Interpreting Ezekiel’s Ruach in an African Theological Context: African Pneumatology as a Hermeneutical Lens for Understanding Ezekiel’s ‘Spirit’ Motif
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Ezekiel has often been called ‘the prophet of the spirit’ due to his surpassing use of the term רוח, whose symbolic range embraces meteorological phenomena, the anthropological principle of life, a theological principle of divine apparitions, or experiences of divine presence. However, hardly any study exists which relates Ezekiel’s רוח motif to contemporary pneumatologies of the African biblical-faith communities which, akin to Ezekiel’s רוח symbolism, portray a worldview of axiomatic divine- human interrelation in existential life. The thesis of the present study is that the Ezekielian רוח motif conveys a polysemous symbolism which, nonetheless, accentuates an overarching leitmotiv; the רוח symbolism signifies a paradigmatic shift, in ancient Israelite understanding of divine- human interrelation, from visible manifestations and experiences of כבוד־יהוה mediated through cultic rituals and confined to cultic shrines to unmediated manifestations and experiences of divine presence, neither confined to cultic shrines nor necessarily limited to particular guilds of the Israelite societal leadership. Moreover, the study posits that the pneumatological worldview of the African communities of biblical faith is an apt hermeneutical lens for understanding Ezekiel’s רוח symbolism and that the experiences of the Ezekielian exilic community prefigure dynamic equivalents in the pneumatological context of the African communities of biblical faith. The present study is therefore an attempt to read Ezekiel’s רוח symbolism utilizing African pneumatology as a hermeneutical lens. A reader- response theory of biblical interpretation, in which textual meaning emerges from the interaction between the text, read in its socio- historical setting, and the reader in his or her socio- cultural world, is employed utilizing biblical inculturation as a strategy which contextualizes the hermeneutical process by bringing the reader’s interpretive interests and life concerns into the task of biblical interpretation. The study begins with an exploratory study of the book of Ezekiel in its historical context in the Hebrew Bible. This entails a critical review of the Ezekielian corpus in contemporary scholarship as well as an exegetical analysis of רוח symbolism in the Hebrew Bible in order to situate the Ezekiel’s רוח in its socio-historical and canonical context. The study then examines critical features of African pneumatological worldview which constitute hermeneutical linkages, or bridgeheads, between Ezekiel’s רוח symbolism and African pneumatology. The study shows that the Ezekielian רוח motif critically informs the African biblical-faith pneumatology while, as a corollary, the African pneumatological worldview illumines and, indeed, serves as an apt hermeneutical lens for understanding the Ezekielian רוח symbolism. The hermeneutical import of the Ezekielian רוח symbolism, as understood in the African pneumatological context, is that divine presence is experientially feasible in existential life without the necessity of any ecclesial or ritual mediation. As the writer of the biblical book, Acts, affirms, “God ... is not far from each one of us; for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 27- 28).