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Ezekiel the Prophet: Dura Europos and beyond

Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

Article Sources:

Sanhedrin 92b

And should you ask, in those years during which the Almighty will renew his world, as it is written, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, what will the righteous do?  — The Lord will make them wings like eagles`, and they will fly above the water, as it is written, Therefore we will not fear when the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.  And should you imagine that they will suffer pain — therefore Scripture says, But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.
But should we not deduce [the reverse] from the dead whom Ezekiel resurrected?  — He accepts the view that in the truth [the story of the resurrection of the dry bones] was [but] a parable.  For it was taught: R. Eliezer said: The dead whom Ezekiel resurrected stood up, uttered song, and [immediately] died. What song did they utter? The Lord slays in righteousness and revives in mercy.  R. Joshua said: They sang thus, The Lord kills and makes alive: he brings down to the grave, and brings up. R. Judah said: It was truth; it was a parable. R. Nehemiah said to him: If truth, why a parable; and if a parable, why truth? — But [say thus]: In the truth there was but a parable.
R. Eliezer the son of R. Jose the Galilean said: The dead whom Ezekiel revived went up to Palestine, married wives and begat sons and daughters. R. Judah b. Bathyra rose up and said: I am one of their descendants, and these are the tefillin which my grandfather left me [as an heirloom] from them.
Now, who were they whom Ezekiel revived? Rab said: They were the Ephraimites, who counted [the years] to the end [of the Egyptian bondage], but erred therein, as it is written, And the sons of Ephraim; Shuthelah, and Bared his son, and Tahath his son, and Eladah his son, and Tahath his son. And Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezzer, and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born in that land slew.  And it is written, And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to comfort him.
Samuel said: They were those who denied resurrection, as it is written, Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.
R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: They were the men who lacked the [vitalizing] sap of good deeds, as it is written, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
R. Isaac Nappaha said: They were the men who covered the whole Temple with abominations and creeping things, as it is written, So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about: while there [in the case of the dry bones] it is written, And caused me to pass by them round about.
R. Johanan said: They were the dead of the plain of Dura. 
Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, 32
Rabbi Judah said, When Nebuchadnezzr brought a false accusation against Israel to slay them, he set up an idol in the plain of Dura, and caused a herald to proclaim: Anyone who does not bow down to this idol shall be burnt by fire. Israel did not trust in the shadow of their Creator, and came with their wives and sons and bowed down to the idolatrous image—except  Daniel, whom they called by the name of their God, and it would have been a disgrace to them to burn him in fire, as it is said, But at the last Daniel came in before me (Dan. 4:8). And they took Chananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and put them into the fiery furnace, and the angel Gabriel descended and saved them from the fiery furnace. The king said to them: You knew that you had a God who saves and delivers; why have you forsaken your God and worshiped idols which have no power to deliver? But just as you did in your own land and destroyed it, so do you attempt to do in this land, (namely) to destroy it. The king commanded, and they slew all of them. Whence do we know that they were all slain by the sword? Because it is said, Then said he unto me, Prophesy ... O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live (Ezek. 37:9).
Rabbi Phineas said: After twenty years, when all of them had been slain in Babylon, the Holy Spirit rested upon Ezekiel, and brought him forth into the plain of Dura, and called unto him very dry bones, and said to him: Son of Man, What do you see? He answered: I see here dry bones. (The Spirit) said to him: Have I power to revive them? The prophet did not say: Sovereign of all the worlds, You have power to do even more than (this) here; but he said: O Lord God, you know (ibid. 8), as though he did not believe; therefore his own bones were not buried in a pure land, but in an unclean land, as it is said, And you shall die in a land that is unclean (Amos 7:17). Prophesy over these bones (Ezek. 37:4). He said before Him: Sovereign of all the worlds, What will the prophecy bring upon them flesh and sinews and bones? Or will the prophecy bring upon them all the flesh and bones which cattle, beast, and bird have eaten, and they (also) have died in the land? Im­mediately the Holy One, blessed be He, caused His voice to be heard, and the earth shook, as it is said, And as I prophesied there was a thundering, and behold an earth· quake (ibid. 7), and every animal, beast, and bird which had eaten thereof and died in another land the earth brought together, bone to his bone (ibid.).
Rabbi Joshua ben Korchah said: There came down upon them the quickening dew from heaven, which was like a fountain, which was bubbling and bringing forth water; so likewise (the bones) were moving and bringing forth upon themselves flesh, (other) bones and sinews, as it is said, And I beheld, and lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above (ibid. 8). He said to him: Prophesy unto the wind, as it is said, Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind. …Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live (ibid. 9). In that hour the four winds of the heaven went forth, and opened the treasure-house of the souls, and each spirit returned to the body of flesh of man, as it is said, So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, ... an exceeding great army (ibid. 10); and it is written about Egypt, And the children of Israel were fruitful, ... and waxed exceeding mighty (Ex. 1:7). What is the meaning of "exceeding"? Just as in the latter case there were 600,000 (men), so in the former case there were 600,000 (men), and they all stood upon their feet except one man. The prophet said: Sovereign of all the worlds, What is the nature of this man? He answered him: He gave out money for usury, and he took with interest. As I live, he shall not live. In that hour the Israelites were sitting and weeping, and saying: We hoped for light, and darkness came. We hoped to stand up with all Israel at the resurrection of the dead, and now our hope is lost (Ezek. 37:11). We hoped to arise so as to be gathered with all Israel, and now we are clean cut off (ibid.). In that hour the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the prophet: Therefore, say to them, As I live, I will cause you to stand at the resurrection of the dead in the future that is to come, and I will gather you with all Israel to the land, as it is said, Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves ... and I will bring you into the land of Israel. ... And I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live (ibid. 12, 14).
