Ezekiel is a priest, the son of Buzi (Buzi means "my contempt"), and Ezekiel's name means "God will strengthen". He was one of the Israelite exiles, who settled at a place called Tel-abib, on the banks of the Chebar, "in the land of the Chaldeans." The place is thus not identical to the modern city Tel Aviv, which however is named after it. He was probably carried away captive with Jehoiachin (1:2; 2 Kings 24:14-16) about 597 BC.
Background of the Book
Ezekiel's writing is one of the most sophisticated of all of the Old Testament Prophets. This stems from his training as a priest for the temple, as well as his experience in ministering to the elite members of the nation of Judah.
There have been a number of debates that have surrounded this book over the centuries. Until the twentieth century, most Ezekiel scholars were primarily interested in discussing whether the Book of Ezekiel should be included in the Biblical canon. There was apparently some concern that 'unlearned' Jews or Christians might misinterpret the book. For a time, the first chapter was not to be read in synagogues and the private reading of the prophecy was not allowed until a person's 30th birthday.
According to midrash Canticles Rabbah, it was Ezekiel whom the three pious men, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, (Shadrach, Miesheck, and Obednigo in Christian Bibles) asked for advice as to whether they should resist Nebuchadnezzar's command and choose death by fire rather than worship his idol. At first God revealed to the prophet that they could not hope for a miraculous rescue; whereupon the prophet was greatly grieved, since these three men constituted the "remnant of Judah". But after they had left the house of the prophet, fully determined to sacrifice their lives to God, Ezekiel received this revelation: "Thou dost believe indeed that I will abandon them. That shall not happen; but do thou let them carry out their intention according to their pious dictates, and tell them nothing" (Midrash Canticles Rabbah vii. 8).
Ezekiel's Personal Life
If the enigmatical date, "the thirtieth year" (1:1), be understood to apply to the age of the prophet, Ezekiel was born exactly at the time of the reform in the ritual introduced by Josiah.
His ministry extended over twenty-three years 595 - 573 BC (29:17), during part of which he was contemporary with Jeremiah, and probably also with Obadiah. According to tradition, he would also have been contemporary with Daniel (however, Daniel is regarded by some as being written much later, with Ezekiel's references to "Daniel" being seen as references to an ancient Ugaritic hero of that name, not a contemporary). The time and manner of his death are unknown. His reputed tomb is pointed out in the neighbourhood of Baghdad, at a place called Keffil. A tomb said to be that of Dhul-Kifl can be seen in the town of al-Kifl, Iraq, near Najaf and Al-Hilla.
Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is said to have been a descendant of Joshua by his marriage with the proselyte Rahab (Talmud Meg. 14b; Midrash Sifre, Num. 78). Some scholars claim that he (Ezekiel) was Jeremiah or the son of Jeremiah, who was (also) called "Buzi" because he was despised by the Jews. He was already active as a prophet while in Israel, and he retained this gift when he was exiled with Jehoiachin and the nobles of the country to Babylon (Josephus, Ant. x. 6, § 3: "while he was still a boy"; comp. Rashi on Sanh. 92b, above). In the event Jeremiah and Ezekiel were indeed the same person, Hilkiah the priest was his father.
He was led away by the Babylonians somewhere between 597 and 596. He had a house in the place of his exile, Tel-Abib (near Chebar canal, which was near Nippur in Babylonia). His wife died in the ninth year of his exile, by some sudden and unforeseen stroke (Ezek. 8:1; 24:18).
Some Muslims believe that Ezekiel may be Dhul-Kifl, a figure who is mentioned in the following Qur'anic verse: "And (remember) Ismail (Ishmael) and Idris (Enoch) and Dhul-Kifl, all were from among those who observe patience." (Surah 21: 85-86) Other Muslims believe Dhul-Kifl may be the same person as Gautama Buddha, taking 'Kifl' to be the Arabic pronunciation of Kapilvastu, a place where he spent 30 years of his life, and use this as evidence to describe the Buddha as a prophet. A tomb said to be that of Dhul-Kifl can be seen in the town of al-Kifl, Iraq, near Najaf and Al-Hilla.
Israel in Exile
The Israelite Exiles were told by Jeremiah not to worship the foreign gods, but Jeremiah did tell them that they could become part of the Babylonian culture. They did this well, often being called upon by the Babylonians to complete projects using their skills as artisans. Unlike other enemies, the Babylonians allowed the Jewish people to settle in small groups. While keeping their religious and national identities, many Jewish people did start to settle into their new environment. From building homes to opening businesses, the Jews seemed to settle into their exile land for the long haul.
This growing comfort in Babylon helps to explain why so many Jewish people decided not to return to their land. Many people would have been born in exile and would know nothing of their old land, so when the opportunity came for them to reclaim the land that was taken from them, many decided not to leave the Babylonian land they knew. This large group of people who decided to stay are known to be the oldest of the Diaspora communities along with the Jews of Persia.
- Prophets. A&E Home video. Chapter 4. 1994. ISBN 0-7670-8501-9.