Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Joyce, Paul M., and Dalit Rom-Shiloni, eds., The God Ezekiel Creates (LHBOTS, 607; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015). Pp. 232. Paperback. US $31.73. ISBN: 9780567658586.

The God Ezekiel Creates features a collection of nine essays and one response emerging from the SBL's section on “Theological Perspectives on the Book of Ezekiel” between the years of 2010 and 2012. As the title of the volume suggests, God may easily become fashioned according to human likeness, a point reinforced by MacDonald's concluding response. The variety of contributions present disparate views of God, as portrayed by the book of Ezekiel, that are held in tension with one another; as such, the volume offers an illuminating glimpse into the state of Ezekiel research. In what follows, I will offer a brief evaluation of the individual contributions while grouping them into related conversations.

Much like C. S. Lewis's Aslan, the deity described by Ezekiel is anything but tame.[1] This point is brought home by Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, Ellen van Wolde, and Corrine Carvalho in their reflections on divine terror and violence, as well as the experience of trauma. Darr presents a rebuttal of Stulman's assertion that the traumatic experience of exile informs Ezekiel's picture of God as terrorized and humiliated, fleeing like an exile from the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 8–11).[2] In his essay, Block notably supports Darr's critique of Stulman for subjectively transferring human trauma directly to the deity. However, Block himself is interested in rescuing the deity's honor to counteract negative portrayals of Ezekiel's God by critical scholarship. Like Stulman, Block's own approach clearly draws on a Christian hermeneutic in order to discern traces of the deity's grace, love, and compassion offered to Israel. His intent to defend the deity from harsh descriptions is admirable; yet by his own admission, specific language describing God's love and favor is often lacking in the book.

Without discouraging the value of trauma studies for biblical studies, Darr aptly warns against approaches that make Ezekiel's deity more palatable to the reader, a deity who is pictured not as suffering servant but as vengeful and punitive to God's own people. Ellen van Wolde reinforces Darr by pointing out the “terrifying power” of Yhwh in Ezek 1 where menacing sights and sounds—clouds, lightening, storm, and overpowering radiance—suggest that this God is not to be trifled with (p. 106).

Corrine Carvalho explores the more positive side of divine violence in the book of Ezekiel, when God strikes down Gog and his hordes in successive scenes of a bloody battle (Ezek 38–39). Viewed from the perspective of the exiles' recent traumatic experience with war, the Gog pericope presents a symbolic experience of battle in which God's mere appearance deals the enemy a devastating blow from which it cannot recover. What the scene creates is a virtual reality in which the exiles may triumph over their colonizers by virtue of their warrior God.

As the foregoing essays demonstrate, reckoning with the deity's actual traits as portrayed by Ezekiel better informs approaches that attempt to parse the text for signs of psychological distress or its extreme theocentric perspectives.

Other contributions in this volume address Ezekiel's engagement with various streams of Israelite and ancient Near Eastern tradition to sketch the deity's likeness. For John Strong, Ezekiel's God remains untransformed from the God of his fathers: the Divine King enthroned on Mt. Zion. Thus, Ezekiel toes the line on traditional Zion theology despite a glaring omission of Zion references and language in the book, an omission that prompts most critics to doubt the prophet's uncritical acceptance of Zion theology. For Strong, preexilic Zion theology is less about Jerusalem's inviolability than it is the freedom of the kabod (כבוד), the deity's hypostasis, to roam about the earth. Its absence from the Jerusalem temple in Ezekiel (Ezek 8–11) is just a temporary removal and does nothing to disprove the prophet's Zionist idealism. Though Strong persuasively calls into question critical assumptions about Zion theology inasmuch as God as king and Jerusalem as divine abode are reaffirmed by Ezekiel, it is far from clear that Zion theology, as the prophet inherited it, remains intact.

