Amos, a book of the Old Testament, is the third book of the Minor Prophets. It takes its name from the prophet Amos who lived c. 750 BC as a shepherd at Tekoa in the southern kingdom of Judah. It was to the northern kingdom of Israel, however, that his prophetic message was addressed. Writing during a time of prosperity, when a sharp contrast existed between the luxurious life of the nation's leaders and the oppression of the poor, Amos preached the urgency of social justice and the threat of impending divine judgment. The structure of the book falls into nine parts, each dominated by a negative message containing threats of darkness, famine, and destruction. Amos is the oldest of the prophetic books of the Bible.
George W Coats
Book of Amos
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Amos: borne; a burden, one of the twelve minor prophets. He was a native of Tekota, the modern Tekua, a town about 12 miles south-east of Bethlehem. He was a man of humble birth, neither a "prophet nor a prophet's son," but "an herdman and a dresser of sycomore trees," R.V. He prophesied in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and was contemporary with Isaiah and Hosea (Amos 1:1; 7:14, 15; Zech. 14:5), who survived him a few years. Under Jeroboam II. the kingdom of Israel rose to the zenith of its prosperity; but that was followed by the prevalence of luxury and vice and idolatry. At this period Amos was called from his obscurity to remind the people of the law of God's retributive justice, and to call them to repentance.
The Book of Amos consists of three parts: (1.) The nations around are summoned to judgment because of their sins (1:1-2:3). He quotes Joel 3:16. (2.)The spiritual condition of Judah, and especially of Israel, is described (2:4-6:14). (3.) In 7:1-9:10 are recorded five prophetic visions. (a) The first two (7:1-6) refer to judgments against the guilty people. (b) The next two (7:7-9; 8:1-3) point out the ripeness of the people for the threatened judgements. 7:10-17 consists of a conversation between the prophet and the priest of Bethel. (c) The fifth describes the overthrow and ruin of Israel (9:1-10); to which is added the promise of the restoration of the kingdom and its final glory in the Messiah's kingdom.
The style is peculiar in the number of the allusions made to natural objects and to agricultural occupations. Other allusions show also that Amos was a student of the law as well as a "child of nature." These phrases are peculiar to him: "Cleanness of teeth" [i.e., want of bread] (4:6); "The excellency of Jacob" (6:8; 8:7); "The high places of Isaac" (7:9); "The house of Isaac" (7:16); "He that createth the wind" (4:13). Quoted, Acts 7:42.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
It will be seen from the opening verse that Amos, like Hosea, was a prophet sent to Israel, though his home, Tekoa, was in Judah. He was contemporary with Hosea for a while, though the latter prophesied longer than he. After the introduction (1:1-3) there follows a series of messages concerning Gentile nations (1:4-2:3), each beginning with the words "For three transgressions . . . and for four, I will not turn away the punishment," an orientalism, meaning that it was not for three or four transgressions merely, but an innumerable number, that the judgments predicted were to fall.
These messages are succeeded by one to Judah (2:4, 5) while the remainder of the book is concerned with Israel. The messages of Amos are more orderly than Hosea, and admit of homiletic divisions like the following: The first, beginning at chapter 2, verse 6, and concluding with the chapter, contains, (1), an indictment for sin (6-8), aggravated by the divine goodness toward them (9-12); and (2), a declaration of the judgment to follow (13-15). This sin is greed (6), lust (7) and oppression (8). The marginal references frequently give the meaning of expressions in the prophets. Compare Exodus 22:26 with verse 8 for example, and Jeremiah 11:21 with verse 12.
God will press them as a cart full of sheaves presseth the ground (2:13, R. V.). In other words none shall escape the Assyrian hosts when they come down against them (14-16). The second discourse is limited to the third chapter, and contains, after the introduction, verses 1 and 2, (1), the prophet's justification of his message (3-8); (2) an indictment for sin (9, 10); (3), a declaration of punishment (11-15). When God says, "You only have I known," etc., (2), He means what is expressed in Deuteronomy 7:6, Psalm 147:19, 20, and other places. Israel's punishment is proportioned to her privilege. Amos prophesied because he could not do otherwise, is practically the interpretation of verses 3-8.
