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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Historical Background.

1.

Ezekiel is set in Babylon, beginning in the fifth year of Judah's Babylonian exile (593 BCE). Ezekiel was apparently brought to Babylon with the first group of exiles following Nebuchadrezzar's 597 BCE capture of Jerusalem. Zedekiah, the monarch chosen in 597 by Nebuchadrezzar to replace the rebellious and now exiled Jehoiachin, remained loyal to Babylon for only a few years, and in 594 BCE hosted an international meeting of regional leaders in Jerusalem, apparently to plan rebellion against Babylon. In 593 BCE Zedekiah was summoned by Nebuchadrezzar to Babylon, presumably to account for his actions and to renew his loyalty oath. Zedekiah's planned rebellion and subsequent reprimand by Nebuchadrezzar may have formed the occasion for Ezekiel's inaugural vision and call to speak against the ‘rebellious nation’ of Israel ( 2:3 ). Ezekiel considered Zedekiah's oath of loyalty to Babylon binding. According to 2 Chr 36:13 , the oath had been sworn in the name of God (YHWH), and thus its abrogation violated YHWH's honour and constituted rebellion against YHWH.

2.

Zedekiah seems to have continued to court illicit alliances, and in 592 BCE the Egyptian Pharaoh Psammeticus II (595–589 BCE) toured Palestine in a show of military power, clearly violating the Judean–Babylonian covenant. In addition to violating Zedekiah's covenant with Nebuchadrezzar (the covenant described in Ezek 17 as YHWH's own covenant), evidence from the Rylands IX Papyrus (Griffith 1909 ) indicates that Psammeticus stationed Egyptian priests in the land of Israel, thus compounding Judah's treaty violation with ritual abomination. The defilement of both name and temple represented by Psammeticus's 592 visit may have occasioned Ezekiel's vision, dated to the same year, of abominations taking place in the Jerusalem temple (chs. 8–11 ). Sometime following Psammeticus's visit Zedekiah withheld tribute from Babylon, relying on an Egyptian alliance for protection. In 588 BCE Nebuchadrezzar campaigned through Judah, destroying several large towns before laying siege to Jerusalem. The Egyptian army under the command of Pharaoh Apries (Hophra; 589–570 BCE) offered token resistance before withdrawing, leaving Jerusalem to the Babylonians, who in 586 BCE captured and burned the city. Zedekiah escaped by night, but was overtaken by the Babylonians at Riblah and forced to witness the killing of his two sons before being himself blinded. Massive deportations followed Nebuchadrezzar's victory, and Zedekiah was replaced by Gedaliah, a non-Davidic overseer whose title is not specified in either Israelite or Babylonian sources. Nebuchadrezzar continued his attempt to subdue the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, undertaking a siege of Tyre that was to last thirteen years (586–573) and ultimately fail. The latest dated oracle in Ezek ( 29:17–21 , dated to 571 BCE) promises Nebuchadrezzar Egypt as compensation for his ill-fated efforts in besieging Tyre. Nebuchadrezzar apparently shared Ezekiel's hopes regarding Egypt; Babylonian texts report a battle between the Babylonian and Egyptian armies in Egypt in 568 or 567 BCE, but no more is known about Nebuchadrezzar's Egyptian campaign(s).

3.

The living conditions of the exiled Israelites are widely debated. Scholars have tended to emphasize either the individual and communal trauma entailed in the loss of family members and homeland or the exiles' ability to maintain their communal identity and social structures while in Babylonia. Both aspects of the exilic experience must be held in tension: the community was allowed to preserve its language, religion, and some forms of internal governance (i.e. elders). This same community, however, bore the scars of war and displacement, and many in Babylon were conscripted into forced labour corvées. Ezekiel, a priest of sufficient prominence to have been included in the deportation of the ‘upper stratum’ in 597, appears to have retained some status within the exiled community, as evidenced by the formal visits from the elders described in 8:1; 14:1 ; and 20:1 . Ezekiel's primary concern is with theology rather than with subsistence, and his oracles tend to be directed to (or against) elders, princes, and other prophets. Even the likelihood that Ezekiel was a writing prophet would suggest that he lived in relative security and stability.

The relationship between the exiled community and those in the homeland seems to have been a complex one. Ezekiel's preoccupation with Jerusalem and Judah reveals not only his priestly concern over the temple and its destruction, but also the people's questions as to how to understand their own experiences vis-à-vis those of the population still in Israel. Popular concern for the welfare of family and friends back home was tempered by a sense of competition over which segment of the divided community now held hegemony over the Israelite land and cultural identity. Ezekiel, though critical of both the exiles and those in the land, sees the exiles, whose number includes figures such as himself who represent the status quo ante, as retaining God's favour and thus a claim to prominence in any future reconstruction of Israel.

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