Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review
Michael A. Lyons' An Introduction to the Study of Ezekiel is an excellent intermediate-level exploration of the book of Ezekiel. Lyons has written the book as a basic explanation of the content of Ezekiel and also as a representative example of a constructive way to explore the biblical prophetic literature (p. 5). Lyons achieves both of these goals in a book that is easy to navigate, clearly written, and impeccably researched.
Lyons begins by grounding his examination of Ezekiel in trauma literature, and goes on to use this framework throughout the various parts of the book (p. 1). The book of Ezekiel is thus described as a document fundamentally concerned with addressing the trauma of exile and the resulting theodicy. Lyons quite correctly uses this as his primary lens for understanding the message and format of the book. This is not a myopic concern, and he certainly engages in all of the varied interpretive conversations necessary when exploring a prophetic book, but this question of exile and trauma returns to the surface on a regular basis, and forms the backbone of Lyons' understanding of Ezekiel.
Lyons' book is subdivided into four core chapters. Chapter 1 is concerned with questions related to Ezekiel the man and the prophet, and with the literary features of the book of Ezekiel. Lyons' conclusions here tend to be measured, and well within the range of scholarly consensus. For instance, he regards Ezekiel as an historical person, and the provenance of at least some of the material of the book to be Babylonian, in keeping with the purported context of Ezekiel's prophecies, but Lyons also refuses to be dogmatic about these conclusions and recognizes that Ezekiel offers the reader relatively little biographical or historical information (p. 9). Regarding the literary structure and content of Ezekiel, Lyons provides a helpful overview of key features, and notes both those elements that are in keeping with prophetic literature in general (such as the use of relatively common forms of prophetic literature) and those elements that appear to be more or less distinctive to Ezekiel (such as distinct metaphors or some of Ezekiel's peculiar formulaic expressions).
Chapter 2 explores models of the creation and development of the book of Ezekiel into its final form. Lyons emphasizes that these models are our best attempts to account for the data that we see, and not definitive or universally agreed-on statements of how the book grew into the form(s) in which we now have it (p. 49). Lyons gives a good sense of the spectrum of scholarly opinion on the degree to which Ezekiel has been redacted into its final form. Here he displays sensitivity to issues of orality and textuality, as well as to questions of genre, and provides some helpful concrete examples of evidence of redactional activity in Ezekiel for readers to consider. Throughout this discussion Lyons considers questions of rhetorical strategy as it relates to the development and placement of various pieces of the book of Ezekiel, and provides a helpful presentation of some possible ways in which the book may have developed. Lyons' approach throughout is mediating and measured, giving attention to both diachronic and synchronic concerns.
Chapter 3 examines issues of theme and theology in Ezekiel. Here Lyons explores those topics that are central to the book, and contextualizes these within his broader framework of trauma and exile. Lyons begins by exploring the key characters in Ezekiel's prophecies, Israel and YHWH, and the ways in which they relate to one another. Lyons then moves on to a discussion of the land as a key theme, and then finally to the temple, which naturally includes a significant discussion of Ezekiel 4048. The thematic nature of this chapter means that it is here that Lyons addresses (or at least explores) some of the most difficult and violent content of Ezekiel. I was grateful to see that he neither shied away from such conversations, nor imposed unfair or anachronistic criticisms upon the text. Again, his discussion is critical yet measured throughout.
Chapter 4, which also serves as a conclusion to the book, is Lyons' most focused and intentional exploration of trauma and exile. While those issues make up the background of much of the rest of the book, here Lyons brings such questions to the fore and engages them more directly. He divides this chapter into a discussion of the problems or trauma experienced by the people, and a discussion of the problems inherent in the people. Lyons presents the book as a difficult and often harsh indictment of the people. Ezekiel's strategy for dealing with the pain and theodicy of destruction and exile is to throw responsibility upon his addressees. As Lyons puts it, Israel has rebelled against God, and therefore deserves the punishment (p. 184).
As an introduction to the prophetic book of Ezekiel Lyons' work is exemplary. His research throughout is up-to-date and thorough, his writing is accessible and clear, and his regular and consistent return to the source material of Ezekiel itself keeps the reader's attention on the prophetic book instead of on secondary scholarly conversations. While it was probably beyond the scope of this work, it would have been interesting to see more discussion of the reception of Ezekiel in later Jewish and Christian sources. Lyons hints at such questions in both his introduction and conclusion, and he is clearly well versed in the Second Temple period reception of Ezekiel. More on this question would have been valuable for intermediate students of the book. Still, all in all this is a very good introduction to Ezekiel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. For students engaged in focused study of Ezekiel particularly, and the prophetic literature generally, this is an ideal resource.