A PROPHET WITHIN AND AGAINST HIS CONTEXT: THE TECHNIQUE AND PURPOSE OF EZEKIEL’S PROPHECY

Ezekiel appears as an outlier from ancient Near Eastern and biblical prophetic texts. From the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, Ezekiel employs unconventional means to communicate his message to his audience. Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer summarizes these features of Ezekiel’s prophecy and how they challenge the modern reader:
“The prophet Ezekiel often exhibits strange behaviors and states: muteness (Ezek 3:26), visionary traveling (Ezek 1; 8–11; 37; 40–48), emotional paralysis after his wife’s death (Ezek 24:15–27), pornographic language (Ezek 16; 23) and sign acts (Ezek 4:1–5:4), such as acting out of the siege of Jerusalem with the help of a tile and an iron griddle (Ezek 4:1–3), and lying on one side for 390 days (Ezek 4:4–8), to name but a few. Given such behavior, scholars have from time to time argued that Ezekiel, as a literary figure and/or as the author of the book, was a psychotic who suffered from a paranoid condition” (Tiemeyer, 227). However, when examined against the context of ancient Near Eastern prophecy, Ezekiel’s prophecy is also devoid of two central components shared by the prophetic texts in Mari and Nineveh: namely that of divination (or technical prophecy) and of the absolute evaluation of prophecy by the king.
In this paper, I will argue that Ezekiel must be read within and against the context of ancient Near Eastern prophecy. When read within the context of ANE prophecy, Ezekiel’s dramatic reenactments function as typical rhetorical techniques by which a prophet would communicate his message. However, when read against the context of ANE prophecy, Ezekiel’s lack of interest in the affirmation of the king reveals his unique purpose. Rather than finding commission and validation in the king, Ezekiel displays his prophetic commission as a true prophet of YHWH. I will develop my thesis by first demonstrating the shared features of intuitive prophecy within the prophetic texts in Mari and Nineveh with those in the book of Ezekiel. Given these similarities, Ezekiel’s dramatic reenactments function as rhetorical techniques within the shared genre of ANE prophecy. Next, I will examine how prophecy was validated within the texts of Mari and Nineveh compared to the book of Ezekiel. While the Mari and Nineveh texts demonstrated an exclusive commitment to their political king, biblical prophecy displays an exclusive relationship to YHWH as Israel’s king. By reading the text in this manner, I argue that Ezekiel’s unusual prophetic enactments serve as valid means of persuasion, which communicate his unique commissioning by YHWH in a way that would have been persuasive within his ancient Near Eastern context.

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