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The Structure and Intention of Ezekiel I

Author(s): Leslie C. Allen


Source: Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 43, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1993), pp. 145-161
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Vetus TestamentumXLIII, 2 (1993)

THE STRUCTURE

AND INTENTION

OF EZEKIEL I1

by

LESLIE C. ALLEN
Pasadena, California

The question of the purpose of Ezekiel's inaugural vision may be


given a simple and unsatisfying answer: it recounts the selfrevelation of the God who invested Ezekiel with his prophetic commission. This answer is inadequate because it at once raises another
question: what is the particular character of this God? It is this
second question that those commentators who have tackled the
issue of intention have sought to resolve. A representative review
of their answers will be preceded by a study of the structure of Ezek.
i, which will uncover its individuality and, it is hoped, establish
guidelines for understanding its intention.
Topical Structure
Some of the older critical scholars offered divisions of the vision
account in Ezek. i by distinguishing between its topical episodes.
Thus Ferdinand Hitzig in the course of his exegesis divided the
account into a general statement in v. 4 and then descriptions of the
living creatures in vv. 5-14 and of the wheels and how they moved
in vv. 15-21, and finally an account of a platform above the
creatures and above that the throne and its divine occupant in vv.
21-8.2 Rudolph Smend3 and Alfred Bertholet4 offered a similar
scheme, except that they both split vv. 5-14 into vv. 5-12 and 13-14,
concerning the coals of fire. Richard Kraetzschmar went further,
by not only isolating vv. 13-14 but also envisioning two sections at
1 This article is a
longer and revised version of a paper presented at the 1991
Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Kansas City, Missouri. I
am grateful for the stimulating discussion that followed it.
2 Der Prophet Ezechiel
(Leipzig, 1847), pp. 5-11.
3 Der
Prophet Ezechiel (Leipzig, 1880), pp. 7-14.
4Das Buch Hesekiel (Freiburg, 1897), pp. 3-8.

146

LESLIE C. ALLEN

the end, vv. 22-5 concerning the firmament-platform and the noise
of the creatures' wings beneath it, and vv. 26-8 concerning the
throne and the glorious figure upon it.5
Thereafter a diachronic approach to the chapter, involving
extensive text and redaction criticism, tended to rule out the
earlier, relatively unsophisticated schematization. However, in
1953 Ernst H6hne, who apart from a few textual changes regarded
the chapter as a basic unit, presented an outline midway between
Hitzig's and Kraetzschmar's. He distinguished the features of the
cloud in v. 4, the living creatures and the fire in vv. 5-14, the wheels
in vv. 15-21 and the divine form in vv. 26-8, with vv. 22-5 functioning as a transitional section.6 In more recent times the emergence
of a synchronic perspective has led to renewed division of the vision
account on topical lines. Thus Daniel I. Block has found an introduction in v. 4 and a summary statement in v. 28, while vv. 5-14,
15-21 and 22-7 form intervening sections;7 this scheme is in effect
a refinement of Hitzig's. Similarly Ronald M. Hals has referred to
v. 4 as an introductory description and v. 28ay as a summary label,
with four inner sections of specific description, in vv. 5-14, 15-21,
22-5, and 26-28ay.8 Moshe Greenberg in the course of a synopsis
has demarcated vv. 4, 5-8a, 8b-12, 13, 14-21, 22-4, and 25-8 as
episodes, though he also observes that vv. 4 and 27-8 "form an
envelope for the entire section".9
RhetoricalStructure
It may be asked whether such varying attempts to divide the
account into sections can be resolved by recourse to rhetorical
criticism, in its left-brain form advocated by James Muilenburg,
which searches for objective markers in the movement of a text.
Muilenburg himself briefly found structural significance in the
repetition of demut "likeness", which occurred for him at the

Das Buch Ezechiel (G6ttingen, 1900), p. 7.


Die ThronwagenvisionHesekiels. Echtheit und Herkunft der Vision Hes. 1, 4-28 und
ihrer einzelnen Zuge (unpublished dissertation, Erlangen, 1953), pp. 84-101.
7 "Text and Emotion: A
Study in the 'Corruptions' in Ezekiel's Inaugural
Vision (Ezekiel 1:4-28)", CBQ 50 (1988), p. 424.
8 Ezekiel
(Grand Rapids, 1989), pp. 12-14.
9 Ezekiel 1-20. A New Translation with Introductionand Commentary(Garden City,
N.Y., 1983), pp. 51-52.
5
6

