woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2005; in: Interpretation

Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (SHBC), Smyth & Helwys, 2005

Review in: Interpretation 2007 61: 214
Review door: Katheryn Pfisterer Darr
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/61/2/214.full.pdf+html

by Margaret S. Odell
Smyth & Helwys, Macon, 2005. 565 pp. $60.00. ISBN 1-57312-073-1.

MARGARET S. ODELL'S HiGHLY-anticipated Ezekiel commentary joins a spate of recent studies on the prophetic corpus attributed to a Judean priest compelled by God to function as prophet to his fellow exiles in Babylonia. In lucid, often eloquent prose, Odell guides her readers through Ezekiel's literary units in two sections: "Commentar/' and "Connections." In the former, critical methodologies illumine a text's linguistic, historical, literary, and theological dimensions. In the latter, she probes its potential relevance for contemporary, Christian readers. Sidebars set in smaller typeface and scattered throughout the book supply additional insights gleaned from various fields (e.g., archaeology, sociology, theology, politics, and church history), as well as technical information that can be essential for weighing Odell's arguments and conclusions.

Chock-a-block with illustrations and photographs, this handsome volume (reproduced on an accompanying CD-ROM) sets before its readers a visual feast. True, one longs for the occasional color plate. But the sheer quantity of stunning images and informative captions more than compensates for the book's black-and-white format. As Ellen Davis observes, "[t]he truly'illuminating' illustrations are a study in themselves" (p. x). Moreover, Odell further enlivens the reading experience with a wealth of (mostly) Ezekiel-inspired literary works, including poetry by George Herbert and Yehuda Amichai, to name only two. Together, these resources not only enrich our encounter with Ezekiel's text, but also teach us much about its "multimedia" history of interpretation.

Odell describes Ezekiel's book as a "prophetic diary" (p. 1) that possibly documents his words on specific occasions, but functions in its final form as YHWH's appeal to the second generation of exiles. This approach acknowledges the prophet's multiple audiences, including fellow deportees who encounter his judgment oracles even as Judah's fate hangs in the balance, and those who read his book on the other side of Jerusalem's destruction with an eye to its relevance for their own uncertain future. But it blunts the question of how Ezekiel's oracles might have impacted his pre-586 B.C.E. contemporaries.

In a brief introduction, Odell sketches the collection's contents, touches upon its literary structure, distinctive features, coherence, and genre (it bears striking similarities to Esarhaddon's Babylonian inscriptions), summarizes its historical context, and identifies several of its overarching theological themes. Radically theocentric, the book of Ezekiel constitutes a "theological manifesto for exiles," provides a "foundation for the reconciliation of a deeply fragmented Judean community," and emphasizes YHWH's "faithfulness" to rebellious Israel (pp. 10-11). Most scholars would agree that ancient Near Eastern (especially Assyrian) ideology, iconography, traditions, and literary genres have influenced Ezekiel and his scroll. But Odell's decision to devote over five pages of an eleven page introduction to argue this point leaves little space for the full range of critical issues that are best broached before readers launch into portions of the Commentary proper. Many of these issues are treated in subsequent sections, but there is no guarantee that Odell's readers (who, unlike reviewers, seldom digest commentaries from beginning to end) will encounter all of them.

As one progresses through the commentary, the length of Odell's analyses decreases. Her intense interest in Ezek 1-24, where judgment oracles against Jerusalem/Judah abound, is evident: each chapter merits an average of almost thirteen pages of commentary, connections and sidebars. Chapters 25-39, containing Ezekiel's oracles against foreign nations and rulers, as well as important restoration oracles addressed to Israel, are treated in approximately ten pages each. The text of her commentary on Ezek 37:1-4, a "report of a trance experience" (p. 453) in which the prophet witnesses a valley filled with dry bones, fills fewer than two pages. But chs. 40-48, Ezekiel's "Vision of the Dominion of Yhwh," receive on average only six plus pages of commentary and connections each, bucking recent trends to delve more deeply into the book's climactic conclusion. Her treatment of the temple complex meticulously detailed in those final chapters emphasizes its "openness": "Here the exiles would encounter open doors and gates, open and everlasting access to the sanctifying presence of God" (p. 531). But she downplays the text's evident concern to keep the structure's most sacred precincts "off limits" to all but the high priests.

Specialists will discern in Odell's commentary her keen desire to examine Ezekiel's oracles afresh, to reject established arguments, and to chart innovative avenues of interpretation. This approach generates intriguing ideas for Ezekiel scholars, who are in a position to locate and evaluate her arguments within the larger context of informed debate. But readers for whom her work serves as an entrée to the field are left with some highly idiosyncratic notions about this prophet's "brainy, enchanting book" (p. xiii). (Ezekiel's book is certainly "brainy," but "enchanting?") Note, for example, her interpretations of the "sour grapes" proverb performed in ch. 18, and especially of the four "abominations" Ezekiel witnesses after the "spirit" transports him to Jerusalem's temple (Ezek 8). Commentators tend to interpret these abominations as more-or-less discrete examples of idolatry, but Odell views them as separate stages in a coherent, thoroughly Yahwistic complaint ritual that fails to elicit God's return because the people rely on cult monuments instead of offering the child sacrifices YHWH demands. Odell's primary agenda is to advance her own interpretations, but an important task of commentators writing for a broad readership is to situate their own scholarship within the broader horizon of interpretive opinions.

A substantial number of errors slipped through the copy editing process. (It would take a better woman than me not to note that the general bibliography attributes my own Ezekiel commentary in the New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Series to Daniel I. Block.) Sidebars, in particular, suffer from errors: "Birth Narratives and National Destinies," to cite a single example, ends mid-sentence. Moreover, locating sidebars can prove irksome for readers. They sometimes fall on or near the pages where bracketed references to them occur. But frequently, one must "flip" to find them. For example, p. 30 refers readers to the "Many Waters" sidebar, which does not appear until p. 240; p. 436 directs us to "Uses of the Word-Event Formula in Ezekiel" sidebar, which appeared on p. 78. Under these circumstances, one's only recourse is to flip forward to the "Index of Sidebars." This problem could easily have been rectified by placing a page number after the sidebar citation. One might assume that reading the commentary on CD-ROM alleviates this problem. Perhaps it does, but this reviewer could not access the sidebars without quite a lot of "clicking." Daunted, I set my software-steeped research assistant to the task of demonstrating just how simple the search process really was, but it confounded her as well.

Despite these limitations, Odell's commentary contributes substantially to the ever-burgeoning field of Ezekiel studies. Few scholars, I suspect, will reread Ezekiel's initial description of God's enthroned Glory without recalling her detailed demonstration of how Assyrian throne room iconography has left its mark upon his account. However, her insistence that Ezekiel's vision is "static" does not accord with its repeated emphasis on mobility, as well as its depiction of God's Glory speaking to the awe struck prophet-in-the-making who witnesses it. Her commentary and connections on Ezek 31:18 include superb statements about the impact of the fall of Assyria, the great tree, on Ezekiel, his nation, and their world. Her claim that the "shepherds of Israel" in 34:1-34 are foreign overlords, not native Israelite leaders, commands immediate assent, with important consequences for how we interpret the restoration oracles in chs. 34-48. And her sidebar on "Postcolonial Criticism" (p. 397) presents as succinct a summary of that method as one could wish. In short, no one who wishes to remain abreast of contemporary conversations in Ezekiel scholarship should overlook Odell's thought-provoking, sometimes controversial, contribution.

Katheryn Pfisterer Darr

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