This article is about the prophet Ezekiel. See also the Book of Ezekiel, concerned with the text. For other meanings, see Ezekiel (disambiguation).
Ezekiel or Yechezkel (יְחֶזְקֵאל "God will strengthen", Standard Hebrew Yəḥezqel, Tiberian Hebrew Yəḥezqêl) was a prophet in the Hebrew Bible, commonly regarded as the author of the biblical Book of Ezekiel. While Ezekial is not mentioned by name in the Qur'an, most Islamic scholars believe that the epithet Dhul-Kifl, who is mentioned, refers to him.
The Book of Ezekiel gives little detail about his life. In it, he is mentioned only twice by name: 1:3 and 24:24. He is the son of Buzi the priest, and his name means "God will strengthen". He was one of the Israelite exiles, who settled at a place called Tel-Aviv, on the banks of the Chebar, "in the land of the Chaldeans." The place is thus not identical to the modern city Tel Aviv, which however is named after it. He was probably carried away captive with Jehoiachin (1:2; 2 Kings 24:14-16) about 597 BCE.
On the fifth day of the fourth month in the fifth year of his exile (Tammuz, 592 BCE), he said he beheld on the banks of the Chebar the glory of God, who consecrated him as a prophet. The latest date in his book is the first day of the first month in the twenty-seventh year of his exile (Nisan, 570 BCE); consequently, his prophecies extended over twenty-two years.
Ezekiel is a prophet who liked to act his prophesies. He was a prophet who loved drama and songwriting unlike the other prophets. He would sometimes do unbelievable things such as taking a potter's flask and smashing it to symbolize that Jerusalem will be destroyed and the people in Jerusalem will be scattered to the winds.
The elders of the exiles repeatedly visited him to obtain a divine oracle (chapters 8, 14, 20). He exerted no permanent influence upon his contemporaries, however, whom he repeatedly calls the "rebellious house" (2:5, 6, 8; 3:9, 26, 27; and elsewhere), complaining that although they flock in great numbers to hear him they regard his discourse as a sort of esthetic amusement, and fail to act in accordance with his words (33:30-33). If the enigmatical date, "the thirtieth year" (1:1), be understood to apply to the age of the prophet, Ezekiel was born exactly at the time of the reform in the ritual introduced by Josiah. Concerning his death nothing is known.
He had a house in the place of his exile, where he lost his wife, in the ninth year of his exile, by some sudden and unforeseen stroke (Ezek. 8:1; 24:18).
His ministry extended over twenty-three years 595 - 573 BCE (29:17), during part of which he was contemporary with Daniel (14:14; 28:3) and Jeremiah, and probably also with Obadiah. The time and manner of his death are unknown. His reputed tomb is pointed out in the neighbourhood of Baghdad, at a place called Keffil.
Ezekiel occupies a unique position among the Hebrew Prophets. He stands midway between two epochs, drawing his conclusions from the one and pointing out the path toward the other. Through the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, the downfall of the state, and the banishment of the people the natural development of Israel was forcibly interrupted.
With the Exile, monarchy and state were annihilated, and a political and national life was no longer possible. In the absence of a worldly foundation it became necessary to build upon a spiritual one. This mission Ezekiel performed by observing the signs of the time and by deducing his doctrines from them. In conformity with the two parts of his book his personality and his preaching are alike twofold. The events of the past must be explained. although God has permitted His city and Temple to be destroyed and His people to be led into exile, yet God has by this inaction betrayed no sign of impotency or weakness; Ezekiel asserts that God was compelled to do it because of the sins of the people. Nevertheless, there is no reason to despair for God does not desire the death of the sinner, but his reformation. The Lord will remain the God of Israel, and Israel will remain His people. As soon as Israel recognizes the sovereignty of the Lord and acts accordingly, God will restore the people, in order that they may fulfil their eternal mission and that He may truly dwell in the midst of them. This, however, can not be accomplished until every individual reforms and makes the will of the Lord his law.
Herein lies the individualistic tendency which distinguishes him from his predecessors. He conceives it as his prophetic mission to strive to reach his brethren and compatriots individually, to follow them, and to win them back to God; and he considers himself personally responsible for every individual soul. Those redeemed were to form the congregation of the new Temple, and to exemplify by their lives the truth of the word that Israel was destined to become a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6). Law and worship--these are the two focal points of Ezekiel's hope for the future. The people become a congregation; the nation, a religious fraternity. Political aims and tasks no longer exist; and monarchy and state have become absorbed in the pure dominion of God. Thus Ezekiel has stamped upon post-exilic Judaism its peculiar character; and herein lies his unique religio-historical importance.
