Beyond The Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision Of Death And Afterlife -- By: Daniel I. Block

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 02:1 (NA 1992)
Article: Beyond The Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision Of Death And Afterlife
Author: Daniel I. Block

Beyond The Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision Of Death And Afterlife1

Daniel I. Block

Bethel Theological Seminary
St. Paul, Minnesota


Mr. Chairman and fellow scholars. I am honored to have been invited to read this year’s Old Testament paper. For the past eight years or so the prophet Ezekiel and I have developed a very special relationship. But as I have been poring over the collection of his prophecies found in the Old Testament, I have often found myself wishing that he were personally present to answer some of my questions. Among the many intriguing issues which the book of Ezekiel raises is the nature of death and especially the prophet’s vision of life beyond the grave. Around the turn of the year I suggested to Professor Hawthorne that this topic might be worth exploring in a paper to this gathering of scholars. At the time I had no idea how in tune with the times my own questions were. However, when the June 3, 1991, issue of Time magazine headlined its feature article on show business, “Hollywood Goes to Heaven,” I realized we were on to something.2 This year will see the release of no fewer than a dozen films dealing with the afterlife. The supernatural, death, and the afterlife are “in.” The renaissance of popular fascination with the subject has caused me to wonder if scholarly interest will match it. Perhaps an investigation such as this will provide a catalyst for some of us to wrestle more earnestly with a matter that was of great concern to the ancients.

Several problems confront anyone interested in pursuing Ezekiel’s vision of death and afterlife: (1) How many of the ideas represented in the book that goes by his name are the prophet’s own, and

how many derive from later interpreters?3 (2) What is the source of Ezekiel’s images of post-mortem realities? (3) To what extent do the images reflect reality, or are these to be interpreted merely as figures of speech? For those of us who are concerned to develop a Christian doctrine of the afterlife, this issue is of more than academic interest.

In this short study we cannot possibly answer all of these questions. However, it does seem to me that Ezekiel’s vision of death and afterlife deserves a little more respect than it has received in the past.4 Our aim is to assemble the data which reflect this prophet’s vision of death and to synthesize them in an ordered picture. We shall do so by first exploring Ezekiel’s vocabulary of death; then exa...

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