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Crossing the Stages:
The Production, Performance and Reception of Ancient Theater


Thomas D. Kohn
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies
University of Minnesota

The Tragedy of Ezekiel

Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelica IX.28-29) preserves some 269 lines of a tragedy, written in Greek, by the Jewish playwright, Ezekiel. It is based on the biblical story of the exodus from Egypt, and thus represents a unique mixture of a Greek genre with Hebrew material. Although there is much controversy as to exactly when and where Ezekiel wrote, he is generally placed sometime between the mid-third century and the mid-first century B.C.E.; and he is thought to have lived, if not in Alexandria, then at least in a city where there was a strong Jewish community.

Even with all of this uncertainty, one would think that a substantial portion of a Hellenistic tragedy written by a Jew would attract much academic interest. However, despite the availability of two fine English editions (Howard Jacobson, The Exagoge of Ezekiel, Cambridge: 1983 and Carl R. Holladay, Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors: Volume II, Atlanta: 1989), many classicists remain unaware of the Exagoge. This paper would first, then, increase scholarly awareness by presenting the basic facts of his existence and a description of the fragments.

It also attempts to discover insights into Ezekiel's work by raising two dramaturgical questions. First, what was the potential audience for this work? It appears to be aimed at both Jews and non-Jews, with each group having some familiarity with the content and vocabulary of the Septuagint and Jewish philosophy. I argue that the most appropriate time and place for such an audience would be in the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphos (285-247 B.C.E.).

Second, in an attempt to explain Ezekiel's apparent violations not only of the so-called Unities of Time and Space, but also that of Action, I suggest that instead of fragments from one play, we have the remains of a trilogy or tetralogy of plays. This interpretation not only explains the temporal and geographical leaps, but accounts for the absence of choral passages and the inadequate development of plot and characters.

Throughout the paper, I assume that Ezekiel wrote with full-scale theatrical performance in mind. Unfortunately, in this area, as in so much else, we have little sure evidence either way. In any case, the Exagoge of Ezekiel definitely deserves further scholarly attention and wider fame.

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