Monday, July 10, 2006

I was able to read most of Walter Bruggemann's An Introduction to the Old Testament over vacation. While I often diagreed with his perspective and emphasis, I found a number of useful points scattered throughout. One in particular was his reading of Ezekiel 18. In this chapter, you might remember, God speaks about a just man who has an evil son. The evil son also has a son. This grandson, according to the passage, will not be judged for his father's sins, but rather on whether he chooses to be evil (like his father) or just (like his grandfather). This passage is taken by many christian theologians as the great passage on individual responsibility.

This interpretation, however, has bothered me lately since it seems much more individualist than I think would be possible for an ancient Israelite. Brueggemann, while not particularly noting my objection, nonetheless provides a way forward which actually makes considerable sense of the text. He says that the traditional reading "is erroneous because it seeks to turn the text into a universal moral principle, when in fact the text must be understood in context, locally and pastorally."

Looking at the sepcifics of the sins mentioned by Ezekiel (idolatry, sexual sin and econimic sin), Brueggemann suggests it is "likely that three generations are not a theoretical case, but refer in turn to (a) Josiah the good king (2 Kings 23:25), (b) Jehoiakim the bad king (2 Kings 23:36-37), and (c) Jehoiachin the third king (2 Kings 24:8-12)." Since Jehoichin is the king who oversaw the exile and the only king mentiones by Ezekiel (1:2), this would indicate that what is being spoken of here is the fate of the entire generation of Israel, located in representative fashion in the person of the king. (quotes are from page 206 of the 2003 paperback edition)

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