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The voices that Ezekiel hears

  • George Stein
Extract

Like any prophet, Ezekiel hears the voice of God and it is his prophetic task to relay God's message onto the people. He hears the voice of God more often (93 times) than any other prophet, and the way God addresses him as ‘son of man’ or ‘mortal’ is also unique. Ezekiel experiences a variety of other auditory phenomena, including command hallucinations which are not described in any other prophet, 3:3 ‘He said to me; mortal eat this scroll that I give to you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.’

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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The voices that Ezekiel hears

  • George Stein
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eLetters

Misrepresenting Ezekiel

William V Weatherley, Consultant Psychiatrist
26 February 2010

George Stein (The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196, 101. doi:10.1192/bjp.196.2.101) says that the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel experienced auditory phenomena, including command and other hallucinations characteristic of schizophrenia. As I see it the possibility that Ezekiel was psychotic can be rejected after considering the wider context of Ezekiel’s behaviour, in accordance with basic principles of psychiatric assessment.

Ezekiel was one of the captives exiled to Babylon during the conquestof Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, by the Babylonian army. The messages from God which he relayed to his fellow exiles contained accurateprophesies about the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and of the temple in586 BC, by the Babylonians. They also predicted the eventual restoration of the exiled Jews to Israel, and to God, which occurred about seventy years later. Ezekiel’s contemporary, Jeremiah, had the same message, expressed in different ways; Likewise Isaiah and other prophets prophesiedon the same theme.

George Stein says of Ezekiel that no other prophet hears (what he calls) command hallucinations, conversations with third parties about himself, hears voices in their visions, or has non-verbal auditory experiences. Three of these assertions are manifestly untrue and the other is based on a misunderstanding of the text. Jeremiah (Jer. chap. 13)and Hosea (Hos. chap.1) were instructed by God to carry out actions that seemed odd, in order to symbolise the apostasy of their people; Isaiah (Isaiah chap. 6), Daniel (Daniel chap. 10) and also John, in the book of Revelation, explicitly state that they heard the voice of God or angels intheir visions; John also heard the sound of wings (Revelation chap. 9 v 9).

Contrary to George Stein’s view, Ezekiel chapter 33 v 30 does not imply that Ezekiel experienced “third person” hallucinations of people gossiping about him. It was God who informed Ezekiel of this; Ezekiel could also have heard it from other sources.

Ezekiel chapter 8 v18 has nothing to do with Ezekiel trying to ignore“malign voices”, as George Stein asserts. Taking verses 17 and 18 togetherwith the wider context it can be seen that they refer to God finally allowing the people of Jerusalem to fall into the hands of the Babylonians:17Then he said to me, ‘Have you seen this, O mortal? Is it notbad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here? Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further?See, they are putting the branch to their nose! 18Therefore I will act in wrath; my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; and though they cry inmy hearing with a loud voice, I will not listen to them.’

Leaving aside the question whether the God of Israel exists, or whether He actually communicated with Ezekiel, Ezekiel was not psychotic because his beliefs and behaviour were understandable in a cultural context. The accuracy and historical significance of his prophesies mightbe put forward as evidence that he did indeed receive them from God.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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Ezekial: A true prophet or schizophrenic?

Sanjay Jain, Locum Consultant Psychiatrist
10 February 2010

I read with great interest comments of George Stein on 'The voices that Ezekial hears'. His comments primarily focuses on psychopatholgy of schizophrenia and this certainly can incite spiritual debate.