Madhavi Nevader tackles yet another subject on which the prophet is curiously silent and judges that creation traditions are absent for calculated reasons. Unlike Deutero-Isaiah, Ezekiel does not enter Yhwh into the contest for creation against the reigning rival, Marduk. Instead, Ezekiel changes the rules of theological debate and subversively takes creation off the table as the signature of divine superiority par excellence. Though Nevader may fail to convince critics who insist that Ezekiel draws on creation traditions in Gen 1–3, her essay raises important considerations given complexities concerning Ezekiel's tenuous relation to Genesis, textual priority, and key distinctions between the Greek and Masoretic traditions of Ezekiel.

Stephen Cook explores Ezekiel's development of traditional material from the Holiness School (HS) according to which the deity's kabod is embodied, described in anthropomorphic terms (e.g., Ezek 1:26; 8:2), and situated within the Israelite temple in order to “indwell God's people tangibly” (p. 138). Like other critics who embrace the distinction between HS and Priestly Torah (PT) strands of the Pentateuch, Cook convincingly recognizes that the temple blueprint in Ezek 40–48 draws on HS conceptions of God and temple to present a “transfigured earthly temple,” complete with “strict new rules” of access, in order to ensure that the divine glory will not again depart from its resting place (pp. 140, 141). Cook's innovation lies in a perceived hypostatic union of God's presence that informs Ezekiel's temple blueprint: the kabod (כבוד) is God's self—the deity's embodied, localized, and sanctifying presence; the spirit (רוח) is the deity's transcendent, non-lethal, empowering presence. The deity's dual presence inspires the vision of a utopian temple whose controlled structures allow God to dwell with humans; yet that vision never parts with the pessimistic reality that human structures are inevitably flawed and require audience participation to implement change.

Marvin Sweeney subverts the book's topic in “The Ezekiel that G-d Creates” and offers a compelling theological analysis by which to understand the scope of the book. Its trajectory, he argues, is structured around the years of the prophet's ministry which correlate with the twenty years of priestly service (cf. Num 4:3, 23, 30). The dates in Ezekiel largely confirm this trajectory (1:1–3; 40:1); however, the latest oracle, Ezek 29:17, falls outside the chronological scheme. According to this priestly scheme, the thrust of the book is about purification—of Jerusalem, the land, even all creation—that God must personally enact because there is no temple. To be sure, virtually no part of the book is untouched by priestly themes, and Ezek 36 makes clear that the purification of Israel is one of God's restorative acts. However, it is questionable that purification is as far reaching as Sweeney imagines, given that the foreign nations are persistently aligned with death and impurity (cf. esp. Ezek 26–32).

From a philosophical perspective, Dexter Callender detects in Ezekiel's depiction of the divine identity, especially through the repeated use of the recognition formula, something akin to Jacques Lacan's conception that language contains within it a negation of the “real.”[3] Presumably, Ezekiel and his editors are keenly aware of the ambiguity of language associated with the deity's identity, which they periodically subvert in pursuit of the real (e.g., consider the supposed divine statutes that are “not good” in Ezek 20:25). It may be unnecessary to see Ezekiel and his editors as the forerunners of Lacanian ideas as MacDonald observes in his response essay; however, Lacanian thought, despite its own nexus of ambiguity, serves as a valuable heuristic tool by which to probe the problem of human subjectivity as it relates to the use of language to convey the divine self.

On the whole, the volume of essays invites deep reflection on the interests of texts and readers in the portrayal of Ezekiel's God. It is accessible to advanced undergraduate and graduate students and is a worthy read for anyone interested in Ezekiel scholarship.

Sara Wells, Fuller Theological Seminary

[1] C. S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–56; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 2001). reference

[2] Cf. Louis Stulman, “Speaking on Behalf of the Losers: Reading Ezekiel as Disaster/Survival Literature” (Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the SBL, New Orleans, LA, 22 November 2009); Louis Stulman and Hyun Chul Paul Kim, You are My People: An Introduction to the Prophetic Literature (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2010), 158. reference

[3] See Bruce Fink, The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995). reference