AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents of the Book. | The Ezekiel Problem. | Authorship. | The Personality of Ezekiel. | Conclusions. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


In its broad outlines the book consists of two main divisions:

i-xxiv deals with the approaching fall of Jerusalem and the dissolution of the State, while xxv-xlviii (apart from xxvxx) has for its central theme the restoration of Jerusalem and the reconstitution of the State as a religious community.

These two main divisions may be sub-divided as follows:

i-xi: The prophet's call; the announcement of the fall of Jerusalem and of the fate of its inhabitants as a punishment for their idolatrous worship, in consequence of which Yahweh departs from "the midst of the city" (xi- 23).
-xix: A continuation of the same theme; prophets, priests, people and rulers have all gone astray; retribution will come upon them; a special denunciation is uttered against Jerusalem, the "harlot" (xvi).
xx-xxiv: A further denunciation of the people for their many sins, and reiterated prophecies of the fall of the city.
 xxv-xx: Oracles against the surrounding nations.
xxi-xxxix: In the main, these chapters contain promises of restoration; but xxxiv.1-22 is a denunciation against the "shepherds of Israel", and xxxv is a prophecy of the destruction of Edom.
xl-xlviii: The ideal Temple, and (xlvii, xlvm) the renewed fertility of the land when Yahweh comes to dwell once more among His people.



Strictly speaking there are two problems that present themselves in our book:

  1. The historical situation;
  2. The person of the prophet; but, as will be seen, the solution of the former necessarily brings with it the solution of the latter. Nevertheless, for the sake of clearness, we will indicate each separately.
  1. Ezekiel is represented as living among the exiles in Babylon who were deported in 597 BC. The theme of his preaching is the coming destruction of Jerusalem. But though he is living in Babylon he addresses himself exclusively to the people in Jerusalem in chs.i-xxiv. He has no word of comfort or encouragement to those exiles among whom he is living; however deserving the people of Jerusalem were of the prophet's denunciation, it must strike one as strange that he has nothing to say to those of his immediate surroundings. A prophet always exercised his ministry by word of mouth to those among whom he lived; here they are ignored, while he addresses himself to a far-off audience who cannot hear him, and performs symbolic actions for the instruction of those who cannot see him. Under such circumstances how can Ezekiel be regarded as a prophet in the true sense? And yet in these first twenty-four chapters everything points to Ezekiel as a prophet exercising his activity face to face with his people. He speaks as if in their very midst, his words pulsate with passion; the earnestness and sincerity of his utterances, generated by a sense of responsibility, do not read like a written message penned far away from the scene of action. So that, explain the matter as we may, the problem is there.
  1. Closely connected with this is the question as to what we are to make of the prophet as depicted in the book. On the one hand, as we have just seen, the book represents Ezekiel as a prophet in the truest sense of the word. On the other hand, much that we read in the book is of a purely literary character, the outcome of calm reflection. And it is difficult to see how the writer of chs.i-xxiv, which record prophetic activity, can be the same as the meditative philosopher who expresses his thoughts in the later chapters. This twofold problem, therefore, turns upon the question of authorship.



Up to within recent years it was held almost unanimously that the book of Ezekiel was a literary unity.

A notable exception was Ewald, who pointed to the contrast between the two main divisions of the book. The former representing clearly the utterances of a prophet, the latter, however, not suggesting the picture of a prophet active among his people, but rather one given to literary labours. The implication was that unity of authorship could with difficulty be postulated. But from the time that Ewald wrote, three quarters of a century ago, until comparatively recently, he had few, if any, to follow him.

Thus, McFadyen, in the latest edition of his Introduction, writes:

"We have in Ezekiel the rare satisfaction of studying a carefully elaborated prophecy whose authenticity has, till recently, been practically undisputed. It is not impossible that there are, as Kraetzschmar maintains, occasional doublets, e.g. ii.3-7 and iii.4-9; but these, in any case, are very few and hardly affect the question of authenticity. The order and precision of the priestly mind are reflected in the unusually systematic arrangement of the book." [Introduction to the Old Testament, p.187 (1932).]

