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Ezekiel the Tragedian

Second Century B.C.

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Martin McNamara writes: "Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica 9, 28), citing from Polyhistor, speaks of Ezechielus (or Ezekiel) 'the writer of tragedies,' and quotes from a work of his entitled Exagoge ('The Exodus'). The play begins with a long soliloquy by Moses, telling how the Jews came to Egypt, how they were oppressed, etc. The author follows the biblical account of the Book of Exodus closely, and in the extant fragments this goes as far as the events by the water of Elim, where there were (so we are told) 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees. The vocabulary reflects that of the Septuagint. In some places the author departs from the biblical text and adds either from his own imagination or from Jewish haggadic tradition, e.g. in the section dealing with a certain Chum to whom Zipporah makes reply (lines 66ff.), a dream of Moses concerning his vision of Mount Sinai (68-82), details concerning the destruction of the Egyptian (lines 193-242), the number of springs and palm trees at Elim and the appearance of the wonderful bird there (lines 254-269)." (Intertestamental Literature, p. 227)

James Charlesworth writes: "Ezekiel's drama, as the title indicates, concerns the exodus from Egypt under the leadership of the hero Moses. The first quotation, of 67 verses, is an account by Moses of the oppression of Jacob's descendants, and of his life from the rescue by Pharaoh's daughter from 'the think rushes' of the Nile to his marriage to Zipporah. The second, of 175 verses, contains four parts: a dialogue between Moses and his father-in-law concerning Moses' dream in which he is offered a throne (22 vss.; Pr. ev. 9.29, 4-6); a dialogue between God and Moses concerning the latter's mission (42 vss.; Pr. ev. 9.29, 7-11); God's command to Moses regarding the plagues and the celebration of the feast of Passover (61 vss.; Pr. ev. 9.29, 12f.); and an Egyptian's description of his nation's defeat by the Most High through the waves of 'the deep sea' (30 vss.; Pr. ev. 9.29, 14). The third, of 27 verses, is a speech to Moses by someone who describes the beauty of the oasis Elim (Ex 15:27) and the grandeur of a bird of unparalleled size and beauty." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, p. 111)

Emil Schürer writes: "The most remarkable phenomenon in the department of Judaeo-Hellenistic poetry is the manufacture of scriptural matter into Greek dramas. We know indeed of only one such Jewish dramatist, Ezekiel; and it must be left uncertain whether he had either successor or predecessor. But at all events he composed other dramas besides the one which is known to us by extracts, being called 'The poet of Jewish tragedies' (Clemens Alex. Strom. i. 23. 155: ο Εζεκιηλος ο των Ιουδαικων τραγωδιων ποιητης. Euseb. Praep. evang. ix, 28: Εζεκιηλος ο των τραγωδιων ποιητης). We know more by extensive extracts in Eusebius and Clemens Alexandrinus (after Alexander Polyhistor) of one of them, which was called "the Exodus," Εξαγωγη, and which depicted the history of the departure of the Jews from Egypt (Clemens Alex. Strom. i. 23. 155: εν τω επιγραφομενω δραματι "Εξαγωγη." Euseb. Praep. evang. ix. 29. 14, ed. Gaisford: εν τω δραματι τω επιγραφομενω Εξαγωγη). The moment chosen as the starting point of the action was apparently that when Moses fled to Midian after slaying the Egyptian (Ex. ii.); for the first extract transposes us to that period (Euseb. Praep. evang. ix. 28 = Clemens Alex. Strom. i. 23. 155-156). It is a long monologue of Moses, in which he relates the history of his life down to that juncture, and concludes with the words, that he is now in consequence a wanderer in a foreign land. He then sees the seven daughters of Raguel approaching (Ex. ii. 16 sqq.) and asks who they are, when Zipporah gives him the information. The further progress of the action is only alluded to in the extract, where we are told that the watering of the flock and the marriage of Zipporah with Moses now takes place (Ex. ii. 16 sqq.). In the second extract (Euseb. ix. 29. 4-6, ed. Gaisford) Moses relates a dream to his father-in-law, which the latter explains to mean, that Moses will attain to a high official post, and will have the knowledge of things past, present and future. In another scene (Euseb. ix. 29. 7-11, ed. Gaisford) it is represented, on the authority of Ex. iii.-iv., how God spoke to Moses from a burning bush and commissioned him to deliver the people of Israel from bondage. As God speaks invisibly from the bush, He is not made to appear on the stage, but only His voice is heard. The details are pretty much in agreement with Ex. iii.-iv. In the extract which follows (Euseb. ix. 29. 12-13, ed. Gaisford) God gives (according to Ex. xi.-xii.) more exact directions concerning the departure and the celebration of the Passover. It cannot be decided, whether this also belongs to the scene of the bush. In a further scene (Euseb. ix. 29. 14, ed. Gaisford) an Egyptian enters, who has escaped the catastrophe in the Red Sea, and relates how the Israelites passed safely through the waters and the Egyptian host perished in them. Finally, in the last fragment (Euseb. ix. 29. 15-16) a messenger, in whom we are to imagine one sent to reconnoitre for the Israelites, announces to Moses the discovery of an excellent place of encampment at Elim, with twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees (Ex. xv. 27 = Num. xxxiii. 9). Then the messenger relates how a marvellously strong bird, nearly twice as large as an eagle, which all the other birds followed as their king, appeared. The description of this bird is also found, without mention of the name of Ezekiel, in Eustathius, Comm. in Hexaemeron, ed. Leo Allatius (1629), p. 25 sq." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 226-227)

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