Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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The Book of Ezekiel, along with the books of Job and Isaiah, is one of the most difficult to interpret and understand in the Bible. Ostensibly it represents the story of Ezekiel, a priest living among the Judaeans deported to Babylon (in 597 bce), who became a prophet and had visions about the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem. At times the text reads as if Ezekiel were in Jerusalem rather than in Tel-abib on the River Chebar in Babylonia (1: 1; 3: 15). Many speculative explanations have been offered for this apparent bi-location of Ezekiel, but as usual, evidence is in short supply. Many of Ezekiel's visions and discourses are full of bizarre imagery and some of his (symbolic) actions raise difficult questions about the interpretation of the text.70 For example, Chapter 16 (cf. 23) describes Jerusalem and her sister city, Samaria, at some length (63 verses), together with their sister, Sodom (in 16: 46–56), as the whore daughters of a whore mother. This tale of Whorusalamin (to use James Joyce's word) is a good instance of prophetic rhetoric as pornographic discourse.71 The conventional metaphor of Jerusalem as YHWH's wife allows the writer to see the city's history as one of constant infidelity (cf. Isa. 1: 21–6). The expansion of that metaphor in the fantasy narrative of 16 to include Samaria and Sodom, becomes an intertextual development of a number of biblical traditions. Interestingly enough, the sin of Sodom is specified as ‘pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness … in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy’ (16: 49). By contrast, ever since Augustine's interpretation of the story of Sodom (Gen. 19), the Christian tradition has been that the sin was sodomy, and the destruction of the cities of the plains (Sodom and Gomorrah) by brimstone and fire has regularly been interpreted as divine displeasure against homosexual activities.72 Here in Ezekiel is a very different reading of the ‘iniquity of Sodom’. Towards the end of the fantasy the metaphorical logic leads to ‘the restoration of Sodom’ (16: 53–5) in order to be able to proclaim the restoration of Jerusalem. If Jerusalem was worse than her two sisters, Samaria and Sodom, then Jerusalem's restoration must a fortiori mean the restoration of the two more righteous sisters (16: 47–52).

Chapter.  636 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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