The Book of Ezekiel: Matthew Nolan's 13 Lies
This week I asked myself a tough question. Am I allowed to post a blog where I label a so-called Torah teacher an idiot? And after much pause and reflection, I realised that the answer is no. People will be upset, my mother will tell me off, it will be 'unbiblical', and the internet might cry.
Am I doing it anyway? Yes. Some things are too deserving to be criticised and if you're a 'teacher' then you step into the ring of public opinion where you just might need to defend the rubbish you're sprouting.
What follows therefore is my critique of Matthew Nolan, who operates under the ministry name of Torah to the Tribes, and his views regarding the book of Ezekiel. His videos on the book came out some years ago but I have just completed some research on Ezekiel so now was a good time for me to delve into this topic. I will explain further below, but Nolan effectively makes up his own ridiculous views on the book for the purpose of slandering the Jewish people and anyone who supports them. Nolan also offers his own eschatological views which require his own complete re-working of the book of Ezekiel to slander the restoration of Israel and anyone who thinks positive thoughts regarding God's temple.
Oh, and of course, if you want to refer to Nolan’s teachings directly, though I will detail what I can of them below, you can find them at the Torah to the Tribes website called ‘The Volume of Ezekiel – Part 1’. He has a series called ‘Ezekiel and the Revelation of the 13 Scrolls’ but I have mostly looked at ‘The Volume of Ezekiel’ video which gives his overarching theory regarding the book of Ezekiel and its impact on the millennial period.
(Matthew Nolan dressed up as Rico Cortez for the sake of ridiculing him)
THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Before we begin, I want to ground us in the book of Ezekiel and give you some notes by means of overview. These, I hope, will come in handy as we analyse the position of Matthew Nolan.
The book of Ezekiel opens in the year 597 BCE, 5 years into Judah’s exile in Babylon which began around 592 BCE. Judah was not just exiled in one foul swoop, rather there were two main waves of Judahite exiles in this period. Ezekiel was part of the first wave which, as the opening chapter indicates, was due to the rebellion of King Jehoiachin against the Babylonian empire. This prompted Nebuchadnezzar II to lay siege to Jerusalem and capture Jehoiachin and other elites (2 Kings 24:10-12). Having done so, Nebuchadnezzar installed King Zedekiah on the throne who, despite the warning of Jeremiah the prophet, again rebelled (Jeremiah 38:17-23). This time, in 587 BCE, when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem he sacked it and exiled the Jewish population that was left (although not all Judahites were exiled from the land) (2 Kings 25:1-19). These 2 waves of exiles influenced Ezekiel’s work as 1) the book pivots on the sack of Jerusalem, and 2) Ezekiel maligned the Jewish community left in Jerusalem but following its fall he changed his tone somewhat and focused on national restoration (compare Ezekiel 24:1-13 and 36:24-28). If you read carefully, there are also dynamics at play given that the first wave of exiles included the elites and the second wave which included everybody else.
This exilic setting forms the frame as to why Ezekiel’s opening vision is so important. It is because within the traditional model of thinking in the ancient world, Judah’s defeat at the hands of Babylon meant that the Babylonian gods, headed by Marduk, had in turn defeated Yahweh. Ezekiel’s vision overturned this thinking and showed that Yahweh was not defeated. Rather, God’s throne was mobile and on the move with Israel in the exile.
The opening lines of the book also tell us that Ezekiel was 30 years old which, as we know, was when a priest started work in the temple. It also tells us that Ezekiel was born during the age of King Josiah’s reforms (640-609 BCE) where Judah turned back to Yahweh. As such, Ezekiel’s upbringing and training as a priest influenced his work which is very ‘priestly’ in its outlook. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Ezekiel, the priest-come-prophet, as the one prophesying of a restored temple.
Ezekiel’s book, unlike others, follows a rather broad structure that is relatively easy to follow. Most scholars accept that the book has a tripartite structure defined by 1) the judgement of Judah (1-24), 2) the judgement of the nations (25-32) and 3) the future restoration of Israel (33-48). Some scholars have 4 parts as they separate out Ezekiel’s vision of the restored temple as its own section (40-48).
