the green fields beyond

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Ezekiel for 2006

One of our assignments in my seminary class on the Prophets was to make a translation, from the Hebrew, of certain passages from Ezekiel. We had to defend our translations with reference to grammar, vocabulary, commentators' notes, etc.
Of the options we were offered, i chose Ezekiel 7:23-27. The passage had unsettled me in my first read-through (in English), with its scary prophecy that unfaithful Israel was going to be punished soon. I worked through my first translation, and it came out OK, but afterall of that dissection and searching through critical commentaries, and questioning every last syllable and "redactional layer," I needed to re-evoke (for myself, at least) the horrifying force of the passage, that force which caught me in my first reading. So here are both of the translations: a more "academic" one and a modern-ish paraphrase.

23) Make[1] the chain![2]
For the land [is] full of bloody verdicts[3]
And the city [is] full of violence.

24) I will bring in the most wicked[4] of nations, and they will take possession of their
houses;
I will destroy the arrogance of the strong, and their sanctuaries[5] will be
desecrated.

25) Shuddering horror has come; they look for peace, but [there is] none.

26) Disaster upon disaster will come!
And rumor [will follow] upon rumor.[6]
They will seek[7] for a vision from the prophet,[8]
Instruction perishes from the priest, and wise advice from the elders.

27) The king will mourn[9], and the prince will clothe himself with desolation,
And the hands of the people of the land will tremble
I will do to them according to their ways,[10]
And I will judge them with their own judgments,
And they will know that I am Yahweh.

(Now here is a more “creative” paraphrase, completely separate from the defended translation.)


Forge a chain around Jerusalem! Nobody’s getting out now.
For the land is full of bloody murders (though they call it “justice”),
And the city is full of violence.

So I am going to bring in the vilest people you’ve ever seen, to clean you out;
They’ll take over your pretty houses.
I, I will grind your proud defenses into dust,
And the abomination that you call a “holy temple” will be desecrated.

Makes your skin crawl, just thinking about it, doesn’t it?
You ain’t seen nothing yet.
You’ll want to crawl into a hole to get some peace, but even there you’ll find horror.
One disaster will follow another so fast
that even the wildest rumors of bad news will sound believable.

Go on, ask the futurologists for favorable projections.
Ask for some comforting religious words from the pastors.
Call in the professors and the diplomats for advice.
They’ll all be mute.

(The president is bawling like a baby;
The CEO’s are shredding their documents.
The people stand rooted to the ground, unable even to move for the terror of it all.)

I will give you a taste of your own ways,
I will judge you the way you’ve been judging.
Then you will know,
Really know,
The dark, double-edged truth that those old Sunday-School stories warned you about:
I AM Yahweh!



[1] The MT’s imperative, “make the chain!” is rejected by many scholars. LXX reads “and they shall cause disorder,” a continuation of verse 22. Greenberg, like several others, follows the LXX in large part because the fetters of exiles seem out of place in this description of the city’s fall. Greenberg, Moshe. The Anchor Bible: Ezekiel 1-20: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co, 1983), page 154. But this is tenuous, as Greenberg himself admits. Ezekiel knew from experience what everyone in the Ancient Near East knew in theory: that an assault on a city was followed either by slaughter or enslavement for the inhabitants. Prophetic poetry doesn’t need to follow strict chronological order, and there is nothing preventing the author from doing some heavy foreshadowing. Make a chain, he says: the city will fall very soon, and then fetters will be needed.

[2] qAT+r is unusual. BDB references Nahum 3:10 and Isaiah 40:19, where “chain” is the best translation. Block cites the Targum of Ezekiel which reads, “make bonds!” Block, Daniel. NICOT: The Book of Ezekiel, Vol. I . (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), page 263.

[3] This unusual phrase leaves commentators with no clear consensus. Block’s suggestion of “judicial murders” probably gets at the sense. [Block, page 263]. For a similar phrase, see Ezekiel’s condemnation of “perverted justice,” in 9:9. The theme of violence in the land is also pervasive in Ezekiel (see 11:6; 12:19, etc.)

[4] For the nominal use of a construct adjective, see Davidson’s Introductory Hebrew Grammar Syntax (JCL Gibson, ed., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994) subsection 42 Rem. 4.

[5] MT vocalizes this as the piel participle, so reading “those sanctifying them.” LXX, as well as most modern versions and commentators, revocalize this to read, “their sanctuaries.” This would then refer to the holy places in and around the Temple (see Ezekiel 21:7 and Jeremiah 51:51). Greenberg, page 155.

[6] Or, “Bad news follows after bad news,” as Zimmerli puts it. [Zimmerli, Walther, trans. Ronald Clements. Ezekiel 1: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24 (Hermeneia Series). Fortress, 1979, page 200.]

[7] LXX zhthqh,setai,, “one will seek”

[8] BHS suggests that the reader understand “and they will not find it,” in order to make this line be in balance with the following one. I find this to be overly wooden. In context, most readers should have little trouble understanding that the prophets’ visions, too, will fail.

[9] LXX omits the first clause of v. 27, “the king will mourn.” Brownlee notes that the case for our deleting it is “not compelling,” because the LXX often deletes references to kings. In addition, he notes, keeping it would give v. 27 a threefold-office structure (king, princes, citizens) which would then balance v. 26 (prophet, priest, elders). After affirming all this, he deletes the clause anyway in his own translation! [Brownlee, William. Word Biblical Commentary: Ezekiel 1-19. (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1986), p. 114]

[10] Here I am following LXX kata. ta.j o`dou.j auvtw/n, “according to their ways,” which reads the text as kedarkam rather than middarkam, “from [out of] their ways.” But the sense seems to be much the same. Greenberg offers the robust “I will give them a taste of their own ways.” (Greenberg, page 145).

2 Comments:

said...

Eugene Peterson better watch out. That's a brilliant paraphrase!

2:44 PM  
said...

I am rather a fan of the paraphrase. The Message, beware!

The "ain'ts" give it an extra flavor, too.

5:38 PM  

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