McFadyen remarks, however, in reference to the problems raised by Holscher (Hesekiel, der Dichter und das Buch (1924).), James Smith (The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (1931), and Torrey (Preudo-Ezekiel & the Original Prophecy (1930), that

"the new problems raised by these scholars have not yet had time to receive adequate discussion." [Op. cit., p.203.]

It will be worth while to set in review quite briefly the opinions regarding its authorship held by some recent writers on the subject.

We may begin with Kraetzschmar, though his work was published some time ago. (Das Buch Ezechiel (1900).) 

He argues strongly against literary unity, pointing to the many instances in which the narrative breaks off incontinently, to the large number of chapters in which want of order is discernible, and to numerous parallel texts and doublets. He also draws attention to several sections in the book, which have opening and closing formula, giving the impression that they are independent pieces. He concludes that there were two recensions of the book, in one of which the prophet spoke in the first person, in the other he is spoken of in the third person. Therefore, Ezekiel cannot have put the book together himself, but that a redactor who made various alterations and additions did this. [As a matter of fact there are two instances in which Ezekiel is spoken of in the third person (i.3; xxiv.24), & in the second of these it is in speech of Yahweh's.]

Herrmann (Ezechiel (1924)) agrees with Kraetzschmar in not regarding the book as a connected literary production, but disagrees entirely with the conclusion drawn from this. He points to the fact that the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah contain collections of independent sections that are the work of these prophets, respectively, and maintains that the same is the case with Ezekiel. He holds that the book was put together by degrees by Ezekiel himself, who made alterations, modifications and corrections from time to time; he sees, therefore, no need for the two recensions theory of Kraetzschmar. This remodelling theory of Herrmann's will account, as he maintains, for all the literary difficulties presented in the book; the many marks of the redactor's hand he fully recognizes.

Herrmann agrees, therefore, with the hitherto dominant view as to unity of authorship, though he would assign more to the work of the redactor than has, until recently, generally been the case.

Much more drastic is Holscher's treatment of the book; he insists that a more rigorous distinction must be made between the prophet's writing and the redactional elements, of which there are various kinds. Holscher maintains that in the first instance a redactor worked over the book in its original form, making numerous additions. Then, from time to time, other editors added their quota, the last of these being one who belonged to the Deuteronomic school of thought, but who attempted to imitate the style and thought of Ezekiel much in the same way as Trito-Isaiah wrote under the influence of Deutero-Isaiah. This redactor is held to have lived in the fifth century. Holscher's discernment and ingenuity demand recognition, but his work is vitiated by arbitrary assumptions that lack adequate proof. Thus, for example, he insists that Ezekiel was not a prophet in the ordinary sense, but a poet. And therefore only the poetical passages in the book belong to him. And sometimes he manipulates the text (e.g. in xv, xvi) in an unwarrantable way in order to make poetry out of prose. A poet, he argues, does not mix up symbolism and concrete fact, therefore any passage in which this appears cannot belong to Ezekiel; it must be the work of a redactor. Very arbitrary is Holscher's contention that the doctrine of individual responsibility must be post-exilic, and that therefore any passage in which this is dealt with cannot have been written by Ezekiel. There are various other instances of a priori assumptions, which necessitate the relegation of many passages to the hands of redactors; in the final result only about a sixth of the book is assigned to Ezekiel himself.

Far more sober is Kittel's treatment of the book. [Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iii, pp.144-180 (1927).] He believes that recognizing that Ezekiels experiences in the two very different environments of Palestine and Babylonia generated in him a kind of dual personalty can solve the literary problems of the book. He was a priest, but he had to turn his back on the functions of the priesthood. He was a prophet, yet his thoughts constantly reverted to the Temple. Babylonia was so different from Palestine. He was thus a prophet full of burning passion; yet he was a priest full of pedantic casuistry, a theologian who reflected in calm consideration. Moreover, he was a poet, not wanting in poetic ardour, yet often descending to wearisome prose. These different elements in the personality of Ezekiel, due to the great change of environment, explain, according to Kittel, some otherwise puzzling features in the book. He holds, therefore, apart from redactional elements, to unity of authorship.

