Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review
It has been a real delight to read Pieter de Vries's fine study on the topic of the Kābôd of YHWH in the Old Testament with particular reference to the book of Ezekiel. This monograph is de Vries's second doctoral dissertation, originally published in 2010 in Dutch. I am glad that it was translated into English, making it more accessible to a wider readership.
The book begins with a brief history of scholarship written on the topic of God's glory in the Old Testament since 1900. This is followed by two chapters that focus on the semantic value of כָּבוֹד, its collocations with other words, the frequency and dissemination of כָּבוֹד and its various synonyms in the Old Testament. In addition to discussing the Hebrew nouns for glory, de Vries examines the verbs used together with various glory terms and their occurrences in different contexts and genres within the biblical corpus. This section and approach is one of the book's many strengths. Some scholarly works on divine glory have limited their studies primarily to the occurrences of the most common noun (כָּבוֹד) for glory rather than including all its synonyms, associated verbs, and imagery. In this way de Vries's study is comprehensive and includes excellent appendices demonstrating his research in this area. In fact, one of the best aspects about this book is the extensive research de Vries has done on glory terms, synonyms, verbs, collocations, and imagery. The book by de Vries is arguably one of the most comprehensive studies done on the subject and thus is an invaluable resource for those desiring to do further study on God's glory in the Old Testament.
Next de Vries surveys glory texts in the Old Testament corpus excluding Ezekiel. Here he follows the order of the Hebrew canon, the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. Following this general survey of divine glory in the rest of the Old Testament, de Vries turns his attention to Ezekiel. As indicated by the subtitle of the book, his study is more detailed when it comes to analyzing the book of Ezekiel. Here he even examines passages within the book of Ezekiel that do not explicitly use any glory terms, whether nouns or verbs, in order to set the topic within the larger context of the book. This is a distinctive aspect of his approach that is very helpful. The final chapter concludes with a comparison of his findings from his study of the כָּבוֹד of YHWH in Ezekiel with the rest of the Old Testament, highlighting similarities, differences, and distinctive features in each book.
One of the main arguments that de Vries makes concerns the notion of hypostasis. Although he acknowledges that it is anachronistic to adopt a term used in Christian theology to discuss the Trinity and to apply it to Old Testament texts (p. 56), he finds hypostasis a helpful concept for understanding the כָּבוֹד of YHWH in a number of texts, particularly in the Pentateuch and in Ezekiel. His definition of hypostasis as he applies it to the כָּבוֹד of YHWH is: to indicate that a quality or aspect of YHWH can be portrayed as an independent entity (p. 56) and be made visible to humans. In addition, de Vries adopts this notion not only where the כָּבוֹד of YHWH is described in terms of human personhood but also when we see mention of a fire or an effulgence that has a degree of independence from the identity of YHWH himself (p. 56). He does, however, admit that it is not always clear whether hypostasis is present in certain texts and that ambiguity and fluidity of meaning exist (p. 57). Throughout his study, de Vries qualifies his conclusions whenever the concept of hypostasis in a text is ambiguous.
Although de Vries sees this concept present in other biblical texts, he concludes that the כָּבוֹד of YHWH as hypostasis occurs most prominently in the Pentateuch and Ezekiel (p. 351). His adoption of this notion, however, raised some questions. Since the concept of hypostasis was such an important part of his study, I would have liked to have seen more elaboration on the meaning and significance of God manifesting himself visibly as an independent being through his כָּבוֹד. What are the implications of this in terms of understanding the nature of God's glory?
In his analysis of Ezekiel, I appreciated how de Vries demonstrated the connections and interrelatedness between Ezek 139 and Ezek 4048 rather than treating Ezek 4048 separately from the rest of the book as is often done (p. 299). In so doing, he emphasized the organic unity of the book of Ezekiel as a whole. In addition he deliberately chose to do a very detailed analysis of every chapter of the final vision in Ezek 4048, even though the glory of YHWH is only explicitly mentioned in Ezek 4344 (p. 300), demonstrating how these other chapters also shed light on the theme of God's glory. He sees a chiastic structure in chapters 4048 (p. 301) and discusses how these chapters illuminate the theme of God's glory. He argues that, the whole final vision makes clear that heaven will as it were descend to earth (p. 300) and the new sanctuary itself is of a supernatural effulgence (p. 300). Thus, the detailed description of the temple building, the temple worship, and the renewed land all relate to and reflect the glory of YHWH (p. 348). I found this careful analysis of Ezekiel's final vision quite interesting and enlightening. It is one of the unique features and contributions of his study, differentiating it from other works on God's glory.
In conclusion, de Vries argues that his study has demonstrated that Ezekiel is the prophet of the glory of YHWH, citing Ben Sirah 49:8 (p. 374). Even though other Old Testament books, like Psalms and Isaiah, surpass Ezekiel in the number of references to כָּבוֹד, Ezekiel speaks of seeing the glory of YHWH and describes what he saw more extensively than any other prophet or book in the Old Testament. In addition Ezekiel uses כָּבוֹד exclusively for YHWH throughout the book, with the one exception of Ezek 39:21 (pp. 351, 374). This is another reason he gives in support of his argument that Ezekiel is the prophet of God's glory.
De Vries's study is very thorough and comprehensive in scope. The breadth and extent of his research is clearly demonstrated in his footnotes and bibliography. In fact, his footnotes are a treasure trove for scholars. Besides the Hebrew Masoretic Text, he refers to the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Aramaic Targums, Rabbinic writings, Church Fathers, and other ancient manuscripts. Although he did cite the New Testament at times, I was surprised that he did not refer to it more since the New Testament writers speak extensively about God's glory. Other than this, his notes and charts demonstrate extensive research.
Throughout the monograph, de Vries cites the Hebrew as well as Greek, Aramaic, Latin and German. Sometimes he gives the meaning of the words in English in brackets but many times he does not. Although I really appreciated being able to read the Hebrew and Greek instead of having to read transliteration, it would have been helpful if he had also put the English meaning in brackets more often than he did. Although I am aware that this was a doctoral dissertation written for a scholarly audience, adding the English meaning would have made his work more accessible and user-friendly for non-academics especially since this publication was a translation from Dutch into English.
Finally, I appreciated that de Vries did not restrict his study to the book of Ezekiel alone but chose to compare it with the rest of the Old Testament corpus on divine glory in order to see both similarities and differences between them. In this way, he highlighted what was distinctive in each biblical book and, particularly, in Ezekiel. This was a very positive and fruitful way of approaching the subject. I really enjoyed reading de Vries's masterful work and highly recommend it to those who want to explore this important scholarly topic.