them a new heart (contrast 36:26 (= 11:19) with 18:31). Then they could enjoy eternal blessedness that would serve as a witness of the power of their God to the world.
The doctrine of God's stake in the preservation and restoration of Israel appears in the Second Isaiah (43:25; 48:9, 11); it must have contributed to the exile's will to resist assimilation to their environment and to their faith in a national future.
The effect of Ezekiel's denunciation may be detected in his audience's acknowledgment of their sin in 33:10 at the time of the fall (contrast 18:1), and even more clearly in the version given by the Chronicler of Zedekiah's reign (ii Chron. 36:11ff.). ii Kings 24:18ff. knows nothing of the defilement of the temple, nor does it charge the king with violating his vassal oath (Ezek. 8; 17).
Ezekiel's visions and his angelic actors in them inaugurated a literary category that flourished in post-exilic prophecy and apocalyptic (cf. Zech., Dan.). The visionary transportation-tour became the standard vehicle for apocalyptic revelations of the secrets of the cosmos.
The least influential part of Ezekiel's prophecy was his program for the future (chs. 40–48). Medieval exegetes were painfully aware of the contradictions in detail between what Ezekiel laid down and what the community of the Restoration did; they "saved" Ezekiel by declaring his program to be purely messianic (which indeed it is; see, e.g., the conflicting positions of Rashi and Kimḥi on 43:11; cf. Rashi on vss. 21ff. and Kimḥi on vs. 25 and 45:21ff.). The authorities of Second Temple times may also have thought so; in practice, they made the Torah their rule, and ignored Ezekiel's program entirely.
later doubts about the circulation of the book
The divergence in moral theology between Ezekiel 18:4 and Exodus 20:5b did not embarrass later authorities; it was but one of several matters of doctrine that Moses ordained and a later prophet abrogated (so Mak. 24a). Divergences in law were another matter, and by the first century c.e. the many conflicts between the Torah and laws in Ezekiel's program had become so worrisome that withdrawal of the book from circulation was being considered (bikkeshu lignoz et Sefer Yeḥezkel). Only Ḥananiah ben Hezekiah's demonstration that the conflicts could be reconciled kept the book available (Shab. 13b). The possibility was evidently more important than the specific reconciliations, for barely a trace of Ḥananiah's efforts was transmitted (Sifre to Deut. 25:15; cf. Men. 45a).
Another argument for withdrawing the book was the danger surrounding inquiry into the divine vehicle described in chapters 1 and 10. A ramified theosophical doctrine, taught only to a select few, was anchored in that vision (Ma'aseh Merkavah; "account of the chariot"; Ḥag. 2:1). The risk inherent in it of overstepping proper bounds is illustrated by a report of a child who "was looking into ḥashmal (Ḥag. 13a), when fire leaped forth from hashmal and consumed him." Once again the book was saved from withdrawal by Ḥananiah who pointed out that such children were very rare (Ḥag. 13a). The first chapter of the book remained problematic, and the anonymous opinion of the Mishnah is that it is not to be recited as a haftarah (Meg. 4:10). There is a similar stricture upon Ezekiel 16, because of its insult to Jerusalem. Neither is normative and chapter 1 is customarily the haftarah of (the first day of) Shavuot. Ezekiel is not referred to by name in the New Testament but the influence of the book on the book of Revelation is unmistakable.
ezekiel in the aggadah
Four aspects of Ezekiel's prophetic career figure most prominently in rabbinic literature:
(1) The divine chariot revelation (chap. 1), which became the basis not only of Jewish mysticism but also of various kinds of esoteric speculations (see *Merkabah Mysticism), and its study was therefore restricted within the rabbinic school curriculum (Ḥag. 2:1; Tosef., Ḥag. 2:1), and excluded from the synagogue haftarah reading (Meg. 4:10); but according to Tosef., Meg. 4:34, it could be recited to the public, though apparently without the Aramaic translation; subsequently it was introduced as the prophetical reading for (the first day of) Shavuot.
(2) The fierce denunciations of Israel which might be exploited by the Church for anti-Jewish polemical purposes and were therefore partly unacceptable to the rabbis.
(3) The resurrection of the dry bones (chap. 37), which was a potentially favorite theme for sectarian speculations and was therefore played down by a number of rabbis.
(4) Ezekiel's vision of the future temple and his priestly laws, which appear to contradict the pentateuchal rules and very nearly led to the exclusion of the Book of Ezekiel from the canon (Shab. 13b, and parallels).
The general popularity of Ezekiel's revelation in non-rabbinic circles was bound to dampen rabbinic enthusiasm. Although many of the leading talmudic scholars, from the first through fourth centuries, continued to study and expound mystical concepts based on Ezekiel's Ma'aseh Merkavah (cf. Tosef., Ḥag. 2:1ff.; tj, Ḥag. 2:1, 77a), there was a sharp reaction in Palestine from the second century onward regarding certain kinds of esoteric speculations of an apocalyptic nature. Of four rabbis who entered the heavenly "garden" only one, R. *Akiva, "ascended in peace and descended in peace." The other three were spiritually harmed by their spiritual adventures, which were henceforth strongly, though not always successfully, discouraged (Tosef., Ḥag. 2:3ff., and parallels; cf. Hag. 2:1). It is interesting to note that Ezekiel's detailed description of the heavenly chariot was contrasted unfavorably not only with the prophecies of Moses and Samuel – "whatever he saw he related; hence Scripture calls him (disparagingly) 'son of man'" (Tanḥ., Ẓav 13) – but also with Isaiah's restrained revelation (Isa. 6:1ff.). Ezekiel was therefore likened to "a villager who saw the king," while Isaiah resembled "a townsman who saw the king" (Ḥag. 13b).
