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Early mourning? Petitionary versus posthumous ritual in Ezekiel xxiv

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Ezekiel xxiv 15-24 contains God's perplexing announcement that the prophet's wife is about to die but that he must not mourn her. This prohibition against mourning is almost invariably interpreted as God's attempt to limit Ezekiel's response, ritual and perhaps also emotional, to his wife's death, foreshadowing Israel's reaction following the destruction of the temple. Yet it is difficult to see how, and more importantly why, God hoped to restrict conventional, posthumous mourning either for the prophet's wife or for the temple. Ez. xxiv 15–24 differs significantly from Jer. xvi 1–18, where posthumous mourning is restricted for reasons that are made clear, but has striking parallels to II Sam. xii 13–23, where the mourning described is not posthumous but rather petitionary. Petitionary mourning rituals are undertaken before a death or disaster in the hope of averting it. The prohibition against mourning in Ez. xxiv 15–24 may be read as a divine attempt to block prophetic intercession (cf. perhaps Ez. iii 25–27). God is determined to destroy the temple and prohibits Ezekiel and, by extension, Israel, from undertaking petitionary mourning rituals that might have persuaded Him to change His mind.


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