Ezekiel and Aeschylus

 He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

 

by

Damien F. Mackey 

 

 

“Much has been attributed to the Greeks that did not belong to them … e.g. [professor] Breasted … made the point that Hatshepsut’s marvellous temple structure was a witness to the fact that the Egyptians had developed architectural styles for which the later Greeks would be credited as originators”.

Is Aeschylus, the so-called “Father of Tragedy”, yet another of such Greek appropriations, in his case of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel with whom he is so frequently compared?

 

 

 

The Pulpit Commentary, considering Ezekiel 18:1-4:

 

The word of the Lord came to me:

“What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,     and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

 

interestingly likens the prophet Ezekiel to “the Greek poet who was likest to him”, to Aeschylus http://biblehub.com/commentaries/pulpit/ezekiel/18.htm

 

Ezekiel was led, however, to feel that there was a latent falsehood in the plea. In the depth of his consciousness there was the witness that every man was personally responsible for the things that he did, that the eternal righteousness of God would not ultimately punish the innocent for the guilty, he had to work out, according to the light given him, his vindication of the ways of God to man, to sketch at least the outlines of a theodicy. Did he, in doing this, come forward as a prophet, correcting and setting aside the teaching of the Law? At first, and on a surface view, he might seem to do so. But it was with him as it was afterwards with St. Paul He “established the Law” in the very teaching which seemed to contradict it. He does not deny (it would have been idle to do so) that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, i.e. affect those children for evil. What he does is to define the limits of that law. And he may have found his starting point in that very book which, for him and his generation, was the great embodiment of the Law as a whole. If men were forbidden, as in Deuteronomy 24:16, to put the children to death for the sins of the fathers; if that was to be the rule of human justice, – the justice of God could not be less equitable than the rule which he prescribed for his creatures. It is not without interest to note the parallelism between Ezekiel and the Greek poet who was likest to him, as in his genius, so also in the courage with which he faced the problems of the universe. Aeschylus also recognizes (‘Agam.,’ 727-756) that there is a righteous order in the seeming anomalies of history. Men might say, in their proverbs, that prosperity as such provoked the wrath of the gods, and brought on the downfall of a “woe insatiable;” and then he adds –

 

“But I, apart from all,

Hold this my creed alone.”

 

And that creed is that punishment comes only when the children reproduce the impious recklessness of their fathers. “Justice shines brightly in the dwellings of those who love the right, and rule their life by law.” Into the deeper problem raised by the modern thought of inherited tendencies developed by the environment, which itself originates in the past, it was not given to Ezekiel or Aeschylus to enter.

[End of quote]

 

Aeschylus is thought to have been born around 525 BC, which was also the approximate era of the prophet Ezekiel.

The name “Aeschylus” I would consider to be simply a Grecised version of the Hebrew name, “Ezekiel” of the same phonetics.

And, as we have already found with certain supposed Greek notables (statesmen, philosophers), such as Thales, Empedocles, Pythagoras, Solon – who I have argued were actually ghostly representations of real Hebrew geniuses, Joseph, Moses, Solomon – ‘little is known’ about them. To give some examples:

 

Thales: “Not much is known about the philosopher’s early life, not even his exact dates of birth and death”.

 

Heraclitus: “Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom”.

 

Empedocles: “Very little is known about his life”.

 

And so we read once again, now regarding Aeschylus (my emphasis)

http://www.ancient-literature.com/greece_aeschylus.html

 

There are few reliable sources for the life of Aeschylus. He was said to have been born in about 525 or 524 BCE in Eleusis, a small town just northwest of Athens. As a youth, he worked at a vineyard until, according to tradition, the god Dionysus visited him in his sleep and commanded him to turn his attention to the nascent art of tragedy.

 

[End of quote]

 

That is hardly encouraging!

It is probably, I think, a late recollection of the call of the Hebrew prophet, Ezekiel, who certainly lived though a time of great tragedy for Judah, culminating in that greatest of all catastrophes, the Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple.

Not surprising that we read of Aeschylus as being “like a Hebrew prophet”. Thus, for instance (Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy, pp. 8-9): “Aeschylus the prophet, the soldier of the Great War who found Athens [read Jerusalem] becoming estranged, as a generation grew up that knew neither him nor it, wrestling with the problem of World-governance alone like a Hebrew prophet …”.