Although the Midrash emphasizes that God had commanded the heavens to open before Ezekiel (Gen. R. 5:5) – perhaps as a counterweight to similar claims on behalf of Jesus – according to R. Eliezer, "a maidservant saw at the [Red] Sea what Ezekiel and all the other prophets never saw" (Mekh., Shirah, 3; cf. Mekh., Yitro, Ba-hodesh, 3). R. Eliezer, whose early contacts with Jesus' disciples made him especially wary of sectarian ideas (Av. Zar. 16b–17a; et al.), was anxious to emphasize the immense revelation to all Israel rather than to a select few. In line with his "nationalistic" tendency, he prohibited the haftarah reading of chapter 16 (on Jerusalem's "abominations"), sharply rebuking a student who had ignored his interdict (Meg. 4:10; Tosef Meg. 4:34; et al.).
R. Eliezer somewhat reduced the significance of Ezekiel's resurrection of the dry bones, pointing out that "the dead whom Ezekiel revived stood up, recited a song [i.e., of praise], and [immediately] died" (Sanh. 92b). R. Judah apparently regarded the story as an allegorical vision; but other rabbis fully accepted the resurrection miracle.
In later midrashic literature, Ezekiel is praised for his love of Israel; hence he was deemed worthy to perform the resuscitation miracle (ser 5:23). He was criticized, however, for his initial doubting of the possibility of such a miracle. Because of his lack of faith, he was doomed to die on foreign soil (pdre 33).
The halakhah of the Book of Ezekiel deviates on a number of points from the Torah. Although attempts were made to reconcile the contradictions (most notably by Hananiah b. Hezekiah who saved the canonicity of the book), a number of cases were left to be "interpreted by Elijah in the future" (Men. 45a, and parallels). R. Yose b. Hanina, a third century amora, frankly conceded that Ezekiel's doctrine of personal responsibility (Ezek. 18:3–4) was irreconcilable with Moses' teaching concerning "visiting the iniquity of the father upon the children and upon the children's children" (Ex. 34:7, et al.; Mak. 24a).
According to R. *Simeon b. Yoḥai, Ezekiel was consulted by Ḥananiah, Mishael, and Azariah whether to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's idol. He referred them to Isaiah 26:20, in effect advising them to hide and flee. They refused to accept his counsel and prepared to die for the sanctification of God's name. Despite Ezekiel's tearful pleading, God refused to promise His aid, though saving them in the end (Song. R. 7:8). The Midrash reflects the conflicting opinions on the preferable Jewish reaction to the Hadrianic persecution. Ezekiel represents' the moderate compromising view such as that of R. Yose b. Kisma (cf. Av. Zar. 18a), while the course of martyrdom followed by R. Akiva and R. Ḥanina b. Teradyon, among others (Ber. 61b; Av. Zar. 18a), was preferred by R. Simeon (a disciple of R. Akiva), who fearlessly braved death when he demanded to be instructed by his imprisoned master (Pes. 112a), and risked his life again when he openly denounced the Romans (Shab. 33b).
[Moses Aberbach /
Stephen G. Wald (2nd ed.)]
According to a tradition this was located at a village 20 miles (32 km.) south of the town of Ḥilla in central Iraq. The Arabs refer to Ezekiel as to other prophets as "Dhū al-Kifl" (various etymologies have been suggested such as "doubly rewarded"; "guarantor"?) for the responsibility that he bore for the people of Israel. The tomb is mentioned for the first time in the epistle of R. *Sherira Gaon (c. 986), and a detailed description is given by *Benjamin of Tudela about 1170, *Pethahiah of Regensburg (about the same time), and later by other travelers, Jewish and non-Jewish. It is situated in a man-made cave, covered by a cupola. Over the cupola a magnificent outer tomb is built, coinciding in its linear dimensions with the lower tomb, and it is at this outer tomb that the pilgrims pray. In the room adjoining Ezekiel's tomb there are five tombs purported to contain the remains of five geonim. Another room, with a window, is referred to as "Elijah's Cave," and a third room contains the tomb of Menahem Ṣāliḥ *Daniel, a well-known philanthropist whose family was entrusted with guarding the tomb. The walls bear various inscriptions, including three poems in the Arab-Spanish meter composed by the Babylonian poet R. Abdallah Khuḍayr and in honor of donors. Pilgrimages to the tomb were usually made in the late spring, especially on Shavuot. A special parchment scroll, "the Scroll of Ezekiel," was read, containing passages from the Book of Ezekiel and written on behalf of the ascent to heaven of the souls of the departed. In 1860 the Muslims made an attempt to wrest ownership of the tomb from the Jews, but a government emissary from Constantinople decided in favor of the Jews.