EZEKIEL I

147

beginning of each of the major sections and climactically three


times in the final section.10 Subsequently he referred to the term as
"the keynote of each section", noting that it occurs in vv. 5, 10, 13,
16, 22, and 26, and finding two "divisions" consisting of three sections each and beginning in vv. 4 and 15.11 The first division is
apparently made up of vv. 4-9, 10-12 and 13-14, and the second of
vv. 15-21, 22-5, and 26-28a. However, in v. 13 demutpresents syntactical and exegetical problems. LXX ev JJcpa "among" and the
parallel benotin x 7 seem to attest a superior text; even Greenberg
has judged that "MT appears to be a corruption of' benot([n. 9]
p. 46). More probably the original was mittdk"among" :12 the form
benotis a redactional element characteristic of ch. x, and the shorter
form ben occurs later in i 13, while iv(Tco) xL`aco
renders mittokin i
2-5. Accordingly, one of Muilenburg's sections, vv. 13-14, is no
longer discernible; moreover, his apparent isolation of vv. 10-12 is
a questionable innovation.
H. Van Dyke Parunak advanced the rhetorical understanding of
the vision account by his proposals that vv. 4 and 26-8 form a
chiastic inclusio around three sections, vv. 5-14, 15-21 and 22-5,
and that each of the five overall sections contains a keyword, kecen
"like the gleam of", in vv. 4, 7, 16, 22 and 27.13 The chiastic
inclusio consists of storm language, ruah secdra ... Cdnan "storm
wind ... cloud" (A, v. 4aa), wenogah lo sdbzb "and it had
brightness around" (B, v. 4ay), and kecFnhahasmal "like the gleam
10 "Form Criticism and
Beyond", JBL 88 (1969), p. 18.
' "Ezekiel",
in Peake's Commentaryon the Bible (London, 1962), p. 571.
12 Thus
J. Herrmann, Ezechiel (Leipzig, 1924), p. 3; G. Fohrer and K. Galling,
Ezechiel (Tiibingen, 1955), p. 11. It may be suggested that demut originated as a
comparative gloss that alluded to the sequence fdmut ... hayyot ... mar'ehen "the
likeness of ... living creatures ... their appearance" in v. 5. Subsequently demut
was taken as a correction of the graphically look-alike mittokand displaced it. G.R.
Driver's attempt to interpret demtt as "midst" ("Linguistic and Textual
Problems in Ezekiel", Bib 19 [1938], p. 61) is unconvincing; neither the New
English Bible nor the Revised English Bible adopted it. Block, CBQ 50 (1988), pp.
433-9, has urged that the MT may be retained throughout ch. i, explaining its lack
of coherence in terms of Ezekiel's emotional state in setting it down almost
immediately after experiencing it. However, the vision account gives an impression of subsequent reflection; moreover, the apparently defective state of the text
in many places has parallels elsewhere in the book, such as in ch. xxxii, where
emotion can hardly have been the cause of the incoherence.
13 Structural Studies in Ezekiel (unpublished dissertation, Harvard,
1978), pp.
123-6; "The Literary Architecture of Ezekiel's Marodt 2Elohim", JBL 99 (1980),
p. 63.

148

LESLIE C. ALLEN

of amber (?)" (C, v. 4bp, and its reverse in v. 27ao (C', kecn
hasgma),in v. 27by(B'), and in v. 28aa (A', becanan... haggesem"in
the cloud ... the rain").'4 He evidently linked v. 26 with vv. 27-8
by dint of content rather than by any stylistic criterion.
Parunak's scheme may be refined at a couple of points. First, G.
del Olmo Lete has drawn attention to the parallelism between vv.
lb3 and 28ba: the repeated form wader'eh"and I saw" (as distinct
from the short form wd>ere)in vv. 4, 15, 27) has a general introductory role, in association with the dating of the vision, and a concluding role, in conjunction with Ezekiel's reaction.15 Within these
limits the detailed account begins with its own introduction in vv.
3b-416 and concludes with the climatic vv. 26-28a. Second, and
more importantly, there are four close links between vv. 3b-4 and
26-28a on the one hand, and vv. 13-14 on the other: (i) 'S "fire"
occurs in vv. 4, 13 (three times) and 27;'7 (ii) the storm phenomena
of vv. 4 and 28a recur in v. 14, with habbdzdq "the (lightning)
flash";'8 (iii) beside wenogahlo sdbib in vv. 4 and 27-and also hanProposals to pare down v. 4 drastically, current since Herrmann (n. 12), pp.
1-2, appear to be based on an unawareness of the role of repetition in Hebrew
literature.
15 La vocaciondel l'der en el
antiguo Israel. Morfologia de los relatos biblicos de vocacidn
(Salamanca, 1973), pp. 300, 316. It is generally acknowledged that vv. 2-3a represent later elements. V. 28bp begins the auditory account that continues till iii. 11.
16 R.
Mosis, Das Buch Ezechiel. Teil 1. Kap 1,1-20,44 (Diisseldorf, 1978), p. 253,
n. 17, has observed that v. 3b closely connects with what follows. Cf. viii lb-2.
17 The old LXX does not represent v. 27a3, kemar)eh-Msbit-lah sdbib "what
looked like fire: it had a covering all round." It seems to be an intrusion on two
counts: (i) it breaks the AB/B'A' chiasmus of v. 27a-b[, in which the verbs of seeing and the accompanying similes function as A/A' and the upper and lower parts
of the body as B/B'; and (ii) in viii 2, which is a reprise of i 27, there is general
support for the reading of the LXX, which "restricts 'fire' to the bottom half of
the figure, where alone it should be" (Greenberg [n. 9], p. 166). The addition in
the MT was probably intended as a comment on v. 27b@, with kemar'eh-'esfunctioning as cue words (E. Vogt, Untersuchungenzum Buch Ezechiel [Rome, 1981], p.
8). The intent of the gloss was to claim that the radiance enveloped the fire. This
ancient interpretation accords with A.B. Ehrlich's proposal that the masculine suffix in v. 27by relates to the fire, rather than to the divine figure (Randglossen zur
hebraischenBibel 5 [Leipzig, 1912], p. 8). W.A. Lind, "A Text-Critical Note to
Ezekiel 1: Are Shorter Readings Really Preferable to Longer?", Journal of the
Evangelical TheologicalSociety27 (1984), pp. 135-9, rightly argued that the rejection
of longer readings, to be convincing, must be accompanied by plausible explanations as to why the extra material entered the text, but he worked with a limited
repertoire of causes for textual adaptation; he was unable to find one in this case
(p. 138).
18 Textual disorder in vv. 13b-14 is
generally recognized. V. 14 is frequently
deleted, but the principle of the priority of the harder reading suggests that the
14