As two do not walk together except they are agreed, or have made an appointment; as a lion does not roar when it has no prey, etc. so the fact that Amos prophecies is an evidence that Jehovah hath spoken to him (8). Notice the suggestion of the preservation of a faithful remnant in the "two legs" or "piece of an ear" of a sheep taken out of the mouth of the lion (12). Messages of this character continue till the seventh chapter when a series of visions begins. In the first vision (1-3), Jehovah is withholding the coming judgment at the prophet's intercession, and the same is true of the second (4-6), but not of the rest (7-9; 8:1-3; 9:1-10). And yet notice the conclusion of the last message growing out of the vision of the Lord beside the altar (9:8, 9).
He will not "utterly destroy." He will sift Israel "among all nations" as He has been doing all these centuries, but only the chaff will be destroyed.
This thought is amplified in the epilogue of the book (9:11-15), where the prophet definetely reveals the history of Israel in the latter days: (1) the kingdom is to be restored (11); (2) Israel is to be the head of the nations (12); (3) the land of Palestine is to be greatly increased in fruitfulness (13); (4) the cities are to be rebuilt (14); (5) the blessing is to be perpetual (15). Questions 1. To which kingdom was Amos sent? 2. What "orientalism" is employed by him and what is its meaning? 3. How do the messages of Amos differ in form from those of Hosea? 4. Name some of the sins of Israel at this time. 5. Have you examined the marginal references? 6. How would you interpret 2:3-8? 7. What change in the character of Amos' messages take place at chapter 7? 8. What five promises are given Israel for the latter days?
The third among the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament is called, in the Hebrew Text, "'Ams." The spelling of his name is different from that of the name of Isaias's father, Amoç; whence Christian tradition has, for the most part, rightly distinguished between the two. The prophet's name, Amos, has been variously explained, and its exact meaning is still a matter of conjecture.
II. Life and Times
According to the heading of his book (i,1) Amos was a herdsman of Thecua, a village in the Southern Kingdom, twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Besides this humble avocation, he is also spoken of in vii, 14, as a simple dresser of sycamore-trees. Hence, as far as we know, there is no sufficient ground for the view of most Jewish interpreters that Amos was a wealthy man. Thecua was apparently a shepherd's town, and it was while following his flock in the wilderness of Juda, that, in the reigns of Ozias and Jeroboam, God called him for a special mission: "Go, prophesy to My people Israel" (vii, 15). In the eyes of the humble shepherd this must have appeared a most difficult mission. At the time when the call came to him, he was "not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet" (vii, 14), which implies that he had not yet entered upon the prophetical office, and even that he had not attended the schools wherein young men in training for a prophet's career bore the name of "the sons of a prophet". Other reasons might well cause Amos to fear to accept the divine mission. He, a Southerner, was bidden to go to the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and carry to its people and its leaders a message of judgment to which, from their historical circumstances, they were particularly ill-prepared to listen. Its ruler, Jeroboam II (c. 781-741 B.C.), had rapidly conquered Syria, Moab, and Ammon, and thereby extended his dominions from the source of the Orontes on the north to the Dead Sea on the south. The whole northern empire of Solomon thus practically restored had enjoyed a long period of peace and security marked by a wonderful revival of artistic and commercial development. Samaria, its capital, had been adorned with splendid and substantial buildings; riches had been accumulated in abundance; comfort and luxury had reached their highest standard; so that the Northern Kingdom had attained a material prosperity unprecedented since the disruption of the empire of Solomon. Outwardly, religion was also in a most flourishing condition. The sacrificial worship of the God of Israel was carried on with great pomp and general faithfulness, and the long enjoyment of national prosperity was popularly regarded as an undoubted token of the Lord's favour towards His people. It is true that public morals had gradually been infected by the vices which continued success and plenty too often bring in their train. Social corruption and the oppression of the poor and helpless were very prevalent. But these and similar marks of public degeneracy could be readily excused on the plea that they were the necessary accompaniments of a high degree of Oriental civilization. Again, religion was debased in various ways. Many among the Israelites were satisfied with the mere offering of the sacrificial victims, regardless of the inward dispositions required for their worthy presentation to a thrice-holy God. Others availed themselves of the throngs which attended the sacred festivals to indulge in immoderate enjoyment and tumultuous revelry. Others again, carried away by the freer association with heathen peoples which resulted from conquest or from commercial intercourse, even went so far as to fuse with the Lord's worship that of pagan deities. Owing to men's natural tendency to be satisfied with the mechanical performance of religious duties, and owing more particularly to the great proneness of the Hebrews of old to adopt the sensual rites of foreign cults, so long as they did not give up the worship of their own God, these irregularities in matters of religion did not appear objectionable to the Israelites, all the more so because the Lord did not punish them for their conduct. Yet it was to that most prosperous people, thoroughly convinced that God was well-pleased with them, that Amos was sent to deliver a stern rebuke for all their misdeeds, and to announce in God's name their forthcoming ruin and captivity (vii, 17).