The name of the prophet Ezekiel (Ḥiẓqīl) is not mentioned in the *Koran. However Sura 2:244 ("Dost thou not look at those who left their homes by thousands, for fear of death; and God said to them 'Die,' and then He quickened them again …") alludes to Ezekiel 37:1–10. According to Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyā ʾ (Leg-ends of the Prophets), the mother of Ḥiẓqīl ibn Būdhī was barren (an allusion to Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet), and he is therefore referred to as "the son of the old woman." It was he who resuscitated the dead who were killed by the plague (al-ṭā'ūn).
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]
in the arts
Ezekiel and his prophetic vision have not inspired many works of literary importance. Apart from Barbara Macandrew's Ezekiel and Other Poems (1871), a lyric by Emma *Lazarus, "The New Ezekiel" (in Songs of a Semite, 1882), predicting the Jewish people's national revival in Ereẓ Israel, works on the theme include a poem by Franz *Werfel, Ezechiel, der Prophet (1953), a tale of the Babylonian captivity by Lieselotte Hoffmann, and Albert *Cohen's one-act play Ezéchiel (1933), a dialogue representing the struggle between prophetic vision and reality.
In art the important subjects drawn from the Book of Ezekiel are the apocalyptic visions – the Chariot (Merkavah) with fiery wheels, the resurrection of the dry bones, and the locked gate. There are also some scenes showing Ezekiel undergoing various ordeals – eating a scroll, lying prostrate in expiation of the sins of Israel and Judah, and cutting his hair and beard and weighing them in the balance. The prophet is usually shown with the fiery chariot or the double wheel, taken as a symbol of the two Testaments. Sometimes he also holds a scroll reading "Porta clausa est, non aperietur" (44:2). In the third-century frescoes of the synagogue at *Dura-Europos there is an outstanding cycle of scenes from the Book of Ezekiel. There are representations of the men slaughtering the people of Jerusalem (9:1–6), the prophet taken up by the hair and transported to the Valley of the Dry Bones, and the winds breathing life into the bones. The sixth-century Rabbula Gospels (Laurentiana, Florence) portray Ezekiel in conjunction with Jesus and David. In Oriental art he appears in frescoes in Greece (Hosios David, Salonika, fifth century), and in the church of Bachkovo, Bulgaria (12th century), and frequently in icons in those lands influenced by the Byzantine tradition. In the West, Ezekiel is first encountered in illumination, as in the ninth-century Bible of San Paolo Fuori le Mura. The earliest Western monastic example is the fresco in San Vicenzo de Galliano (c. 1007). There is a 12th-century statue by Benedetto Antelami on the facade of Borgo San Donnino, Fidenza, and a cycle in the lower church of Schwarzheindorf, near Bonn, Germany. Thirteenth-century portrayals in French churches are on the portal of Saint-Firmin, Amiens, on a window, at Bourges, and in La Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. The vision of the divine chariot also appears in Lesnovo, Serbia (14th century), and in the Pitti Palace, Florence. The Valley of the Dry Bones appears in miniature painting from the ninth to the 14th centuries in both East and West; it culminates in the Signorelli fresco in the cathedral of Orvieto and the Tintoretto painting in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice. Michelangelo's famous representation of Ezekiel among other prophets of Israel appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508–10). In the early 19th century the English poet and artist William *Blake produced a fine engraving and a painting of the prophet.
Ezekiel's vision, in contrast to that of Isaiah, mentions only "sounds" and "voices," but even this unspecific conception would seem to call for some musical embodiment which, however, must inevitably fall short of the sublime suggestions in the biblical source. This is, for example, true of cantorial interpretations of the Ve-ha-Ofanim prayer and of the many ofan poems (see *Piyyut). In art music the major composers have generally avoided the subject of Ezekiel's vision, whereas that of Isaiah (with its explicit "tonal" description and established place in Christian liturgy) offers far more promising material to the composer. The two visions, combined in the Prologue to Goethe's Faust, have an ambitious setting in the prologue act of Arrigo Boito's Mefistofele (1868, 18753). The Valley of the Dry Bones is described by Franz Liszt in his Ossa arida for choir and organ (1879) and a symphonic work, The Valley of Dry Bones, was composed by A.W. *Binder (1935). The biblical text has also been set by several Israel composers, generally for choir. In a very different musical tradition the Afro-American spiritual "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel," with its simple rhythmic tune, is interesting for its text: this swiftly turns from the description of "a wheel in a wheel – way up in the middle of the sky" to criticism of the behavior of certain members of the congregation. Another popular spiritual, "Dry Bones," which has often been effectively arranged for vocal or instrumental ensembles, transforms the terrifying biblical scene into a syncopated, jocular description of the gradual joining together of the bones and of their subsequent separation in reverse order.