And, according to James Orr (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia): “Herder, with his undeniable and undenied fine appreciation of the poetry of many nations, calls Ezekiel “the Aeschylus and the Shakespeare of the Hebrews” (compare Lange’s Commentary on Ezk, 519).

 

Part Two:

Hebrew Influence Upon Aeschylus?

 

 “Aeschylus seems to have had an intimate knowledge of Hebrew theology, for instance, he wrote “Prometheus Bound” Wherein he seems to be familiar with the Exodus wanderings, the Law Covenant, and the idea of the Messiah”.

John R. Salverda.

 

 

Damien Mackey to John Salverda

 

Dear John

 

….

The name Aeschylus (“Father of Tragedy”) has struck me as a Greek version of Ezechiel (Eschyl = Ezchil) [i.e., without the Greek ending us, -os].

And apparently a writer named Herder has actually referred to Ezechiel as an ‘Aeschylus’:

…. Whedon – Commentary on Ezekiel-Daniel

www.westbrookewesleyan.org/wesleyan-docs/…/WHD_CO08.PDFYou ….

…. by DD Whedon – 2002 …. “Herder has called him the AEschylus and Shakespeare of the Hebrews, while Schiller wished to study Hebrew chiefly because he longed to read Ezekiel in his …”.

Any ideas there?

….

 

Dear Damien,

 

I too hope to loosen up your audience to the idea of a discussion, they think that they have nothing to add, but they could be wrong about that. Sometimes even what a person believes is a trifling remark can spark a significant idea in another. The process of “discussion” can be a very important one.

 

Now, as to the equation of the names “Ezekiel” and “Aeschylus.” In my opinion they are almost certainly transliterations of the same name. The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel lived only about one hundred years before the Greek playwright Aeschylus (conventionally speaking); and the Greek culture and people were heavily influenced and populated by Israelites, in my view.

 

As to the idea that they might be one and the same person; I would still need to be convinced of that. (I actually feel more certain about Homer = Omri, and Hesiod = Isaiah because of the supposed chronology). …. Never- the-less I do have some ideas that do tend to support the notion. Aeschylus seems to have had an intimate knowledge of Hebrew theology, for instance, he wrote “Prometheus Bound” Wherein he seems to be familiar with the Exodus wanderings, the Law Covenant, and the idea of the Messiah. With only but a small fraction of what he wrote available to us today, (he wrote about an hundred plays but we only less than ten have survived,) it is a bit difficult to tell what he may have been preaching to those ancient Greeks.

 

So far as I know he was the first Greek mythographer to link “the wanderings of Io” (the Jew), with Prometheus, the creator of man who was “bound” to his mountain (God bound by contract/ covenant to Sinai). Aeschylus has Io, driven by a divinely ordained plague (gadfly) wander to the mountain of Prometheus, where he tells her that he will be freed from his “bindings” (covenant) by a descendant (the Messiah, by whom he means Heracles) of hers, thirteen generations hence.

Re-read my article on Io (at http://westerncivilisationamaic.blogspot.com/2012/01/more-on-moses-as-hermes.html ) surely Aeschylus was relating traditions that he was fully familiar with.

 

I hope that this is of some help to you in your researches, but I must say, that Ezekiel seems to be more focused upon the future return of the tribes of Israel to join with Judah (Eze. 37:15). He does speak of the Exodus (Chapter 20) but not in the terms of God being “bound” to the covenant, to him the people were bound, but broke the covenant. He mentions David (thirteen generations from Abraham) in Messianic terms four times, but usually as a future Messiah who rules over the “re-gathered” Israel. He speaks of a future “peace covenant” without mentioning the dissolution of the old covenant at Sinai.

….

 

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One thought on “Ezekiel and Aeschylus

  1. If wisdom is to come to us then maybe we could ask for it in prayer by supplicating Our Lady Seat of Wisdom feast day 8th June.
    The pen being mightier than the sword now, twenty years since the first Harry Potter book and other philosophies that have done damage to Christianity
    E.g. see article at http://www.dailykos.com “Empty Churches go on sale in Europe as Christian Faith Declines” by Doctor Jazz dated Tues, 13 Jan, 2015 Thanks

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