the Fifth Week of Lent
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. The Prophet and His Book
1. The Person of Ezekiel
Name, Captivity and Trials
2. The Book
(1) Its Genuineness
(2) Its Structure
(3) Relation to Jeremiah
(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon
II. Significance of Ezekiel in Israel's Religious History
1. Formal Characteristics of Ezekiel
(2) Symbolical Acts
2. Ezekiel and the Levitical System
(1) Ezekiel 44:4ff: Theory That the Distinction of Priests and Levites Was Introduced by Ezekiel
(a) The Biblical Facts
(b) Modern Interpretation of This Passage
(c) Examination of Theory
(i) Not Tenable for Preëxilic Period
(ii) Not Sustained by Ezekiel
(iii) Not Supported by Development after Ezekiel
(d) The True Solution
(2) Ezekiel 40 through 48: Priority Claimed for Ezekiel as against the Priestly Codex
(a) Sketch of the Modern View
(b) One-Sidedness of This View
(c) Impossibility That Ezekiel Preceded P
(d) Correct Interpretation of Passage
(3) Ezekiel's Leviticism
3. Ezekiel and the Messianic Idea
4. Ezekiel and Apocalyptic Literature
5. Ezekiel's Conception of God
I. The Prophet and His Book
1. The Person of Ezekiel
The name יחזקאל ,
We find Ezekiel in Tel-abib (Ezekiel 3:15 ) at the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1 , Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:15 ) on a Euphrates canal near Nippur, where the American expedition found the archives of a great business house, "Murashu and Sons." The prophet had been taken into exile in 597 bc. This event so deeply affected the fate of the people and his personal relations that Ezekiel dates his prophecies from this event. They begin with the 5th year of this date, in which year through the appearance of the Divine glory (compare II, 1 below) he had been consecrated to the prophetic office (Ezekiel 1:2 ) and continued to the 27th year (Ezekiel 29:17 ), i.e. from 593 to 571 bc. The book gives us an idea of the external conditions of the exiles. The expressions "prison," "bound," which are applied to the exiles, easily create a false impression, or at any rate a one-sided idea. These terms surely to a great extent are used figuratively . Because the Jews had lost their country, their capital city, their temple, their service and their independence as a nation, their condition was under all circumstances lamentable, and could be compared with the fate of prisoners and those in fetters.
The external conditions in themselves, however, seem rather to have been generally tolerable. The people live in their own houses (Jeremiah 29:5 ). Ezekiel himself is probably the owner of a house (Ezekiel 3:24; Ezekiel 8:1 ). They have also retained their organization, for their elders visit the prophet repeatedly (Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1 ). This makes it clear why later comparatively few made use of the permission to return to their country. The inscriptions found in the business house at Nippur contain also a goodly number of Jewish names, which shows how the Jews are becoming settled and taking part in the business life of the country.
Ezekiel was living in most happy wedlock. Now God reveals to him on a certain night that his wife, "the desire of his eye," is to die through a sudden sickness. On the evening of the following day she is already dead. But he is not permitted to weep or lament over her, for he is to serve as a sign that Jerusalem is to be destroyed without wailing or lamentation (Ezekiel 24:15 ). Thus in his case too, as it was with Hosea, the personal fate of the prophet is most impressively interwoven with his official activity.
The question at what age Ezekiel had left Jerusalem has been answered in different ways. From his intimate acquaintance with the priestly institutions and with the temple service, as this appears particularly in chapters 40 to 48, the conclusion is drawn that he himself must have officiated in the temple. Yet, the knowledge on his part can be amply explained if he only in a general way had been personally acquainted with the temple, with the law and the study of the Torah. We accept that he was already taken into exile at the age of 25 years, and in his 30th year was called to his prophetic office; and in doing this we come close to the statement of Josephus, according to which Ezekiel had come to Babylon in his youth. At any rate the remarkable statement in the beginning of his book, "in the 30th year," by the side of which we find the customary dating, "in the 5th year" (Ezekiel 1:1 , Ezekiel 1:2 ), can still find its best explanation when referred to the age of the prophet. We must also remember that the 30th year had a special significance for the tribe of Levi (Numbers 4:3 , Numbers 4:13 , Numbers 4:10 , Numbers 4:39 ), and that later on, and surely not accidentally, both Jesus and John the Baptist began their public activity at this age (Luke 3:23 ).
It is indeed true that the attempt has been made to interpret this statement of Ezekiel on the basis of an era of Nabopolassar, but there is practically nothing further known of this era; and in addition there would be a disagreement here, since Nabopolassar ruled from 625 on, and his 30th year would not harmonize with the year 593 as determined by Ezekiel 1:2 . Just as little can be said for explaining these 30 years as so many years after the discovery of the book of the law in 623, in the reign of Josiah (2 Ki 22 f). For this case too there is not the slightest hint that this event had been made the beginning of a new era, and, in addition, the statement in Ezekiel 1:1 , without further reference to this event, would be unthinkable.