commentaries: A.B. Davidson and A.W. Streane (Eng., 1916); G.A. Cooke (icc, 1937); G. Fohrer and K. Galling (Ger., 1955); W. Zimmerli (Ger., 1955–69); J.W. Wevers (Eng., 1969); R. Eliezer of Beaugency, ed. by S. Poznański (Heb., 1910); S.D. Luzzatto (Heb., 1876). other works: Kaufmann, Y., Religion, 401–46; Kaufmann, Y., Toledot, 3:475–583; J. Lindblom, Prophecy in Ancient Israel (1962), index; G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 (1965), 220–37; M. Buber, Torat-ha-Nevi'im (1942), 168–72. special studies: C.C. Torrey, Pseudo-Ezekiel and the Original Prophecy (1930); S. Spiegel, in: Harvard Theological Review, 24 (1931), 245–321; idem, in: jbl, 54 (1935), 145–71; V. Herntrich, Ezechielprobleme (1932); C.G. Howie, The Date and Composition of Ezekiel (1950); G. Fohrer, Die Hauptprobleme des Buches Ezechiel (1952); H.H. Rowley, Men of God (1963), 169–210; S. Krauss, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 8 (1901), 109–18, 300–6; Y.N. Simḥoni, in: He-Atid, 4 (1912), 209–34; 5 (1912), 47–74; M.H. Segal, in: F.I. Baer et al. (ed.), Magnes Anniversary Book (1938), 168–77; A. Margolioth, in: Tarbiz, 22 (1950/51), 21–27; D.N. Freedman, in: Interpretation, 8 (1954), 446–71; K.S. Freedy and D.B. Redford, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 90 (1970), 462–85. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. tomb of ezekiel: R. Joseph Hayyim Alhakam, Mamlekhet Kohanim (Bagdad, 1873). ezekiel in islam: "Ḥizḳīl," in: eis2, 3, 535 (incl. bibl.); H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzaehlungen im Qoran (1961), 412–3. in the arts: L. Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien, 2 pt. 1 (1956), 373–8, incl. bibl. add. bibliography: W. Eichrodt, Ezekiel (otl; 1970); J. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel 40 – 48 (1976); W. Zimmerli, A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 1 – 24 (Hermeneia; 1979); idem … Ezekiel 24 – 48 (Hermeneia; 1983); A. Hurvitz, A Linguistic Study …Priestly Source…and Ezekiel (1982); M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1 – 20 (ab; 1983); idem, Ezekiel 21 – 37 (ab; 1997); R. Klein, Ezekiel (1988); L. Boadt, in: abd, 2, 711–22; L. Allen, Ezekiel 1 – 19 (Word; 1994); idem, Ezekiel 20 – 48 (Word; 1990); J. Galambush, Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh's Wife (1992); S. Bondì, in: V. Krings (ed), La civilsation phénicienne et punique (1995), 268–81; P. Bartoloni, ibid., 282–89; D. Block, The Book of Ezekiel 1 – 24 (nicot; 1997); Ezekiel 25 – 48 (nicot; 1998); M. Cohen (ed.), Mikra'ot Gedolot ' Haketer' Ezekiel (2000); R.L. Kohn, A New Heart and a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile and Torah (2002); M. Goshen-Gottstein and S. Talmon (eds.), Hebrew University Bible: The Book of Ezekiel (critical text-edition; 2004).
EZEKIEL (sixth century bce), or, in Hebrew, Yeḥezqeʾl, was a Hebrew prophet. A hereditary priest, Ezekiel is known primarily from the biblical book of prophecy named after him that contains first-person reports of revelations made to him. For example, the opening verse of Ezekiel reads: "In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth of the month, when I was among the exiles on the Chebar canal [in the vicinity of the Babylonian city of Nippur], the heavens opened and I saw a divine vision" (a description of God's majesty borne on the divine "chariot" follows). The time of his prophesying is fixed by some fifteen dates scattered through the book, which, apart from the obscure first one cited above, belong to the era of "our exile"—that is, the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, his courtiers, and his administrative staff, in 597 bce); it may be inferred that Ezekiel was among those deported to Babylon with the king. The dates fall between 593 and 571, all within the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II (605–562), who is mentioned several times in the book as a world conqueror. No references to events subsequent to the reign of that king are made, nor does the editorial work on the book necessitate assumption of later hands, so that its contents—internally consistent though literarily varied—may be considered the record of a single author's career. The only personal details given of Ezekiel's life are his priestly descent and the death of his wife in exile. That the enigmatic "thirtieth year" of the opening verse (cited above) alludes to the prophet's age at the start of his vocation is an unsupported guess that goes back at least as far as Origen.
Two determinants of the prophet's outlook stand out in his prophecies: his priesthood and his exile. The former is reflected in his schooling in the full range of Israel's literary traditions (legal, prophetic, historiographic), his manner of expression (echoing the Priestly writings of the Pentateuch), and his preoccupations (the Temple, God's holiness, offenses against his worship). The response to exile is reflected in Ezekiel's anguish and rage at what he perceives as God's rejection of his apostate people. Ezekiel's prophecy is characterized by a leaning toward systematization; he propounds doctrines permeated by a severe logic that centers on the injury Israel inflicted on the majesty of God and its reparation rather than on the piteous situation of the people. The Book of Ezekiel may be divided into three sections:
- Chapters 1–24 are composed mostly of dooms against Jerusalem that date before its fall in 587/6 bce. (Chapter 33 is an appendix related to this section.)
