Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Dealing with the Trauma of Defeat: The Rhetoric of the Devastation and Rejuvenation of Nature in Ezekiel

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Dealing with the Trauma of Defeat: The Rhetoric of the Devastation and Rejuvenation of Nature in Ezekiel

Article excerpt

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The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. (2 Sam 19:3)1

In every war . . . the chances of becoming a psychiatric casualty-of being debilitated for some period of time as a consequence of the stresses of military life- were greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.2

When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets hurt. (African proverb)3

In recent scholarship on Ezekiel, three interpretive perspectives have found an increasingly prominent place among the more standard approaches to the book.4 These newer perspectives, like many of the more traditional approaches, attempt to deal in some way with the idiosyncratic and sometimes strange character of the book and its elements.5 One recent interpretive approach emphasizes the cruciality of priestly perspectives and traditions for Ezekiel's identity, language, and actions.6 The prophet's words reflect priestly ideology and terminology similar to the books of Exodus and Leviticus, with emphasis on the holiness of God, the separation of clean and unclean, and the consequences of defilement or pollution. Alongside this priestly perspective, and in light of Ezekiel's apparent setting in the exile, recent scholarship has also suggested the use of trauma studies as a window into Ezekiel's language and theology.7 This way of reading need not make a psychological diagnosis of the ancient Judean prophet himself. Rather, it can foreground the traumatic nature of the experiences of war, destruction, and deportation suffered by Ezekiel and his audience in the early part of the sixth century b.c.e. as a possible explanation for some of the book's strange rhetoric and imagery.8 A third interpretive perspective recently brought to bear on the study of Ezekiel focuses on the depictions of nature in the book, particularly as they relate to ecological hermeneutics.9 This newer trajectory connects in many ways to the long-standing inquiry into the destruction of cities, territory, and agriculture during warfare and the ways such destruction is reflected in biblical and extrabiblical texts.10

Scholarship has not yet taken full account of the combined import of these emerging perspectives and the ways in which they intersect with long-standing elements of Ezekiel study. To that end, this article aims to explore a unique aspect of Ezekiel's rhetoric that may connect not simply to priestly theology, traumatic experience, and ecological hermeneutics, but more specifically to the ways these elements bear on the identity, theology, and even psychology of the defeated and victimized, two experiential categories that characterize the book's presentation of its protagonist and audience. The rhetoric of Ezekiel contains a distinctive use of nature terminology. The devastation and rejuvenation of nature-crops, trees, vines, etc.-is a common motif in the prophetic literature. Ezekiel also contains this motif, but it looks markedly different. The devastation and rejuvenation of nature in Ezekiel have a characteristic emphasis on God's direct, personal, and harsh treatment of the earth and on the land itself as sinful, guilty, and polluted.

While a number of studies have noted these features,11 in what follows I attempt to show that Ezekiel's nature terminology takes on a new rhetorical significance when viewed in light of priestly perspectives and the trauma of defeat and destruction. In particular, the following analysis suggests that such language serves as part of Ezekiel's effort to reshape the understanding of those who are victims and thus to deal with, or at least give expression to, the trauma of defeat. Ezekiel adds, it will be argued, two priestly dimensions to the motif of the devastation and rejuvenation of nature in order to interpret the trauma of Babylonian actions against Judah12 as the outworking of divine holiness. First, Ezekiel's descriptions of destructive acts against nature in particular contain an explicit, overarching rationale not seen in other prophetic traditions, namely, that Yahweh undertakes these actions so that Israel and the nations will "know" or acknowledge his name and identity. …

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