There are a number of literary considerations we could talk about when it comes to Ezekiel, but one that is worth mentioning is that Ezekiel often anticipates later material in his book. For example, the restoration of Israel is referred to earlier in the book in 11:17-19 and the restoration of the temple is also referred to in Ezekiel 37:26-28 before the vision of the temple (and can be implied from other early ‘restoration’ type verses).
NOLAN’S VIEW IN SUMMARY
We will break down Nolan’s view below, but in general he sees Ezekiel as a book which has been completely misinterpreted by modern scholarship and Christendom. Nolan has a particular problem with this because, he says, of how it impacts on the church’s eschatology and its views on the current state of Israel. Nolan rejects the idea that Ezekiel foresaw a temple rebuilt in the millennial period and he vehemently rejects any suggestion that Ezekiel saw a return to animal sacrifice. Because Nolan has an unhealthy fixation on the Jewish people, this morphs into his usual racist tirade against the Jews, Christians who support the state of Israel, and the work of the Temple Institute who must be a part of some nefarious scheme to bring on WWIII; because, of course. I also can’t quite grasp why Nolan seems to equate Levites with modern Jewish people; but is one of his means of slandering the Jews. Nolan portrays Levites – and modern Jews – as savages who want to get back to senseless animal slaughter. Never mind the fact that the book of Leviticus and you know, God, considered animal sacrifice and temple worship to be inherently holy and positive.
The basis of Nolan’s argument, he says, is that the book of Ezekiel is rather a compilation of 13 scrolls which the prophet presented to the house of Israel and that these scrolls, in particular the scroll containing the temple vision, contained a conditional offer of a covenant which included a restoration of the temple inclusive of animal sacrifice. Nolan says that Israel, because of its sin, failed to take up God’s offer of this conditional covenant, and that therefore Ezekiel's temple vision is of no relevance to the millennial period. Nolan does believe in a temple during the millennial reign, but one without offerings and one whose purpose is simply to act as the throne room of God when Yeshua returns to earth. Nolan comes to this view separate from the texts of Ezekiel.
There is more to Nolan’s argument, but we will cover his other points as we break it down.
THE 13 SCROLLS
The basis of Nolan’s ’13 scrolls’ is the fact that Ezekiel dates his oracles; 13 or 14 depending on your count. A stereotypical example of this practice can be found in Ezekiel 8:1 ‘In the sixth year, on the fifth day of the month…’ and in Ezekiel’s opening lines in chapter 1.
(Ezekiel's chronological formulas)
Ezekiel’s dating is an interesting proposition. Generally speaking, prophecies were oracular (i.e., verbally delivered) whereas the presence of dating speaks to a development in Israel’s literary and prophetic traditions. Think of prophets like Eijah who left us no book; the idea that prophets should have their messages written down hadn’t quite come to fruition at that time in Israel’s history, and the fact that we know of men like Eijah speaks to other people who saw the worth in his words and actions and decided that they should be preserved. Moreover, in a preliterate society bashing away at your keyboard – or rather your inkwell and scroll- wasn’t obviously apparent at first. Ezekiel’s text however indicates that oracular delivery remained at the core of prophecy, whereas his dating formulas were a literary and cultural development which served a number of other purposes, such as later validation.
STORED IN A NON-EXISTANT JAR?
That Ezekiel has a literary element is important to note. Fundamental to Nolan’s ’13 scrolls’ view is the notion that Ezekiel wrote 13 separate messages which were stored in a ‘stone jar depository’. These scrolls were then later taken out by a scribe and compiled into the book that we now have. This is Nolan’s justification for the ordering of Ezekiel which doesn’t follow chronological order and was apparently put together at random. Or as some other Torah teacher wrote (I forget who), it was done ‘to throw off the enemy’…*facepalm*….