- Chapters 34–48 contain prophecies of the restoration of Israel, composed, presumably, after the city's fall. The first six of these chapters are rhapsodic, the latter nine legislative.
- Chapters 25–32 link the two main divisions in the form of prophecies against Israel's neighbors, settling accounts with them for their exploitation of, or participation in the collapse of Judah.
No other prophetic book shows so thorough a working through of principles in its arrangement, pointing to the hand of this prophet.
Main Themes of Ezekiel's Prophecy
The chief burden of Ezekiel's pre-586 prophecies (chaps. 2–24) was that Jerusalem was inevitably doomed to destruction by Nebuchadrezzar. This contradicted the mood both of the exiles and of the homelanders, among whom prophets of good tidings were at work (chap. 13). Patriotism, faith in the security offered by God's presence in the Jerusalem Temple, and the encouragement by Egypt of anti-Babylonian forces in Judah combined to rouse the people's hopes, indeed their expectation that subjection to Babylonia was ephemeral; that the exiles would shortly return home; and that resistance to the overlord, supported by Egypt, would be successful. Like Jeremiah, his contemporary in Jerusalem, Ezekiel regarded such hopes as illusory; worse, they revealed spiritual obtuseness in their blindness to the divine purpose realizing itself in Judah's plight. As Jeremiah and Ezekiel saw it, the people's idolatrous infidelity to their covenant with God, reaching back to the beginnings of their history and peaking during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah (2 Kgs. 21), had finally outrun God's patience. And alongside apostasy was the corruption of the social order (idolatry and immorality were bound together in the minds of biblical authors): the oppression of the governed by their rulers, the trampling of the poor, the unfortunate, and the aliens by the people at large, until not one righteous person could be found in Jerusalem to stem the onset of God's retributive fury (Ez. 22). Another form of infidelity to God that Ezekiel denounced with particular vehemence was the resort of Judah's kings to Egypt for help against Mesopotamian powers (Assyria, Babylonia), instead of trusting in divine protection. These offenses are set out in bills of indictment ending in sentences of doom: God had resolved to abandon his Temple (desecrated by the people) and to deliver his city and land to be ravaged by the Babylonians (chaps. 8–11, 16, 23). In listing the evidences of Jerusalem's guilt and stressing the unavoidability of its fall, Ezekiel sought to disabuse his fellow exiles of their misplaced hopes, turn their minds to consider their evil ways, and lead them to repentance. (Because his dooms are addressed rhetorically to Jerusalem, it has been thought that they were intended to dissuade the Judahite court from pursuing its rebellious policy against Babylonia, but their emphatic unconditionality could hardly serve that end.)
Ezekiel conveyed his messages in deeds as well as words, making much use of dramatic and symbolic acts. He arrayed toy siege works against a representation of Jerusalem drawn on a brick; he lay on his side eating scant siege rations for many days; carrying an exile's pack on his shoulder, he acted out the clandestine flight of the king from the fallen city; he repressed his sighs of mourning for his dead wife to presage the stupefaction of those who would live through the coming carnage (chaps. 4–5, 12, 24)—all these and more. No prophet went to such lengths to impress his audience because none was so convinced of their imperviousness to his message (chaps. 2–3). Still, although at his commissioning he was forewarned of his audience's adamant hostility, in actuality he became the cynosure of exiles in his hometown, Tel Abib: indeed, he complains that they flock to him as to an entertainment but fail to act on his admonitions (chap. 33).
To the exiles he addressed calls for repentance. For their conversion he propounded the doctrine of the eternal availability of divine forgiveness, thus countering the despair that was bound to follow on acceptance of his interpretation of events. For if Israel indeed lay under a generations-long accumulation of guilt—Ezekiel once went so far as to describe Jerusalem as congenitally depraved (Ez. 16:3–45)—so overwhelming it caused God to forsake his Temple and his land, what future had they to look forward to? Ezekiel met despair with the twin doctrines of the moral autonomy of each generation—that is, the nonbequeathal of guilt from fathers to sons and God's ever-readiness to accept the penitent wicked. God judges each according to his own ways, not those of his ancestors, and he judges him as he is now, not as he was yesterday. Hence each generation may hope for reconciliation with God, and anyone can unburden himself of a guilty past by renouncing it and turning a new leaf. God does not desire the death of the wicked person but his or her repentance, so that they may live (chaps. 18, 33).
As Jerusalem suffered under the protracted siege that was to end in its fall (in 587/6), Ezekiel began to deliver his oracles against foreign nations; the first is dated in 587, the last in 585 (except for an appendix dated to 571, in chap. 29). Judah's small neighbors, formerly co-rebels with it, abandoned it in the crisis. Some gloated over its fall; Edom seized the occasion to appropriate some of Judah's territory. These countries are denounced for their hubris and their show of contempt toward their downfallen neighbor, and their own ruin is predicted (chaps. 25–28). On the other hand, Egypt, which had encouraged Judah to revolt, is condemned to temporary exile and permanent degradation for having proven to be a "reedy staff" in the hour of need, collapsing when Judah leaned on it (chaps. 29–32). When God punishes his own so ruthlessly, the perfidy and contemptuousness of their neighbors will not be ignored. Some of the most vivid passages in the book occur in these prophecies: a unique list of the Phoenecian trade (Tyre's imports and exports and the nations with which it traded); a mythical depiction of the king of Tyre as the denizen of Paradise, expelled from it for his sin; and a picture of the underworld realm of the dead receiving Pharaoh and his defeated army.
