In this paper I suggest a new interpretation for the background of Ezek 13:17—23. Until recently, most interpreters have viewed the women in this pericope as witches and therefore evil; more recently a number of interpreters have stressed that it is only Ezekiel who regards these women as bad and that they should really be understood as female prophets who competed with Ezekiel. In contrast, I point out that the history of growth of the pericope has to be taken into account. As the text stands, the women are accused of being false prophets, like their male counterparts in vv. 1—16. But in an earlier layer of the text we find the women connected with some form of communication with the dead; this, in turn, fits with the munabbiātu found in the Emar texts. Because of the biblical prophets, they had been interpreted as female prophets as well, but the use of the verb nubbû in the context of caring/communicating with the dead suggests that they are religious specialists either communicating with or caring for the dead. This and the openness with which they are addressed in the Emar texts suggest that they were highly skilled specialists held in considerable regard. It is likely that the Hebrew מתנבאות originally had a similar function and therefore high social status. The textual history of the book of Ezekiel turns them into female prophets at odds with Ezekiel; reception history turned these women into witches. In their own lifetimes they were probably well-respected religious specialists.

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