EZEKIEL

149

occurs
nogah sdbib "the brightness around" in v. 28a3-there
wenogah lades "and the fire had brightness" in v. 13ba; and (iv)
kemar'eh"like the appearance of" occurs only in vv. 13-14 (twice)
and 26-28a (originally three times) (see n. 17). The consequence of
these links is twofold: Parunak's beginning of the final section with
v. 26 finds objective support, and there is a new section with which
one must reckon, vv. 13-14, as Smend, Bertholet and Kraetzschmar
concluded on non-stylistic grounds. To be sure, Parunak's test of
the sectional key word ke'n is not met in vv. 13-14, but perfect
symmetry is not necessary, as the absence of our new key term
kemar)ehfrom vv. 3b-4 illustrates. It may be observed that Muilenburg's sectional key word demzt is in fact absent from vv. 3b-4 and
(originally) 13-14; its dominant presence in vv. 26-28a will merit
comment a little later.
ConceptualStructure
The result of this investigation of the rhetorical structure is that,
within the framework of vv. 1 and 28bao, there emerge six sections,
vv. 3b-4, 5-12, 13-14, 15-21, 22-5, and 26-28a, of which the first,
third and sixth are closely aligned. If general content is factored
into this result, the first, third and sixth stand out as descriptive of
a storm theophany. Correspondingly, the second, fourth, fifth, and
also sixth give expression to a throne vision, here a throne
theophany. The combination of these two different genres has been
recognized hitherto,19 but their particular structural role has not
been observed:
storm

3b-4

13-14
26-28a

throne

5-12

15-21

22-5

last two words of v. 13 originated as explanatory comments on, or variants for,


terms in v. 14: yose "was coming out" relates to rdsod"ran", and bdraq "lightning" to bazdq "flash". For the latter term see A. Cohen, "Studies in Hebrew Lexicography", AJSL 40 (1924), p. 163. Symmachus, Targum and Vulgate already
render bdzdqas if it were bdrdq. Behind the omission of v. 14 in the old LXX lies
a recognition of the interrelatedness of vv. 13b? and 14, and a wrong decision to
follow the easy path of the former and to excise the latter.
19 See, e.g., W. Zimmerli, Ezechiel (Neukirchen-Vluyn,
1969), p. 50 = E. tr.,
Ezekiel 1: A Commentaryon the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters1-24 (Philadelphia, 1979), p.
119.

150

LESLIE C. ALLEN

Othmar Keel's research has demonstrated the coherence of at


least vv. 5-12, 22-5 and 26-28a, in their elaboration of the throne
vision genre by means of a shared basic conception of humanoid
skybearers whose heads support a firmament-platform upon which
the divine throne rests.20 The fourth section, vv. 15-21, stands
somewhat apart from its companion sections in attaching wheels to
the celestial ensemble, in order to facilitate travel by land. The
redactional nature of this section is often urged, and is certainly
possible; however, Tryggve N.D. Mettinger has argued in favour
of its originality that there is a close connection between cloud and
wheeled chariot in the Old Testament.2' In other respects this section belongs among the throne-theophany sections, inasmuch as it
closely relates the wheels and the living creatures in terms of their
mobility. It should be borne in mind that the other throne
theophany sections also overlap conceptually with the storm sections, in that the throne is represented not as static and localized
solely in heaven but dynamically moving within or upon the
theophanic cloud. It is this conceptual overlap that permits the
final, obviously climactic section to combine explicitly the concepts
and language of storm theophany and throne theophany, which
previously have largely alternated. The joint presence of the
hitherto throne-related demut (vv. 5, 10, 16, 22) and the hitherto
storm-related kemar'eh(vv. 13, 14) in the last section bears stylistic
witness to this combination.
Hals has drawn attention to the emphasis placed on mobility at
the conclusion of each of what we have called throne theophany sections, in vv. 12, 17-21, 24b and 25b,22 although one should probably think in terms of vv. 12, 19-21, 23-24a and 25b.23 So rigorous
is the desire to conclude with this element that it appears rather disjointed after mention of the platform-firmament in v. 22,
20

Eine neueDeutungderMajestitsschilderungen
inJes
Jahwe-VisionenundSiegelkunst.
6, Ez i undSach4 (Stuttgart, 1977), pp. 125-273.
21 The Dethronement Sabaoth.Studiesin the Shemand Kabod
of
Theologies(Lund,
1982), p. 105. He cites Pss lxxvii 19, where he takes galgalas "wheeled vehicle",
civ 3; Zech. vi 1-8; 2 Kings ii 11.
22
(n. 8) p. 14. V. 9b, which also features mobility, seems to be a doublet of v.
12.
23 The role of v. 17 is distinct and narrower, to
explain the "wheel within wheel"
statement of v. 16b (Fohrer [n. 12], p. 14). The theme of flapping, noisy wings
begins in v. 23. Probably v. 25a is a variant of v. 26aa, for which v. 24b serves
as cue words.

