Review in: JOURNAL OF THE EVANGELICAL THEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 42/4Review door: H. Van Dyke Parunak
Ezekiel 21–37: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. By Moshe Greenberg. AB 22A. New York: Doubleday, 1997, 372 pp., $39.95.
Serious expositors will welcome the appearance of the second volume of Greenberg’s commentary on Ezekiel (the first appeared in 1983). Like the first, it combines rigorous philological and historical scholarship with an epistemological stance that challenges modern orthodoxy in ways often consistent with evangelical presuppositions. Readers should study the introduction to vol. 1 for a discussion of the methodology that supports both volumes. Five characteristics of his work will be of interest to readers of JETS.
First, Greenberg’s primary burden is the exposition of the Masoretic text (MT). He recognizes that this text is often problematic but argues that it is more reliable than reconstructions, and thus the fundamental artifact with which the expositor must be concerned. He always tries to give the reader a meaningful translation and exposition of the MT, while responsibly listing and often discussing both versional variants and conjectural emendations. For instance, the absence of 36:23bb–38 in the earliest Old Greek manuscript and irregularities it exhibits in other witnesses has led some to consider it a latter addition. Greenberg discusses the question in some detail, finally arguing that the section fits both the local structure of the passage and the general tenor of the 6th-century prophets and should be retained.
Second, the exposition draws a wide net across the interpretive spectrum. Greenberg interacts not only with the modern interpreters, but also with premodern interpreters of the Hebrew text. He draws heavily from the rich expository traditions of medieval Judaism, and also from John Calvin “as manifestly utilizing the Hebrew” (p. 24), while remaining thoroughly modern in his technical approach to the text.
Third, unlike many moderns, he finds no need to view the individual prophet (in this case, Ezekiel) as a mask worn by a school. That the oracles may have been collected and arranged in their present form by others than Ezekiel, he has no doubt. But in his mind, the attribution of those individual oracles to Ezekiel the son of Buzi is a claim to be accepted unless explicitly disproved, rather than doubted until explicitly verified. This orientation, implicit in vol. 1, is defended explicitly in the brief preface to vol. 2.
Fourth, Greenberg is sensitive to structural concerns and a holistic interpretation of the text as coherent literature. For each paragraph of text he offers a translation, a section entitled “Comment” dealing with text, lexicon, grammar and parallels, and another section entitled “Structure and Themes.” He does not attempt a comprehensive analysis of symmetric structures in the text, but is sensitive to the thematic grouping and arrangement of paragraphs and how that arrangement contributes to the development of the overall message, in the tradition of Cassuto.
Fifth, evangelicals must understand that though his presuppositions are conservative, his approach within those presuppositions is rationalistic, not apologetic or harmonistic.
The accuracy of Ezekiel’s prophecies is one of the more challenging issues that the book offers to those who confess the infallibility of the Scriptures. For instance, some understand the oracle of the 27th year promising Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar (29:17–21) because he “had no wages” from his campaign against Tyre to admit the failure of the earlier oracles promising that he would conquer Tyre (e.g. the oracle of the eleventh year, 26:3–14, in particular 26:12). Under the founding terms of the prophetic order in Deut 18:15–22, such an admission is tantamount to denying that one is a true prophet. Greenberg devotes no energy to harmonizing 29:17–21 with either 26:12 or Deuteronomy. By his reading, many of Ezekiel’s prophecies did fail, and the prophet was willing to issue quite candid “amendments” bringing things up to date. Greenberg cites with approval Freedman’s observation that “Ezekiel didn’t agree with the assessment of the Deuteronomist about how to tell the difference between true prophets and false prophets” (p. 617). In fact, he takes the existence of these amendments (and their retention even when, in the view of some moderns, some of them failed) as prima facie evidence of the faithfulness of the book’s editors to preserve Ezekiel’s oracles as given rather than recasting and recreating them to suit the objectives of a “school of Ezekiel.”
In reading a classic, one is participating in a conversation with the author and other readers. We evangelicals who wish to engage this conversation in the context of the Bible frequently find our experience dampened. Some conversational partners agree so closely with our own views that we are not stretched by the conversation. Others differ so widely from our presuppositions that meaningful dialog is impossible. Greenberg’s two volumes on Ezekiel offer evangelicals an understandable conversation that will enrich our understanding of the text, respectfully stretch our assumptions about it, and leave us eager for the promised third volume.
H. Van Dyke Parunak
Industrial Technology Institute,
Ann Arbor, MI