Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review
Zechariah and His Visions by Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer is a volume devoted to the visions of Zechariah, a book that is part exegetical commentary and part monograph. On the one hand, it is part exegetical commentary because Tiemeyer treats each of the visions in sequence, offering thorough summaries of the history of interpretive problems and offering her own solutions along the way. On the other hand, the volume is part monograph because Tiemeyer argues throughout that the opacity of Zechariah's report often becomes clear if we take seriously the notion that the prophet Zechariah actually saw visions.
There are twelve chapters in all and the book is essentially divided into two parts, chapters 14, which could be conceived of as front matter, and chapters 512, which could be conceived of as the commentary proper. Chapter 1 discusses whether visions and dreams in the Hebrew Bible are conceived of as different phenomena, with Tiemeyer concluding that while there may have been slight distinctions between the two, an ancient Israelite/Judean would have thought of them as virtually the same thing. Chapter 2 discusses more of the same but this time in light of the Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Aramaic textual evidence. Chapter 3 discusses specifically the phenomenon of a vision and whether a vision's literary character and/or dependence on previous literature militates against viewing the vision as something a person actually experienced. Tiemeyer argues that the record of a vision may indeed be literary and may indeed share vocabulary and ideas with previous literature but nevertheless may still be understood as reflecting an actual experience. Chapter 4 discusses the structure of Zechariah's vision report, in which Tiemeyer helpfully describes Zechariah's vision report as a three-tiered reality. Level 1 is essentially the basic level of narration, where Zechariah's consciousness is not distorted and recounts what he saw in his vision to his listeners or readers. Level 2 is the realm where Zechariah is said to be sleeping or in some kind of trance and is found discussing matters with an interpreting angel. Finally, level 3 is the place where Zechariah sees the visions which the interpreting angel shows to him. On occasion, Zechariah and the interpreting angel may move from one level to the next and back throughout the vision. Understood in this framework, some of the interpretive difficulties found in Zechariah's visions fall to the side. For instance, Zech 4:1 merely refers to Zechariah returning from level 3 to level 2. Also, one can make sense of the different angels found in the vision. The angel of YHWH is found solely in level 3 of the visions, while the interpreting angel is found in level 2 (predominately) and level 3 (occasionally).
The remaining chapters (chapters 512) treat each vision in sequence (a chapter for each vision). Here Tiemeyer surveys the interpretive history of each passage and offers her own interpretation of each exegetical problem, but also argues that many of the exegetical difficulties throughout the visions can be resolved if one understands the content of the visions as an actual record of what Zechariah actually saw. For instance, in Zechariah's first vision, the fact (1) that horses talk, (2) that the number and colors do not correlate between this vision and the last vision, and (3) that there is no explanation of their significance in the oracular material of Zech 1:1217, is actually not an interpretive difficulty at all if Zechariah actually saw a vision (p. 6283); for, (1) horses certainly could talk in a visionary realm, (2) different visionary experiences may have scenes of horses with different numbers and colors, and (3) Zechariah may have been unable to find any contemporaneous significance in the horses and thus chose not to comment on them (p. 83).
Tiemeyer's three-level understanding of Zechariah's visions is helpful, as noted above, though one wonders whether her synchronic reading of the visions in light of such a three-tiered structure is problematized if diachrony is brought into the conversation. Tiemeyer should also be commended for exploring the question of how interpretation is affected if we read a visionary account with the view that a person actually saw a vision. Here, however, there are a few questions to consider with such a project. First, can we really get behind the text to access Zechariah's vision? All one has is a text, and we do not know if that text is unadulterated. For instance, Zechariah may not have accurately recorded his vision, since the vision was dependent upon his memory the minute the visionary episodes concluded. Moreover, we do not know if the oracular materialwhich offered a subsequent interpretation of the visionsaffected how the prophet described his visions. That is, the visions may have been written already with the oracular interpretation in mind, thus preventing one from getting behind the vision. (Tiemeyer actually seems to concede that this actually is the case, but upon my reading does not address how to get around this problem [p. 44]). Second, even if Zechariah did see visions and his description of the visions preserve them in a pure way, how conditioned by society and current social circumstances were the thoughts and things Zechariah saw? That is, it may have been the case that Zechariah's own unique experience (p. 41) was not so unique after all. Thus, if what Zechariah saw was indeed fully conditioned by his current social situation, then, in some instances, interpretive difficulties may not be so easily resolved by suggesting Zechariah would not have known their significance because they probably would have had significance discernible to him and his hearers/readers.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for people interested in general in prophecy, visions, dreams, and apocalypses and in the book of Zechariah and the early Persian period. The book is full of exegetical and interpretive insights, and the summary of scholarship for the key interpretive issues is invaluable. Also, although I myself, as noted, have questions about the methodology, Tiemeyer's book is a welcome fresh attempt at taking phenomenology seriously.