EZEKIEL I

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deliberately interrupting the logical conclusion in v. 26. The


dominance of this element will require explanation in relation to the
overall intention of the vision account.
A Positive Intention?
As to what that intention is, scholarship is fairly united in claiming a beneficent purpose. It is a view that goes back at least to C.H.
Toy, who wrote in 1899: "The vision is intended to declare that the
God of Israel was come, in all his glory, to dwell with the exiles."24
This sentiment was later echoed by Georg Fohrer, in terms of a
prophetic reinterpretation of the concept of divine presence,
namely that Yahweh is present even with his exiled people ([n. 12]
pp. 14-16). Similarly, Walther Eichrodt declared:
The kdbod appears to the prophet ..., in order to assure him of the

nearness and power of his God despite the exile into an unclean,
heathen land, and despite the desecration and destruction of the
Temple which is to follow.25
Walther Zimmerli developed what had by then become an
academic convention by grounding it in earlier Israelite tradition:
[T]he prophet encountered God as the Lord who had already earlier
revealed himself to his people Israel in storm and light (Ex 19: ff;
24:9-11) ... Ezek 1:1-3:15 thus recounts an event which actualizes in
a remarkable way the story of God's faithfulness to his people Israel
under new circumstances ... God reveals the sovereign freedom of his
appearing, when and where he wills, even in an unclean land.26
On similar lines Hals states that the vision "aims to assure the
despairing prophet, and through him his fellow exiles, that
Yahweh's presence is not confined to Jerusalem" ([n. 8] p. 16).

The Bookof theProphetEzekiel(New York, 1899), p. 96.


Theologyof the Old Testament2 (E. tr., London and Philadelphia, 1967), p.
33 = Theologie
desAltenTestaments
2-3 (Stuttgart, 1961), p. 14; cf. Ezekiel:A Commentary(E. tr., London and Philadelphia, 1970), pp. 54, 58-9 = Hesekiel1-18 (G6ttingen, 1959), pp. 5, 8-9.
26 (n.
19) E. tr., p. 140 = pp. 83-4. R.W. Klein has derived from Zimmerli's
observation his slogan that the God of Ezekiel is typically "faithful and free"
("Yahweh Faithful and Free-A Study in Ezekiel", CTM42 [1971], pp. 493-501;
Israelin Exile:A Theological
Interpretation
(Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 69-96; cf. Ezekiel:
The Prophetand His Message(Columbia, 1988), p. 26.
24

25

152

LESLIE C. ALLEN

One might cite a number of other scholars who express this


viewpoint.27
This ascription of a beneficent intention to the vision account has
an implicit presupposition: it depends on chs viii-xi, where
Yahweh's glory is said to leave the temple and Jerusalem. However, that vision is regarded as a later event (viii 4, x 15, 20, 22);
in the chronological schematization of the book the inaugural vision
is dated a year earlier (i 2, viii 1), when Yahweh's presence still
graced the temple. Anyway, Yahweh is here represented as coming
from heaven, not from Jerusalem. The vision in Ezek. i needs to
be understood in its own terms and in the light of its immediate
context.
The interpretations of the purpose of the vision account cited
above all assume that Ezekiel received the vision as a representative
of the Judean exiles, and that he was to share with them the lesson
he learned from it. However, Greenberg has explained the vision
as a private experience, a manifestation of divine favour to Ezekiel
alone:
Disturbed by his people's fate, convinced of impending doom,
Ezekiel is cast out by his community, which clung to the hopeful
oracles of the prophets promising the exiles a speedy restoration ...
[T]he heavens opened and the Majesty of God appeared, vindicating
the noncomformist and proving that right and divine favor were with
him, not with the many ([n. 9] p. 80).
Greenberg's implicit presupposition is not hard to discern. He
seems to have in mind the traditional role of a theophany as a demonstration of divine favour to an individual (cf. Gen. xii, xxvi;
Judg. vi, xiii).
A Negative Intention?
There have been a couple of voices crying in the wilderness on
behalf of a different interpretation. Kraetzschmar, with whose
27

E.g. A. Bertholet and K. Galling, Hesekiel(Tiibingen, 1936), p. 9; K.W.


Carley, The Bookof the ProphetEzekiel(Cambridge, 1974), p. 19; M.E. Andrew,
andRestoration.
TheCourseof theBookof Ezekiel(Dunedin, 1985), p. 13.
Responsibility
This positive interpretation is as old as Jerome: "in consolationem populi
transmigrati et revelationem sententiae Dei, propheta vidit maximam visionem"
4: Commentariorum
in Hezechielem
libri
(S. Hieronymipresbyteri
operaI: Operaexegetica
xiv, Corpus Christianorum, Series Latine 75 [Turnhout, 1964], p. 7).