Another feature of Ezekiel's personality is the pathological. With no other prophet are vision and ecstasy so prominent; and he repeatedly refers to symptoms of severe maladies, such as paralysis of the limbs and of the tongue (3:25 et seq.), from which infirmities he is relieved only upon the announcement of the downfall of Jerusalem (24:27, 33:22). These statements are to be taken not figuratively, but literally; for God had here purposely ordained that a man subject to physical infirmities should become the pliant instrument of His will.
Ezekiel in Jewish literature
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is said to have been a descendant of Joshua by his marriage with the proselyte Rahab (Talmud Meg. 14b; Midrash Sifre, Num. 78). Some even say that he was the son of Jeremiah, who was also called "Buzi" because he was despised by the Jews. He was already active as a prophet while in Palestine, and he retained this gift when he was exiled with Jehoiachin and the nobles of the country to Babylon (Josephus, Ant. x. 6, § 3: "while he was still a boy"; comp. Rashi on Sanh. 92b, above).
Although in the beginning of the book he very describes the appearance of the throne of God, this is not due to the fact that he had seen more than Isaiah, but because the latter was more accustomed to such visions; for the relation of the two prophets is that of a courtier to a peasant, the latter of whom would always describe a royal court more floridly than the former, to whom such things would be familiar (Ḥag. 13b). Ezekiel, like all the other prophets, has beheld only a blurred reflection of the divine majesty, just as a poor mirror reflects objects only imperfectly (Midrash Lev. Rabbah i. 14, toward the end). God allowed Ezekiel to behold the throne in order to demonstrate to him that Israel had no reason to be proud of the Temple; for God, who is praised day and night by the hosts of the angels, does not need human offerings and worship (Midrash Lev. Rabbah ii. 8; Tanna debe Eliyahu R. vi.).
According to midrash Canticles Rabbah, it was Ezekiel whom the three pious men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, asked for advice as to whether they should resist Nebuchadnezzar's command and choose death by fire rather than worship his idol. At first God revealed to the prophet that they could not hope for a miraculous rescue; whereupon the prophet was greatly grieved, since these three men constituted the "remnant of Judah". But after they had left the house of the prophet, fully determined to sacrifice their lives to God, Ezekiel received this revelation: "Thou dost believe indeed that I will abandon them. That shall not happen; but do thou let them carry out their intention according to their pious dictates, and tell them nothing" (Midrash Canticles Rabbah vii. 8)
Resurrection of the dead
Ezekiel's greatest miracle consisted in his resuscitation of the dead, which is recounted in chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel. There are different traditions as to the fate of these men, both before and after their resurrection, and as to the time at which it happened. Some say that they were godless people, who in their lifetime had denied the resurrection, and committed other sins; others think they were those Ephraimites who tried to escape from Egypt before Moses and perished in the attempt. There are still others who maintain that after Nebuchadnezzar had carried the beautiful youths of Judah to Babylon, he had them executed and their bodies mutilated, because their beauty had entranced the Babylonian women, and that it was these youths whom Ezekiel called back to life.
The miracle was performed on the same day on which the three men were cast into the fiery furnace; namely, on the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement (Cant. R. vii. 9). Nebuchadnezzar, who had made a drinking-cup from the skull of a murdered Jew, was greatly astonished when, at the moment that the three men were cast into the furnace, the bodies of the dead boys moved, and, striking him in the face, cried out: "The companion of these three men revives the dead!" (see a Karaite record of this episode in Judah Hadasi's "Eshkol ha-Kofer," 45b, at foot; 134a, end of the section). When the boys awakened from death, they rose up and joined in a song of praise to God for the miracle vouchsafed to them; later, they went to Palestine, where they married and reared children.
As early as the second century, however, some authorities declared this resurrection of the dead was a prophetic vision: an opinion regarded by Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed, II:46) and his followers as the only rational explanation of the Biblical passage.
Ezekiel the Tragedian
There was another ancient Jewish Ezekiel, other than the one discussed above, who according to Eusebius wrote Greek tragedies on biblical matters, including one called Exagoge, recounting the Exodus, of which fragments have survived.
Last updated: 07-31-2005 05:43:28