Amos's mission to Israel was but a temporary one. It extended apparently from two years before to a few years after an earthquake, the exact date of which is unknown (i, 1). It met with strong opposition, especially on the part of Amasias, the chief priest of the royal sanctuary in Bethel (vii, 10-13). How it came to an end is not known; for only late and untrustworthy legends tell of Amos's martyrdom under the ill-treatment of Amasias and his son. It is more probable that, in compliance with Amasias's threatening order (vii, 12), the prophet withdrew to Juda, where at leisure he arranged his oracles in their well-planned disposition.
III. Analysis of Prophetical Writing
The book of Amos falls naturally into three parts. The first opens with a general title to the work, giving the author's name and the general date of his ministry (i, 1), and a text or motto in four poetical lines (i, 2), describing under a fine image the Lord's power over Palestine. This part comprises the first two chapters, and is made up of a series of oracles against Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Juda, and, finally, Israel. Each oracle begins with the same numerical formula: "For three crimes of Damascus [or Gaza, or Tyre, etc., as the case may be], and for four, I will not revoke the doom"; it next sets forth the chief indictment; and finally pronounces the penalty. The heathen nations are doomed not because of their ignorance of the true God, but because of their breaches of the elementary and unwritten laws of natural humanity and good faith. As regards Juda and Israel, they will share the same doom because, although they were especially cared for by the Lord who drew them out of Egypt, conquered for them the land of Chanaan, and gave them prophets and Nazarites, yet they have committed the same crimes as their pagan neighbours. Israel is rebuked more at length than Juda, and its utter destruction is vividly described.
The second part (chaps. iii-vi) consists of a series of addresses which expand the indictment and the sentence against Israel set forth in ii, 6-16. Amos's indictment bears (1) on the social disorders prevalent among the upper classes; (2) on the heartless luxury and self-indulgence of the wealthy ladies of Samaria; (3) on the too great confidence of the Israelites at large in their mere external discharge of religious duties which can in no way secure them against the approaching doom. The sentence itself assumes the form of a dirge over the captivity which awaits the unrepenting transgressors, and the complete surrender of the country to the foreign enemy.
The third section of the book (chaps. vii-ix, 8b.), apart from the historical account of Amasias's opposition to Amos (vii, 10-17), and from a discourse (viii, 4-14) similar in tone and import to the addresses contained in the second part of the prophecy, is wholly made up of visions of judgment against Israel. In the first two visions--the one of devouring locusts, and the other of consuming fire--the foretold destruction is stayed by divine interposition; but in the third vision, that of a plumb-line, the destruction is permitted to become complete. The fourth vision, like the foregoing, is symbolical; a basket of summer fruit points to the speedy decay of Israel; while in the fifth and last the prophet beholds the Lord standing beside the altar and threatening the Northern Kingdom with a chastisement from which there is no escape. The book concludes with God's solemn promise of the glorious restoration of the House of David, and of the wonderful prosperity of the purified nation (ix, 8c-15).