EZEKIEL I

153

structural outline we earlier found reason largely to agree, wrote in


1900: "Jahve kommt, um das Strafgericht fiber sein Volk anzukfindigen und Ez. als seinen Gerichtsherold zu bestellen" ([n. 5] p. 21).
Kraetzschmar's view has found little support, and he must have
realized that he was treading an unpopular path. Ten years earlier
Smend had written with reference to v. 4: "Es is natiirlich falsch
zu meinen, dass sich hier darin der Zorn Gottes uber Israel
ausdriicke" ([n. 3] p. 7). A.B. Davidson had issued a similar warning to English readers: "The theophany here is not a manifestation
of God specially in the character of an avenger or judge."28
Recently William H. Brownlee has implicitly revived Kraetzschmar's thesis:
We see this same manifestation later in chaps. 8-10, which is
explained as God's coming in judgment upon Jerusalem (43:3). This
warns us against taking this appearance in vision as one of comfort
to the prophet ... The import of the vision, therefore, is that the
cosmic Lord of the universe is intervening in history to judge Israel
and to warn them through one man, Ezekiel.29
It is clear that this minority viewpoint and the majority one cannot
both be right, unless the vision account is deliberately ambivalent,
as Robert R. Wilson considers.30 The minority view deserves a
proper hearing, and the rest of the article will be devoted to amassing arguments in this support.
The Import of the Storm Theophany
The earlier study of the structure of Ezek. i has shown the important role played by the storm theophany tradition: at the outset, in
the middle and, explicitly combined with the heavenly throne tradition, at the end. Moreover, it has influenced the throne tradition
by transforming what was static into something mobile. The basic
use of the storm theophany in the Old Testament is to portray
Yahweh's coming as a warrior to conquer his human enemies who
28

The Book of the ProphetEzekiel (Cambridge, 1892), p. 4.


Ezekiel 1-19 (Waco, 1986), p. 18.
30
"[T]he significance of God's dwelling among the exiles is not yet clear, for
up to this point there has been no verbal communication between God and the
prophet. God's presence may mean reassurance for the exilic community, but it
may also mean judgement" ("Prophecy in Crisis: The Call of Ezekiel", Int 38
(1984), p. 125=J.L.
Mays and P.J. Achtemeier (ed.), Interpretingthe Prophets
(Philadelphia, 1987), p. 164.
29

154

LESLIE C. ALLEN

are also foes of his people. However, there is a prophetic reversal


of this saving purpose, as is the case with a number of older traditions. The prophets used the storm theophany genre to convey the
intervention of Yahweh to bring judgement upon Israel. Cases of
such prophetic transformation appears in Amos i 2 and Mic. i 2-7,
while in Isa. lix 15-20 and Mal. iii 1-5 Yahweh's coming in the
storm is directed against the wicked in Israel.31 So we must entertain the possibility that judgement of Israel is intended by this particular prophetic use of the storm theophany tradition.
The genre employs traditional elements that convey the hostility
of the warrior God. Thus fire is both a representation of Yahweh's
wrath and his dangerous weapon of destruction (Jeremias [n. 31],
pp. 29, 36, 59). It occurs in this hostile sense in 2 Sam. xxii 9 ( = Ps.
xviii 9); Ps. xcvii 3, while in Isa. Ixvi 15-16 it is explicitly associated
with divine judgement. Is this the meaning in vv. 4, 13, and 27?
Lightning in storm theophany texts refers to the arrows of the
divine warrior, for example in 2 Sam. xxii 15 (= Ps. xviii 15); Ps.
cxliv 18-19). Does the reference here in v. 14 bear such an allusion?
The bow is associated with arrows in Hab. iii 9 in a theophanic
vision: it is a weapon of war. Has it such a force in Ezek. i 28? Some
commentators have seen in the rainbow a reminiscence of the
gracious meaning it has in Gen. ix 12-17.32 John Calvin denied the
contextual validity of such an interpretation: "what interpreters
bring forward about a symbol of reconciliation is altogether out of
place".33 Modern scholars have tended to echo his exegetical decision.34 Keel, among others, has compared vv. 27-8 with a 9thcentury coloured ceramic depicting the winged god Asshur set in
the flaming, yellow disc of the sun, drawing his bow and floating
among the rain clouds.35 Here the bow is not held in Yahweh's
31

See J. Jeremias, Theophanie(Neukirchen, 1977), pp. 130-32.


E.g. Vogt (n. 17), p. 11; P.C. Craigie, Ezekiel (Philadelphia, 1983), pp. 1213. Jerome interpreted thus: "Hic arcus signum est clementiae et testamenti Dei
quod fecit cum hominibus" ([n. 27] p. 25) M. Liebe, The VisionaryMode (Ithaca,
1991), p. 36, extrapolates from the reference to the rainbow a positive significance
for the whole vision: "As a promise of hope, the inaugural vision embodies a covenant theology all its own."
33 Commentarieson the First
Twenty Chaptersof the Book of the ProphetEzekiel (E. tr.,
Edinburgh, 1849) 1, p. 105.
34
E.g. H6hne (n. 6), p. 74; Zimmerli (n. 19), E. tr., p. 123 = p. 57.
35
(n. 20), p. 262, fig. 189 = ANEP, fig. 536. Greenberg (n. 9), p. 54, has drawn
attention to the fine coloured reproduction that appears in A. Parrot, Nineveh and
Babylon (London, 1961), p. 227, fig. 282.
32