Torrey presents a very different picture. [Pseudo-Ezekiel & the Original Prophecy (1930).] In one important respect he puts forth a theory that is likely to be widely accepted. He argues with much force, that we have in chs.i-xxiv (apart from redactional elements) a prophecy uttered in Jerusalem. The theme of these chapters, as we have seen, is the coming calamity upon the city. The hearers are addressed as a "rebellious house". And the "prophet" - though not, according to Torrey, Ezekiel is spoken of as dwelling "in the midst of a rebellious house" (.2). That Jerusalem is meant is universally recognized. The most obvious and natural conclusion is that the prophecy was uttered in Jerusalem, and that the people addressed were the inhabitants of the city. Were it not for what is said in i.1-3, a confessedly worked-over passage, and certain other references in the book to Babylonia, nobody would think of denying that Ezekiel had lived and worked in Jerusalem during some period of his life before being taken with the exiles to Babylonia.

This part of Torrey's argument (excepting his refusal to regard Ezekiel as the prophet in question) must be regarded as convincing. But apart from this his thesis is quite unacceptable. He maintains that our book is a pseudepigraphic work written about 230BC by one who gave it the appearance of having been penned by a prophet during the reign of Manasseh (696-641BC). This supposed late author is represented as wishing to show that the fictitious prophet warned the people about the coming calamity on Jerusalem. The author, according to Torrey, took ii Kgs.xxi.1-17 as his starting-point; on this he constructed his work of fiction. Subsequently a redactor worked over this book, though as little as possible, and skilfully interpolated various passages in order to give it a Babylonian dress.

Apart from these interpolations, which Torrey finds no difficulty in designating; the book forms a literary unity. [A seaching critism of Torrey's work is offered by Shalom Speigel in The Harvard Theological Review, Oct. 1931, pp.245-321.]

James Smith offers a very different, but likewise original view. [The Book of Ezekiel (1931).] He holds that Ezekiel's prophetic activity extended approximately from 722-669BC, partly in Palestine and partly among the northern exiles. In each of these two centres he composed oracles. One set in Palestine and the other among the exiles in Assyria from, the northern kingdom; both were artificially united together by a redactor. In confirmation of this James Smith recalls the tradition preserved by Josephus (Antiq.x.79), that Ezekiel wrote two books, and the Jewish belief that Ezekiel's prophetic activity commenced in Palestine. According to this view Ezekiel was not connected with Judah and Jerusalem, but with northern Israel and Gerizim.

That Ezekiel worked as a prophet in Jerusalem is believed, on the other hand, by Herntrich to have been the case, and he also disagrees with James Smith regarding the period of the prophet's activity, as well as with Torrey's views. (Ezechielprobleme (1932).) He holds that Ezekiel exercised his prophetical office in Jerusalem during the years 593-586BC, and that chs.ii-xxiv, in the main (see below), and xxv-xxxix belong to him. These Jerusalem prophecies were later worked over by an exilic redactor who clothed them in a Babylonian dress. He was responsible for ch.i, for the framework of the vision of Ezekiel's call in chs.ii, iii, similarly for the Babylonian elements in chs.viii and xi, for xxi.21-23, and with "considerable probability" for chs.xl-xlviii.

Besides this, the exilic redactor's hand is to be discerned in various other minor additions. (E.g. xiv.21-23, xxi.30-33.)

It is also probable that still later redactors have in numerous instances further amplified, and sometimes corrupted, the text; this, however, applies mainly to chs.xl-xlviii.

The contents of the book, in Herntrich's view, present us with the pictures of two different worlds: the world of the genuine Judaean prophet, and the world of the exilic redactor. The latter has constructed a framework around the genuine prophecy, and by means of theosophical speculations and a widely embracing scheme of revelation, has sought to prove the unity of his God in opposition to the Babylonian pantheon. Signs of his work are to be discerned throughout the book; the genuine prophecy forms the central picture around which the redactor has constructed his framework; at the close of the book he has added his religious programme of the future, which is not a prophecy, but a "sacerdotal" polity. Thus, our book received its present form in Babylonia. It is probable, though this cannot be proved, that Ezekiel was among the exiles of one of the later deportations, and brought with him his written prophecies. This would explain how they came into the hands of the Babylonian redactor.