The book of Ezekial is one of the greatest prophetic works of the OldTestament.Its name is drawn from Ezekiel, a priest - prophet who lived in Jerusalem and was one of the Jews deported by Nebuchadnezzar II to Babylonat the beginning of the 6th century BC. Ezekial ministered to the generation who were full of sin and leading a hopeless life.We have to understand the difference between a prophet and psychotic. A prophet is a person who speaks with divine inspiration or perhaps as an interpretor through whome the will of God can be known to others.Prophets have appeared in many religions throughout the history of mankind and they evenexist today.Therefore supernatural experiences by a prophet is both culturally appropriate and acceptable and there is a view that prophetic messages bring healing to the distressed. On the other hand a psychotic person will be out of touch with reality and it is not culturally or socially acceptable belief system. The book of Ezekial has a uniformity oflanguage, style, theme, and message which support the theory of a single author and his valid yet sensitive supernatural gifting is widely acceptedwithin wider church world as well as Greek, Hebrews and other theologians.Ezekiel prophesied at a time when God's judgment of Israel wasnot merely impending, but had already begun; the Captivity was underway. Ezekial 3:3 as mentioned by the author that 'he ate the scroll' has a symbolic significance of keeping the word of God in your heart and this isaccepted as a universal message.His eating of a scroll was meant to illustrate a spiritual exercise that all of us should engage in. If we areto declare God's truth with meaning and power, we must take time to let itfill our hearts.

There are many prophets in Bible and this include Jesus ministry as well. In our modern days we have many prophets, psychics, healers etc who are working to bring divine relief to distressing people. Their practice is acceptable to our society. We as a psychiatrist need to keep an open mind about certain things which is beyond the remit of our scientific and evidence base training. We also need to be careful in dealing with sensitive spiritual issues in our patients and we should not just have a unilateral and tunnel vision but we all must strive to provide holistic approach to our patients. I certainly disagree with unilateral scientific concept provided by the author of this article and encourage a wider consultation of facts from anthropology, transcultural, historical, and theological point of view of such sensitive topic.

Declaration of Interest: None

References:

1)Schweiz Arch Neurol Neurochir Psychiatr. 1981;128(1):21-31.[Psychopathology and proclamation of the prophet Ezekiel. The phenomenon of prophetic ecstasy]

2)Currents in Biblical Research, Vol. 2, No. 1, 9-31 (2003)Ezekiel At the Turn of the Century

3) Free, Joseph (1950). Archaeology and Bible History. Wheaton: IL: Scripture Press Publications. pp. 226.

4)Journal of the American Academy of Religion 1953 XXI(4):244-251; doi:10.1093/jaarel/XXI.4.244 © 1953 by American Academy of ReligionEvaluating the pathological in prophetic experience (particularly in Ezekial0
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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The pot and the kettle

Temi Metseagharun, Locum Staff Grade Psychiatrist
10 February 2010

I note the hallmarks of scientism in the writings of George Stein in the “Extras” of the BJP. 1,2 Offering “scientific” explanations for spiritual experiences and diagnosing the prophet Ezekiel with schizophrenia, are some of such hallmarks. A general hallmark of scientismalso obvious in Stein’s interpretation is the naïve assumption that the prevailing scientific perspectives of a particular point in time or history equates to reality! I note very calm but poignant responses (e-letters) from Joss Bray (The religious gap in Psychiatry)3 and William V Weatherley (Reducing Theology to Psychiatry).4In this same edition of the BJP, David Taylor reviewing Joanna Moncrieff’s“The Myth of the Chemical Cure” noted that psychiatry has a history of championing useless and harmful treatments. 5 How come? I ask. The simpleanswer is probably related to the parallel history of “scientists” championing useless and harmful diagnostic constructs! We may just have the pot making interpretations of how black the kettle is.It will be interesting to see what history makes of our “schizophrenia” and “bipolar spectrum disorders” as labels that are now being attached to spiritual figures in history almost to the point of ridicule and blasphemy.References1.Stein G. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2009) 195: 550. doi: 10.1192/bjp.195.6.5502.Stein G. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196: 101. doi: 10.1192/bjp.196.2.1013.Joss Bray (e-letter) http://pb.rcpsych.org/cgi/eletters/34/2/63#9821 The Psychiatrist (2010) 34: 63-64. doi: 10.1192/pb.bp.109.0259244.William V Weatherley (e-letter) http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/eletters/195/6/550#277925.Taylor D The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196: 164-165. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.050872

Declaration of interests: NoneTemi Metseagharun is a Locum Staff Grade Psychiatrist, Ten Acres Centre, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham.Tel: 0121 6782800
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