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Wheels with eyes? Four-faced creatures with wings and human hands? Bones that morph into muscle and flesh? It's an acid trip! It's a David Lynch movie! It's…the Book of Ezekiel! Next to the Book of Revelation, Ezekiel's probably the weirdest and most dramatic book of the Hebrew Bible. It combines far-out visions, judgments of violent destruction and death, and predictions of peace and consolation into a spicy prophetic gumbo. Ezekiel makes the other prophets seem almost tame by comparison, with his mysterious four-faced creatures, strange sexual imagery, and giant wheels in the sky.
Like the other Major Prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel lived in turbulent times (around the beginning of the 6th century BCE) and was a witness to the Babylonian exile of the Judeans. His book likely contains many of his authentic prophecies, though there were probably contributions by a school of prophets who followed him as well. This makes him a little different from important prophets like Isaiah and Daniel, whose books are largely compilations created over time.
Ezekiel was trying to explain why God was letting this catastrophe happen to his people. His God-of-Wrath version of the Deity is seething with rage over Israel's cheatin' ways. He subjects Ezekiel to all kinds of strange experiences to demonstrate the doom that's going to befall Israel as punishment for idolatry and immorality. Ezekiel's really concerned with observance of the rituals and laws of the Temple. Yet at the same time, he's an intense visionary. His famous vision of God's chariot in Chapter 1 inspired countless mystics and poets in the Jewish and Christian traditions. His trances and behavior were so bizarre that some commentators thought he was psychotic and hallucinating.
Even the ancient sages who assembled the final form of the Hebrew Bible almost didn't include Ezekiel. It was just too strange and troubling, and it contradicted some of the rules in Leviticus. But they eventually thought it worth including, so here it is.
Can anyone who inspired Quentin Tarantino be completely in his right mind? Make no mistake; this is a pretty disturbing book. Check out Ezekiel's visions and see if you think he's a little crazy or the real deal. Fasten your seat belts, Shmoopers—it's gonna be a bumpy ride.
Remember that time when you thought you saw Elvis in the cafeteria? Or that time after pulling an all-nighter that you saw those four-faced flying creatures riding in chariots with strange mystical wheels? Ezekiel will probably help put that experience in perspective. The Book of Ezekiel describes what it's like to suddenly encounter someone or something completely strange and different from everything you've known and experienced up until that point. In Zeke's case, the encounter is with "the glory of God," which appears above that four-faced chariot wheel thing. This encounter might seem bizarre or like nonsense at first, but in studying it, you start to find hidden layers of meaning.
Ezekiel might help you confront the strange and uncanny in your own lives. Most of us only experience stuff this strange in our dreams. But unexplainable things and premonitions happen all the time, even if they're not as dramatic as hearing God talking to you or getting magically transported to a different city. Maybe you've just had a strong feeling that you should call a friend you haven't seen in a while. Or somehow had a really bad feeling about something for no apparent reason. What would you do if something hugely mysterious happened to you or a friend? After you were done freaking out, would you try to understand it? Forget about it? Blog about it? Maybe you'd become more religious because of it. It's human nature to try to make sense out of things that don't make sense.
Ezekiel's big on the cryptic and mysterious, but his book gets fairly shocking at times; very violent and some would even say pornographic. We're not saying that's a reason you should care about Ezekiel, but that imagery adds to the mind-blowing experience of reading it. Why hide a copy of "Tales from the Crypt" in your math textbook, like a 1950s school-kid, when you can sneak in a copy of Ezekiel?
This site is a great resource—containing pretty much every translation of the Bible you might desire (and in numerous languages, in case you want to read Ezekiel in Tagalog).
The Catholic Encyclopedia on Ezekiel
The Catholic Encyclopedia offers a Catholic perspective on Ezekiel—though this article isn't particularly faith-specific.
Chabad on Ezekiel
The Hasidic Jewish organization, Chabad, offers its own take on Ezekiel in this article.
"My Jewish Learning" on Ezekiel
The Reform Jewish rabbi Solomon Freehof offers a sensitive and reflective look at Ezekiel—interpreting him in terms of his historical context while also searching for his contemporary relevance, as well.
John Calvin's Commentary on Ezekiel
The famous Protestant Reformer—and a huge Ezekiel fan—gives extensive commentary on a good number of chapters from Ezekiel.
