The Book of Ezeriah:
A Riposte to the Doubting Thomases, Erics and Mabels
who Deny the Authenticity of this Revered Theological Tract
(Ripostor and Theological Tractor
of the Parish of Greater Grunty Fen)
I have taken it upon myself to investigate this ‘magnum opus’ over thirty or so years and have been gratified to discover that others besides me are aware of its existence. I freely confess that Ezeriah continues to pose more exegetical questions than it answers and its hermeneutics have largely become the province of amateurs such as myself.
I have been inspired in my efforts by the example of my late grandfather, the Reverend Handel Plynlimmon Howells, a noted missionary and church-builder who left funds to establish a joint honours degree in Hebrew, Woodwork and Welsh at the University of Blaenavon.
The earliest record of Ezeriah as a published work in England appears in the turbulent days of the Civil War when independent congregations thrived in East Anglia. With its heady mix of apocalyptic visions, acts of fornication (followed by appropriate chastisement), complex genealogies and agricultural ephemera, Ezeriah proved to be popular amongst Fen people.
An itinerant Scottish preacher, Mungo McLaren, based many of his sermons upon the work and sold a large number of reprints of it to local people. He eventually settled near Littleport, marrying and producing a fine brood of seven sons. (Author’s Note: I should like to think that Ginger ‘Pretty Boy’ McLaren, the noted drain-rodder, is descended from him.)
On the shelf
Ezeriah was popular in many local households up to and including those which existed in Victorian times. Together with Fox’s Book of Martyrs, Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy, Samuel Smiles’ Book of Self-Help and Pilgrim’s Progress, it was a mainstay of domestic libraries throughout the Fens.
However, despite its popular appeal, the mainstream churches refused to include it in the accepted canon of biblical literature. The only bible I have discovered that included Ezeriah was published by the Prickwillow Society for the Propagation of the Eternal Word in the Dark Corners of the Empire. It was included in an appendix to the Apocrypha, together with the Lamentations of Adon-Igel, about which even less is known.
Ezeriah was written in the post-exilic period of Judaic history but survived only in fragments that went to make up the various codexes that, in turn, went to make up the Old Testament. It is believed that some of these fragments reached England at the end of the First Crusade, arriving with a Saxon knight, Dionysius von Grundhaafen.
Dionysius returned from the Holy Land and settled in the Fens considerably enriched not by the usual means of ransom and plunder, but through the sale of surplus arms and holy relics. His stocks of bones and splinters attracted eager customers in the area, much to the chagrin of the Bishop of Ely, who found himself unable to compete in the cut-throat world of sacred artefacts. This might explain the prejudice against Ezeriah as an authentic document.
Sects by the sea
I must admit that I have shared others’ scepticism concerning Ezeriah until recently. Excavations in the area of the Dead Sea, around Qum-Rhanhaabeen, revealed the writings of an obscure sect known as the Nisseneens, who lived in primitive huts leading an ascetic life in pursuit of their religious vocation.
They supported themselves through subsistence farming and the sale of goods salvaged from lost or abandoned caravans, and they were suppressed by the Roman procurator Arhubarbus in AD76.
The fragments make mention of the prophet Azariah and seem to confirm the genealogies mentioned in the extant versions. The fornicatory episodes are absent but this is hardly surprising given the extreme asceticism enjoyed by the Nisseneens.
Note that since then the spelling has changed from Azariah to Ezeriah, which is consistent with these latest findings being proto-Mazoretic, reflecting the stabilisation of the consonantal text taking place at the time of writing, circa AD70. (Author’s Note: I am sure that all pious Fen folk will be thrilled to know this.)
These and other findings have yet to be synthesised into a coherent dissertation upon Ezeriah but I believe that they cast some much-needed light onto a murky subject. One day the truth will emerge like the last tram to Grunty Fen did in the Great Drought of 1976.
But that is another story.