The fall of Jerusalem gave rise to a new concern: the only nation on earth that acknowledged the one true God (however imperfectly) had suffered a crushing defeat on the field and the cream of its population had, for a second time, been deported. However justified these punishments were in terms of Israel's covenant with God, to the world they could only signify the humiliation of Israel's God—or so at least Ezekiel portrayed it in chapter 36. The extreme measures taken to punish Israel for flouting God (in Ezekiel's words, for "profaning God's name") resulted in a still greater "profanation": the nations pointed to the exiles and jeered, "These are the Lord's people and from his land they have come forth!" It followed as an ironbound consequence that God must now vindicate his authority by restoring Israel to its homeland and so redeem his reputation. This key idea of chapter 36 is the motive of the rhapsodic restoration prophecies of chapters 34–39. All is done for the greater glory of God: Israel's "dry bones" are vivified and the miraculously re-created people are gathered into their land; the former two kingdoms (Israel and Judah) are united under the rule of a new David; the land is blessed with peace and unprecedented fertility. The crowning transformation is in the very nature of the Israelites: their "heart of stone" will be replaced with a "heart of flesh." God's spirit will animate them to observe his laws effortlessly, thus averting forever the recurrence of the terrible cycle of sin, punishment, exile, and profanation of God's name among humans. Moreover, because the restoration of Israel will not be for their sake, but for the sake of God's name (reputation), it will not depend on Israel's taking the initiative to reform itself but will happen at God's initiative. Israel's self-recrimination and remorse over its evil past will follow, not precede, its salvation (chap. 36). To impress his sovereignty finally on the minds of all, God will, after restoring Israel, engineer an attack on them by the barbarian Gog of Magog. Attracted by the prospect of plundering the prospering, undefended cities of Israel, Gog and the armies mustered from the far north under his banner will descend on them, only to be miraculously routed and massacred. Then all will realize that the misfortune that befell Israel was punishment for their sins (not a sign of God's weakness!), and their restoration, a "sanctification of God's name" in the sight of all humankind (chaps. 38–39).
The last major section of the book is legislative and prescriptive: a unique series of revisions of certain Israelite institutions designed to maintain the sanctity of the Temple precinct. The section consists of a vision of the future Temple climaxed by God's return to it (chaps. 41–43:12), and instructions for righting past misconduct in relation to it so that it would never again be abandoned (chaps. 43:13–48).
The future Temple is envisaged as laid out with a well-defined gradation of sacred areas, access to which is rigorously controlled in accordance with grades of personal holiness. The corps of Temple servants is restructured, with a sharp division between priests and nonpriests, the latter being strictly excluded from access to the highest grades of holy space. The role that the future king (archaically entitled "chief") is to play in worship is so defined as to prevent him, a layman, from trespassing on the areas of highest sanctity (as preexilic kings were accustomed to do), while at the same time making allowances for his superior dignity. New periodic sacrifices of purgation are instituted to keep the inevitable contamination of the sanctuary by the natural impurities and inadvertencies of the people from accumulating dangerously. Finally, the land is redistributed among the ingathered population, archaically defined as the twelve tribes, with boundaries derived from the ancient idea of the promised "land of Canaan" rather than from the actual boundaries of the land under the monarchy. The disposition of the tribes is such as to isolate the Temple from contact with the profane by cordons of sacred personnel surrounding it. God will dwell forever in his holy city, renamed accordingly YHVH Shammah, "The Lord is there" (replacing Yerushalayim, "Jerusalem").
In later times, Ezekiel's justification of the collapse of Israel influenced the revision of the old history of the monarchy (the Book of Kings ) undertaken under Persian rule embodied in the Book of Chronicles. The Chronicler's story of the conduct of the last Judahite kings (from Manasseh on) shows the effect of Ezekiel's doctrines with particular clarity. On the other hand, Ezekiel's rhapsodic descriptions of restoration were far removed from the modest dimensions and achievements of returned exiles. And their mood of repentance (surely owing at least in part to Ezekiel's teachings) kindled in them a resolve to adhere scrupulously to the ancient covenant laws of Moses rather than to Ezekiel's newfangled revisions (which anyway supposed a very different geodemographic reality from that of the postexilic community). Ezekiel had to give way before Moses, and his program was relegated to messianic utopia. His vision of the divine "chariot" (chaps. 7, 10) was to play a decisive role in Jewish mystical experience from Second Temple times onward.
A number of commentaries on Ezekiel may be consulted, among which the following, listed chronologically, are recommended.
Herrmann, Johannes. Ezechiel, übersetzt und erklärt. Kommentar zum Alten Testament. Leipzig, 1924.
Cooke, G. A. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel. 2 vols. New York, 1937.