Rashi's Commentary on Ezekiel
Courtesy of Chabad, Rashi's commentary on Ezekiel provides a classic, Orthodox Jewish look at the prophet.
Pulp Fiction—Ezekiel 25:17
Perhaps the most famous Ezekiel reference in all of pop culture, Samuel L. Jackson recites this (totally fictitious) verse before gunning down someone who tried to cheat his gangster boss.
Everything You Wanted to Know about Ezekiel but Couldn't Get into Yale to Ask
A world away from Pulp Fiction, this is Christine Hayes's Yale University lecture on how the Book of Ezekiel makes sense of the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile.
Robert Plant, "Twelve Gates to the City"
Led Zeppelin's former lead singer performs this version of Gary Davis's famous, bluesy Gospel number—backed by his band, "Band of Joy."
Louis Armstrong, "Ezekiel Saw De Wheel"
This classic African American spiritual—performed here by none other than Satchmo himself—pays tribute to Ezekiel's chariot vision from the very first chapter of the book.
The Charioteers, "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel"
Here's another version of the same spiritual.
Reverend Gary Davis, "Twelve Gates to the City"
Davis was an interesting fusion of the bluesman and the Gospel singer. This song takes off from the last chapter of Ezekiel, which describes the twelve gates to the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, one for each of the tribes of Israel.
Delta Rhythm Boys, "Dem Bones"
This African American spiritual was inspired by Ezekiel's vision in Chapter 37, in which he sees the dead bones of the House of Israel reassemble and come back to life with muscles and flesh.
T.S. Eliot Reading "Ash Wednesday"
The great American poet, T.S. Eliot, reads his famous poem about his conversion to Christianity. Like "Dem Bones," it also references the "Valley of Dry Bones" sequence in Ch. 37. Eliot imagines his own conversion as being similar to the resurrection of the dead in that chapter.
Marc Chagall, "The Vision of Ezekiel"
The 20th Century Jewish visionary painter, Marc Chagall, gives us a dream-like depiction of the four creatures, with a prostrate Ezekiel overwhelmed by his vision.
Charles Chipiez, Visionary Ezekiel Temple Plan
Chipiez—a late 19th Century French architect—drew this recreation of Ezekiel's Temple plan, as described in the latter chapters of the book.
Marten De Vos, "Ezekiel"
This 16th Century Belgian painter gives a strange picture of the resurrection of the dead in "The Valley of Dry Bones." If you didn't know what it was, you might suspect some sort of Jason and the Argonauts skeleton sequence was breaking out.
Gustave Dore, "Valley of Dry Bones"
Dore, an amazing 19th Century French illustrator, drew this depiction of "The Valley of Dry Bones." Like De Vos's picture, Dore gives the impression of a dark, disturbing situation that's maybe about to improve. Light from behind Ezekiel is breaking into the place where the skeletons are reassembling.
Dhul Qarnayn Building Wall to Keep out Gog and Magog
This 16th Century Persian miniature painting relates the Qur'anic tale of Dhul Qarnayn (maybe Alexander the Great), who builds a giant wall to keep out the evil beings, Gog and Magog (which originate from Ezekiel).
Ezekiel Quote at Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is the major Holocaust memorial in Israel. One of its monuments quotes words from the "Valley of Dry Bones" section of Ezekiel: "I will put my breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil…" (37:14). This is an intense message of consolation in a very bleak and intense place.
Gog and Magog Figures in Royal Arcade, Melbourne Australia
Gog and Magog appear as wicked, bearded giants in this Melbourne shopping mecca. Just your typical mall décor.
Matthaeus Merian, Drawing of Ezekiel's Vision (1670)
Merian, a Swiss engraver, provides a lot of detail in this little drawing: he works in the wheels, the four-faced beings, Ezekiel receiving a scroll from God, God seated on his throne, and Jerusalem being destroyed. Still, it creeps us out.
In this image from the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo depicts Ezekiel as a fairly classic sort of prophet: bearded, clutching a scroll. He's turning around, about to receive a message or maybe say something to someone else. Probably asking for some Dr. Pepper to wash down the scroll.
Rubens' Ezekiel is… basically a total copy of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel version of Ezekiel. Abs by Soloflex.
Russian Ezekiel Icon
This Russian Icon of the prophet Ezekiel gives us another quintessential, bearded, scroll-holding Ezekiel. Dig the beard braids.