The Complete Book of Ezekiel

A Fond Farewell to God's Swellest Prophet
What's really in the Good Book.
Feb. 13 2007 5:48 PM

The Complete Book of Ezekiel

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Illustration by Rob Donnelly. Click image to expand.

The Book of Ezekiel

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

First, some leftover business. Several Quentin Tarantino-loving readers defended him from the charge of biblical ignorance. They point out that although his Ezekiel passage from Pulp Fictionis biblically inaccurate, it is a faithful quotation from a '70s Japanese karate film (released in the United States as Chiba the Bodyguard).Tarantino mangled Ezekiel, but only because Chiba mangled it first.

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Lots of you answered my question about what movies ripped off the boneyard resurrection scene in Ezekiel, Chapter 37. A couple of readers referred me to the skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts, one mentioned a very early Dracula film, and others proposed the army of dead in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. But the film that seems to hew closest to Ezekiel is Hellraiser, which puts flesh back on the bones of its villain, Frank Cotton. Reader Jensen Rule notes that Hellraiser creator and director Clive Barker is famous for sprinkling biblical references throughout his work.

One more delicious follow-up: Several readers sent me shopping for Ezekiel 4:9 brand cereal, a nourishing breakfast treat based on Ezekiel's 430-day whole-grain diet. The cereal, which is made of Zeke-friendly grains such as millet, barley, spelt, and wheat, looks like gravel and tastes only slightly better. It's like Grape Nuts but more nutritious and even less fun. My 6-year-old daughter ate a few bites and grudgingly pronounced it "OK." When I asked her how she'd like to eat it every day for a year, she exclaimed, "Uck, No!" (Ezekiel 4:9's maker, a Scripture-minded company called Food for Life, produces a variety of Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain products, such as pasta and English muffins, as well as a Genesis 1:29 bread.) Personally, I'd prefer Bible food with a little more sugar—whatever happened to the land of milk and honey?

Chapter 38and Chapter 39
Like a crazy girlfriend, God plays a confusing I-love-you-I-hate-you game with "Gog of Magog." This Gog of Magog business is very confusing: Gog may be a) the king of Magog; b) just another name for Magog; or c) Gog knows what! God dispatches Ezekiel to tell Gog/Magog that they should conquer and destroy the faithless Israelites, thus bringing glory to the Lord. But God also orders Ezekiel to tell them that once they have conquered Israel, He will turn around and obliterate Gog/Magog, thus restoring Zion to greatness and bringing even more glory to God. You almost feel sorry for those poor Magoggers, being jerked around by the Lord!

Two wonderful images occur at the end of Chapter 39. First, God tells the Israelites that after the destruction of Magog and the restoration of Israel, they won't need to collect firewood for seven years. Instead, they will simply use the Magogian weapons for kindling. Given the martial tone of the chapter, the swords-turned-into-fire image may simply be intended to show the grand scope of the Magogian destruction—so enormous that it can heat Israel for seven years. But there's also more pacific, and moving, reading of the passage, which is that the restoration of Israel marks the end of war. No one will need weapons anymore. Swords into ploughshares was Isaiah's image; swords into cooking fires is Ezekiel's.

The second startling passage is Ezekiel convening a meeting of all the birds and beasts, and telling them to prepare for a sacrificial feast: "You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth." It's a ghoulish image: The carnage in the battle to restore Israel will be so immense that the birds and beasts will be glutted. But it's also, in a weird way, a heartening passage about God's love for the whole world. It reminds us that God is the God of all the earth, not just mankind. He is looking out for all His creatures. A tragedy for men will be a feast—a sacred ­feast—for birds and beasts.

Chapter 40 through Chapter 46
As we near the end of my favorite prophetic book, Ezekiel himself seems to be getting a little bored. So bored that he spends seven long chapters on a very, very, very detailed tour of the temple. Ezekiel has a vision, and in the vision a copper-colored man carrying a ruler guides Ezekiel through the temple. They stop at every wall, window, door, and altar to take a measurement, which Ezekiel dutifully records in his book. Ezekiel also writes down elaborate descriptions of statues and carvings. Halfway through the survey, the Lord Himself shows up and takes over as tour guide. He walks Ezekiel through the holiest spots, chatting all the way about who is and isn't allowed in particular places. (I love the idea of God taking a leisurely stroll through His house, showing off his favorite rooms. It's the superdivine version of Cribs.)

Even a moron like me understands the point of this tour, but Ezekiel makes it explicit for any reader who hasn't been paying attention. The temple has been destroyed by the Babylonians. Ezekiel is preparing for its rebuilding: When the Israelites recover from their disgrace and return to God and Zion, they will have a blueprint for constructing their new sanctuary. As God puts it: "When they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the plan of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, and its whole form."

Two curious points during the divine tour. First, God says that only a prince may sit by the temple's eastern gate, "because he is a prince." This royalist sentiment is so unlike God, who usually does as much as He can to distance Himself from kings and princes. Back in the earlier Bible books, only priests had special privileges in the temple. But now princes rank first—a sign of how powerful the state has become and how the priests have shrunk correspondingly. (As if to remind us of that fact, God then ousts all but one clan of priests from His service and assigns the fired priests to menial jobs around the temple.)

Chapter 47 and Chapter 48
God plans for the restoration of Zion: The Lord reallocates the Holy Land to His tribes. The boundaries of the new Israel aren't the same as the last boundaries the Lord established. From a modern geopolitical perspective, these Ezekiel borders are even more problematic, since they rope in a little bit of Egypt, much of Syria, and almost all of Lebanon.

Ezekiel ends here. I'm going to miss this warm-hearted, whole-grain, hippie prophet.

Thoughts on Blogging the Bible? Please e-mail David Plotz at plotzd@slate.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

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