IV. Literary Features of the Book
It is universally admitted at the present day that these contents are set forth in a style of "high literary merit". This literary excellence might, indeed, at first sight appear in strange contrast with Amos's obscure birth and humble shepherd life. A closer study, however, of the prophet's writing and of the actual circumstances of its composition does away with that apparent contrast. Before Amos's time the Hebrew language had gradually passed through several stages of development, and had been cultivated by several able writers. Again, it is not to be supposed that the prophecies of Amos were delivered exactly as they are recorded. Throughout the book the topics are treated poetically, and many of its literary features are best accounted for by admitting that the prophet spared no time and labour to invest his oral utterances with their present elaborate form. Finally, to associate inferior culture with the simplicity and relative poverty of pastoral life would be to mistake totally the conditions of Eastern society, ancient and modern. For among the Hebrews of old, as among the Arabs of the present day, the sum of book-learning was necessarily small, and proficiency in knowledge and oratory was chiefly dependent not on a professional education, but on a shrewd observation of men and things, a memory retentive of traditional lore, and the faculty of original thought.
V. Authorship and Date
Apart from a few recent critics, all scholars maintain the correctness of the traditional view which refers the book of Amos to the Judean prophet of that name. They rightly think that the judgments, sermons, and visions which make up that sacred writing centre in a great message of doom to Israel. The contents read like a solemn denunciation of the incurable wickedness of the Northern Kingdom, like a direct prediction of its impending ruin. The same scholars regard likewise the general style of the book, with its poetical form and striking simplicity, abruptness, etc., as proof that the work is a literary unit, the various parts of which should be traced back to one and the same mind, to the one and holy prophet, whose name and period of activity are given in the title to the prophecy, and whose authorship is repeatedly affirmed in the body of the book (cf. vii, 1, 2, 4, 5, 8; viii, 1, 2; ix, 1, etc.).
To confirm the traditional view of Jews and Christians in regard to authorship and date, the two following facts have also been brought forth:
first, as was to be expected from a shepherd like Amos, the author of the prophecy uses throughout imagery drawn mainly from rural life (the wagon loaded with sheaves, the young lion in its den growling over its prey, the net springing up and entrapping the bird, the remnants of the sheep recovered by the shepherd out of the lion's mouth, cattle-driving, etc.);
in the second place, there is a close agreement between the state of the Northern Kingdom under Jeroboam II, as described by Amos, and that of the same Kingdom as it is made known to us in the fourth book of Kings and the prophecy of Osee which is commonly ascribed to the same (the eighth) century B.C.
It is true that Amos's authorship of numerous passages, and notably of ix, 8c-15, has been and is still seriously questioned by some leading critics. But in regard to most, if not indeed to all such passages, it may be confidently affirmed that the arguments against the authorship are not strictly conclusive. Besides, even though the later origin of all these passages should be conceded, the traditional view of the authorship and date of the book as a whole would not be materially impaired.
VI. Religious Teachings of Amos
Two facts contribute to give to the religious doctrine of Amos a special importance. On the one hand, his prophecies are wellnigh universally regarded as authentic, and on the other, his work is probably the earliest prophetical writing which has come down to us. So that the book of Amos furnishes us with most valuable information concerning the beliefs of the eighth century B.C., and in fact, concerning those of some time before, since, in delivering the Divine message to his contemporaries, the prophet always takes for granted that they are already familiar with the truths to which he appeals. Amos teaches a most pure monotheism. Throughout his book there is not so much as a reference to other deities than the God of Israel. He often speaks of "the Lord of Hosts", meaning thereby that God has untold forces and powers at His command; in other words, that He is omnipotent. His descriptions of the Divine attributes show that according to his mind God is the Creator and Ruler of all things in heaven and on earth; He governs the nations at large, as well as the heavenly bodies and the elements of nature; He is a personal and righteous God who punishes the crimes of all men, whether they belong to the heathen nations or to the chosen people. The prophet repeatedly inveighs against the false notions which his contemporaries had of God's relation to Israel. He does not deny that the Lord is their God in a special manner. But he argues that His benefits to them in the past, instead of being a reason for them to indulge with security in sins hateful to God's holiness, really increase their guilt and must make them fear a severer penalty. He does not deny that sacrifices should be offered to the Divine Majesty; but he most emphatically declares that the mere outward offering of them is not pleasing to God and cannot placate His anger. On the day of the Lord, that is on the day of retribution, Israelites who shall be found guilty of the same crimes as the heathen nations will be held to account for them severely. It is true that Amos argues in a concrete manner with his contemporaries, and that consequently he does not formulate abstract principles. Nevertheless, his book is replete with truths which can never become superfluous or obsolete.
