Eat This Scroll (Ezekiel and Revelation)
The bizarre image of eating a scroll is a pivotal moment in Ezekiel’s as well as Revelation’s prophetic visions.
Prophetic and apocalyptic visions are known for their peculiar knack of blending the everyday with the supernatural or surreal. Both Ezekiel and the book of Revelation turn the unremarkable act of eating into a powerful revelatory act. Ezekiel and the Seer, as the first-person narrator of the Apocalypse of John is often called, are commanded to “eat this scroll” in order to receive God’s heavenly knowledge and to be able to act upon it as instructed.
Did you know…?
- Other ancient examples of transformational eating can be found in noncanonical texts like Joseph and Aseneth and The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas and in the Greek and Roman myth of Persephone.
- Divine food is thought to be sweet in Greco-Roman traditions.
- Angels sometimes avoid eating earthly food in order to maintain their heavenly status, like in Testament of Abraham and in the Quran (Hud 11:69-70).
Who instructs Ezekiel to eat the scroll?
Both texts depict their protagonist receiving instructions from heaven. In Ezekiel, the prophet first experiences an apparition that is the “likeness of the glory of the Lord.” It seems to be this manifestation of the divine which speaks to Ezekiel, while an outstretched hand holds a scroll. The heavenly voice instructs him to “eat what is offered”; to “eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel” (
Did Revelation simply copy Ezekiel?
Revelation is known for its habit of alluding to the earlier prophetic texts of the Hebrew Bible, even if it never quotes them word for word. However, the Apocalypse uses multiple overlapping allusions to evoke new meanings, and the example of the little scroll is no exception. While Ezekiel hears the divine voice directly, John, as is often the case in apocalyptic texts, experiences his revelation with the help of angelic mediators. It is not clear in the text whether the voice that John hears is God’s or the angel’s (
Why do the scrolls taste sweet and bitter?
Most interpreters of these scroll passages focus on a possible correlation between the flavor of the scroll and the content of the divine message. A sweet taste signifies the sweetness of God’s words, just like in Psalms (e.g.,
What does eating otherworldly food do?
In these and other examples, the eaters are changed by the food and are able to receive and transmit divine knowledge. This type of eating, called hierophagy, is a powerful literary tool that ancient authors used to signify the transformation of the eater in a way that associates them intimately with the divine realm. Tasting and ingesting otherworldly food dissolves the boundaries between heaven and earth in the same way that the mouth and stomach break down food and dissolve it into the body. So whether scroll, cup, or other heavenly morsel, biblical authors were making use of a known trope to locate their characters close to God and imbue them with divine authority.