Ezekiel, and Why Women and Young Men Were Traditionally Not Allowed to Read It


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Before we delve into the Old Testament book of Ezekiel in this episode, be warned that we will be talking here about subjects which some parents might not want their children hearing about just yet, so I tell you up-front lest I offend anyone’s sensibilities by surprise.

That said, I just this week learned about an old Jewish rabbinical tradition that men under 30 years old were not allowed to read Ezekiel. And, as would surely shock the sensibilities of feminists in our day, women were not permitted to read it at all.

Reading up on why this was so, after a passing reference to it in N.T. Wright’s biography of the Apostle Paul, I did a bit of digging, and I now know better what the reasons were, particularly after reading Ezekiel 16 in the Complete Jewish Bible translation. Yet I disagree with the decision to withhold this book from view except for men above 30, and

A similar tradition, by the way, was held to regarding Song of Solomon, or “the Song of Songs.” And this one was known to me, particularly in the wake of Mark Driscoll's infamous sermon series 'The Peasant Princess' several years ago.

Nevertheless, for those less familiar, Arend Remmers writes at BibleCentre.org the following explanation:

“With orthodox Jews we find the old tradition that men under the age of 30 years ought not to read the Song of Songs. At the same time the Jews have counted the book among the most holy ones and have accordingly estimated it very highly. This attitude becomes for us also. The Song of Songs is a book of oriental poetry that is marked by special pictorial language. Here it is the pictorial language of love, full of flowery, sentimental, and sometimes very vivid expressions. But neither an Oriental nor a Hebrew would consider this book as a description of voluptuous passion! Such a judgment was reserved to a so-called Christian, western civilization, which up to the mid of the 20th century made a taboo of all that was sexual.”

But, again, something similar being held to about Ezekiel was news to me. So while fact-checking N.T. Wright on his claim, I came across an article at Sojo.net by Jana Riess titled ‘Don’t Read This Part of the Bible If You’re Under 30 (Or A Woman).’

Ms. Riess describes herself as a feminist, and even the tagline for Sojourners where her article can be found reads as follows: “faith in action for social justice.” Nevertheless, she says a similar thing to what Arend Remmers wrote about Song of Songs when she writes:

“Some of the great rabbis taught that the book of Ezekiel, with its strange visions and explicit sexual language, should not be read by any Torah student under the age of 30. The symbolism of "30" was likely tied to Ezekiel's own reported age when he began receiving his prophetic visions; perhaps the rabbis felt that if Ezekiel was old enough to see these weird word-pictures, 30-something men were considered mature enough to read about them. Not so for women."

What are we to make of this, and is it ever good or wise to censor the Lord? Even if He says 'whore' and that offends our delicate sensibilities, I dare say 'No,' and 'watch out.'

But on a related note, the Google Books Ngram Viewer for the history of that word's usage since 1500 sure is interesting.

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