As in the case of the majority of the prophets, legends have also grown around the person of Ezekiel. He is reported to have been the teacher of Pythagoras, or a servant of Jeremiah, or a martyr, and is said to have been buried in the tomb of Shem and Arphaxad. He indeed did stand in close relationship to Jeremiah (see 2, 3 below). Since the publication of Klostermann's essay in the Studien und Kritiken , 1877, it has been customary, on the basis of Ezekiel 3:14 f,26 f; Ezekiel 4:4; Ezekiel 24:27 , to regard Ezekiel as subject to catalepsy (compare the belief often entertained that Paul was an epileptic). Even if his condition, in which he lay speechless or motionless, has some similarity with certain forms of catalepsy or kindred diseases, i.e. a temporary suspension of the power of locomotion or of speech; yet in the case of Ezekiel we never find that he is describing a disease, but his unique condition occurs only at the express command of God (Ezekiel 3:24; Ezekiel 24:25 ); and this on account of the stubbornness of the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:26 ). This latter expression which occurs with such frequency (compare Ezekiel 2:5; Ezekiel 3:9 , Ezekiel 3:27 , etc.) induces to the consideration of the reception which the prophet met at the hand of his contemporaries.
He lives in the midst of briars and thorns and dwells among scorpions (Ezekiel 2:6 ). Israel has a mind harder than a rock, firmer than adamant (Ezekiel 3:8 f). "Is he not a speaker of parables?" is cast up to him by his contemporaries, and he complains to God on this account ( Ezekiel 20:49 ); and God in turn sums up the impression which Ezekiel has made on them in the words (Ezekiel 33:32 ): "Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument; for they hear thy words, but they do them not." They consequently estimate him according to his aesthetic side (compare II, 1, below), but that is all.
2. The Book
(1) Its Genuineness
When compared with almost every other prophetic book, we are particularly favorably situated in dealing with the genuineness of the Book of Ezekiel (compare my work, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Propheten , zugleich ein Protest gegen moderne Textzersplitterung ), as this is practically not at all called into question, and efforts to prove a complicated composition of the book are scarcely made.
Both the efforts of Zunz, made long ago (compare Zeitschrift der deutsch-morgenländishchen Gesellschaft , 1873, and Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden ), and of Seinecke (Geschichte des Volkes Israel , II, 1ff) to prove a Persian or even a Greek period as the time of the composition of the book; as also the later attempt of Kroetzmann, in his Commentary on Ezekiel , to show that there are two recensions of the book, have found no favor. The claim that Ezek 40 through 48 were written by a pupil of Ezekiel was made as a timid suggestion by Volz, but, judging from the tendency of criticism, the origin of these chapters will probably yet become the subject of serious debate. But in general the conviction obtains that the book is characterized by such unity that we can only accept or reject it as a whole, but that for its rejection there is not the least substantial ground. This leads us to the contents.
(2) Its Structure
The parts of the book are in general very transparent. First of all the book is divided into halves by the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem in Ezek 33; of which parts the first predominantly deals with punishments and threats; the other with comfort and encouragement. Possibly it is these two parts of the book that Josephus has in mind when he says (Ant. , X) that Ezekiel had written two books. That the introduction of prophecies of redemption after those of threats in other prophetical books also is often a matter of importance, and that the right appreciation of this fact is a significant factor in the struggle against the attacks made on the genuineness of these books has been demonstrated by me in my book, Die messianische Erwartung der vorexilischen Prophelen (compare 39-40 for the case of Amos; 62ff, 136 f, for the case of Hosea; 197ff for Isa 7 through 12; 238ff for Micah; see also my article in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary ).
Down to the time when Jerusalem fell, Ezekiel was compelled to antagonize the hopes, which were supported by false prophets, that God would not suffer this calamity. Over against this, Ezekiel persistently and emphatically points to this fact, that the apostasy had been too great for God not to bring about this catastrophe. There is scarcely a violation of a single command - religious, moral or cultural - which the prophet is not compelled to charge against the people in the three sections, Ezekiel 3:16; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 20:1 , until in Ezekiel 24:1 , on the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year (589 bc) the destruction of Jerusalem was symbolized by the vision of the boiling pot with the piece of meat in it, and the unlamented destruction of the city was prefigured by the unmourned and sudden death of his wife (see 1 above). After the five sections of this subdivision I, referring to Israel - each one of which subdivisions is introduced by a new dating, and thereby separated from the others and chronologically arranged (Ezekiel 1:1 , with the consecration of the prophet immediately following it; Ezekiel 3:16; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 20:1; Ezekiel 24:1 ) - there follow as a second subdivision the seven oracles against the Ammonites (Ezekiel 25:1 ); the Moabites (Ezekiel 25:8 ); the Edomites (Ezekiel 25:12 ); the Philistines (Ezekiel 25:15 ); Tyre (Ezekiel 26:1 ); Sidon (Ezekiel 28:20 ); Egypt (Ezekiel 29:1 ), evidently arranged from a geographical point of view.