EZEKIEL I

155

hands, but his bright aura is compared to it. Nevertheless, such a


depiction of the battling storm god may lie in the background of
Ezekiel's vision, in which case the bow does have a sinister purpose.
The Import of the Throne Theophany
The heavenly throne tradition alternates with the storm tradition
and dominates the vision account. Although it is superimposed
upon the other genre and is altered in the process, it has the larger
role in the vision and is clearly recognizable as a separate tradition.
It is worth asking what the intention of this tradition is in the light
of its earlier literary expressions. One of these is found in 1 Kings
xxii 19-22, which describes Micaiah's vision of Yahweh seated on
his heavenly throne. Burke O. Long has identified it as a type of
dramatic word-vision which depicts a visionary scene that is taken
as a portent for the future.36 The heavenly council meet to determine by what means guilty Ahab is to die. It is a word-vision of
judgement: Micaiah appropriately sums up the word element by
saying "Yahweh has spoken evil against you" (1 Kings xxii 23).
The heavenly throne vision in Isa. vi is closer to Ezek. i, in that it
too is part of a prophetic call-narrative. Rolf Knierim in his
masterly study of the chapter has rightly called the vision a
theophany of judgement.37 The function of the vision is to prepare
for Isaiah's vocation as a prophet of judgement. The divine king
has already judged his people, and Isaiah is invited to deliver his
verdict. The vision account by its revelation of God as judge
legitimates Isaiah as a prophet of judgement.38 The association of
the heavenly throne vision with divine judgement raises the question whether the same purpose does not underlie its use in Ezek. i.
OtherInternalEvidence
There are individual elements in the chapter which may point to
a negative intention. The opening of the heavens in v. 1 has a
familiar ring to readers of later visionary and apocalyptic texts: it
sounds like a standard introduction to the description of a heavenly
36

1 Kings (Grand Rapids, 1984), p. 238.


"The vocation of Isaiah", VT 18 (1968), pp. 54-5.
38
Cf. O.H. Steck, "Bemerkungen zuJesaja 6", BZ, NF 16 (1972), p. 195, n.
22; Long, "Reports of Visions Among the Prophets", JBL 95 (1976), p. 361.
37

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LESLIE C. ALLEN

scene or the descent of a heavenly figure. Here, however, it


primarily belongs to the storm theophany tradition: it corresponds
to the tearing (qrc) of the heavens in Isa. Ixiv 1 to allow Yahweh to
come down, and to the spreading open of the heavens like tent curtains (nth, in Qal or Hiphil) for the same purpose in 2 Sam. xxii 10
( = Ps. xviii 10); Ps. cxliv 5.39 Yet the choice of vocabulary here may
be meant to convey a special nuance. The windows or floodgates
of heaven were opened to permit the sending down of either blessing (2 Kings vii 2; Mal. iii 10) or judgement (Gen. vii 11; Isa. xxiv
18).40 Is this motif here associated with the storm theophany in
order to convey a sense of judgement? If so, how is the reader to
discern such a purpose? Perhaps the adjacent reference to the
"north" (v. 4) yields a clue.
After the opening of the skies in v. 1 one expects the apparition
to come straight down from there. However, a meaning "clouded
sky", derived from spn "hide"',41 does not commend itself, if some
suitable significance in terms of the usual sense of sdpon can be
maintained. Cecilia Grave has argued for an early meaning "clear
sky" for Ugaritic spn, which was then associated with the north
wind that clears the sky.42 If she is right, such a meaning would be
possible here, although again its speculative nature militates
against it. A reference to Mt Casius, earlier Zaphon, as the mountain home of the gods is often suggested,43 but seems hardly to fit
the celestial demand of the context. For the same reason the
explanation that Yahweh travels from Jerusalem along the Fertile
Crescent44 is not probable. If the northern sector of the sky is in
view, why should it have been specified? Perhaps one should go
For the latter imagery see F.M. Cross, CanaaniteMyth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, Mass., 1973), p. 159, n. 59.
40 See F. Lentzen-Deis,
"Das Motiv der Himmels6ffnung in verschiedenen
Gattungen der Umweltliteratur des Neuen Testaments", Bib 50 (1969), p. 303.
41
Vogt, "Safon =caelum nubibus obductum", Bib 34 (1953), p. 426; J. de
Savignac, "Note sur le sense du terme sdphondans quelques passages de la Bible",
VT3 (1953), pp. 95-6; cf. N.C. Habel, The Book ofJob (Philadelphia and London,
1985), p. 371.
42
"The Etymology of Northwest Semitic sapanu", UF 12 (1980), pp. 226-7.
43
E.g. byJeremias (n. 31), pp. 116-17. Interestingly, in Job xxvi 7 sdpon seems
to be used where one might expect a reference to the sky, but it may indicate the
sacred mountain, in synonymous parallelism with 'eres "earth", as J.J.M.
Roberts, "Sdpodnin Job 26,7", Bib 56 (1975), pp. 554-7, has argued. It appears
to bear this meaning in Job xxxvii 22 (see Habel [n. 41], p. 515).
44
E.g. Bertholet and Galling (n. 27), p. 5; Fohrer (n. 12), p. 12.
39

