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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog

Ezekiel, Daniel

Ezekiel is another prophet shaped by the Babylonian Exile, as he accompanied the exiles to Babylon in 587 BCE. As we saw with Jeremiah, much of Ezekiel's writings are concerned with articulating the enormous sense of devastation the people of ancient Israel felt at the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, and the forced exile of so many of the leaders and people – articulating their sorrow and grief, and also attempting to explain these events as caused by the sins of the people. I highly recommend skimming most of the middle section of the book, therefore, to get a feel for these prophecies and yet to not get too caught up in their somewhat repetitive nature and expressions of anger. Do attend, however, to the first chapter, with its extraordinarily detailed and rather wild imagery of the throne of God; here Ezekiel is attempting to express the inexpressible, and the vividness and strangeness of the picture is fabulous. The other focus in this book is chapter 37, one of my favorite Bible passages, the image of the valley of dry bones. After all his anger, Ezekiel offers this wonderful picture of the restoration of Israel to a new life with God; note how it parallels the creation of Adam in Genesis.

Daniel is an odd book that appears to have two different parts: the first six chapters are wonderful tales of his miraculous doings as an Israelite living in Babylon, while the last six chapters survey the history of a much later period using imagery of an apocalyptic battle between forces of good and evil. The stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Daniel in the lion's den, are classic folktales; the latter chapters provide the imagery that we will explore more thoroughly next year in the apocalyptic (end-of-the-world) passages found to some extent in the gospels and more fully in the Book of Revelation.

The Book of Daniel has some peculiarities that bear on what little we know about the formation of the canon, or official list of the books of the Bible - in this case, of the Hebrew Bible or our Old Testament. We have evidence of one specific rabbinical ruling, regarding the Book of Ecclesiasticus (note - not Ecclesiastes!), in which they decided that it did not belong in the canon as it was known to have been written around 180 BCE, much later than the sixth through fourth centuries BCE, when it was widely believed the other books of the Bible had been written. Thus it is generally accepted that the canon was "closed," that no other books were added to it, after the middle of the second century BCE. The entire second half of Daniel, however, was written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, and refers quite specifically to certain historic events, so Biblical scholars are quite certain that it was written about 165 BCE - too late to be included in the canon. The first part, with the famous folktales, was written in Hebrew and much earlier, but still only around the late fourth or early third centuries. The book slipped in, however, because of its attribution to Daniel, a figure claimed to be part of the Babylonian exile, which thus would have put it in the collection of putative sixth century writings. Odd doings, indeed.