The prophet Ezekiel was a very interesting voice in ancient Israel’s faith crisis which was a period in which Israel had very little stability.
For several years Ezekiel would incessantly prophesy and act out the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, which was met with some opposition. Ezekiel would see his prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction fulfilled when it was sacked by the Babylonians. According to scholar Daniel Block,
“Ezekiel is in a class of his own. The concentration of so many bizarre features in one individual is without precedent: his muteness; lying bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death; “spiritual” travels; images of strange creatures, of eyes, and of creeping things; hearing voices and the sounds of water; withdrawal symptoms; fascination with feces and blood; wild literary imagination; pornographic imagery; unreal if not surreal understanding of Israel’s past; and the list goes on” (1).
Because of Ezekiel’s character he has been the subject of numerous psychoanalytical studies (2). E. C. Broome concluded that Ezekiel was a true psychotic who was capable of great religious insight but who also exhibited a series of characteristics such as catatonia, narcissistic-masochistic conflict, schizophrenic withdrawal, delusions of grandeur and of persecution (3). Broome’s analysis would seem to suggest that Ezekiel suffered from a paranoid condition common in many great spiritual leaders. However, as Old Testament historian Walter Breuggemann notes, these psychoanalytic conclusions have been rejected by contemporary psychiatrists (4). There is doubt that it is possible to psychoanalyse someone from history, especially ancient history, from a set of documents since psychoanalysis is a complex process even when it takes place within a face-to-face encounter.
Ezekiel’s story is grounded within what scholars have termed the Priestly tradition. This specific tradition emphasizes YHWH’s holiness and how YHWH’s holy presence could no longer be present in the midst of an impure people. Ezekiel 22:23–31 appears to be a powerful and sweeping indictment against all of the leadership of Judah. Judah possessed a failed leadership which included princes, priests, officials, prophets, and the people of the land. It was these people, according to Ezekiel, who brought corruption to the land, and it is because of them that YHWH would be absent.
With this context one is better able to understand Ezekiel’s bizarre acts. In order to generate the attention he desired, namely the attention for the people to transition from unholiness to purity before YHWH, “he must,” explains Breuggeman,
“find the most extreme and offensive imagery in order to voice what he knows to be the most extreme and offensive distortion of a relationship that began in generosity and compassion” (5).
This is because, says Stevenson, Ezekiel had “concern for the well-being of everyone in the society” (6).
1. Block, D. 1997. The Book of Ezekiel. p. 10.
2. Block, D. 1997. Ibid.
3. Broome, E. 1946. “Ezekiel’s Abnormal Personality” in the Journal of Biblical Literature. p. 277-292.
4. Breuggemann, W. 2003. An Introduction to the Old Testament.
5. Breuggemann, W. 2003. Ibid.
6. Stevenson, K. 1996. Vision of Transformation: The Territorial Rhetoric of Ezekiel. p. 149.