Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations in Light of a Royal Ideology of Warfare

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations in Light of a Royal Ideology of Warfare

Article excerpt

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Over the last few decades a steady stream of scholarship has argued for a mythological background to the oracles against the nations (OANs) in the book of Ezekiel.1 Very few studies, however, have attempted to make overarching sense of Ezekiel's use of mythological motifs, either in the oracles or as part of the theological and literary project of the book. This essay will argue that Ezekiel's use of mythological motifs of a cosmological type, both in the cycle of OANs and as part of the book as a whole, is derived from the royal military ideology that was current in Jerusalem prior to the exile, and that the oracles constitute a direct attempt to incorporate the experience of exile into this ideology. Ultimately, however, Ezekiel's initial efforts to this end were perceived to have failed, and alternative ideological explanations of warfare were introduced, either by Ezekiel himself or by an editor. I will conclude by addressing the accrual of this additional material.

I. Current Research

There are two principal exceptions to the generally ad hoc studies of mythological motifs in Ezekiel. The first of these is the work of Christoph Auffarth, who addresses the purpose of Ezekiel's mythological allusions as part of a study of the theme of creation in myth and ritual.2 His analysis of the Tyre oracles in chs. 26-28 argues that the oracles aim to emphasize Yahweh's particular kingship and deploy the mythological motifs to this end.3 Of eventual importance for his interpretation of Ezekiel's use of these motifs is the question whether the mythology behind the allusions was "Canaanite," that is, native to Tyre, or "Israelite" in origin-a question that is deferred for an examination of the oracles against Egypt on the grounds that the use of Egyptian mythological material in those oracles would indicate that Ezekiel was using foreign nations' own traditions against them, rather than using native Israelite traditions.4 To this end Auffarth contends that the oracles against Egypt in chs. 29-32 reflect Egyptian mythology about the gods Horus and Seth; he consequently concludes that the motifs used against Tyre are Canaanite rather than Israelite in origin.5 As a result of these conclusions, Auffarth goes on to argue that Ezekiel's use of these (foreign) mythological motifs is part of a political polemic against the gods and customs of Babylon, with the dating scheme in chs. 40-48 pointing toward a subversive theological reinterpretation of the New Year festivities that were celebrated in Babylon in association with the kingship of Marduk.6 In summation, Auffarth believes that Ezekiel was presenting an entirely new interpretation of the traditional theology of Heilsgeschichte, focused on a new festival celebrating Yahweh's kingship.7

The principal difficulty with Auffarth's interpretation is his contention that the mythological motifs in question are not natively "Israelite"; by extension, his conclusion that Ezekiel's use of these motifs marks a significant and novel departure from the theological tradition is also problematic.

The New Year tradition to which Auffarth believes Ezekiel is objecting was centered on the annual celebration of the kingship of the god Marduk. More specifically, this was a celebration of the kingship that had been won by Marduk through his successful defeat of the goddess Tiamat at the time of creation. Tiamat being a deification of cosmic chaos, Marduk's defeat of her had enabled the creation of an ordered universe. However, this motif-often referred to as the Chaoskampf-was common throughout the ancient Near East and, more importantly, it has already been convincingly established that such a tradition was well known in Israel and Judah.8 Though deliberately obscured in the Priestly account of creation in Genesis 1, it is clear from other texts that Israel and Judah knew of a cosmological account in which it was Yahweh's victory over the forces of chaos, embodied as watery sea creatures, that enabled the establishment of an ordered world. …

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