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In the first verse of the book of Ezekiel, it reads:

Now in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.
(Ezekiel 1:1, WEB)

In some translations, the elapsed time mentioned in this verse is interpreted as the age of Ezekiel the priest:

In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
(Ezekiel 1:1, NIV)

The elapsed time, does it refer to the age of Ezekiel the priest, or does it refer to another event?

3 Answers 3

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Ezekiel identifies the current time as the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's exile (the next verse, Ezekiel 1.2). Ezekiel proceeds to give dates according to this exile. (Notice Ezekiel's prophecies are not all arranged in chronological order.)

  • the sixth year (8.1)
  • the seventh year (20.1)
  • the ninth year (24.1)
  • the tenth year (29.1)
  • the eleventh year (26.1; 30.20; 31.1)
  • the twelfth year (32.1; 32.17; 33.21)
  • the twenty-fifth year (40.1)
  • the twenty-seventh year (29.17)

Ezekiel 33.21 tells us that, 'in the twelfth year of our exile', the Jews in Babylon receive a messenger telling them Jerusalem has been destroyed. This event took place c.587-586 BC, which dates the exile (of Jehoiachin and these others Jews in Babylon) to c.598-597 BC. Ezekiel 1 sets us five years into this exile.

It is during this time, c.593-592 BC, that Ezekiel says he is 'in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month'. Going back thirty years puts us c.623-622. The only event of Israelite interest that could be dated to this time would be the discovery of the covenant scroll in the Jerusalem temple (cf. 2 Kings 22).

Dating the 'thirtieth year' as being Ezekiel's birthdate is an ancient proposition (Daniel Block suggests Origen is the earliest known proponent: Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, p.82). But identifying the 'thirtieth year' with Ezekiel's birth is just as speculative as identifying it with the discovery of the law in the temple.

We can say for certain it's not related to the exile that Ezekiel proceeds to date the rest of the book with.

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A persons "30th year" had religious significance in Hebrew culture. It was customary for Levites to begin their ministry at thirty, (Numbers 4:3) and the time a Jewish person could be considered a Rabbi. As we know, Jesus was about 30 when his ministry began. (Luke 3:23)

Therefore, Ezekiel 1:1 seems to be a natural way of opening his prophecy, with a reference to his age credential, followed by a reference to the actual date.

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  • Interesting! :-) Nevertheless: why does the writer add the month and the day? Wouldn't it be enough to just mention the year? Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 4:45
  • Ezekiel is saying 2 things in the same breath: 1st his age credential. 2nd the date of his vision. Commented Apr 19, 2015 at 6:41
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This answer relies on the research of the Bible chronologist, Rodger C. Young, which is available here www.rcyoung.org

Ezekiel was a priest. One of the important tasks of the priests was to keep a meticulous record of the passing of the years since entering the Promised Land.

Every seven years, since the time of entering the Promised Land there was a Sabbatical Year, and every seventh Sabbatical Year, i.e. every forty nine years, there was a Jubilee Year. These years were agricultural years and started on the 1st Tishri after the end of the harvest in September/October. The only exception was the Jubilee Year which began on the 10th Tishri (Leviticus 25:9). The 50th year of the previous Jubilee cycle was the 1st year of the next Jubilee cycle. When the number of elapsed years reached 50 in the month Tishri it was exactly 49 years since the last Jubilee and the trumpet was blown on the 10th Tishri to mark the beginning of a Jubilee Year ( - and the year number went back to 1).

There are two references to the Jubilee cycle in the book of Ezekiel, Ezekiel 1:1 and Ezekiel 40:1. The two events are 20 years apart: the "fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity" and the "twenty fifth year of our captivity". Ezekiel 40:1 should read like this:

"In the twenty fifth year of our captivity, on New Year's Day, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was smitten, on the selfsame day the hand of the LORD was upon me, and brought me thither."

The phrase "at the beginning of the year" is a translation of "Rosh Hashanah", but "New Year's Day" or simply the transliteration "Rosh Hashanah" are both more accurate.

Since Ezekiel 40:1 is twenty years after the thirtieth year in Ezekiel 1:1 then it is the start of the 50th year which is exactly 49 years after the previous Jubilee Year.

The Seder Olam Rabbah written about AD 150, a rabbinical attempt at producing a chronology of Old Testament history tells us Ezekiel 40:1 was referring to the beginning of the 17th Jubilee Cycle:

"And so it says (Ez. 40:1): “In 25th year of our exile, on the day of the New Year, on the tenth of the month, 14 years after the destruction of the of Jerusalem.” When did he Ezekiel have this vision? At the beginning of a Jubilee period. If they stayed for 17 entire jubilee periods, how can there be an excess of 17 years?" (Seder Olam Rabbah, under the chapter headed "Joshua"). See http://www.betemunah.org/sederolam.html

Since the fall of Jerusalem was in 587 BC this would put the start of the Jubilee cycle at 1406 bc, the year the Israelites entered the Promised Land. (The year harmonises perfectly to the exact year with Valerius Coucke's calculations. It is good evidence of when the Israelites entered the land, and that the book of Leviticus was written before 1406 BC.) (See also Talmud b Arak 12a.)

The Talmud Megillah 14b indicates that the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah was also a Jubilee Year: it was probably because it was a Jubilee Year that Josiah felt stirred up to do his reforms (2 Kings 22:3). The manner in which the Talmud tells us is hugely convoluted, and it would be best to read Rodger Young's articles to understand what is being said.

So "the thirtieth year" in Ezekiel 1:1 is the 30th year of the Jubilee cycle (in fact the 30th year of the 16th Jubilee cycle) and Ez 40:1 is the 1st year of the 17th Jubilee cycle.

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  • I nervously hesitated to change "staid" in the quote to "stayed", for if you copied and pasted that quote, it will not be a typo on your part! Please roll back if I am in error.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 29, 2023 at 17:26
  • @Anne - Hi Anne, thanks. It was a cut and paste of the quote, which I preferred to keep with the original, incorrect spelling. But now you've changed it, I think it best if it stays "stayed". If I try to make it stay "staid" someone else will probably not let it stay "staid" and keep on changing it, and it won't stay "staid" but will be "stayed" once again... probably a stay of execution is best. Every blessing. Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 8:25
  • Right - it's just that the modern understanding of 'staid' is to be of steady and sober character, quiet and serious demeanour, to be sedate! But I knew from the context that it was just archaic spelling of what we would render 'stayed'. However, this is the first time I've ever changed spelling in an old quote, hence my nervousness!
    – Anne
    Commented May 1, 2023 at 11:06
  • @Anne - No problem. Thanks Commented May 1, 2023 at 22:10

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