The most extensive are those against Tyre and the group of oracles against Egypt, both provided with separate dates (compare 26:1 through 29:1; Ezekiel 30:20; Ezekiel 31:1; Ezekiel 32:1 , Ezekiel 32:17 ). The supplement in reference to Tyre (Ezekiel 29:17 ) is the latest dated oracle of Ezekiel (from the year 571 bc), and is found here, at a suitable place, because it is connected with a threat against Egypt (Ezek 40 through 48 date from the year 573 according to Ezekiel 40:1 ). The number seven evidently does not occur accidentally, since in other threats of this kind a typical number appears to have been purposely chosen, thus: Isa 13 through 22, i.e. ten; Jer 46 through 51, also ten; which fact again under the circumstances is an important argument in repelling attacks on the genuineness of the book.
Probably the five parts of the first subdivision, and the seven of the second, supplement each other, making a total of twelve (compare the analogous structure of Ex 25:1 through 30:10 under
The second part also naturally fails into two subdivisions, of which the first contains the development of the nearer and more remote future, as to its inner character and its historical course (Ezek 34 through 39): (1) The true shepherd of Israel (Ezek 34); (2) The future fate of Edom (Ezekiel 35:1-15 ); (3) Israel's deliverance from the disgrace of the shameful treatment by the heathen, which falls back upon the latter again (Ezekiel 36:1-15 ); (4) The desecration of the name of Yahweh by Israel and the sanctification by Yahweh (Ezek 36:15-38); (5) The revival of the Israelite nation (Ezekiel 37:1-14 ); (6) The reunion of the separated kingdoms, Judah and Israel (Ezekiel 37:15-28 ); (7) The overthrow of the terrible Gentile power of the north (Ezek 38 f).
The second subdivision (Ezek 40 through 48) contains the reconstruction of the external affairs of the people in a vision, on the birthday of 573, "in the beginning of the year" (beginning of a jubilee year? (Leviticus 25:10 ); compare also DAY OF ATONEMENT ). After the explanatory introduction (Ezekiel 40:1-4 ), there follow five pericopes: (1) directions with reference to the temple (compare the subscription Ezekiel 43:12 ) (Ezek 40:5 through 43:12); (2) The altar (Ezek 43:13 through 46:24); (3) The wonderful fountain of the temple, on the banks of which the trees bear fruit every month (Ezekiel 47:1-12 ); (4) The boundaries of the land and its division among the twelve tribes of Israel (Ezek 47:13 through 48:29); (5) The size of the holy city and the names of its twelve gates (Ezekiel 48:30-35 ).
In (3) to (5) The prominence of the number twelve is clear. Perhaps we can also divide (1) and (2) each into twelve pieces: (1) would be Ezekiel 40:5 , Ezekiel 40:17 , Ezekiel 40:28 , Ezekiel 40:39 , Ezekiel 40:48; Ezekiel 41:1 , Ezekiel 41:5 , Ezekiel 41:12 , Ezekiel 41:15; Ezekiel 42:1 , Ezekiel 42:15; Ezekiel 43:1; for (2) it would be Ezekiel 43:13 , Ezekiel 43:18; Ezekiel 44:1 , Ezekiel 44:4 , Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 45:1 , Ezekiel 45:9 , Ezekiel 45:13 , Ezekiel 45:18; Ezekiel 46:1 , Ezekiel 46:16 , Ezekiel 46:19 .
At any rate the entire second chief part, Ezek 34 through 48, contains predictions of deliverance. The people down to 586 were confident, so that Ezekiel was compelled to rebuke them. After the taking of Jerusalem a change took place in both respects. Now the people are despairing, and this is just the right time for the prophet to preach deliverance. The most important separate prophecies will be mentioned and examined in another connection (II below).
The transparent structure of the whole book suggests the idea that the author did not extend the composition over a long period, but wrote it, so to say, at one stretch, which of course does not make it impossible that the separate prophecies were put into written form immediately after their reception, but rather presupposes this. When the prophet wrote they were only woven together into a single uniform book (compare also
(3) Relation to Jeremiah
As Elijah and Elisha, or Amos and Hosea, or Isaiah and Micah, or Haggai and Zechariah, so too Jeremiah and Ezekiel constitute a prophetic couple (compare 1 above); compare e.g. in later time the sending out of the disciples of Jesus, two by two (Luke 10:1 ), the relation of Peter and John in Acts 3ff; of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13ff; of Luther and Melanchthon, Calvin and Zwingli. Both prophets prophesy about the same time; both are of priestly descent (compare 1 above), both witness the overthrow of the Jewish nation, and with their prophecies accompany the fate of the Jewish state down to the catastrophe and beyond that, rebuking, threatening, warning, admonishing, and also comforting and encouraging.
