“Priestly Rule: Polemic and Biblical Interpretation in Ezekiel 44” by Nathan MacDonald

PriestNathan MacDonald. Priestly Rule: Polemic and Biblical Interpretation in Ezekiel 44. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 476. Boston, MA: De Gruyter, 2015, 172 pp., $126.00  (hardcover).

*I’d like to express my gratitude to De Gruyter for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

In Nathan MacDonald’s most recent publication (PhD, University of Durham; current lecturer in Hebrew Bible at St. John’s College), he explores the dependency of Ezekiel 44 upon Isaiah 56 and other texts. Following is a new proposal for the composition history of Ezekiel 44. This history, MacDonald contends, is not self-indulgence and hyper-specialization, but a contribution to composition history and recent exploration about the Zadokite priestly sept.

MacDonald writes in opposition to the foundation established by Wellhausen which argues Ezekiel 44 contains the first sharp distinction between priests and Levites and suggests that this division was later projected back into the Pentateuch. Likewise, Michael Fishbane’s comments on Ezekiel 44 are valuable; yet, they assume a direction of influence and avoid the issue of historical referentiality. MacDonald combines these concerns with redaction-critical studies of Thilo Rudnig to challenge the unity Ezekiel 44 as guidance for methodology. Thus, his methodology focuses on redaction criticism and inner-biblical interpretation. Regarding inner-biblical interpretation, MacDonald’s methodology employs five general rules for determining inner-biblical interpretative direction in agreement current attempts “to establish more robust criteria” (13). With regard to redaction criticism, he makes to important methodological qualifications: (1) clear distinction between redaction and Fortschreibung, the re-writing text for ideological purposes and the latter glossing brief clarification in a text; and (2) value of literary-critical analysis not as an end-all-be-all, but as containing heuristic value with a reliable analytical framework.

I do wish that he had developed the introductory chapter more clearly in order to better communicate the nuances of his methodology. In both introducing methodological issues about inner-biblical interpretation and redaction-criticism, his conclusions both contain a sort of ambiguity, namely inner-biblical interpretative standards which “must be assessed on their own merits” (14) and redaction-critical analyses that hold tentatively to the hypothesis. While this sort of caution with both inner-biblical interpretation and redaction-criticism are understandable, especially because the latter is more theoretically based model, there is lack of solidity in MacDonald formulating and expressing his methodology.

The remainder of the book is divided into three chapters. Chapter One begins with a nuanced and highly attentive reading Ezekiel 44’s oracle and how it interacts especially with Isaiah 56 and other Pentateuch texts. His analysis of Isaiah 56 clearly illustrates that foreigners would receive a priestly rule. After pointing out errors in recent treatments of the texts by Schaper, Fishbane, and Tuell, MacDonald argues that Ezekiel 44 draws upon Isaiah 56. His evidence is compelling and effectively communicates how Isaiah 56 cannot be responding to Ezekiel 44, a point very much supported by the only term for foreigner as בְּנֵֽי־נֵכָ֗ר, a term present in Isaiah 56 and absent from the remainder of Ezekiel. Having established that Ezekiel 44 drew from Isaiah 56, MacDonald re-examines the oracle of Ezekiel 44. He draws on the Pentateuch to show how the oracle (Ez. 44:6-7) to exemplify how Ezekiel 44 responds to Isaiah 56, namely the uncircumcised as covenant violators in Genesis 17 and polluted sacrifices in Leviticus 22. He then moves onto the remainder of the oracle in vs. 9-16. His redaction-critical analysis and inner-biblical interpretation of this part of the oracle demonstrates a sophisticated structure that draws on Numbers 18 and Ezekiel 14. It also sees the redaction of the original oracle, vv. 6, 7, 9, and parts of 15, as influenced by the Levite and priest distinction in Numbers 18. His analysis also suggests that the original oracle in Ezekiel may have been composed prior to the composition of the Holiness Code and distinction between priest and Levite in Numbers.