[In further support of Herntrich's view, we may point out that, except for some rather long & artificially constructed poems, the book belongs in form to what we have called type C (see above, p.229), the prophetic message delivered in prose & placed in the first person. As we have observed elsewhere, it seems probable that this was the form that a prophet's oracles assumed when he himself was responsible for their being written down, whether he did the work himself, or whether he dictated it to a scribe. This would account for the form the book assumed in such portions as were really Ezekiel's.]

Whether Herntrich's conclusions be accepted or not, it must be allowed that they go a long way in solving the problem of the book.


As already pointed out, this presents us with a second problem closely connected with the preceding. Taking the book as it stands there is much to show that Ezekiel was a prophet pure and simple. There is also much to show that he was a writer and nothing else. And there is, furthermore, much to show that he was a mystic.

While it must be recognized that it is possible for the characteristics of the prophet, the author, and the mystic to be centred in one man, it will not be denied that this is a very difficult and improbable combination.

To the question of the mystic we shall turn presently; apart from this there are, broadly speaking, two views held with regard to Ezekiel: to many earlier critics, who saw in the book purely a literary production, Ezekiel was no prophet, but only a writer, who constructed an artificial picture. And since, according to some who held this view, the city had already fallen when he wrote, his "prophecy" was nothing more than a literary device.

Many scholars disagree with this view, foremost among whom is Herrmann. He protests that one must have but a meagre apprehension of the power of religious witness not to discern the impassioned fervour which quivers in many of Ezekiel's utterances, prompted as they were by the needs and conditions of the times. "His historical philosophic solution of the cause of the present tragic state of affairs is anything but the theorizing product of the study," says Herrmann; on the contrary, it is clearly the outcome of practical experience, intended to be of present help and service. Similarly, when he deals with the subject of individual responsibility and retribution; this is not the product of quiet meditation and calm reflection; it is forced upon the prophet through the dire reality of what he sees around him.

It will, therefore, be seen, that the view taken of the prophet's personality has a direct bearing upon the literary problem that the book presents.

But there is one other matter in connexion with Ezekiel that demands attention. In Ezek.viii.1ff we read:

"And it came to pass ... as I sat in mine house, and the elders of Judah sat before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me ... and he put forth an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem ... "  

In the chapters that follow, a vivid description is given of what the prophet sees in Jerusalem. It is nowhere told how Ezekiel was brought back to Babylonia, though in ch.xiv it is clear that he is again in the land of exile (cp. verse 1 with viii.1).

What is the explanation of the strange narrative contained here? Many solutions have been attempted. They fall, roughly, into two categories. It is held by some that Ezekiel was psychically abnormal and had the gift of second sight, so that we have here a case of clairvoyance. Others insist that the apparently supernatural episodes are to be explained on simpler and more rational lines. He acknowledges that modem scientific psychologists do not recognize the existence of occurrences such as are told of Ezekiel; if such are recorded, it is contended that they are mere coincidences or pure chicanery.

As perhaps the best representative of the former point of view, Kittel may be designated. [Op.cit., iii.147.] Kittel does not dogmatize. But in view of the advance of knowledge in the domain of psychology and of modern conceptions of time and space, he doubts whether we are justified in denying the possibility of clairvoyance, or in refusing to recognize any element of mystery in connexion with such a confessedly remarkable personality as that of Ezekiel. He recalls the interesting narrative of xxiv.15-27; here the prophet foresees in a vision the death of his wife, and is told that he is to regard this as a symbol of what is to overtake the people, and that his dumbness will pass (Cp.iii.24-26). While this may certainly be regarded as a genuine case of clairvoyance, it can hardly be contended that it stands in the same category as the former narrative.

