The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel

The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel

The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel

The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel


In this study, Renz argues that the book of Ezekiel functions as a rhetorical unit, that it addresses a specific rhetorical situation, and that it aims at shaping the self-understanding of the second-generation of Judaean exiles and defining the true Israel. After examining the historical context of the exile, the author addresses the overall literary arrangement and the individual rhetorical techniques in the book. A final chapter explores the books rhetorical effectiveness in presenting a suitable response to the issues the exilic community faced. Renz offers both a convincing analysis of the book of Ezekiel as well as a model for the fruitful integration of traditional critical methods with more recent literary, rhetorical, and sociological approaches. This book will interest all those who study the history, literature, and theology of ancient Israel. This publication has also been published in hardback, please click here for details."


In this book I explore the function of the book of Ezekiel as part of the communicative situation in which it originated. My focus is on reconstructing an act of communication, that is, an historical event. No detailed reconstruction of the origin and development of the book of Ezekiel is presented here, nor does this book provide an interpretation of the text for modern times. Rather, my aim is to show that the book received its final shape to function in a specific way for the second generation of exiles. The redactor(s) of the book of Ezekiel not only preserved an anthology of prophetic oracles, but presented an argument within a specific context. The approach taken in this book is therefore that of rhetorical analysis, whereby the term “rhetoric” is understood in its narrower sense as “the art of persuasion” rather than “the art of speech and composition.” Rhetorical analysis in this

Communication has become a focal point in many branches of human studies including sociology, anthropology, and linguistics. It is central to one of the most important recent works of social thought, Jürgen Habermas’s The Theory of Communicative Action, vol. 1: Reason and Rationalization of Society (London: Heinemann, 1984), vol. 2: The Critique of Functionalist Reason (London Polity Press, 1987). A new academic discipline to explore aspects of communication is now firmly established, see e.g. John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies (2nd edition; London: Routledge, 1990); John Corner and Jeremy Hawthorn (eds.), Communication Studies: An Introductory Reader (3rd edition; London: Arnold, 1989); Denis McQuail, Communication (2nd edition; London: Longman, 1984). Focus on communication has led to a revival of rhetoric as an academic discipline and to a paradigm shift in some disciplines, see e.g. Michael Billig, Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology (Cambridge: CUP, 1987), and Ideology and Opinions: Studies in Rhetorical Psychology (London: Sage, 1991); Rom Harré and Grant Gillett, The Discursive Mind (London: Sage, 1994); Donald N. McCloskey, The Rhetoric of Economics (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985).

Note that my argument is concerned only with the book of Ezekiel. Some prophetic books might well be anthologies or designed to fulfil another function. It is also possible that the function of a book alters with its inclusion into a canon of Holy Scriptures. I will therefore make no attempt here to define the communicative function of a genre “prophetic book.” See John Barton, Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel After the Exile (London: Darton, Longman& Todd, 1986), for a study of the later reception of prophetic oracles.

Cf. Aristotle’s classic definition in The “Art” of Rhetoric (The Loeb Classical

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