EZEKIEL I

157

back to an older interpretation, that there is some echo of the "foe


from the north" motif that appears in Jeremiah.45 Elsewhere in the
book of Ezekiel, in what is seemingly a primary part of the GogMagog unit, the invader is described as coming from the north
(Ezek. xxxix 2; cf. xxxviii 6, 15), in clear dependence on that motif.
Scholars commonly find links between Ezek. ii 3-iii 11 and the call
narrative in Jer. i. In an extension to that narrative Yahweh
declares that "from the north evil will be opened up" (missdpontippdtah hdrdaC,Jer. i 14). The same passive verb has been used in
Ezek. i 1, with regard to the opening of the heavens. Are we to
explain the reference to the north in terms of intertextuality, so that
a sinister quarter of the sky suggests the unleashing of evil, when
the skies open in judgement?
In our study of the structure of the vision account we noted the
emphasis laid on the mobility of the apparition. Should it be connected with the message of relentless judgement delivered by Amos,
that wherever Yahweh's people fled, whether to Sheol or to heaven,
to the top of Carmel or to the bottom of the sea, they could not
escape from his clutches (Amos ix 1-4)? Within Ezekiel's own
oracles there is a parallel in v 12 (cf. xii 14): in the course of the
interpretation of the sign of Ezekiel's division of his cut hair for
methodical disposal, the last third of the people of Jerusalem was
to be dispatched by Yahweh's chasing them with unsheathed sword
in foreign lands. Here the mobile throne of judgement has the
sinister potential to travel from heaven to earth and, by means of
its wheels, throughout the earth.
The description of the divine figure in vv. 26b-28ap is reflectively
summed up in v. 28ay by associating it with the kabodof Yahweh.
By this characterization Ezekiel consciously relates his theophanic
vision to an earlier tradition of divine revelation. Zimmerli identified that tradition with Priestly wilderness texts, but was too
specific in relating it to the Sinai revelation (Exod. xix lff., xxiv 911, 16-17, xxxiv 29-35, xl 34-5).46 He seems to have been influenced by the older scholarly notion that the Sinai theophany served
as a model for the Old Testament theophany tradition, a notion

See, e.g., C.F. Keil, Biblischer Commentariber den ProphetenEzechiel (Leipzig,


1868), p. 12 = E. tr. Biblical Commentaryon the Propheciesof Ezekiel 1 (Edinburgh,
1876), pp. 20-1. Jerome (n. 27), pp. 8-9, so interpreted.
46
(n. 19) E. tr., pp. 120, 124, 140= 52, 58, 83.
45

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LESLIE C. ALLEN

that has since encountered heavy criticism.47 Yet, since it may


reasonably be supposed that Ezekiel was harking back to a Priestly
tradition, it is pertinent to refer to a group of wilderness narratives
that mention Yahweh's appearance in glory in order to pronounce
judgement. The closest parallels are Exod. xvi 10-12; Num. xvii 710, where the glory of Yahweh is associated with his appearance
(Niphal of r'h) in the cloud. Num. xiv 10-12, xvi 19-21 are similar,
except that the element of the cloud is lacking.
The ImmediateContext
Ezek. i is part of a unit that culminates in the prophetic call of
Ezekiel. In Long's terminology the whole is a dramatic wordvision, like that in 1 Kings xxii.48 We may expect to find consistency between the divine vision and the divine word. In fact,
Ezekiel is commissioned to be a prophet of judgement, as three factors indicate. First, the designation of Israel as those "who have
rebelled against" Yahweh (ii 3) and repeatedly as bet (ham)meri
"rebellious house" represents an accusation that warrants divine
judgement. Second, the messenger formula that occurs in ii 4; iii
11 introduces both oracles of judgement and oracles of salvation in
the book; that the former are in view here is indicated by the
qualification "whether they hear or refuse to hear" in each case.
Yahweh would set no store by Israel's response because the prophetic message was to be one of inexorable judgement. The
messenger formula is used as a cipher for the prophet's judgement
oracles. Third, in ii 10 the scroll that Ezekiel is told to eat contains
"words of lamentation, mourning and woe". The reference is to
the effect of his oracles of judgement in terms of reactions to

47 For
exponents of this notion seeJeremias (n. 31), p. 101, n. 2. For negative
critiques see C. Westermann, ThePraiseof Godin thePsalms(Richmond, Virginia,

1965; London, 1966), pp. 98-101 = Das Loben Gottesin den Psalmen (2nd edn, Got-

tingen, 1961), pp. 73-6; Jeremias, pp. 105-11.


48 JBL 95
(1967), pp. 362-3. Zimmerli (n. 19), E. tr., pp. 97-100 = pp. 16-20,
found a combination of two types of prophetic call account, one of which majors
in a throne vision, like that in Isa. vi, and the other in the word of Yahweh, as
in Jer. i 4-10. However, Long, "Prophetic Call Traditions and Reports of
Visions", ZAW 84 (1972), pp. 494-500, has disputed Zimmerli's bifurcation and
envisioned a single type encompassing divine vision and divine word, which has
as its source ancient Near Eastern and Israelite vision or dream reports in which
theophany was a legitimating device.