Finally, whatever view may be taken of the authorship of the concluding portion of the book of Amos (vii, 8c.-15), the Messianic bearing of the passage will be readily admitted by all who believe in the existence of the supernatural. It may also be added that this Messianic prophecy is worded in a manner that offers no insuperable objection to the traditional view which regards Amos as its author.
Publication information Written by F.E. Gigot. Transcribed by Thomas J. Bress. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
For reference to Introductions to the Old Testament, see Bibliography to AGGEUS; recent Commentaries on Amos by TROCHON (1886); KNABENBAUER (1886); ORELLI (Eng. tr., 1893); FILLION (1896); DRIVER (1898); SMITH (1896); MITCHELL (2nd ed., 1900); NOWACK (2nd ed., 1903); MARTI (1903); HORTON (1904).
Commemorated June 15
Prophet Amos was from the city of Thekoue of the
land of Zabulon. He was an uneducated man, a shepherd of goats and
sheep, as he testifies concerning himself (Amos 7:14-15). He began to
prophesy two years before the earthquake, which some say took place in
the twenty-fifth year of the reign of Ozias, King of Judah, about the
year 785 BC (Amos 1:1). Later, however, Amasias, the false priest of
Bethel, brought about his death. His book of prophecy, divided into nine
chapters, is ranked third among the minor Prophets. This Amos is
different from the Prophet Esaias' father, who also was called Amos. His
name means "bearer of burdens".
Dismissal Hymn (Second
As we celebrate the memory of Your Prophet Amos, O Lord, through him we beseech You to save our souls.
Kontakion (Fourth Tone)
Purifying your fervent heart by the Spirit, O glorious Prophet Amos, and receiving the gift of prophecy from on high, you cry with a loud voice to the nations: This is our God, and there is none beside Him.
This Biblical book, one of the twelve so-called "Minor Prophets," opens with the announcement of God's intention to punish evildoers (i. 2). Damascus (i. 3-5), Gaza (i. 6-9), Tyre (i. 9, 10), Edom (i. 11, 12), Ammon (i. 13-15), Moab (ii. 1-3), and Judah are taken up in turn until Israel (ii. 6) is reached. The prophet is vehement because the crimes of the people have been committed in the face of the fact that God redeemed His people from Egypt (ii. 10), destroyed the Amorites (ii. 9), and sent prophets (ii. 11) whom, however, Israel would not allow to prophesy (ii. 12). In the third and fourth chapters the prophet addresses himself directly to the kingdom of Israel. The nations are summoned to the mountains of Samaria to witness the wrongs there practised (iii. 9). The punishment that is impending will be so severe that only few will escape (iii. 12). Because of the women of Samaria, who were cruel to the poor and the needy (iv. 1), prosperity will cease (iv. 2), and not even sacrifice will avail (iv. 4, 5). God had tried to teach Israel by affliction; but neither famine, drought, blasting of the crops, attacks of insects, pestilence, defeat in war (iv. 6-10), nor even treatment like that of Sodom could induce Israel to repent. Complete destruction, therefore, is foretold (v. 1-3).
