Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Crane, Ashley S., Israel's Restoration: A Textual-Comparative Exploration of Ezekiel 36–39 (VTSup, 122; Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2008). Pp. xvii+304. Hardcover. US$147.00. ISBN 978-90-04-169623.

Israel's Restoration: A Textual-Comparative Exploration of Ezekiel 36–39 is an in-depth analysis of the different Hebrew and Greek manuscript traditions that underlie Ezekiel 36–39. The goal of the study is not to arrive at finding an “original” Hebrew text, or even to decide on the “better” reading. Rather, Crane desires “to treat each text as an interpretive trajectory witness from the scribe or community wherein it originated” (p. 2). Even where it may be determined that the translator of the LXX was dependent upon a text earlier than the Masoretic Text (MT), Crane is not concerned to “correct” the MT: rather both are acknowledged and celebrated as separate interpretive viewpoints. This volume thus seeks to study the reception and interpretation of the text(s) within various scribal communities rather than to explore the meaning of an “original text.” On Crane's approach, there is little interest in an “original text,” only in a selection of equally valid textual traditions, which are informed by different perspectives and different historical and theological/political agendas. These are not to be pitted against one another but all celebrated equally.

After a first chapter introduces this textual-comparative methodology, the second surveys the oldest extant manuscripts of Ezekiel 36–39. Whereas the oldest Hebrew manuscripts seem to agree closely with the MT, the three oldest Greek manuscripts—Papyrus 967 (P967), Codex Vaticanus (GB) and Codex Alexandrinus (GA)—show significant deviations from one another and from the MT. In particular, P967 exhibits a different chapter order, inserting chapters 38 and 39 before chapter 37, and omitting 36:23c–38. The bulk of the book is devoted to analyzing the verse-by-verse differences between these different Greek and Hebrew witnesses for Ezekiel 36–39.

After this thorough survey is complete, a chapter is devoted to P967, exploring and evaluating various proposals which seek to account for the distinctive omission and reordering of the text, and reaching the conclusion that it is a credible witness of a pre-Masoretic Hebrew text. Crane then discusses when and why the reordering that resulted in the present MT might have taken place and what theological significance it might have. He suggests that the different location of Ezekiel 37 in the MT and P967 give a different significance to the resurrection of the dry bones that it describes. In P967, where Ezekiel 37 follows chapter 39, the dry bones are simply the literal remains of the Israelite dead from the defeat of Gog: their resurrection and the reunion of Israel under a peaceful Davidic shepherd are then anticipated as taking place in a distant eschatological context, whereas in the MT they are the prerequisite that takes place before Israel's final struggle against Gog. Crane suggests that the more timeless message of P967 “may reflect the eschatology of a writer living in exile” (p. 252), while the change in focus represented by the MT tradition serves as a call to post-exilic Israel to unite and gather against her enemies (p. 254). By bringing the future promises into the present, this emphasis better fitted Israel's needs during the Hasmonean period, when Antiochus IV might have been identified as the Gog from the north, and the nation needed to unite against this common foe (p. 257). This scenario would also fit the time period of the Roman invasion in 63 BCE (p. 258). The addition to chapter 36 was subsequent to the reordering and added a call to purity, introducing and explaining the vision of the dry bones, which now ex hypothesi became a metaphorical description of moral and/or spiritual resurrection, rather than a literal resurrection.

There is no question that the textual history of the OT/HB is a complex issue, in which differences between manuscripts may not merely be due to copyists' errors but in at least some cases to competing versions of a text. It seems entirely plausible that in the case of Ezekiel 36–39, the differences in order between the MT and P967 are not arbitrary. Someone may well have had an agenda. However, it seems to me an extremely speculative task to reconstruct the motivation for that change since we have no objective data as to who reordered the text or when. In particular, it is hard to explain how a text that had achieved the level of reverence that Crane ascribes to it on p.257 could so easily have been tampered with for distinct theological reasons, and then the evidence of the former edition almost completely expunged from the record. It will not do simply to argue that the new text “makes good moral and spiritual sense…yet with military overtones” (p. 257), since apparently the old text made even better sense. Moreover, anyone who reads the Gog narrative as a militaristic call to action (a long but problematic interpretive tradition of a text in which Israel's only actual responsibility is to bury the dead bodies) could as easily read it in the same way in a text that the follows the order in P967. In addition, while the order of the chapters in P967 solves some logical problems (for example, it allows the conclusion of chapter 37 to lead directly into chapter 40), it also creates others. For example, how can the dry bones in chapter 37 be the bones of the Israelites slain in the conflict with Gog, if the role of Israel in that conflict is simply to stand back and watch the Lord at work (see 39:9)?

Notwithstanding these observations, this book provides a valuable resource for those interested in the relationship of different manuscripts and text traditions of the OT/HB.

Iain M. Duguid, Grove City College, Grove City, PA