The Bible in the News

Hope and help for today’s dry bones

Leonard Greenspoon

In his column The Bible in the News, Leonard J. Greenspoon looks at the various ways the prophet Ezekiel’s famous “Valley of Dry Bones” is used by today’s media.

There are few Biblical images bleaker than the Valley of Dry Bones found in Ezekiel 37. It is this very bleakness that highlights the sense of exaltation when God declares that he will, through his breath (or spirit or wind), cause these bones to live again. It is left to the popular press to apply this imagery in a wide variety of contexts.

More than once the present condition of religious organizations is compared to Ezekiel’s valley. From Africa (as reported in Africa News) comes one account, in which a Nigerian bishop “compared the Ugandan Church to the valley of dry bones which God commanded the Prophet Ezekiel to bring back to life … The Church has lost her sense of stewardship and the role of transforming society. It has started disintegrating.”

The gloom of such a description is countered by optimism for a better future. In some instances, a specific solution is presented, as in this story (from The New York Times) titled “Immigrants Spur Renaissance for Queens Churches”: “A few years ago this church was on its way to becoming a valley of dry bones [one minister recalled]. God’s spirit has brought life” through the infusion of immigrants. Or, more generally, Ezekiel 37 was declared a “winner,” in a competition (reported in the St. Petersburg Times) created to award “Gennies” to Biblical writers: “Most Electrifying Prophetic Passage: Ezekiel’s description of the Valley of the Dry Bones.

Downtrodden people are constantly buoyed by the prophet’s question: ‘Can these bones live?’ And by the answer: Yes, indeed they can.”

Stories related to music often lead me to whistle a happy tune, even if I whistle (as I sing) decidedly off-tune. Fortunately, the well-known singer Andrae Crouch did not have these problems. However, after the death of his mother, Crouch confesses, “no song came to me … I couldn’t hear nothing. Not a thing.” He remembered, “It was as if … God took me into the valley of dry bones. And I was angry.” One particular night, he recalled, “God challenged me: ‘I gave you all those songs and you can’t praise me?’” Eventually, as his fans know, this event restored him to his “authentic ministry” (The Dallas Morning News).

In almost all of my columns, sports writers can be counted on for a choice contribution. Here is one (from The Guardian):

“Whatever happens [Sven-Göran] Eriksson [Premier League football coach] will be seeking to create the backbone of a team … The retirements of Alan Shearer and Tony Adams have emphasized the need for players who will provide strong and enduring vertebrae around which the rest of a team skeleton can be formed. In this respect Eriksson will be starting from scratch, since Keegan’s sudden departure left England in a valley of dry bones. Of the old spinal column only David Seaman remains.” I don’t know about you, but I think that this situation calls more for a chiropractor than a prophet.

But there is at least one other field deserving of mention; namely, literature. A review of A Private View by Anita Brookner features this imagery (from The Times of London): George Bland’s “decorous and dull world is shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visitor. She comes from the land of encounter therapy in California … For George in his 65th year Katy represents a last chance to escape from his valley of dry bones.” To me this sounds pretty similar to the accounts, both Biblical and post-Biblical, of Abishag and the aging King David.

High praise, and a fine literary turn, are also found in this quotation, by British prime minister, Sir Stanley Baldwin, at the launch of the new Oxford English Dictionary in 1928: “Like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, I should pray for the four winds to breathe upon those words, that they might emerge and stand upon their feet an exceeding great army” (as reported in Melbourne’s Sunday Age). To which sentiment, I lift a glass of port and respond, “here, here!”

Based on Leonard J. Greenspoon, The Bible in the News, “Hope and Help for Today’s Dry Bones,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2012.

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