Fohrer, Georg. Ezechiel. Handbuch zum Alten Testament, vol. 13. Tübingen, 1955.
Eichrodt, Walther. Der Prophet Hesekiel. Das Alte Testament Deutsch. Göttingen, 1965–1966. Translated into English as Ezekiel: A Commentary, "Old Testament Library" (Philadelphia, 1970).
Wevers, John W. Ezekiel. Century Bible, n.s., pt. 1, vol. 26. London, 1969.
Zimmerli, Walther. Ezechiel (1–48). 2 vols. Biblischer Kommentar Alter Testament, vol. 13, nos. 1–2. Neunkirchen, 1969. Translated into English in two parts: Ezekiel 1, by R. E. Clements (Philadelphia, 1979), and Ezekiel 2, by James D. Martin (Philadelphia, 1983).
Greenberg, Moshe. Ezekiel 1–20. Anchor Bible, vol. 22. Garden City, N.Y., 1983.
For general surveys, consult Walther Zimmerli's "The Message of the Prophet Ezekiel," Interpretation 23 (1969): 131–157, and my own article "Ezekiel" in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971). Bernhard Lang's Ezechiel: Der Prophet und das Buch, "Erträge der Forschung," no. 153 (Darmstadt, 1981), is a good review of modern scholarship on Ezekiel. The influence of Ezekiel on Jewish mysticism is treated in David J. Halperin's The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature, "American Oriental Series," no. 62 (New Haven, 1980).
Biggs, Charles R. The Book of Ezekiel. Epworth Commentaries. London, 1996.
Eynde, Sabine M. L. van den. "Interpreting 'Can These Bones Come Back to Life?' in Ezekiel 37:3: The Technique of Hiding Knowledge." Old Testament Essays 14 (2001): 153–165.
Vawter, Bruce, and Leslie J. Hoppe. A New Heart: A Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel. International Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich., and Edinburgh, 1991.
Wright, Christopher J. H. The Message of Ezekiel: A New Heart and a New Spirit. Bible Speaks Today. Leicester and Downers Grove, Ill, 2001.
Moshe Greenberg (1987)
Third of the Major Prophets of the Old Testament. As an Israelite Prophet, Ezekiel is unique in many ways. He was, as far as is known, the only Prophet to receive his call to prophecy, not in Palestine, but in a foreign land of exile. Unlike any of the canonical Prophets who preceded him, he displays an intense interest in cultic and ritual matters. Other Prophets (Jeremiah, for example) had also been priests, but Ezekiel was the first to prophesy in strictly priestly terms; besides the strong priestly cast of the ch. 40 to 48 complex, his prophetic sermons (e.g., 18.5–23) often read like a priestly tôrâ. There is certainly a literary connection between Ezekiel and the Law of holiness (Leviticus ch. 17–26), elaborated in priestly circles during the Babylonian captivity (the direction of the dependence is debated). Nevertheless, Ezekiel was a Prophet before he was a priest. In his employment of the characteristic symbolic action (e.g., Ez 6.11; 21.19;33.22) he excels all the other Prophets. Strongly tied to the classical prophetic tradition, he also often resembles the older n e bî'îm, especially in his (probable) influence by ecstatic experience [see prophetism (in the bible)].
Ministry and Message. It is customary to divide Ezekiel's prophetic ministry into two parts, the point of separation being the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 b.c. According to Ez 1.2, his call to prophecy took place in Babylonia during the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity, i.e., in 593 b.c. Because the
account in the Book of Ezekiel is composite [see ezekiel, book of] and because various of Ezekiel's earlier oracles seem to suppose his presence in Jerusalem, some modern scholars believe that the prophet's initial call took place in Palestine and that only after 587 (and not in 597, the year of Joachin's deportation) did Ezekiel join the Judean exiles in Babylonia. However, this hypothesis is unnecessary if one concedes that Ezekiel could be present in Jerusalem "in spirit" (Ez 8.3) and could thus apostrophize its inhabitants from afar. Neither is it necessary to suppose, therefore, that he physically journeyed back and forth between Jerusalem and Babylonia.
Although he was called to be a prophet preeminently to the Israel in exile (Ez 3.4–11), Ezekiel's early prophetic activity much resembles that of Jeremiah. Like Jeremiah he prophesied the inevitability of Jerusalem's destruction for its continued sins, and like Jeremiah he condemned King Zedekiah's suicidal policy of resistance to Babylon. He warned the exiles against their illusory hope of a speedy end of the exile of 597. He, likewise, witnessed against their betrayal of the hopes of Jeremiah, who had seen in them the beginning of the new Israel (Jer ch. 24; 29). Having received generous treatment from their Babylonian conquerors, the displaced Judeans had settled down to adopt their ways as their fathers had the ways of the Canaanites. To the old vices condemned by the preexilic prophets, the exiled "house of rebellion" (Ez 2.5–6; 3.9, etc.) added sins of idolatry and religious syncretism.