In matters of detail, too, these two prophets often show the greatest similarity, as in the threat against the unfaithful shepherds (Ezekiel 34:2; Jeremiah 23:1 ); in putting into one class the Northern and the Southern Kingdom and condemning both, although the prediction is also made that they shall eventually be united and pardoned (Ezek 23; 16; Jeremiah 3:6; Ezekiel 37:15; Jeremiah 3:14-18; Jeremiah 23:5 f; 30 f); in the individualizing of religion (compare the fact that both reject the common saying: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," Ezekiel 18:2; Jeremiah 31:29 ); in their inwardness (Ezekiel 36:25; Jeremiah 24:7; Jeremiah 31:27-34; Jeremiah 32:39; Jeremiah 33:8 ); in their comparisons of the coming judgment with a boiling pot (Ezekiel 24:1; Jeremiah 1:13 ); and finally, in their representation of the Messiah as the priest-king (see 1 above; namely, in Ezekiel 21:25 f; Ezekiel 45:22; compare Jeremiah 30:21; Jeremiah 33:17; see II, 3, and my work Messianische Erwartung , 320ff, 354ff). Neither is to be considered independently of the other, since the prophetical writings, apparently, received canonical authority soon after and perhaps immediately after they were written (compare the expression "the former prophets" in Zechariah 1:4; Zechariah 7:7 , Zechariah 7:12 , also the constantly increasing number of citations from earlier prophets in the later prophets, and the understanding of the "exact succession of the prophets" down to Artaxerxes in Josephus, CAp , I, 8), it is possible that Ezekiel, with his waw consecutivum , with which the book begins, is to be understood as desiring to connect with the somewhat older Jeremiah (compare a similar relation of Jonah to Obadiah; see my articles "Canon of the OT" and "Jonah" in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary ).
(4) Fate of the Book and Its Place in the Canon
With Jeremiah and Ezekiel, many Hebrew manuscripts, especially those of the German and French Jews, begin the series of "later prophets," and thus these books are found before Isaiah; while the Massorah and the manuscripts of the Spanish Jews, according to the age and the size of the books, have the order, Isa, Jer, Ezk. The text of the book is, in part, quite corrupt, and in this way the interpretation of the book, not easy in itself, is made considerably more difficult. Jerome, Ad Paul ., writes that the beginning and the end of the book contained many dark passages; that these parts, like the beginning of Gen, were not permitted to be read by the Jews before these had reached their 30th year. During the time when the schools of Hillel and Shammai flourished, Ezekiel belonged to those books which some wanted "to hide," the others being Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Canticles. In these discussions the question at issue was not the reception of the book into the Canon, which was rather presupposed, nor again any effort to exclude them from the Canon again, which thought could not be reconciled with the high estimate in which it is known that Est was held, but it was the exclusion of these books from public reading in the Divine service, which project failed. The reasons for this proposal are not to be sought in any doubt as to their authenticity, but in reference to their contents (compare my article "Canon of the Old Testament," in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary ). Possibly, too, one reason was to be found in the desire to avoid the profanation of the most sacred vision in the beginning of the book, as Zunz suggests. There is no doubt, however, that the difference of this book from the Torah was a reason that made it inadvisable to read it in public. It was hoped that these contradictions would be solved by Elijah when he should return. But finally, rabbinical research, after having used up three hundred cans of oil, succeeded in finding the solution. These contradictions, as a matter of fact, have not yet been removed, and have in modern times contributed to the production of a very radical theory in criticism, as will be shown immediately under II, 2.
II. Significance of Ezekiel in Israel's Religious History
Under the first head we will consider the formal characteristics and significance of the book; and the examination of its contents will form the subject under the next four divisions.
1. Formal Characteristics of Ezekiel
It is not correct to regard Ezekiel merely as a writer, as it is becoming more and more customary to do. Passages like Ezekiel 3:10 f; Ezekiel 14:4; Ezekiel 20:1 , Ezekiel 20:27; Ezekiel 24:18; Ezekiel 43:10 f show that just as the other prophets did, he too proclaimed by word of mouth the revelations of God he had received. However, he had access only to a portion of the people. It was indeed for him even more important than it had been for the earlier prophets to provide for the wider circulation and permanent influence of his message by putting it into written form. We will, at this point, examine his book first of all from its formal and its aesthetic side. To do this it is very difficult, in a short sketch, to give even a general impression of the practically inexhaustible riches of the means at his command for the expression of his thoughts.
