The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times

By Bob Becking; Marjo C. A. Korpel | Go to book overview

Meindert Dijkstra Utrecht — The Netherlands


The Valley of Dry Bones:
Coping with the Reality of the Exile in the Book of
Ezekiel*

1 Introduction

The image of the Valley of Dry Bones is certainly one of the most impressive metaphors for the Babylonian captivity and the crisis of Israelite religion in the sixth century BCE. Religion under stress is the theme of this conference and, indeed, much stress and despair is contained in the book of Ezekiel in general and this vision in particular. Even so, the same vision expresses the ultimate hope for the future of Judea Capta. How do texts cope with reality and how do their spokesmen make a message of ultimate hope out of a vision of utter despair? How did the Jews in Babylon cope with reality, according to the book of Ezekiel? What were the questions? What were the answers given? The Golah, the Jewish communities in the diaspora, developed views on their Jewish identity. They even made the priest, Ezekiel, son of Buzi, their spokesman. Ultimately, they accepted his grim existence as that of a prophet in their midst (Ezek. 3:15; 8:1; 24:27; 33:33). Close reading of the book of Ezekiel does not intend to reveal only the prophet in person, his whereabouts and any ipsissima verba. Though large parts of the book of Ezekiel go back to the life and work of the priest-prophet of that name, the present book reflects mainly the concerns and expectations of those diaspora Jews who wanted to follow the sunna of this prophet.1

In this paper, I should like to discuss some texts to show what the creative tradition of the Ezekiel School made of its protagonist Ezekiel: a theology of captivity searching for a new religious and cultural identity, if not a new status confessionis. It was in the reinterpretation of his prophecies that the exiled Jews of Babylon taught themselves how to cope with the present situation and what to believe about the future. The present situation with its predicaments was dominated by questions about the present and future relation-

*Texts and other parts of this contribution were used for reading texts from Ezekiel in a workshop at the symposium. I would like to thank all those who participated in my workshop, and offered useful additions and also critical remarks to some of my ideas in statu nascendi.

1 Why I use of the Islamic term sunna in this paper, I will explain later.

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