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Ezekiel’s Topography of the (Un-)Heroic Dead in Ezekiel 32: 17–32

From: Journal of Biblical Literature
Volume 132, Number 3, 2013
pp. 607-624 | 10.1353/jbl.2013.0036



This essay is an attempt to address several interpretive problems in Ezek 32:17–32 in light of religious ideas prominent in ancient Mediterranean expressions of hero cult. Previous studies have not adequately dealt with the richness of Ezekiel’s striking and unusual imagery in this passage, and I contend that a reading that more fully develops the meaning of Ezekiel’s presentation vis-à-vis the history of religious ideas regarding the power of the heroic dead is the most appropriate one in terms of Ezekiel’s overarching message in this chapter. I argue that Ezekiel’s invocation of ancient Israelite heroic traditions involving the Gibborim and Nephilim are more pronounced than previous interpreters have been willing to acknowledge, and that a more complete exposition of the passage in light of Ezekiel’s (re)interpretive motif involving the role of the “heroes of old” (v. 27, with the LXX) yields nuances that have not received adequate exploration. I also demonstrate the manner in which a fuller integration of the exegesis of this passage with cognate traditions regarding the afterlife of heroes in ancient Greece and elsewhere in the Mediterranean reveals hitherto unnoticed nuances behind several enigmatic phrases in this passage. This demonstration provides a more detailed and forceful context supporting the claim already made by several commentators that the theological importance of Ezek 32:17–32 rests specifically with its rejection of heroic ideals. Finally, my analysis shows that this passage exhibits a more striking authorial unity than has typically been assumed, viz., that Ezekiel’s pervasive heroic imagery and reference to the underworld form a unified, coherent, and provocative description of an impotent and (un-)heroic foreign horde inhabiting their own ignominious places in the afterlife.

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