Thus, a number of visions at once attract our attention. In the beginning of his work there appears to him the Divine throne-chariot, which comes from the north as a storm, as a great cloud and a fire rolled together. This chariot is borne by the four living creatures in the form of men, with the countenances of a man, of a lion, of an ox and of an eagle, representing the whole living creation. It will be remembered that these figures have passed over into the Revelation of John (Revelation 4:7 ), and later were regarded as the symbols of the four evangelists. In Ezek 10 f this throne-chariot in the vision leaves the portal of the temple going toward the east, returning again in the prediction of deliverance in Ezek 43. Moreover, the entire last nine chapters are to be interpreted as a vision (compare Ezekiel 40:2 ). We must not forget, finally, the revivification of the Israelite nation in Ezek 37, represented in the picture of a field full of dead bones, which are again united, covered with skin, and receive new life through the
As a rule the visions of Ezekiel, like those of Zechariah (compare my article "Zechariah" in Murray's Illustrated Bible Dictionary ), are not regarded as actual experiences, but only as literary forms. When it is given as a reason for this that the number of visions are too great and too complicated, and therefore too difficult of presentation, to be real experiences, we must declare this to be an altogether too unsafe, subjective and irrelevant rule to apply in the matter. However, correct the facts mentioned are in themselves they do not compel us to draw this conclusion. Not only is it uncertain how many visions may be experiences (compare e.g. the five visions in Am 7ff, which are generally regarded as actual experiences), but it is also absolutely impossible to prove such an a priori claim with reference to the impossibility and the unreality of processes which are not accessible to us by our own experience. As these visions, one and all, are, from the religious and ethical sides, up to the standards of Old Testament prophecy, and as, further, they are entirely unique in character, and as, finally, there is nothing to show that they are only literary forms, we must hold to the conviction that the visions are actual experiences.
(2) Symbolical Acts
Then we find in Ezekiel, also, a large number of symbolical acts. According to Divine command Ezekiel sketches the city of Jerusalem and its siege on a tile (Ezekiel 4:1 ); or he lies bound on his left side, as an atonement, 390 days, and 40 days on his right side, according to the number of years of the guilt of Israel and Judah (Ezekiel 4:4 ). During the 390 days the condition of the people in exile is symbolized by a small quantity of food daily of the weight of only 20 shekels, and unclean, being baked on human or cattle dung, and a small quantity of water, which serves as food and drink of the prophet (Ezekiel 4:9 ).
By means of his beard and the hair of his head, which he shaves off and in part burns, in part strikes with the sword, and in part scatters to the wind, and only the very smallest portion of which he ties together in the hem of his garment, he pictures how the people shall be decimated so that only a small remnant shall remain (Ezekiel 5:1 ). In Ezek 12, he prepares articles necessary for marching and departs in the darkness. Just so Israel will go into captivity and its king will not see the country into which he goes (compare the blinding of Zedekiah, 2 Kings 25:7 ). In Ezekiel 37:15 , he unites two different sticks into one, with inscriptions referring to the two kingdoms, and these picture the future union of Israel and Judah. It is perhaps an open question whether or not some of these symbolical actions, which would be difficult to carry out in actuality, are not perhaps to be interpreted as visions; thus, e.g. the distributing the wine of wrath to all the nations, in Jeremiah 25:15 , can in all probability not be understood in any other way. But, at any rate, it appears to us that here, too, the acceptance of a mere literary form is both unnecessary and unsatisfactory, and considering the religio-ethical character of Ezekiel, not permissible.
In regard to the numerous allegories, attention need be drawn only to the picture of the two unfaithful sisters, Oholah and Oholibah (i.e. Samaria and Jerusalem), whose relation to Yahweh as well as their infidelity is portrayed in a manner that is actually offensive to over-sensitive minds (Ezek 23; compare Ezek 16). In Ezek 17, Zedekiah is represented under the image of a grapevine, which the great eagle (i.e. the king of Babylon) has appointed, which, however, turns to another great eagle (king of Egypt), and because of this infidelity shall be rooted out, until God, eventually, causes a new tree to grow out of a tender branch.
Of the lamentations, we mention the following: according to Ezekiel 19:1-14 , a lioness rears young lions, one after the other, but one after the other is caught in a trap and led away by nose-rings. The ones meant are Jehoahaz and certainly Jehoiachin. The lion mother, who before was like a grapevine, is banished (Zedekiah). Another lamentation is spoken over Tyre, which is compared to a proud ship (compare Ezekiel 27:1 ); also over the king of Tyre, who is hurled down from the mountain of the gods (Ezekiel 28:11-19 ); and over Pharaoh of Egypt, who is pictured as a crocodile in the sea (Ezekiel 32:1 ).
