Author.

The Book of Ezekiel tells relatively little that is explicit concerning the figure for whom it is named, and apart from brief references in Sirach (49.8–9) and 4 Maccabees (18.17) he is not mentioned by name elsewhere in the Bible. Ezekiel, whose name means “God strengthens,” was of priestly lineage, son of Buzi (1.3). Along with other Judeans, he suffered deportation to Babylon following the surrender of Jehoiachin in 598/597 BCE (1.1; cf. 2 Kings 24.12–16). Ezekiel received his prophetic calling in Babylon in 593 (1.1); his age at the time is not recorded. It is disputed whether some or even all of Ezekiel's ministry actually took place in Jerusalem rather than in Babylonia, as various of his words could suggest. According to the book's dates, he continued to receive divine communications until at least 571 (29.17). Nothing is mentioned in the Bible concerning the circumstances of his death; much later tradition states that he was murdered by one of the leaders of the exiles whose idolatry he had denounced, and that he was buried near Babylon.

Unlike his near contemporary Jeremiah, Ezekiel appears as an outwardly stoical, highly self‐controlled and somewhat passive personality, who, for example, follows without demur Yahweh's directive not to mourn the death of his beloved wife (24.15–18). On occasion, however, he does venture a protest or appeal in the face of what is communicated to him (4.14; 9.8; 11.13). It is likewise clear that Ezekiel's call to herald Judah's doom caused him profound distress (3.14–15). The response to Ezekiel's message seems to have been much less overtly hostile than was true in the case of Jeremiah. In fact, there are several references to his being respectfully consulted by the leaders of the exiles (8.1; 14.1; 20.1). Finally, the content of Ezekiel's book reveals him as a man of wide learning.

Arrangement/Divisions.

The individual units of Ezekiel's material have been arranged in their present sequence on the basis of considerations of chronology and content. First of all, more so than with any other prophetic book, there seems to have been a concern with giving the dated texts of Ezekiel—there are some fifteen of these—in their correct chronological order; only twice does a deviation occur (29.1; 29.17). The materials, however, are grouped by content into three large‐scale segments. Words of doom against Judah/Jerusalem are concentrated at the beginning of the book (chaps. 1–24); oracles against various foreign nations follow (chaps. 25–32); and texts concerning the eventual restoration of Yahweh's people predominate in the concluding segment (chaps. 33–48). The intention behind this sequencing (which can be seen also in the book of Zephaniah, Isaiah 1–35, and the Septuagint text of Jeremiah) is for the book to culminate on an upbeat note. This principle of arrangement, however, is not followed with complete consistency; chaps. 1–24 contain promises of salvation (e.g., 17.22–24), while an oracle against Edom (chap. 35) stands with the concluding segment (chaps. 33–48).

Within each of these three major divisions, one may readily identify various distinct blocs of material. Within chaps. 1–24, the vision sequences of 1.1–3.27 and 8.11–11.25 stand out. In chaps. 25–32, brief oracles against Judah's near neighbors (chap. 25) are followed by extensive discourses of doom concerning Tyre (chaps. 26–28) and Egypt (chaps. 29–32). The final segment, chaps. 33–48, comprises a series of generalized promises of Jewish revival (chaps. 34–37) and a detailed blueprint for the reconstruction of the cult (chaps. 40–48), with chap. 33 serving as transition from what precedes and the Gog oracles (chaps. 38–39) as a kind of interlude.

Literary Features.

As a piece of writing, the book of Ezekiel presents a variety of noteworthy peculiarities, four of which are singled out here. First, certain fixed expressions, which are either unique to Ezekiel or especially favored by him in the Bible as a whole, recur repeatedly, thereby unifying the book terminologically. Examples include “son of man” (NRSV: “mortal”) as a title/address for the prophet (roughly one hundred occurrences: 2.1; etc.); “rebellious house” (twelve times: 2.5; etc.); “to execute judgments on” (nine times: 5.10; etc.); “set your face toward/against” (nine times: 6.2; etc.); “and they/you shall know that I am the Lord” (about fifty times: 6.7; etc.); “to bear disgrace” (eleven times: 16.52; etc.). Second, in articulating its message, the book makes use of a rich variety of literary forms: vision accounts (e.g., 37.1–14), sign narratives (e.g., 12.1–11), allegories (e.g., 17.1–24), laments (e.g., 27.1–36), judgment speeches (e.g., 13.1–23), salvation oracles (e.g., 36.37–38), disputations (e.g., 33.10–20), legal prescriptions (e.g., 44.15–31). Frequently, too, Ezekiel's literary forms are complex entities, incorporating into themselves a number of subgenres; see, for example, chap. 17, an allegory that contains both a judgment speech (17.15–21) and a salvation oracle (17.22–24). Third, Ezekiel's style evidences a consistent tendency toward prolixity and a graphic excess in the handling of traditional imagery; see, for example, his treatment of the conjugal metaphor for Israel's relation to Yahweh in chaps. 16, 20, and 23. Last, in its heavy use of metaphorical language and avoidance of proper names for contemporary figures (curiously, “Ezekiel” occurs only twice: 1.1; 24.24), the book makes a somewhat disembodied impression. Accordingly, it is not surprising that both the locality of the prophet's ministry and the date of the book's composition—it has been dated variously from the age of Manasseh in the mid‐seventh century BCE to the Hellenistic period—have long been controverted.

