Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Apocryphon of Ezekiel

Introduction to the Text:

A complete extant of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel does not exist; however, it does appear in five fragments, one fragment of the apocryphon and four fragments in secondary usages. It was originally written in Greek or Hebrew between the the first century B.C.E. and first century C.E. Consequently, it appears in writing from Clement of Alexandria (150-215 C.E.), the First Epistle of Clement (circa 95 C.E.), Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (2nd century C.E.), the works of Tertullian, Epiphanius, Gregory of Nyssa, Acts of Peter, and in the Babylonian Talmud. Josephus also references two books of Ezekiel (94 C.E.).

The core of the story consists of two men, one blind and lame, who are uninvited to the kings banquet. Out of anger, they lame man and blind man work together to enter the garden of the king and either eat the fruit or damage the garden. Resulting, the wise king places the lame man on the shoulders on the blind man. Because he demonstrates that they are both responsible, they are both flogged, with each accusing the other of primary responsibility (read the full text here from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanehdria 91a-b: the last paragraph and then continue onto the next page). Theologically the story is meant to illustrate how “man is neither a spirit in a body, nor a body with a spirit, but both a body and a spirit” (OTP, 489). In this case, the spirit in a body is like the blind man, and the body with a spirit is like the lame man. Thus, the story shows how the two are intrinsically connected two each other. One cannot act without the other.

The Apocryphon of Ezekiel and Development of Traditions

In biblical studies, and any academic studies, interpretation of certain materials is often one of the most problematic struggles. It is like the aphorism “three Jews, five opinions”. This aphorism, of course, can be applied to any person or group of people. Perhaps it would be correct to say “one text, four interpretations”. And that is what is so intriguing about the Apocryphon of Ezekiel. Patristic literature references the apocryphon, as does the Acts of Peter, Gnostic literature, and the Babylonian Talmud. More concisely, three traditions appropriate the apocryphon for their purposes: “Orthodox” Christianity (Christianities?), Gnosticism, and Rabbinic Judaism.

Each tradition interprets the Apocryphon of Ezekiel to fit within their own preconceived ideological frameworks. Unfortunately, as Orthodoxy developed throughout church history and Rabbinic Judaism developed its own theological frameworks, the common denominator of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel was forgotten. Even though both Orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism drew from the apocryphon, Orthodox Christianity, through heresiological discourse, established Gnosticism as the heretical Other. Likewise, Orthodox Christianity also established Judaism as the Other.

I wonder, though, what would happen if people began to explore those common roots? While the academic world has been attempting to do so for quite a while now, what if the average Joe did so? Being informed and well-learned is no difficulty in the 21st century. With ease of access to libraries, anybody can request an ILL (Inter-Library Loan) and read, not to mention the internet. People can explore the similarities between the foundations of their own traditions and the foundations of others. Like I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t for the sake of become a large pluralistic faith community; rather, it is for the purposes of engaging in multi-faith dialogue to find the common denominators and common humanity.

Bibliography:

J. R. Mueller and S. E. Robinson. “Apocryphon of Ezekiel”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 487-495.

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