That his contemporaries knew how to appreciate the prophet at least from the aesthetic side, we saw above (I, 1). What impression does Ezekiel make upon us today, from this point of view? He is declared to be "too intellectual for a poet"; "fantastic"; "vividness in him finds a substitute in strengthening and repetition"; "he has no poetical talent"; "he is the most monotonous prose writer among the prophets." These and similar opinions are heard. In matters of taste there is no disputing; but there is food for reflection in the story handed down that Frederick yon Schiller was accustomed to read Ezekiel, chiefly on account of his magnificent descriptions, and that he himself wanted to learn Hebrew in order to be able to enjoy the book in the original. And Herder, with his undeniable and undenied fine appreciation of the poetry of many nations, calls Ezekiel "the Aeschylus and the Shakespeare of the Hebrews" (compare Lange's Commentary on Ezk, 519).
2. Ezekiel and the Levitical System
(1) Ezekiel 44:4 : Theory That the Distinction of Priests and Levites Was Introduced by Ezekiel
(A) The Biblical Facts
In the vision of the reconstruction of the external relations of the people in the future (Ezek 40 through 48), in the second pericope, which treats of the cult (43:13 through 46:24; compare I, 2, 2), it is claimed that Ezekiel, at the command of Yahweh, reproaches the Israelites that they engage in their room strangers, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh, to take charge of the service of Yahweh in the sanctuary, instead of doing this service themselves, and thus desecrate the temple (Ezekiel 44:4-8 ). From now on the Levites, who hitherto have been participating in the service of the idols on the high places and had become for Israel an occasion for guilt, are to attend to this work. They are degraded from the priesthood as a punishment of their guilt, and are to render the above-mentioned service in the temple (Ezekiel 44:9 ), while only those Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who had been rendering their services in the sanctuary in the proper way, while Israel was going astray, are to be permitted to perform priestly functions (Ezekiel 44:15 ).
(B) Modern Interpretation of This Passage
The modern interpretation of this passage (Ezekiel 44:4 ) is regarded as one of the most important proofs for the Wellhausen hypothesis. Down to the 7th century bc it is claimed that there are no signs that a distinction was made between the persons who had charge of the cults in Israel, and this is held to be proved by the history of the preceding period and by the Book of Deuteronomy, placed by the critics in this time. It is said that Ezekiel is the first to change this, and in this passage introduces the distinction between priests and the lower order of Levites, which difference is then presupposed by the Priestly Code. According to this view, the high priest of the Priestly Code, too, would not yet be known to Ezekiel, and would not yet exist in his time. More fully expressed, the development would have to be thought as follows: the Book of Deuteronomy, which abolished the service on the high places, and had introduced the concentration of the cults, had in a humane way provided for the deposed priests who had been serving on the high places, and, in Deuteronomy 18:6 , had expressly permitted them to perform their work in Jerusalem, as did all of their brethren of their tribe, and to enjoy the same income as these. While all the other Deuteronomic commands had in principle been recognized, this ordinance alone had met with opposition: for in 2 Kings 23:9 we are expressly told that the priests of the high places were not permitted to go up to Jerusalem. Ezekiel now, according to Wellhausen's statement, "hangs over the logic of the facts a moral mantle," by representing the deposition of the priests of the high places as a punishment for the fact that they were priests of the high places, although they had held this position in the past by virtue of legal right.
It is indeed true, it is said, that these priests did not submit to such a representation of the case and such treatment. The violent contentions which are said to have arisen in consequence are thought to have their outcome expressed in Nu 16 f (the rebellion of Korah, the budding staff of Aaron). The Priestly Code, however, continued to adhere to the distinction once it had been introduced, and had become a fact already at the return in 538 bc (compare Ezra 2:36 ), even if it was found impossible to limit the priesthood to the Zadokites, and if it was decided to make an honorable office out of the degraded position of the Levites as given by Ezekiel. The fact that, according to Ezra 2:36-39 , in the year 538 bc, already 4,289 priests, but according to Ezra 2:40 , only 74 Levites, returned, is also regarded as proving how dissatisfied the degraded priests of the high places had been with the new position, created by Ezekiel, to which they had been assigned. With the introduction of the
(C) Examination of Theory
Both the exegesis of Ezekiel 44:4 and the whole superstructure are in every direction indefensible and cannot be maintained (compare also my work, Are the Critics Right? 30ff, 124ff, 196ff).