Resulting is an excellent proposition for the composition of Ezekiel 44:6-16, the earliest layer being an oracle in favor of the Levites and against foreigners in the Temple, and the latest layer being the redaction that inserted a distinction between priests, namely the Sons of Zadok, and Levites. This proposal achieves a more nuanced explanation in the remaining chapters.

Chapter Two focuses on the second half of Ezekiel 44 (vv. 17-31). Pushing against Gese who argues that vv. 28-30a are one unit, MacDonald notes the intertextual relationship between Ezekiel 44: 28 and Deuteronomy 18:2, Leviticus 19:19, and Ezekiel 44:17-19 to Leviticus 16:4 in order to propose that Ezekiel 44:18 is not inspired Fortschreibung (cf. Johannes Herrmann, 1908). These relations establish the inheritance of priests and rules for their vestments. Following MacDonald reviews the scholarship surrounding the intertextual reference in Ezekiel 44:20-27 and seeks to demonstrate the relationship between Ezekiel and Leviticus. Moreover, what contributes to scholarship is in explaining “the existence of divergent opinions on the relationship” (68). While many scholars have explored the relationship between the textual traditions of Ezekiel 44:20-27 and Leviticus, none have specifically sought to explain the polemical difference. Concerning various aspects of priestly conduct, MacDonald clearly demonstrates how Ezekiel 44 utilized the Pentateuch; however, the version of Leviticus 10 and 21 which the compiler used was “typologically earlier than the text preserved in the Masoretic tradition” (68). With the final portion of prerequisites (vv. 28-31), MacDonald argues that the author draws from Numbers 18 through nuanced inner-biblical interpretation.

These elements combines to yield a final proposal for the composition history of Ezekiel 44. Vv. 44.6-7,9,15 were the original oracles in response to Isaiah 56, which appealed to Isaiah on the ground of Genesis and Deuteronomy. This was added to and modified in Ezekiel 44:6-31 through two expansions: (1) it claimed distinction between priests on Levites on the grounds of Numbers 18 and Ezekiel 14, applies rebuke and a subordinate role Levites, and provides priests with a special role; (2) Some restrictions were added from Leviticus 10 and 21-22.

Three Layers:

Original Oracles: vv. 44.6-7, 9, 15, 28

First Expansion: vv. 7bβ, 8, 10-14, 15b, 16-19,  29-30

Second Expansion: vv. 20-27, 31

Finally, with the newly established composition history of Ezekiel 44, MacDonald shifts to the role of Zadok and the Sons of Zadok the the Second Temple Period. In exploring the role of the Zadokites in Chronicles, it is clear that they are equal to the Levites. Within the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sons of Zadok only appear in later redactions of the Damascus Document, whilst also buttressing his own arguments by noting how the Damascus Document relates Isaiah 56, Ezekiel 44, and Zadok’s house in Samuel. Likewise, Ben Sira shows support for all priests, with no indication of the Sons of Zadok vs. Levites. And the Sadduccees of Josephus also had no literary or historical relationship to Zadok. He merges the evidence to validate historical skepticism about the historical reality of Zadokites.

Overall, the book has three major strengths and contributions. First, the detailed redaction-criticism and inner-biblical interpretation of Ezekiel 44, and the new composition history therein, provide compelling evidence for the composition history. Consequently, the history also results in better clarification of the historicity of the Zadokites. As MacDonald notes, discovering the beginning of the sons of Zadok paradoxically results in bringing the Zadokites of scholarly invention to an end” (148). In this manner, I appreciate that MacDonald is attempting to tie up this “loose-end”. Although many have already set out to do so, and have done so, he provides compelling evidence and analysis to cease history dependent on Zadokites, such as the idea that Qumran was started by sons of Zadok. Finally, his discussion provides a new framework by which to understand the relationship between priests and Levites, especially as it relates to the composition of the Pentateuch.

Even in the midst of high praise for the study, the theoretical thrust of the whole book is somewhat troublesome. Chapter Three, though, is helpful in how it connects the study to history, and provide significance beyond mere interpretation. Without a doubt, Priestly Rule by Nathan MacDonald will be a valuable contribution, especially to studies on the Second Temple Period, the priesthood, Zadok, and interpretation of various portions of biblical literature.