Targum Yonatan to Exodus 13:17
Now when Pharaoh let the people go, the Lord did not lead them by of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for the Lord said, Perhaps the people will change their minds when they see their brothers who died in the war, two hundred thousand men, men of valor from the tribe of Ephraim. Seizing shield and spears and other weapons, they went down to Gath to plunder the livestock of the Philistines. And because they transgressed the decree of the Meimra of the Lord and went forth from Egypt thirty years before the appointed time, they were delivered into the hands of the Philistines, who slew them. These were the dry bones which the Meimra of the Lord brought to life through the mediation of Ezekiel the prophet in the valley of Dura.. If they had seen that, they would have taken fright and returned to Egypt.
Justin Martyr The First Apology, LII
Since, then, we prove that all things which have already happened had beenpredicted by the prophets before they came to pass, we must necessarily believe also that those things which are in like manner predicted, but are yet to come to pass, shall certainly happen. For as the things which have already taken place came to pass when foretold, and even though unknown, so shall the things that remain, even though they be unknown and disbelieved, yet come to pass. For the prophets have proclaimed two advents of His: the one, that which is already past, when He came as a dishonored and suffering Man; but the second, when, according to prophecy, He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by His angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils. And that these things also have been foretold as yet to be, we will prove. By Ezekiel the prophet it was said: Joint shall be joined to joint, and bone to bone, and flesh shall grow again.
Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus Haereses V.XV.1
As we at once perceive that the Creator is in this passage (Ezekiel 37) represented as vivifying our dead bodies, and promising resurrection to them, and resuscitation from their sepulchers and tombs, conferring upon them immortality.
Tertullian, On the Resurrection, XXX
I am well aware how they [the Gnostics] torture even this prophecy [Ezekiel 37] into a proof of the allegorical sense, on the ground that by saying, These bones are the whole house of Israel, He made them a figure of Israel, and removed them from their proper literal condition; and therefore (they contend) that there is here a figurative, not a true prediction of the resurrection, for (they say) the state of the Jews is one of humiliation, in a certain sense dead, and very dry, and dispersed over the plain of the world. Therefore the image of a resurrection is allegorically applied to their state, since it has to be gathered together, and recompacted bone to bone (in other words, tribe to tribe, and people to people), and to be reincorporated by the sinews of power and the nerves of royalty, and to be brought out as it were from sepulchers, that is to say, from the most miserable and degraded abodes of captivity, and to breathe afresh in the way of a restoration, and to live thenceforward in their own land of Judæa. And what is to happen after all this? They will die, no doubt. And what will there be after death? No resurrection from the dead, of course, since there is nothing of the sort here revealed to Ezekiel.
Well, but the resurrection is elsewhere foretold: so that there will be one even in this case, and they are rash in applying this passage to the state of Jewish affairs; or even if it does indicate a different recovery from the resurrection which we are maintaining, what matters it to me, provided there be also a resurrection of the body, just as there is a restoration of the Jewish state? In fact, by the very circumstance that the recovery of the Jewish state is prefigured by the reincorporation and reunion of bones, proof is offered that this event will also happen to the bones themselves; for the metaphor could not have been formed from bones, if the same thing exactly were not to be realized in them also.  Now, although there is a sketch of the true thing in its image, the image itself still possesses a truth of its own: it must needs be, therefore, that must have a prior existence for itself, which is used figuratively to express some other thing. Vacuity is not a consistent basis for a similitude, nor does nonentity form a suitable foundation for a parable. It will therefore be right to believe that the bones are destined to have a rehabiliment of flesh and breath, such as it is here said they will have, by reason indeed of which their renewed state could alone express the reformed condition of Jewish affairs, which is pretended to be the meaning of this passage. It is, however, more characteristic of a religious spirit to maintain the truth on the authority of a literal interpretation, such as is required by the sense of the inspired passage.

Ezekiel 9
1 Then He cried out in my hearing with a loud voice saying, Draw near, O executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand. 2 Behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate which faces north, each with his shattering weapon in his hand; and among them was a certain man clothed in linen with a writing case at his loins. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.
3 Then the glory of the God of Israel went up from the cherub on which it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. 4 The Lord said to him, Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst. 5 But to the others He said in my hearing, Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. 6 Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, but do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary. So they started with the elders who were before the temple. 7 And He said to them, Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go out! Thus they went out and struck down the people in the city. 8 As they were striking the people and I alone was left, I fell on my face and cried out saying, Alas, Lord God! Are You destroying the whole remnant of Israel by pouring out Your wrath on Jerusalem?
9 Then He said to me, The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is very, very great, and the land is filled with blood and the city is full of perversion; for they say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!’ 10 But as for Me, My eye will have no pity nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct upon their heads.
11 Then behold, the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case reported, saying, I have done just as You have commanded me.