Theology.

Ezekiel's God is above all a “holy” being (36.23), that is, one who utterly transcends human comprehension, manipulation, and calculation. This quality of Yahweh finds manifold expression throughout the book. Ezekiel refrains from any direct claims to have seen the deity (see 1.26–28; cf. Isa. 6.1). Yahweh remains free to rebuff human inquiries (14.3; 20.3); he can void the schemes of practitioners of magic (13.20–23). The movements and fates of the great world powers, such as Babylon (29.20) and Gog (38.2–3), are just as much under his control as is the destiny of Israel itself. Yahweh has the capacity to manifest himself outside the land of Israel (1.1); he is able to withdraw his presence from the Temple (11.23), and later to return there as he wills (43.1–4). He acts, unconstrained by any human claim, for his own purposes (36.22).

At the same time, however, the holy Yahweh is also a God who has freely but passionately and irrevocably committed himself to the people of Israel. Like Hosea and Jeremiah, Ezekiel develops this dimension of Yahweh's being and activity by using conjugal imagery (chaps. 16; 20; 23). Yahweh carefully and tenderly nourished the cast‐off child Israel as his future bride (16.3–14). At present, he is punishing her for her persistent infidelities, but ultimately he will not abandon his spouse to her misery and sinfulness. Rather, he will restore her prosperity and give her the inner capacity to live in faithfulness to him (see, e.g., 36.26–30). In all of this, the transcendent God is intimately and continuously involved in human history, to the end that, finally, both Israel and the nations will know him as the sole, truly efficacious deity (39.22–23, 28).

Anthropology.

Ezekiel's anthropology is characterized by an underlying unresolved tension. On the one hand, he is the Hebrew Bible's great advocate of individual responsibility (18.1–32). Ezekiel is likewise commissioned precisely in order to summon his hearers to conscious decision about their behavior options (3.16–21; 33.7–16). On the other hand, however, Ezekiel's words disclose an overwhelming pessimism concerning the people's capacity ever to choose rightly. For him, unlike Hosea (3.15) and Jeremiah (2.2–3), there never was a honeymoon period in Israel's relation to Yahweh. Already during her time in Egypt (16.26; 20.8), as well as ever since, Israel has consistently chosen other gods in preference to Yahweh. Judah learned nothing from Yahweh's punishment of the northern kingdom, only redoubling her own idolatry in the face of that experience (23.11). Although Ezekiel's hearers may not actively persecute him, neither do they give much attention to his warnings (12.26; 20.49; 33.20–33). Such circumstances suggest that the exhortations Ezekiel is sent to deliver are futile (2.7); what is needed, rather, is a direct intervention by Yahweh that will produce a transformed, obedient heart in his people (11.18–19; 36.26–27). Ultimately, like so many theologians after him, Ezekiel is left affirming both realities, human freedom and divine grace, without being fully able to account for their interplay.

Biblical Affinities.

The book of Ezekiel manifests significant links with a wide range of other biblical traditions. Ezekiel is familiar with the creation myths incorporated into the primeval history of Genesis (29.16; 31.8–9; 36.35). From the historical traditions of Israel, he cites the figures of Abraham (33.24), Jacob (37.25), and David (34.23; 37.24). In common with Deuteronomic tradition, he emphasizes the centrality of the Law, its observance, and especially its nonobservance, in the unfolding of the Yahweh‐Israel relationship. His affinities with the Priestly (P) material of the Pentateuch, above all the “Holiness Code” (Lev. 17–26), both in content and phraseology, are especially marked; compare, for example, Ezekiel 44.22 with Leviticus 21.7, 13–15, and Ezekiel 44.25–27 with Leviticus 21.1–3. Similarly, Ezekiel displays many similarities with the teachings of the contemporary prophetic figures Jeremiah and Second Isaiah, including marital imagery, hopes for an inner transformation of the people, renewal of their covenant with Yahweh, and recognition by the nations of Yahweh's sole deity (see Monotheism). The elaborateness of the accounts of his vision and the cosmic terms in which he describes God's interventions against the enemies of his people (32.7–8; 38.19–22) anticipate later apocalyptic writing.

The book of Ezekiel is cited directly in the New Testament only rarely; see, for example, 2 Corinthians 6.16 = Ezekiel 37.27. On the other hand, its imagery often provides a point of departure for presentations of various New Testament authors, such as the allusions to Ezekiel 34 in Jesus' contrasting of himself as good shepherd with the Jewish leadership (John 10), and the use in Revelation 22.1–2 of Ezekiel 47.1–12, which describes elements of the vision of water from the temple. Thus, the book of Ezekiel, which itself brings together so many earlier streams of tradition, came to serve as a source of still more comprehensive literary and theological developments in early Christian writing.

Christopher T. Begg