The Early Messianic ‘Afterlife’ Of The Tree Metaphor In Ezekiel 17:22-24 -- By: William R. Osborne

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 64:2 (NA 2013)
Article: The Early Messianic ‘Afterlife’ Of The Tree Metaphor In Ezekiel 17:22-24
Author: William R. Osborne

The Early Messianic ‘Afterlife’ Of The Tree Metaphor In Ezekiel 17:22-24

William R. Osborne


This article discusses the royal associations of tree imagery in the ancient Near East before examining four early messianic interpretations of the tree symbolism in Ezekiel 17:22-24, namely those of 4QEzekiela, the Septuagint, Targum Ezekiel, and The Shepherd of Hermas.

1. Introduction

Recent scholarship related to Ezekiel has focused on the reception history of the book, yielding several studies that highlight the ongoing influence of this prophetic visionary of the Babylonian exile.1 While studies on reception history do serve the modern interpreter by providing a hermeneutical context for their own reading within more recent history, the goal of this work is to examine some of the earliest translations and interpretations of Ezekiel 17:22-24 in an effort to better understand the text.2 These three verses conclude the

metaphorical parable of Ezekiel 17 and speak to Israel’s future in terms of tree symbolism. However, tree symbolism is used in the Old Testament and Second Temple period to represent diverse concepts such as the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life, the natural world, political leaders, luxuriant living, laying siege to a town, and messianic prophecy. To add to the challenge, such symbolism seems to have been so widely understood among ancient audiences that its use hardly warranted explanation or attention. This article seeks to address these challenges by (1) briefly discussing the political significance of tree symbolism in the ancient Near East, (2) providing a reading and commentary of the Masoretic Text (MT) of Ezekiel 17:22-24, (3) focusing on the early ‘afterlife’ of the tree metaphor discovered in allusions and translations in 4QPseudo-Ezekiela (4Q385 frag. 2), the Septuagint (LXX), Targum Ezekiel, and The Shepherd of Hermas (SH), and (4) concluding that these texts give evidence of early individual and messianic interpretations of Ezekiel 17:22-24. The texts being studied are presented in diachronic order and provide some of the earliest interpretations of the passage.3

2. Trees And Kings In The Ancient World

When encountering tree symbolism in prophe...

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