Other scholars offer a somewhat different explanation. [E.g. Meinhold, Einfuhrung in das Alter Testament, p.260 (1932).] It is rightly pointed out that there were abnormal elements in the personality of Ezekiel. He had periods of unconsciousness, and that he suffered from catalepsy is evident. It is known that people thus afflicted will remain sometimes for weeks bereft of the faculty of speech and of movement, though they do not necessarily lose consciousness altogether, but apprehend to some extent what is going on around them. Sometimes, too, this state is attended by hallucinations. Moreover, at such times both sight and hearing may be affected; though, on the other hand, cases are on record in which, when in a state of catalepsy, the patient's perceptive faculties become in some inexplicable way abnormally acute. From our book it may be gathered, according to this view, that all these things would apply in the case of Ezekiel; while in some such condition he could well have believed himself to have been transported to Jerusalem.

As to the other school of thought a number of opinions are expressed. They may be summarized thus: It is held by some that the visions must be regarded as realities, but that the prophet adopts the device of making it appear that he was in the presence of the people of Jerusalem. In other words, he places himself in imagination in the homeland.

Another explanation is that the visions were not really experienced, but that they are a purely literary description of an imaginary picture constructed by the prophet.

Recent commentators who maintain that the hand of the redactor is to be seen in the accounts of the visions put forward a different view. It is said that Ezekiel experienced these visions while still in Jerusalem and that he wrote them down before he was taken to Babylonia. Then at some later time a redactor - one of the exiles - added the passages about Ezekiel being transported to Jerusalem, since from this redactor's point of view Ezekiel was in Babylonia when he received the visions.

The subject is a difficult one. For much is to be said for and against the various theories held. Whichever is adopted must to some extent depend upon the view taken of the literary problem.

If the book is a literary unity, as earlier scholars held, then one must accept in a literal sense all that the prophet says about his abnormal experiences, however one may explain them.

The more modern view as to the composition of the book, though this is not yet quite free from difficulties, makes the whole subject much easier to understand.


The conclusion to which we are led by the study of recent investigations of our book may, in general outline and omitting details, be put thus: Ezekiel began his ministry in Jerusalem soon after Jehoiakim's revolt against Nebuchadrezzar in 602BC. [According to others 598BC.]

His denunciations against the people of Jerusalem and his prophecies of the fall of the city were soon after put into writing by the prophet himself. In 597 BC he was carried captive to Babylonia, and took with him his written prophecies. While in exile he added to his writings prophecies of restoration. These were addressed to his fellow-exiles; but whether they were written before or after the fall of the city in 586BC cannot be stated with certainty. [Herntrich maintains that "in no case may we assume that Ezekiel exercised his prophetical activity after 586" (op. cit., p.126.)]

At some later period during the Exile the prophet's writings came into the hands of one of his co-religionists who edited them in such a way as to make it appear that the whole material was written in Babylonia. One or more redactors made further minor additions still later. This represents, for the most part, Herntrich's standpoint; to him students of the book of Ezekiel will be permanently indebted.


Cornill, after a minute examination and comparison of the two, has amply showed the trustworthiness and importance of the Septuagint, and therefore its value for the study of the Hebrew text. [Das Buch des Propheten Ezekiel, pp.96-103 (1886).]

As illustrating the honesty of the translator it is found that in many cases, rather than make a guess at the meaning of an unfamiliar word, he transliterates the Hebrew. In numberless cases he follows the Hebrew by giving minute equivalents, such as particles, etc. Often he gives literal translations of the Hebrew that make almost incomprehensible Greek. In such cases it is usually easy to discern the form of the underlying Hebrew text.

On the other hand, free translations are frequent, and many small additions are made in order to make the language of the translation run more smoothly. Further, at times whole sections, some short, others long, occur in which the translation is freer than that of the immediate context, almost giving the impression that a different translator had been at work (e.g. iii.3-7, xxi.5, 6, 22, 32).

In the numerous cases in which the Massoretic text has words or sentences which do not occur in the Septuagint it may be confidently asserted that these did not figure in the form of the Hebrew text used by the Greek translator.

There is thus no doubt that both in general as well as in detail the Septuagint is an absolutely faithful translation, and therefore a trustworthy witness of the Hebrew text extant in Alexandria during the third pre-Christian century.

Its value for text-critical purposes can scarcely be overestimated.