When I was new to the study of Torah, there was something about Leviticus that drew me. It was famous as the book no one read. It was arcane, an understatement, and challenging for someone knew to Torah. I read it hungrily and made one of the best decisions of my academic life: to buy the three-volume commentary of Jacob Milgrim in the Anchor series. While I still have not endorsed the documentary hypothesis, I nonetheless learned more the Milgrim’s commentary about the theology of the Torah than ever before.
I knew that Leviticus could not be my area of study when I recently decided to prepare for doctoral work. Milgrom has done it all.
So, I thought about another juggernaut of the Bible, Ezekiel. And I am finding that there is more interest in Ezekiel than I would have imagined. No one is more surprised than I am, but my most popular posting of this year, even surpassing now all of my Passover posts, is one I wrote on June 1: “Ezekiel on My Mind” (read it here).
I have a long road ahead of me and I am not even yet a novice in Ezekiel studies. In November I will sit in the Ezekiel section at the Society for Biblical Literature Conference (SBL) in New Orleans. I have purchased a few commentaries.
This weekend I read something that knocked me over. In the Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible edited by Dunn and Rogerson (2003), I found that the Ezekiel chapter was written by John Goldingay, a scholar whose work on the Psalms I have appreciated. In his introduction he lists fourteen points in which Ezekiel is “like the other prophets, only more so.”
Well, I’m new to Ezekiel studies. I can’t say as yet if I agree with all fourteen points or not. But in the sort of spirit of bragging that “my area of study is way cooler than your area of study,” here is part 1 of my retelling of Goldingay’s list and why Ezekiel studies make work in other prophetic literature seem like the labors of girlie-men (sorry, ladies, just an expression):
#1 Technicolor Visions
In Goldingay’s words: “Other prophets had visionary experiences; Ezekiel’s are technicolor, widescreen, virtual reality as he is again and again dazzled by awesome manifestations of [Hashem’s] splendor.”
Ezekiel’s visions are so Bluray that rabbinic law dictates a minimum age of 30, the same age as Ezekiel was when he had the first vision, as a requirement for studying the chariot visions. I should stop right here and install a program requiring your passport or birth certificate to prove your age before allowing you to read more. And, by the way, Ezekiel had no less than nineteen visions of Hashem’s glory.
#2 The Physical, Violent Hand of Hashem
In Goldingay’s words: “Other prophets felt God’s presence, and some were seized, shaken, gripped, and impelled by the powerful, heavy, irresistible hand of [Hashem]; this happens seven times to Ezekiel . . .”
No prophet was manhandled (God-handled?) quite like Ezekiel. He was not only transported in the Spirit, but he is yanked to his feet, lifted between earth and heaven, muted by the Spirit except when God wanted him to talk, bound to his house, bereft of his wife, and taken here and there wherever God wanted him to go.
#3 The Rushing Wind/Spirit of Hashem
Other prophets felt and claimed the empowerment of the ruach (wind, breath, spirit) of God. As Goldingay says, the Spirit is “dynamic, unpredictable, and irresistible.” For Ezekiel, Spirit or wind manifestations literally move him, not just figuratively.
In Ezekiel 8:3, a hand reaches down from heaven and grabs Ezekiel by the lock of his hair and the Spirit (wind?) of God lifts him up between earth and heaven. Is this Spirit or wind or the breath of God?
#4 The Messenger of Lord Hashem
Other prophets feel they receive messages from Hashem to deliver with the authority of messengers of Hashem. Ezekiel does this no less than fifty times and also is bolder in declaring Hashem’s authority, calling him more than any other prophet Lord Hashem (Adonai followed by God’s name, poorly translated as Lord God in English versions).
#5 Parables and Fables
In Goldingay’s words: “Other prophets used fables, folktales, and parables (e.g., 2 Samuel 12; Isaiah 5). Ezekiel turns a folktale motif into an allegory which occupies over four pages (ch. 16).” Goldingay also gives more examples of fables and parables in Ezekiel.
#6 Mimes and Acted Parables
Okay, Ezekiel was weird and very rugged to be able to do the things he did. Other prophets acted out mimes. Ezekiel was the mimer extraordinaire. Hey, he laid on his side for 390 days eating Ezekiel bread!
#7 The Recaster of Israel
Other prophets spoke of Israel and Judah, the divided kingdoms. Ezekiel spoke to the house of Israel, by which he meant the small community of deportees from Judah. This group was by no means the whole nation of Israel, but Ezekiel addressed them as such. They were the remnant, from whom God would rebuild Israel, not just Judah. Joined later by more exiles, they would reconstitute all of the tribes, as the visions of ch. 36 and 37 make clear.
More to Come . . .
There will be more examples of Ezekiel’s manly prophetness in part 2. Let me just say that Goldingay’s list of Ezekiel’s excesses makes me all the more thrilled to be working in this fantastic book. I hope it inspires some of you to read and reread it.
Not by any means least among the prophets, Ezekiel is one of those overlooked treasures (along with Leviticus) that needs a renaissance.