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159

extreme suffering; one may compare Isa. vi 9-10, where Isaiah's


commission is presented obliquely in terms of the effect of his
message of judgement upon the people. Since the role of Ezek. i is
to prepare for the ensuing commission, we may reasonably assume
that the intention of the vision account is to reveal Yahweh as
judge. Before he speaks, the scene has already been set for his call
to Ezekiel to prophesy judgement.
The Evidenceof iii 16b-21
The reader of the book of Ezekiel has to evaluate individual
passages in terms of their wider literary context. Since the book
moves beyond judgement to a message of salvation and hope, the
question arises whether the presence of this positive material caused
a shift of meaning for ch. i. Not necessarily: it may be noted that
the commissioning word in ii 3-iii 11 is strikingly devoid of any
redactional attempt to tone down its character of relentless judgement. The account of Ezekiel's role as watchman in iii 16b-21 has
a crucial bearing on the issue. It is generally taken as a redactional
anticipation of the material in xxxiii 1-9, which belongs to the
second, positive period of the prophet's ministry in the view of its
accent on repentance and life, which the earlier passage shares. The
suggestion is sometimes made that the insertion was motivated by
a desire to claim that divine concern for Israel's repentance was a
feature of Ezekiel's ministry from the start.49 However, one should
take seriously Greenberg's sensitivity to the falsehood involved in
embedding a statement of his later prophetic role here for this purpose ([n. 9] p. 93). Rather, the insertion appears to bear witness to
a re-reading of the early chapters from a vantage point of changed
conditions. Although the fall of Jerusalem made possible a new
message of salvation, the old message of judgement continued to
have a certain relevance in bringing a moral challenge to those who
had the opportunity of salvation (cf. xx 33-8, xxxiii 30-3, xxxiv 202). By means of iii 16b-21 readers of the book were invited to take
seriously the old message of radical judgement. God had not ceased
to be judge of the apostate and the backslider. Although his judge49
im Ezechielbuch
E.g. Fohrer (n. 12), p. 23; T. Kriiger, Geschichtskonzepte
(Berlin, 1989), p. 353; cf. M. Fishbane, "Sin and Judgment in the Prophecies of
the Prophets(n. 30), pp. 172-3.
Ezekiel", Int 38 (1984), p. 134= Interpreting

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LESLIE C. ALLEN

ment was now associated with a positive purpose to save, it had not
been superseded. The insertion reaffirms in relative terms the
message of judgement in the early chapters. Not only Ezekiel's role
as prophet of judgement in ii 3-iii 11, but also Yahweh's role as
judge in i 1-28a fittingly open the book as a means of warning that
moral obedience should mark Israel's response to his word of
salvation.
Echoes of Ezekiel i
The wheeled throne seen by Ezekiel seemingly reappears in 1
Enoch xiv 18 and Dan. vii 9.50 The first case, in the Book of the
Watchers, occurs in the account of Enoch's ascent to heaven and
his commission to pass on to the Watchers God's message of
punishment for their sins. The second instance is part of a vision
account of the divine tribunal, where judgement is given against
the beasts. These judgement contexts attest awareness of an intention of judgement for Ezekiel's inaugural vision, which they conciously echo.
Conclusion
A study of the structure of Ezek. i has revealed an alternating
sequence of sections that feature a storm theophany and a throne
theophany, and an emphasis on mobility in the latter sections. Prophetic usage of the storm theophany tradition and earlier examples
of the heavenly throne tradition are associated with divine judgement; moreover, certain elements in Ezek. i may point to this very
purpose. The ensuing commission of Ezekiel as a prophet of judge50 P.
Grelot, "Daniel vii, 9-10 et le livre d'Henoch", Semitica 28 (1978), pp.
71-2, 78-81, has argued that the single "wheel" in the Greek version of Enoch is
a misunderstanding of Aramaic glgl, which refers rather to a circle of brightness,
and also that in Dan. vii 9 galgillohi, usually rendered "his wheels", has the same
meaning. J.E. Goldingay, Daniel (Dallas, 1989), p. 145, has adopted Grelot's proposal. It is significant, however, that Grelot, pp. 71, 80, n. 2, considered only
Ezek. x 2, 6, 13, where Hebrew galgal in the singular occurs. So for him neither
of the later passages could have any basis in Ezek. i, where 'opdn and 'opannim
occur. D. Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot. EarlyJewish Responsesto Ezekiel's Vision
(Tiibingen, 1988), p. 76, n. 12, has observed in favour of a link between Ezek.
i 15-21 and Dan. vii 9 the fact that the Targum regularly renders ?opannimwith
gilgelayya. He has also suggested (p. 81) that the "wheel" in the Greek of 1 Enoch
xiv 18, if the text is correct, reflects "one wheel" in Ezek. i 15.

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ment makes plausible a characterization of Yahweh as judge. The


redactional intent of Ezek. iii 16b-21, with its continuing message
of judgement, is congruent with such a characterization. Furthermore, the later vision accounts in 1 Enoch xiv and Dan. vii, which
feature divine judgement, appear to echo Ezek. i. This cumulative
series of arguments suggests that the conventional understanding of
the inaugural vision in terms of comfort and assurance is erroneous
and that Kraetzschmar and Brownlee were right to dissent.