In vain does the prophet admonish Israel to seek the Lord, not Beth-el (v. 4-6). Samaria persists in being wicked and unjust (v. 7, 8). Once more the prophet calls upon Israel to repent (v. 14); and, as before, Israel fails to do so. Besides injustice and irreligion, Israel indulges in luxurious and riotous living (vi. 1-6). This, too, is a factor which inevitably leads to captivity (vi. 7). With chap. vii. begins a series of visions, which continues to chap. ix. 6. A plague of grasshoppers (vii. 1-3) and a fire (vii. 4-6) are followed by a third plague; and the plumb-line is set up against the city and against the family of Jeroboam (vii. 7-9). The prophet's audacity brings upon him the hostility of the reigning house; and he is ordered to confine his prophetical activity to the land of his birth, Judah. Amos disclaims being a prophet, or the son of a prophet, and reiterates the certainty of coming misfortune (vii. 10-17). The last vision, representing God Himself standing at the altar and announcing the terrible catastrophe (ix. 1-6), emphasizes the hopelessness of escape from divine vengeance. The book ends (ix. 7-15) in words of comfort. The remnant shall return and in the future the land will yield abundantly (13-15). For critical view of the Book of Amos, see Amos. G. B. L.
Gerson B. Levi
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Home and Occupation.
First to Write down Prophecy.
Repentance and Forgiveness.
Personality of Amos.
Superscription of the Book.
The Present Form of the Book.
Editorial and Later Additions.
-In Rabbinical Literature:
Home and Occupation.
Jewish prophet of the eighth century B.C.; date of birth and death unknown. Among the minor prophets there is none whose personality is so familiar as that of Amos. His name occurs not only in the superscription of the book, but several times (vii. 8, 10 et seq., 14; viii. 2) in the body of it. His home was in Tekoa in Judah, five miles to the south of Bethlehem. The original title of his book was merely "The Words of Amos of Tekoa"; the rest, "who was among the herdsmen," is a later addition emphasizing the fact gleaned from vii. 14, that Amos had been a herdsman before he became a prophet. From the margin this notice appears to have intruded itself into the text. The attempt has been made to discover a northern Tekoa for his home, but there is no need for that. That Amos was from Judah is the simplest interpretation of vii. 13. Amos himself tells us what his profession was: he was a herdsman and one who tended sycamore-figs (vii. 14). At Tekoa sycamores are not grown, but Amos could very well have been the proprietor of a sycamore-grove at some distance from Tekoa, in the Shefelah, the hill country leading down to Philistia, where there were sycamoretreesin "abundance" (I Kings, x. 27). He makes this statement of his occupation to Amaziah, the chief priest of Bethel, who, startled by the ominous utterances of Amos, advises him to make his escape to Judah and there to earn his livelihood by his profession of prophet. Amos denies both premises involved in this rebuke. He does not need to take fees for his prophecies, because he is well-to-do, and he is no prophet either by profession or extraction, but was called by God from behind his flock by special summons. Amos' attitude marks a turning-point in the development of Old Testament prophecy. It is not mere chance that Hosea, Isaiah (ch. vi.), Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and almost all of the prophets who are more than unknown personages to whom a few prophetical speeches are ascribed, give first of all the story of their special calling.
First to Write down Prophecy.
All of them thereby seek to protest against the suspicion that they are professional prophets, because the latter discredited themselves by flattering national vanities and ignoring the misdeeds of prominent men. But Amos marks an epoch in Old Testament prophecy also in another respect. He is the first of the prophets to write down the messages he has received. It is easy to understand the reason for this innovation. He feels himself called to preach in Beth-el, where there was a royal sanctuary (vii. 13), and there to announce the fall of the reigning dynasty and of the northern kingdom. But he is denounced by the head priest Amaziah to King Jeroboam II. (vii. 10 et seq.), and is advised to leave the kingdom (verses 12 et seq.). Though nothing more is learned than the answer he gave Amaziah (verses 14 et seq.), there is no reason to doubt that he was actually forced to leave the northern kingdom and to return to his native country. Being thus prevented from bringing his message to an end, and from reaching the ear of those to whom he was sent, he had recourse to writing. If they could not hear his messages, they could read them, and if his contemporaries refused to do so, following generations might still profit by them. No earlier instance of a literary prophet is known, nor is it likely that there was any; but the example he gave was followed by others in an almost unbroken succession. It is true, it can not be proved that Hosea knew the book of Amos, though there is no reason to doubt that he was acquainted with the latter's work and experiences. It is quite certain, on the other hand, that Isaiah knew his book, for he follows and even imitates him in his early speeches (compare Amos, v. 21-24, iv. 6 et seq., v. 18 with Isa. i. 11-15; Amos, iv. 7 et seq. with Isa., etc., ix. 7 et seq., ii. 12). Cheyne concludes with great probability that Amos wrote the record of his prophetical work at Jerusalem, after his expulsion from the northern kingdom, and that he committed it to a circle of faithful followers of YHWH residing there.
