Chapter

Amos

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

Amos

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Amos of Tekoa is often seen as the first of the great prophets, though the introductory colophon places him in the same period of activity as Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah.79 Identified as a Judaean prophet who preached in the foreign territory of Israel, there is little agreement among scholars as to whether he was a prophet or not. This disagreement is caused by the statement attributed to him in 7: 14: ‘Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit.’ The AV rendering makes the verbless sentence a statement about the past, whereas the Hebrew might be better translated as ‘no prophet I and no prophet's son I’, which then might mean ‘I am not a prophet’. It could also mean, as the AV implies, that Amos had not been a prophet before YHWH took him from following the flock (cf. 2 Sam. 7: 8), but that he was one now. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, controlled the prophets of the sanctuary, but he could have no control over Amos because Amos was not a prophet nor the ‘son of a prophet’—that is, a member of a prophetic guild. The exchange between Amaziah and Amos in 7: 10–15 (a narrative which disrupts the reports of the four visions in 7: 1–8: 3) is a subtle piece of writing about the clash between the institutional authority of the royal sanctuary and the ‘authority’ of one of YHWH's free-lance prophesying figures (7: 15: ‘Go, prophesy unto my people Israel’). It embodies brilliantly the biblical tension between priest and prophet, institution and charismatic: one which has existed ever since in ecclesiastical institutions. In structure, Amos differs from most of the prophetic books. It starts with a highly structured set of ‘oracles against the nations’ (1: 3–2: 3), focusing in on Judah and Israel (2: 4–5, 6–8). Once Israel has become the focus of attention, the rest of the book, with the obvious exception of 9: 11–15, is devoted to denouncing it: ‘Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel. The virgin of Israel is fallen; she shall no more rise: she is forsaken upon her land; there is none to raise her up’ (5: 1–2) and ‘Then said the Lord unto me, The end is come upon my people of Israel; I will not again pass by them any more’ (8: 2). For Amos the Assyrian invasion of Israel represented the judgement of YHWH against a corrupt and idolatrous people; a judgement from which there could be no appeal. A series of visions repeats the same point, in a different key (7: 1–8: 3; 9: 1). As in Joel, the focus is on ‘the day of YHWH’: ‘Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord! to what end is it for you? the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light. As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into a house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him. Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?’ (5: 18–20). Popular beliefs seem to be reversed: ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities’ (3: 2). That ‘therefore’ has a logic to it uncharacteristic of most of the material in the Bible (cf. Joel).

Chapter.  1050 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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