Friday, December 12, 2014

Was Ezekiel a false prophet?

The question arises due to conflicts between the Mosaic cultus and Ezk 40-48. Insofar as Mosaic revelation supplies the benchmark to distinguish true from false prophecy (Deut 13:1-5; 18:15-18), discrepancies between the Pentateuch and Ezekiel potentially invalidate Ezekiel's prophetic status.

i) Since liberals don't assume that the Pentateuch antedates Ezekiel, the Pentateuch isn't a benchmark for them in this regard. 

ii) There is, of course, a question concerning the degree to which the Mosaic Covenant is a benchmark. If the Mosaic Covenant is provisional, then at some juncture it would be supplanted by something different. 

iii) However, that's a bit circular. What if a false prophet said his oracle marks the turning-point at which the Mosaic Covenant is defunct? 

One distinction concerns the scope of Deut 13:1-5 & 18:15-18. Ezekiel doesn't have a different doctrine of God than Moses. He's not enticing Israelites to abandon Yahweh and embrace a pagan god or gods. Rather, the differences concern the priestly line, vestments, a new moon offering, and sanctuary furnishings. 

iv) It's not as if Ezekiel is attacking the status quo. For the Mosaic cultus was already inoperative during the Babylonian Exile. There was no extant temple or tabernacle. So Ezekiel is not a revolutionary who is challenging business as usual. 

To the contrary, given the fact that the Mosaic cultus was in abeyance during the exile, the question naturally arose as to whether, at the end of the exile, the situation would revert to the status quo ante. Would past practice resume, or did the Exile mark a definitive break with the past? Was the status quo ante to some degree irretrievable? After God restored them to the land of Israel, were they to pick up where they left off, or begin something new?

v) In addition, it's not as if Ezekiel contravenes the Mosaic cultus. Ezk 40-48 is descriptive, not proscriptive. It is simply a record of his vision. A verbal record of what he saw and heard. It doesn't directly evaluate the Mosaic cultus. 

vi) Of course, this still raises a thorny question concerning the significance of his vision. What is that about? Is it about the future? Is it about something earthly? Is it about something heavenly? 

vii) Although most Jews didn't received the kinds of visions that OT prophets did, there's a sense in which, by recording their visions, OT prophets enabled their audience to individually reexperience the vision, as if it happened to them. They were viewing the same scene through the eyes of the prophet. His picturesque narrative recreates the pilgrimage. 

Imagine seeing what Ezekiel saw, as it unfolded. The layout has a climactic design. You mount seven steps to an outer gate. Then you mount eight steps to the inner court. Then you mount ten steps to the temple porch. Then you mount several steps to the altar. In addition, the hallway narrows from fourteen cubits upon entering the porch, to ten cubits upon entering the great hall, to six cubits upon entering the inner sanctum. Cf. D. Block, Beyond the River Chebar (Cascade Books, 2013), chap. 9. 

So you keep rising to reach your destination. And the hallway keeps narrowing. A change in both vertical and horizontal space. That heightens the suspense. 

The Solomonic temple was long gone, yet there was still a temple–"wherever" this was. Evidently, there had always been a temple. A temple far more spectacular than Solomon's. Moreover, the Solomonic temple was destructible, but this temple is indestructible insofar as it appears to occupy an unearthly space or timeless realm in Ezekiel's vision. A "place" untouched by the ravages of terrestrial time and space. An otherworldly exemplar. "Not made by human hands."

The exiles were living in Babylon, far from home. In a heathen land. The Solomonic temple was a thing of the past. And yet here's a temple! "Somewhere," this temple exists (or maybe subsists). In the Spirit, Ezekiel is taken to this temple. A surreal temple. Unimaginably greater than Solomon's. The Solomonic temple was forever lost, yet what they lost was a pale imitation of this greater reality. And they could retrace Ezekiel's pilgrimate. In effect, they could see it for themselves by visualizing his description. 

A generation that was born in exile, who never knew the Solomonic temple, had imaginative access to this greater temple, through the mediation of Ezekiel's revelation. 

Some commentators assume this must a blueprint, given the level of detail. They think it would be pointless otherwise. But that fails to enter into the recorded experience. 

Supose if you had an extended dream. Suppose you had an accurate recollection of the dream. If you wrote out what you saw, it would be a lengthy, detailed description. 

viii) Ezekiel is a transitional book. It has one foot in the old covenant and one foot in the new covenant. Indeed, it has one foot in the world to come. Sometimes the Shekinah emerges from the world to come, to enter Ezekiel's world. Sometimes Ezekiel is drawn (at least imaginatively) into the world to come. Ezekiel stands at a crossroads between two covenants, two epochs, and two worlds. 

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