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EZEKIEL, BOOK OF:

Ezekiel's book is one of the most original in the sacred literature of Israel. Its principal features are its systematic arrangement and homogeneity. The book falls into two principal parts, i.-xxiv. and xxv.-xlviii., corresponding to the two principal themes of Ezekiel's prophetic preaching—repentance and salvation, judgment and restoration. It is introduced by a vision, i. 1-iii. 15. At the River Chebar the glory of the Lord appears to Ezekiel on the chariot of the cherubim and consecrates him a prophet, sent to a "rebellious house" to preach only wailing, sighing, and misery. Chaps. iii. 16-xxiv. 27 show the prophet fulfilling this mission. Here Ezekiel is merely a "reprover" (iii. 26); he confronts the people as if he were not one of them; he shows no emotion, not a suggestion of pity, throughout the delivery of his dreadful tidings. He symbolizes the siege and conquest of Jerusalem, the leading of the people into exile (iv.-v.); on all the hills of Israel idolatry is practised (vi.), and therefore "the end" will come (vii.). The Temple is defiled with abominations of every description; therefore the glory of the Lord departs from it and from the city, and dedicates them to flames (viii-xi.). Ezekiel represents the final catastrophe symbolically; judgment will not tarry, but approaches to immediate fulfilment (xii.). No one will mount into the breach. On the contrary, prophets and prophetesses will lead the people completely astray (xiii.); even a true prophet could not avail now, as God will not be questioned by idolaters.

That the judgment is fully merited will be demonstrated by the godliness of the few who survive the catastrophe (xiv.). Jerusalem is a useless vine, good only to be burned (xv.). And thus it has ever been: Jerusalem has ever requited the mercies and benefits of the Lord with blackest ingratitude and shameless infidelity (xvi.). The ruling king, Zedekiah, particularly, has incurred the judgment through his perjury (xvii.). God rewards each one according to his deeds, and He will visit upon the heads of the present generation, not the sins of the fathers, but their own sins (xviii.). Therefore the prophet is to sound a dirge over the downfall of royalty and the people (xix.). In an oration he once more brings before the people all the sins committed by them from the Exodus to the present time (xx.). Nebuchadnezzar approaches to execute the divine judgment (xxi.). Jerusalem is a city full of blood-guiltiness and impurity, all classes being equally debased (xxii.), and far lower than Samaria's (xxiii.). The city is a rusty kettle the impurities of which can be removed only by fire. The exiles, who still boast of the sanctity and inviolability of Jerusalem, will be amazed by the news of its fall (xxiv.).

"Dooms" of the Nations.

Then follows (xxv.-xxxii.) a group of threatening prophecies against seven foreign nations: the Ammonites (xxv. 1-7), Moabites (xxv. 8-11), Edomites (xxv. 12-14), Philistines (xxv. 15-17), Tyrenes (xxvi.-xxviii. 19), Zidonians (xxviii. 20-23), andEgyptians (xxix.-xxxii.). This division belongs to the promise of salvation as detailed in xxviii. 24-26; for it refers to the punishment visited on the neighboring nations because of their aggressions against Judah. It also indicates that Israel may yet be restored to fulfil its sacred mission, a mission which can be accomplished only when the nation lives in security. Ch. xxxiii. announces the downfall of Jerusalem, and the prophet now freely speaks words of consolation and promise to the people. The shepherds hitherto placed over Israel have thriven, but have neglected their flock, which God will now take under His protection, appointing a new David as a shepherd over it (xxxiv.). The Edomites, who have seized certain portions of the Holy Land, will be annihilated (xxxv.); Israel will be restored (xxxvi.); that is, Judah and Joseph will be merged into one (xxxvii.). The last on-slaught of the pagan world against the newly established kingdom of God will be victoriously repelled by the Almighty Himself, who will manifest His sanctity among the nations (xxxviii.-xxxix.). The final division, xl.-xlviii., embodying the celebrated vision of the new Temple and the new Jerusalem, contains a description of the future era of salvation with its ordinances and conditions, which are epitomized in the final sentence: "And the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there" (xlviii. 35).

The Composition.

The evident unity of the whole work leaves only one question open in regard to its authorship: Did Ezekiel, as some maintain, write the whole book at one time, or is it a homogeneous compilation of separate parts written at different times? A number of pieces were dated by the prophet himself, in accordance with the number of years after the abduction of Jehoiachin: i. 1, in the fifth; viii. 1, in the sixth; xx. 1, in the seventh; xxiv. 1, in the ninth; xxix. 1, in the tenth; xxvi. 1, xxx. 20, xxxi. 1, xxxiii. 21 (LXX.), in the eleventh; xxxii. 1, 19 and xxxiii. 21 (Hebr.), in the twelfth; xl. 1, in the twenty-fifth; and xxix. 17, in the twenty-seventh year. The last-mentioned passage (xxix. 17-21) is evidently an appendix to the already completed book; and the twenty-fifth year (572), the date of the important division xl.-xlviii., is probably the date when the work was completed. If it were true, however, that the whole book was written at that time all previous dates would be merely literary embellishments, and this view is difficult because of the importance of the dating in several instances where the prophet claims to transcend ordinary human knowledge. Examples of such instances are: xi. 13, where Ezekiel at the Chebar is cognizant of the death of Pelatiah, the idolater, in Jerusalem; xxiv. 2, where he knows the exact day on which the siege of Jerusalem will begin; and xxxiii. 21, where he predicts to a day the arrival of the messenger bearing tidings of the capture of Jerusalem.