These views are wrong (and embarrassingly ignorant for a teacher) because 1) there is absolutely no evidence that Ezekiel wrote 13 separate scrolls, nor is there any mention in Ezekiel regarding the book’s composition (unlike a book like Jeremiah [Jer 36:4]); 2) there is no evidence of Ezekiel’s non-existent scrolls being stored in a stone jar deposit 3) no evidence that the book’s compilation was such a basic process; and 4) all of the evidence relating to the book’s message, its theology and literary features and structure speak to the fact that Nolan’s view is embarrassingly made up. Rather, someone when writing the book of Ezekiel thought it through and constructed a complete monolithic text. Sure, it includes dates for certain oracles, but there is no mention of the creation of different scrolls. Moreover, the ‘random’ chronology was rather subsumed by the author’s literary aims i.e. its structure and even considerations for content. For example, Ezekiel’s material regarding Egypt is all placed together in chapters 29-32 regardless of its dating. The material regarding Tyre, with its out of date chronological markers, was all put together before the Egyptian material and all of the material regarding judgement of the nations was put together to form 1 section of the book as identified above. There are also oracles against 7 nations: 7 oracles against Egypt and there are 7 date notices (out of chronological order) throughout this section. Furthermore, the placement of the oracle of hope in Ezek. 28:24-26 occurs in the middle of this material, creating two sections of oracles against the nations of similar length. We could keep going… but was the book of Ezekiel randomly put in a jar (that is never mentioned) and then randomly compiled? Absolutely not.
Nolan’s arguments for this random chronology border on the ridiculous. He cites two pieces of evidence to support his argument. 1) Jeremiah 32:10 which mentions the sealing of a deed, and Revelation 5 which mentions the sealing of a heavenly scroll. What you have here is evidence that a deed was written in the book of Jeremiah and sealed…i.e., how is that even relevant to the composition of Ezekiel? It’s not. You also have confirmation that a scroll was sealed in the book of Revelation in a heavenly vision. Given that Revelation was written hundreds of years later it also has no relevance to the composition of Ezekiel and I’m not sure how a heavenly vision relates to scribal practices for the exilic community in Babylon.
These arguments betray the shocking research of Nolan and co. Heck, Jeremiah had a scribe called Baruch who seemingly contributed to the composition of his book. Does this mean Baruch also wrote the book of Ezekiel? No, but if we use Nolan’s dreadful interpretive methods then maybe! Anything goes!
NOLAN’S SOURCE MATERIAL
In Matthew Nolan’s notes he cites a certain ‘T.H. Whitehouse’ as another ‘tzadik’ (i.e. righteous person) who holds Nolan’s views regarding the 13 scrolls.
First, I located the specific source for T.H. Whitehouse (not that Nolan provides it) and it is a 20ish page ‘book’ (…it’s more of a tract) called ‘Ezekiel’s Temple and Sacrifices: Will Sacrifices Resume in the Millenium’. You can save yourself the $1 cost of the tract because Nolan’s notes on TTTT’s website are mostly a direct copy and paste of Whitehouse’s book. Amongst many things, Nolan is also apparently unoriginal.
To be blunt, Whitehouse’s book is self-published crap that would not pass muster at any school or university level. The book does offer us a couple of take-home lessons though. First, self-published crap is indeed, self-published crap; and any idiot can self-publish a book. Moreover, authors who self-publish and then somehow claim the prestige and authority of being an actual ‘published’ author are kidding themselves. Second, the hallmarks of stupidity in religious writing of this sort are the use of CAPITALS, unnecessary !!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and the use of repetition; all of which Whitehouse uses liberally. People who write in this style usually repeat themselves LOUDLY because they are unable to articulate a reasonable argument! (They also apparently hate Jewish people.) Moreover, the tract is itself poorly written with horrible argumentation and errors such as Random Capitals and other shoddy Grammar,. This blog, poorly written at times, at least doesn’t profess to be a reputably published book and the genre of the ‘blog’ allows for all sorts of colloquial, casual goodness in terms of style.
Having read Whitehouse’s book I can assert that Nolan’s argument is literally a copy and paste. This is revealing because I wondered where Nolan got his research from regarding the maintenance of ancient scrolls. Well, his comments are exactly what Whitehouse says; only, Whitehouse, like Nolan, doesn’t cite his sources (which you really should do in a ‘book’) and he seems to have never done any actual research on scribal traditions. Rather, Whitehouse has made up a fanciful fiction regarding the composition of Ezekiel which Nolan follows without question. The fact that Nolan so closely copies Whitehouse indicates that very little, if any, research went into the production of his theory which has unfortunately influenced so many people. Nolan’s doctrine is literally the blind leading the blind.