Repentance and Forgiveness.
Amos is undoubtedly one of the grandest personalities among the Old Testament prophets; indeed, the most imposing of all, if the fact be considered that he is the first of the writing-prophets. His lofty conception of Deity, his uncompromisingly moral conception of the order of the universe, and his superiority to all religious narrowness, are admirable indeed. Leaving the above-mentioned "doxologies" aside, YHWH is in vii. 4, ix. 2 the Ruler of the universe, and in i., ii., and ix. 7 He is the Lord of all other nations as well as of Israel. The standard by which He measures peoples is morality, and morality only. It is by His inscrutable will that Israel was chosen among the peoples, but as a result it follows that God is doubly strict in His demands upon this nation, and doubly severe in His punishment of its transgressions (iii. 2). Ritualistic zeal and the richest burnt-offerings avail nothing in extenuation; such acts are contemptuous in the sight of YHWH, who may be served without any religious ceremonies, but not without morality (iii. 21-25, iv. 4, 5, 13). Therefore let the nation not comfort itself with the hope of the "Day of YHWH," which will be a day of terror for Israel, and not of salvation (v. 18-20). It is all over with Israel; the complete destruction is at hand (see especially ii. 5, v. 1 et seq., ix. 1-4).
Personality of Amos.
Distinct as are these fundamental principles of his discourses, Amos must by no means be considered as an uncompromising prophet of evil; it should not be forgotten that Israel's destruction is brought about by its sinfulness, and it is only because experience appears to show an unwillingness to repent, that the hope of forgiveness is cut off. Should this experience prove false and Israel actually repent, forgiveness and national life would be by no means hopeless; and therefore utterances like v. 4 and 14, however inconspicuous they may be in comparison with the denunciatory passages, are by no means to be overlooked, and certainly not to be held as spurious. It is certain, however, that Amos did not shrink from facing the possibility of the utter destruction of Israel.
Amos has always been admired for the purity of his language, his beauty of diction, and his poetic art. In all these respects he is Isaiah's spiritual progenitor. There is no need for astonishment that a rustic should have been capable of such diction.
The period of the prophet's activity is the reign of Jeroboam II., king of Israel, whose dynasty he mentions in one of his prophecies (vii. 9), while the narrator of vii. 10, etc. (probably not identical with Amos), clearly states that Jeroboam was reigning at the time when Amos preached at Beth-el. The superscription of the book (i. 1) mentions Uzziah, king of Judah, before Jeroboam, which is doubtless correct, inasmuch as Uzziah was a contemporary of Jeroboam; but the statement is at the same time puzzling, since it is not known that Amos was ever active in Judah.
Superscription of the Book.