Moreover, it can be shown from the contradictions which the various divisions of the Book of Ezekiel contain that they were written at different periods. This is particularly true of the Messianic prophecy, which, although kept somewhat in the background in Ezekiel, is nevertheless directly expressed in xvii. 22-24, xxi. 32, xxxiv. 23-24, xxxvii. 22-24, and xxv. 14 (where Edom is referred to: "And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel"). In xl.-xlviii.—that grand panorama of the future—this feature has entirely disappeared. There is still some reference to a prince, but his sole function is to defray from the people's taxes the expenses of worship; there is no longer room for a Messianic king. Nevertheless, Ezekiel permitted the earlier passages to remain. Even more significant is xxix. 17-21, which can be understood only as an appendix to the already complete book. In xxvi.-xxviii. Ezekiel had positively prophesied the capture and destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar, but after thirteen years of fruitless labor the latter had to raise the siege and to arrange terms of peace with the city. Thereupon, in the above-mentioned passage, Ezekiel promises Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar as an indemnity. Here, then, is an oracle the non-fulfilment, of which the prophet himself is destined to see. Yet he does not venture to change or to expunge it. Incidentally it may be stated that the transmission of oracles of which the prophets themselves were doomed to see the non-fulfilment is the strongest proof that they regarded these as messages for which they were not personally responsible, and which, consequently, they did not venture to change; they regarded them as God's word, the responsibility for the non-fulfilment of which rested with God, not with themselves. In view of these facts it must be assumed that although Ezekiel completed his book in 572, he availed himself of earlier writings, which he allowed to remain practically unchanged.

Style.

Not only is the whole artistically arranged, but the separate parts are also distinguished by careful finish. The well-defined and deliberate separation of prose and poetry is particularly conspicuous. The poetic passages are strictly rhythmical in form, while the didactic parts are written in pure, elegant prose. The author prefers parables, and his use of them is always lucid. In xx. 49 he even makes his audience say: "Doth he not speak parables?"

Very striking are the numerous symbolical actions by which the prophet illustrates his discourse. Nine unique examples may be distinguished; indeed at the very beginning of his prophetic activity there are not fewer than four by which he describes the siege, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem and the banishment of the people (iv. and v.). The two in xii. and the two in xxiv. refer to the same subject, while that in xxxvii. refers to the future redemption. Here, also, there is no question of mere literary embellishment, for Ezekiel undoubtedly actually performed the symbolic actions; indeed, he was the first to introduce symbolism into Hebrew literature, and therefore has been called the "father of apocalypse." The picture of the chariot ("merkabah") in i., and the concluding division of xl.-xlviii., are full of deep symbolism; and, according to the Rabbis, neither should be read by any one younger than thirty. The celebrated vision of Gog, the Prince of Rosh Meshech (A. V. "the chief princeof Meshech") and Tubal (xxxviii. and xxxix.), is also symbolical. The Book of Ezekiel shows throughout the touch of the scholar.

The Talmud (Ḥag. 13a) relates that in consequence of the contradictions to the Torah contained in xl.-xlviii. Ezekiel's book would have remained unknown had not Hananiah b. Hezekiah come to expound it. Nevertheless it has never been appreciated as it deserves; and it is probably due to this fact that the text of the work has been transmitted in a particularly poor and neglected form. The Septuagint, however, affords an opportunity to correct many of the errors in the Hebrew text.

The statement of Josephus ("Ant." x. 5, § 1) that Ezekiel wrote two books is entirely enigmatical. The doubt cast upon the authenticity of the book by Zunz, Seinecke, and Vernes has rightly never been taken seriously; but the authorship of several parts, such as iii. 16b-21, x. 8-17, xxiv. 22-23, and xxvii. 9b-25a, has, with more or less justification, sometimes been questioned. That the book consists of two divergent versions compiled by an editor, a hypothesis recently advanced by Kraetzschmar, has yet to be demonstrated.

Bibliography:
  • H. Ewald, Die Propheten des Alten Bundes, 1841;
  • F. Hitzig, Der Prophet Ezechiel, 1847;
  • S. D. Luzzatto, Perush 'al Yirmeyah we-Yehezeḳel, 1876;
  • R. Smend, Der Prophet Ezechiel, 1880;
  • Cornill, Das Buch des Propheten Ezechiel, 1886;
  • D. H. Müller, Ezechielstudien, 1895;
  • A. B. Davidson, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Cambridge, 1896;
  • A. Bertholet, Das Buch Hezekiel, 1897;
  • C. H. Toy, The Book of Ezekiel in Hebrew, 1899;
  • idem, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, new Eng. transl. with notes, 1899;
  • R. Kraetzschmar, Das Buch Ezechiel, 1900.
E. G. H. K. H. C.
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