DATING THE TEMPLE VISION
(some of my Hebrew notes on Ezekiel 1:1)
Fundamental to Nolan’s argument is the idea that the temple vision occurred before every other scroll was authored in the book of Ezekiel (and that the first chapter happened last). Because of this view, Nolan essentially flips the intentional structure of the book which, generally speaking, moves from oracles of judgement to oracles of hope and restoration. Rather, in Nolan’s view, God offered Israel restoration, inclusive of a functional temple, which, when Israel failed to take Yahweh up on this offer, is then followed by judgement.
I was truly confused with how Nolan and Whitehouse came up with this theory but let me try to explain;
The book of Ezekiel opens with two dates both given in verses 1 and 2. To see the confusion regarding these dates you just need to simply read these verses. The first, written in the first person, indicates that it was the ‘thirtieth year’ whereas the second verse, written in the third person, says that it was the fifth year ‘of King Jehoiachin’s exile’.
The first verse, which gives Nolan/Whitehouse their ’30 years from the start of the exile’ theory, doesn’t have the explanatory note that this dating was based the exile at all. I would love to know how Nolan or Whitehouse come up with their view on this, but as with most of their work, it lacks any supporting evidence or coherent argumentation.
What we do know though, is that Nolan dismisses the second verse on the basis that this was a scribal error which he says is evidenced by it being written in the third person. Indeed, scholarship might agree with Nolan here because that change from first to third person can be an indicator of later redaction.
The question here though, is are we ok with that? Are Bible teachers allowed to effectively delete verses that don’t agree with their point of view? Of course not.
Say we agree with the inference though that perhaps someone else, in the third person, added verse 2. If that were to be so, and scholarship does humour this thought, then it is likely an explanatory gloss to verse 1. Meaning, that verse 1 and 2 are referring to the same year. Year 30 then, whatever it may be, is the same as year 5 of Jehoiachin’s exile. Furthermore, the fact that a later author may have added this explanation is besides the point because it made its way, Holy Spirit permitting, into our canonised Bible.
If we persist with this idea a little longer, it is also worth noting that the completion of Ezekiel’s book occurred in the time period it was written. For most believers that is a given, but in some cases you have the setting of the book (i.e. the events it describes) and then the setting of author which may not necessarily be the same and which may influence the text. An example of this might be the book of Revelation. It’s internal setting speaks to the end of days; days which we are yet to see, but the setting of the author, that of the Roman empire, undoubtedly influenced his work. For Ezekiel, there isn’t any sort of gap between the book’s setting and the author’s setting especially if we agree that Ezekiel himself wrote (most) of the text. This is a topic that warrants chapters in and of itself but there is more in the book that speaks to some sort of redactional process, but the book exudes a Jewish exilic outlook that has no cognisance of the later Persian period. This is important to note because Ezekiel, a priest who prophesied of a restored temple in the land of Israel, would have undoubtedly put a different spin on things if he lived in an age where the Jews were allowed to return home and were given free rein to restore God’s temple in Jerusalem.
On that note, I actually cannot understand why Nolan didn’t take a preterist position. Preterism is the theological outlook that views Biblical prophecy as something that is already fulfilled. So rather then Nolan’s view that the temple vision is irrelevant because it was 'conditional', he would have been better off arguing that the temple in Ezekiel’s book is irrelevant for the millennial reign because it was already fulfilled in the soon to follow Persian period. There are obviously significant issues with such a view, but it would make better sense than what Whitehouse/Nolan have been able to cook up.
Continuing with the problematic thirtieth year, we have two more solutions to consider. The first, which has become increasingly the norm, is that Ezekiel’s ‘thirtieth year’ is actually a reference to his birthday which occurs in the fifth year of Jehoiachin’s exile. This does have some sense because Ezekiel is quite thoroughly a priest. His whole text exudes his priestly outlook by the way he focuses on the temple and the ways by which he defines sin and considers the land as ‘defiled’. The opening chapter is also Ezekiel’s ‘commissioning’ as a prophet which, within this view, occurs at the age of 30 which is when priests begin their priestly work and can begin in the temple.