(i) Not Tenable for Preëxilic Period
Proof that the hypothesis cannot be maintained for the preëxilic period. The claim that down to the 7th century bc there did not exist in Israel any distinction among the persons engaged in the public cults is in itself an absurdity, but has in addition against it the express testimony of history. In preëxilic times the high priest is expressly mentioned in 2 Kings 12:9; 2 Kings 22:4 , 2 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 23:4 . Accordingly he cannot have been a product of the post-exilic period. The rank of an Eli (1 Sam 1ff), Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21:1-15 f), Abiathar ( 1 Kings 2:26 f), Zadok ( 1 Kings 2:35 ), is vastly above that of an ordinary priest. The fact that the expression "high priest" does not happen to occur here is all the less to be pressed, as the term is found even in the Priestly Code only in Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 35:25-28 . From Deuteronomy 10:6; Joshua 24:33; Judges 20:28 , we learn that the office of high priest was transmitted from Aaron to his son, Eleazar, and then to his son, Phinehas (compare also Numbers 25:11 ). Before the time of Eli, according to 1 Chronicles 24:3 , it had passed over to the line of the other surviving son of Aaron, that of Ithamar, but, according to 1 Kings 2:26 f,35, at the deposition of Abiathar and the appointment of Zadok, it returned again to the line of Eleazar (compare 1 Samuel 2:27 , 1 Samuel 2:28 , 1 Samuel 2:35 f with 1 Chronicles 24:3 ). Distinctions within the tribe are also expressly presupposed by Jeremiah 20:1; Jeremiah 29:25 f,29; Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18 . In the same way Levites are expressly mentioned in history (compare Judges 17:1-13 f; 19 through 21; 1 Samuel 6:15; 2 Samuel 15:24; 1 Kings 8:3 ). This very division of the priestly tribe into three parts possibly suggested the three parts of the temple of Solomon (the holy of holies, the holy place, the forecourt). According to all this, it is not possible that this distinction is not found in Deuteronomy, especially if this book was not written until the 7th century bc and throughout took into consideration the actual condition of affairs at that time, as is generally claimed. But this difference is found in Deuteronomy, the false dating of which we can here ignore, and is probably suggested by it; for, if this were not the case, then the addition of the words "the whole tribe of Levi" to the words "Levitical priests" in Deuteronomy 18:1 would be tautology. But as it is, both expressions already refer to what follows: namely, Deuteronomy 18:3-5 to the priests and Deuteronomy 18:6 to the rest of the Levites. In the same way, the Levites are in Deuteronomy 12:12 , Deuteronomy 12:18 f; Deuteronomy 14:27 , Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11 , Deuteronomy 16:14 the objects of charity, while Deuteronomy 18:3 prescribes a fixed and not insignificant income for the priests. Then, finally, such general statements as are found in Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 18:2; Deuteronomy 33:8 , not only demand such specific directions as are found only in the Priestly Code (P), but in Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:2 there is a direct reference to Numbers 18:20 , Numbers 18:24 (from P). On the other hand, Deuteronomy, in harmony with its general tendency of impressing upon Israel in the spirit of pastoral exhortation the chief demands of the law, does not find it necessary, in every instance, to mention the distinctions that existed in the tribe of Levi.
In Numbers 18:7 we have in P even an analogon to Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 33:8; since here, too, no distinction is made between priests and high priests separately, but the whole priestly service is mentioned in a summary manner (compare further Leviticus 6:22 in comparison with Leviticus 6:25; Nu 35 in comparison with Josh 21). That Deuteronomy cannot say "Aaron and his sons," as P does, is certainly self-evident, because Aaron was no longer living at the time when the addresses of Deuteronomy were delivered. And how the expression "Levitical priests," which Deuteronomy uses for the expression found in the Priestly Code (P), and which was entirely suitable, because under all circumstances the priests were of the tribe of Levi, is to be understood as excluding the subordinate members of the cults-officers belonging to the same tribe, is altogether incomprehensible (compare the emphasis put on the Levitical priesthood in P itself, as found in Numbers 17:1-13; Joshua 21:4 , Joshua 21:10 ). So are other passages which originated at a time after the introduction by Ezekiel, or, according to the critics, are claimed to have been introduced then (compare Malachi 2:1 ,Malachi 2:4 , Malachi 2:8; Malachi 3:3; Jeremiah 33:18; Isaiah 66:21; 2 Chronicles 5:5; 2 Chronicles 23:18; 2 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 30:27 ), and even in Ezek (Ezekiel 44:15 ). The claims that Dt is more humane in its treatment of the priests who had engaged in the worship in high places (compare e.g. 2 Ki 22 f) cannot at all be reconciled with Dt 13, which directs that death is to be the punishment for such idolatry. If, notwithstanding this, it is still claimed that Deuteronomy 18:6 allows the priests of the high places to serve in Jerusalem, then it is incomprehensible how in 2 Kings 23:9 these men did not appeal directly to Dt in vindication of their rights over against all hindrances, since Dt was regarded as the absolute norm in carrying out the cult tradition.
