S. Tuell, Ezekiel

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Tuell, Steven, Ezekiel (NIBC, 15; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009). Pp. xv + 368. Paperback. US$16.95. ISBN 978-1-56563-226-4.

This concise, highly readable commentary by a respected Ezekiel scholar, Stephen Tuell, offers the well trained pastor, upper level undergraduate, and seminary student a physically handy, yet fully packed discussion of the book.

The commentary is unquestionably an excellent work of scholarship. In spite of page limitations, Tuell does a superb job of linking his commentary to current discussions about Ezekiel within both English and German speaking scholarly communities. Both the main text and the extensive “notes” sections are replete with references to the most important technical discussions. Due to the volume's size, these secondary references are summary and limited, but they are well chosen, and just as important, they are well articulated given the space available. For a reader who might want to engage a particular issue in more depth, Tuell does a bit more than merely point the way, striking a good balance between the fuller explications possible in a more detailed commentary and an overly brief bibliographic reference, or worse, a vague summary with minimal or no bibliographic detail at all. The book also has quite good Scripture and subject indexes.

Tuell's approach to the question of authorship strikes a balance. He argues that the perspective and contents of the book as a whole fit well within the sixth century time frame and show enough internal consistency to be connected with a single historical prophetic figure (pp. 1–2). One can meaningfully speak of Ezekiel as the author. Yet, consistent with the approach of the series, Tuell is fully critical, noting places where he believes editorial activity is evident (such as, for example, the discussion of chs. 25–32 [p. 168]). While small indicators of editorial activity can be found throughout the book, one can see evidence of major revision most clearly in chs. 40–48 (p. 3). Discussing this section, he argues against Greenberg, identifying tensions within these chapters that are difficult to explain if Ezekiel is the sole author (p. 279).[1] Instead, Tuell follows Gese and Konkel, arguing for an original vision report that has been expanded (p. 280).[2] Unlike them, however, and consistent with his former work on these chapters, he does not see multiple expansions of the original, but rather a “single purposeful revision” undertaken during the period of the restoration that has as its goal a description of “who may legitimately approach God, and how” (p. 281). He dates this revision to sometime during the reign of Darius (522–485 b.c.e.) (p. 3).

In terms of structure, Tuell divides the book into just two large parts, chs. 1–33, which present visions and oracles of judgment, and chs. 34–48 which are filled with visions and oracles of hope (p. 4). While chs. 25–32 are included with the first section, in his comment on this section, Tuell recognizes their quasi independent nature, ascribing both their final form and their placement to the restoration period editors (pp. 167–8).

Tuell also does a very nice job of helping readers negotiate the major interpretive issues of chs. 40–42: the relationship of Ezekiel's visionary temple to either a past, present, or future physical structure. He emphasizes the symbolic nature of this material saying succinctly that these chapters are “not a blueprint, but a vision” (p. 284, italics his). Visions function to convey important ideas symbolically, not to portray physical structures intended for construction.

The New International Bible Commentary (NIBC) is explicit about charting a middle ground between a pre-critical mode of interpretation and what the editors describe as the “desert of criticism” (p. x). Thus the series, while being fully critical, encourages its authors to explore the implications of the text for contemporary readers. Tuell covers this part well, and includes quotations of other authors (p. 273), as well as his own reflection on moral issues of our day (p. 239). He notes those few passages from Ezekiel that are part of the Revised Common Lectionary, and briefly articulates their liturgical contexts for the reader (pp. 236, 250). References to New Testament passages are judiciously chosen, and, while rarely fully explicated, are usually developed enough to be useful to someone who is interested.

One consequence of the series format is that it sometimes feels like the commentary is trying to accomplish a bit too much. It may be that, because there is just so much here, some explicitness is sacrificed for breadth. Instead of thoroughly exploring details, Tuell is forced sometimes to offer suggestions and hints, which can be pursued independently by the reader. Discussing Ezekiel's dumbness for example, he notes that prophetic behavior is often depicted as strange or surprising (citing Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Hosea as examples), concluding with the statement that even “Jesus' own family said of him ‘He is out of his mind’ (Mark 3:21)” (p. 17). One wishes for something more to be made of these observations. Why does it matter to the reader that prophetic behavior is depicted as strange? And why does the author think it matters that Jesus's behavior is?

This situation raises the question of audience. The commentary, with its sometimes unexplained technical terms (e.g. Holiness Code), references to secondary literature in German, and relatively detailed discussion of redactional activity, seems not quite designed for the average lay person. Of course, one might argue whether the average lay person should pick up the book of Ezekiel to begin with. Yet the series editors seem to have this person in mind. To be fair, I think Tuell is concerned about this, yet for a non-expert, I think Odell's 2005 commentary is a bit more successful.[3]

This suggests that the book is targeted more toward the scholar. As I already mentioned, for its size the book has wonderful documentation and covers the major critical issues well. It would be my pick for a “needs to fit in my carry-on for SBL” Ezekiel commentary. Of course, it is not, in terms of design and intent, a fully scholarly commentary (such as, e.g., Zimmerli's).[4] This leaves a pretty clear group: the seminary educated pastor, the intellectually inquisitive and well-supervised lay person (who has the willingness to do some legwork), and the seminary or upper level undergraduate student taking a course on the major prophets.

All of these individuals will appreciate this highly readable, carefully researched text, and would have either the personal intellectual resources or the professional guidance required to benefit maximally from it.

D. Nathan Phinney, Malone University

[1] Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 1–20 (AB, 22; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 15. reference

[2] Hartmut Gese, Der Verfassungsentwurf des Ezechiel (Kap. 40–48) traditionsgeschichtlich untersucht (BHT, 25; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1957), 110–14; Michael Konkel, Architektonik des Heiligen: Studien zur zweiten Tempelvision Ezechiels (Ez 40–48) (BBB, 129; Berlin: Philo, 2001), 349–50. reference

[3] Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary; Macon, GA: Smith & Helwys, 2005). reference

[4] Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel (trans. J. D. Martin; 2 vols.; Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983). reference