After the definitive destruction of Jerusalem, Ezekiel's prophecy became one of consolation. Though he entertained no illusions concerning the shortcomings of his fellow exiles, he knew that in them lay the hope of the future and that they must, therefore, be prepared for their destiny. His prophecy of this period includes a utopian constitution of the new Israel, outlining its religion and cult and its economic, political, and moral life. Doubtless one of the most influential aspects of his prophecy was his elaboration of the doctrine of personal retribution (ch. 18; 33). His last dated prophecy (29.17) was of April 26, 571 b.c.
Ezekiel in Christian and Jewish History. Ezekiel's influence on Christianity was pervasive, but indirect rather than direct. He is the prophet least cited or alluded to in the Gospels, probably because in the traditional sense of the word he possessed no messianic teaching (see messianism); as J. Steinmann has said, Ezekiel's "messiah" was the new Temple. On the other hand, Ezekiel's work was extensively used by the author of Revelation for its apocalyptic imagery, and through this medium it greatly influenced early Christian art.
Ezekiel is known as the father of judaism. The doctrines of resurrection, personal immortality, and religion of law all have their roots in his prophecy. His often mysterious visions considerably affected the development of apocalyptic and the later mysticism of the cabala (e.g., the merkābâ, the vision of the divine throne in ch. 1; 10). The prophet figures prominently in the art of the famous synagogue of dura-europos. On the other hand, however, rabbis of the school of Shammai regarded Ezekiel as an apocryphal book, chiefly because of its conflicts with the Mosaic Law as finally codified in the Pentateuch.
Bibliography: w. zimmerli, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 2:844–847. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 737–739. For additional bibliography, see ezekiel, book of. Iconography. l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien (Paris 1955–59) 2.1:373–378. m. d. beck, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–65) 2:850–851. a. legner, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 3:1328.
Ezekiel (active 6th century B.C.) was a Hebrew priest and prophet. He held that each man is responsible for his own acts.
Little is known about Ezekiel's personal life. The son of Buzi, he was apparently a descendant of the priestly family of Zadok. While in Jerusalem, he had been influenced by his older contemporary Jeremiah. Ezekiel was exiled to Babylonia with King Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. or shortly thereafter. Five years later he lived in the Babylonian Jewish settlement of Tel Aviv (Tel Abubu, the hill of the storm god) by the Chebar River. It was there that he received his call to prophecy in a mystical vision (Ezekiel 8:1 ff). Josephus speaks of Ezekiel as having been young at the time of his exile, but that is probably not correct. Ezekiel demonstrated the kind of precise knowledge of the Temple and its ritual that could be acquired only from personal and active participation as a priest in the Temple worship.
For 22 years Ezekiel continued his ministry. In his early period as a prophet, he denounced his people for their sins and corruption. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 586, however, Ezekiel became the consoler and comforter of the exiles, holding out to them the promise of return to the homeland and the restoration of the Temple and of the throne of David. Ezekiel's loftiest vision, that of the Valley of Dry Bones (37:1-14), has rarely been matched in its grandeur. It is the prophet's response to the despair of the exiles, and it has become a powerful symbol of hope, resurrection, and regeneration.
In the early days of his ministry, Ezekiel found it difficult to impress his doctrines upon his people. Later, particularly after the destruction of Jerusalem, they recognized him as their spiritual leader, and they turned to him for counsel in their religious dilemmas and perplexities. The community elders evidently assembled in his home for instruction and guidance (8:1 ff, 14:1 ff), and it is possible that the institution of the synagogue grew out of these gatherings. One of the primary religious issues raised in these meetings was the problem of God's justice. The exiles thought they were sinless and should not have to suffer for the sins of their ancestors. In his reply Ezekiel laid down a vital principle in Judaism. Before Ezekiel, Jeremiah had asserted that children are not answerable for their parents' sins. Ezekiel proclaimed a new doctrine, which represents an ethical advance. The individual alone, he said, bears responsibility for his deeds. The belief "If the fathers have eaten sour grapes, the children's teeth should be set on edge" (18:2) is no longer tenable. The truth is that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (18:4). In other words, one is not liable for another's actions, and the innocent cannot be held liable for the guilty; each one, moreover, must atone for his own sins. This idea was a powerful motivation for ethical living.
Ezekiel speaks of an attack of "Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal" (38:2), who is to lead an armed horde of nations from the north against Israel before the inauguration of God's sovereignty. This idiom is obscure and has never been adequately explained. Gog is often mentioned in the apocalyptic works; it is to be found also in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In rabbinic works the wars of Gog and Magog are to precede the coming of the Messiah.
Ezekiel was the only Hebrew prophet who ministered to his people outside the Holy Land. He is unique in his frequent use of the term "son of man" as the manner of the divine address. Unlike other Hebrew prophets, who placed the ethical above the ritual, Ezekiel fused the two elements, thereby reflecting his dual role as a pious priest and inspired prophet.
H. H. Rowley, Book of Ezekiel in Modern Study (1953), and H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message (1956), are recommended. □
fl. sixth century b.c.
Israelite prophet and priest who described (Ezekiel 1:4-28) a vision of a wheel spinning in the air that has been interpreted as a prediction of the internal combustion engine. This vision has also been interpreted as a description of a UFO. He was a prophet of doom before the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II, the spiritual leader of the Jews during their deportation to Babylon, and lawgiver after Jerusalem's independence was restored.