(ii) Not Sustained by Ezekiel
Examination of the hypothesis on the basis of Ezekiel: No less unfavorable to the view of the critics must the judgment be when we examine it in the light of the contents of Ezekiel itself. The prophet presupposes a double service in the sanctuary, a lower service which, in the future, the degraded priests of the high places are to perform and which, in the past, had been performed in an unlawful manner by strangers (Ezekiel 44:6-9 ), and a higher service, which had been performed by the Zadokites, the priests at the central sanctuary, in the proper way at the time when the other priests had gone astray, which service was for this reason to be entrusted to them alone in the future (compare, also, Ezekiel 40:45 , Ezekiel 40:46; Ezekiel 43:19 ). Since in Ezekiel 44:6 the sharpest rebukes are cast up to Israel (according to the reading of the Septuagint, which here uses the second person, even the charge of having broken the covenant), because they had permitted the lower service to be performed by uncircumcised aliens, it is absolutely impossible that Ezekiel should have been the first to introduce the distinction between higher and lower service, but he presupposes this distinction as something well known, and, also, that the lower service has been regulated by Divine ordinances. As we have such ordinances clearly given only in Numbers 18:2 (from P) it is in itself natural and almost necessary that Ezekiel has reference to these very ordinances, but these very ordinances direct that the Levites are to have charge of this lower service. This is confirmed by Ezekiel 48:12 f, where the designation "Levites" in contradistinction from the priests is a fixed and recognized term for the lower cult officials. For Ezekiel has not at all said that he would from now on call these temple-servants simply by the name "Levites," but, rather, he simply presupposes the terminology of P as known and makes use of it. He would, too, scarcely have selected this expression to designate a condition of punishment, since the term "Levites" is recognized on all hands to be an honorable title in the sacred Scriptures. And when he, in addition, designates the Zadokites as "Levitical priests" ( Ezekiel 44:15 ), this only shows anew that Ezekiel in his designation of the lower temple-servants only made use of the terminology introduced by P.
But, on the representation of the critics, the whole attitude ascribed to Ezekiel cannot be upheld. It is maintained that a prophet filled with the highest religious and ethical thoughts has been guilty of an action that, from an ethical point of view, is to be most sharply condemned. The prophet is made to write reproaches against the people of Israel for something they could not help (Ezekiel 44:6 ), and he is made to degrade and punish the priests of the high places, who also had acted in good faith and were doing what they had a right to do (Ezekiel 44:9; compare "the moral mantle" which, according to Wellhausen, "he threw over the logic of facts"). Ezekiel is accordingly regarded here as a bad man; but at the same time he would also be a stupid man. How could he expect to succeed in such an uncouth and transparent trick? If success had attended the effort to exclude from the service in Jerusalem the priests of the high places according to 2 Kings 23:9 , and notwithstanding Deuteronomy 18:6 , which according to what has been said under (a) is most improbable, then this would through the action of Ezekiel again have been made a matter of uncertainty. Or, was it expected that they would suffer themselves to be upraided and punished without protesting if they had done no wrong? Finally, too, the prophet would have belonged to that class whose good fortune is greater than their common sense. This leads us to the following:
(iii) Not Supported by Development After Ezekiel
Examination of the development after the time of Ezekiel: Ezekiel's success is altogether incomprehensible, if now the distinction between priests and Levites has, at once, been introduced and at the return from captivity, in the year 538 (Ezra 2:36 ), certainly was a fact. It is true that we at once meet with a host of difficulties. Why do only 74 Levites return according to Ezra 2:40 if their degradation from the ranks of the priesthood through Ezekiel had not preceded? asks the Wellhausen school. Why did any Levites, at all, return, if they had been so disgraced? is our question. But, how is it at all possible that so many priests could return (4,289 among 42,360 exiles, or more than one-tenth of the whole number; compare Ezra 2:36-38 with Ezra 2:64; but many more than one-tenth if women are included in the 42,360), if, since the times of Ezekiel, there were none other than Zadokite priests? In examining the writers claimed as the authors of the Priestly Code (P), all those difficulties recur again which are found in the case of Ezekiel himself. That Nu 16 f indicates and reflects the opposition of the degraded is nothing but an unproved assertion; but if they had revolted, which was probable enough, then there would have been no worse and more foolish means than to change the degraded position of the Levites according to Ezekiel into the honorable position assigned them in the Priestly Code (P). This would only have made the matter worse. The Levites would again have been able to claim their old rights and they would have acquired the strongest weapons for their opposition. The fact that Ezekiel's restoration of the priesthood to the Zadokites would have been ignored by the Priestly Code (P), as also the descent of Aaron through Eleazar and Ithamar, according to the account of the Priestly Code (P), that is, that in reality also others were admitted to the priesthood, would only have the effect of making those who still were excluded all the more rebellious, who could app
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Ezekiel'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​e/ezekiel.html. 1915.