The second solution to consider is the possibility that Ezekiel was referring to ’30 years’ from Josiah’s reign. This is an attractive solution because Ezekiel was born during the golden age of Josiah but it runs into similar issues like Nolan’s view. The text just does not say this and when it comes to dating things from historical events, the event is almost always explicitly mentioned, but not with birthdays.
More could be said on this but the weight of the evidence, it would seem to me, is with the idea that the mysterious ‘30th year’ is in fact Ezekiel’s birthday. He was a priest coming to age and beginning his work. Unfortunately for him, it was not in the temple as he would have hoped for but rather in exile where God still found him a fitting job as a prophet. If you don’t agree with me, that is ok, but you are still left with the conclusion that there is nothing to Nolan’s position that places the opening 8 chapters (Nolan’s so called first scroll) 30 years after the exile, and therefore after the events/prophecies of the entire book. You also have to believe that Ezekiel was commissioned to be a prophet decades after his career started, and you have to also somehow explain why Ezekiel’s opening theological point, that God is with his people in the exile, occurred 30 years after the exile started. It makes perfect sense for that revelation to be given at the beginning of the text.
Speaking of theology, a key revelation of Ezekiel’s is that God will redeem and restore his people regardless of their ability or inability to do so. Yahweh actually makes it quite clear that Israel was undeserving and unable to restore itself, and He repeatedly says that He would restore Israel for the sake of His name. Ezekiel 20:33-44 is a good overview of this theological point which Ezekiel stresses throughout his book. Should we repent and turn from our sin? Absolutely. But salvation and restoration was a gift which couldn't be earned. Inherent in Nolan’s view therefore is this theology of salvation through action. Rather, restoration was a gift regardless of Israel’s own strengths. How very New Testament sounding of Ezekiel…
THE CONDITIONAL COVENANT?
One last key point in Nolan’s view is the idea that the temple scroll was a ‘conditional covenant’ which was offered to Israel. I would love to write much on this because it is so important to Nolan’s view. Rather, there isn’t much to write because there is absolutely nothing to support this idea. Nothing. Not even Nolan or Whitehouse attempt to argue this point; their whole position hinges on the chronological formulas and that’s it.
If there was an indication though that the temple vision was a covenant there would be some sort of explanation in the book of Ezekiel that this was so. Instead, the final ‘scroll’ says things like;
“Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple and its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, its entire design and all its ordinances, all its forms and all its laws. Write it down in their sight, so that they may keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them.
It doesn’t say, if they accept this covenant they will have a temple…
We are also given a lengthy discourse by Yahweh which starts in Ezekiel 44:5 and there is no mention of anything that is covenantal or conditional. It condemns Israel’s sins, but Yahweh says things like….
“And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them.
29 This is the land which you shall divide by lot as an inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and these are their portions,” says the Lord God.
In closing, Ezekiel ends his book by naming Jerusalem as ‘THE LORD IS THERE’. Remember, Judah went into exile at the start of the book and God left the temple which was defiled.
Ezekiel makes the point that Yahweh was not defeated but rather that he remained sovereign over the world; that Babylon was simply a tool in his hands and that God is with his people in exile. What a fitting ending to the book then. God departs with His people, but in the end He will return to His land and dwell in His city. I have no idea how Nolan/Whitehouse came up with their rubbish theory that the book was compiled at random and I have no idea how Nolan thinks that God’s return to Jerusalem was ‘conditional’. This theology gels though with Nolan’s racist views of the Jewish people. It also seems like Nolan thinks that God is not with the Jewish people…
To finish, Nolan’s doctrine of the 13 scrolls of Ezekiel is complete rubbish. He has completely fabricated this idea of the 13 scrolls; he has made up the idea that Ezekiel was compiled at random; he has made up the notion that the opening chapters occur at the end of Ezekiel’s ministry and that the temple vision actually occurs first; and he flips the theology of the book which progresses from judgement to hope and which ends with Yahweh restoring His people. His scholarship is an embarrassment, and how he effectively deletes parts of the Bible which he doesn't like and how he portrays the Jews is an insult. Nolan remains in my view, an antisemite and someone who completely lacks the ability to teach anyone. What he does have however is a dangerous level of charisma which has seemingly drawn people in with his rubbish.
Don't fall for it.
Jesus loves you and have a good night.