The superscription adds that he "saw" his words two years before the earthquake. Now Amos doubtless experienced an earthquake (iv. 11), and an earthquake under King Uzziah is testified to in Zech. xiv. 5; but unfortunately this passage does not help us much, seeing that it is of late origin, and may itself be taken from Amos, iv. 11, or even from the heading of the book. On the other hand, the superscription may be based on the hints contained in the book itself, and indeed G. Hoffmann in Stade's "Zeitschrift," iii. 123, has tried to offer an explanation for the phrase "two years before the earthquake" which would deprive the words of every real significance. His explanation seems to be somewhat artificial, but has been accepted by such scholars as Cheyne and Marti. Still, since the heading undoubtedly contains reliable and authentic statements, the possibility that the reference to the earthquake is also authentic must be admitted. The question, however, remains whether all the prophecies united in the Book of Amos are to be understood as uttered in this same year. Their extent would not make this impossible, nor is it likely that Amos, rebuking the sins of Ephraim so openly, would have been tolerated many years before being denounced and expelled, as we read in vii. 10. In this case the earthquake in iv. 11 must be another than that mentionedin i. 1, because it could not be referred to two years before it actually happened. Moreover, it is unlikely that Amos should not have added new prophecies to those spoken during his stay in the northern kingdom, when he once proceeded to write down his utterances (compare Jer. xxxvi. 32). If i. 1 be admitted as authentic, the most probable conclusion is that "two years before the earthquake" was originally the date for only a part of the book, perhaps for only the introductory speech in i. 2.
The reign of Jeroboam II. lasted forty-one years, according to II Kings, xiv. 23. Though it can not be fixed with certainty, this much may be said, that its termination must be placed between 750 and 740 B.C. Marti ("Ency. Bibl." article. "Chronology," p. 797) fixes his reign between 782 and 743 B.C. The activity of Amos could hardly have coincided with the close of his reign. The fact alone that Isaiah's call can not have happened later than 740, while he so evidently draws on Amos' prophecies, is sufficient ground for placing Amos not later than 750.
The Present Form of the Book.
The first indication that a distinction must be made between the prophecies of Amos and the book that bears his name is to be found in the narrative, vii. 10-17. This is inserted after the third of five visions which form a connected series. The insertion in question is simply a comment on vii. 9, and contains the threat of the overthrow of Jeroboam and his house. It is mentioned in vii. 10 that Amos' boldness resulted in his expulsion from the northern kingdom. It is not likely that Amos himself would have interrupted his series of addresses in this way. Moreover, he is not the narrator; another writer speaks of him in the third person. Hence it is clear that his book has not come to us exactly as he wrote it. But, on the other hand, vii. 10 et seq. must have been written soon after the event by a writer who had thoroughly trustworthy accounts of Amos. This is a fact of great importance.
Editorial and Later Additions.
The book is well arranged in its general features. There is in chaps. i. and ii. a coherent series of judgments on sinful and unrepentant peoples, aimed particularly at Israel. In chaps. vii.-ix. are the above-mentioned five visions; in chaps. iii.-vi. a series of discourses, loosely connected, whose beginning and end can not be fixed with certainty. The same problem is presented in other prophetical books; the prophet himself would scarcely lay great stress on the separation of the single discourses when he wrote or dictated them. There is no reason to doubt that this arrangement goes back to the first editors, working soon after the prophet's death or even delegated by him for this task. This does not preclude the possibility of later changes and additions. Since the investigations of Stade and Wellhausen, such changes have been assumed in increasing proportions. The most complete and discriminating survey of those passages whose originality hitherto has been doubted is given by Cheyne ("Ency. Bibl." article "Amos"). They can be grouped under the following titles: (1) Passages widening the horizon of the book, so as to include the southern kingdom of Judah. (2) Additional predictions affirming a better future than the gloomy auguries of the old prophet. (3) Additions giving expression to the loftier and more spiritual theology of a later time. (4) Glosses and explanations based on an erroneous conception of the texts.
(1) The chief passage of the first group is ii. 4, etc., the denunciation of Judah in the series of judgments against the nations. The same judgment against Edom in i. 11 and 12 is perhaps also an addition, and the same has been surmised of the passage about Tyre in i. 9. The isolated verse i. 2, in which Zion is spoken of as the fixed seat of YHWH, is also doubtful, and the same is true of the address to Zion in vi. 1, and the expression "like David" in vi. 5.
(2) The second group is represented by ix. 8-15, canceled by Stade, Wellhausen, Cornill, Nowack, Cheyne, and many others, as spurious. These verses do not form a single whole, but are composed of different passages. Verses 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 seem to be mere fragments or insertions in the context. The last verse, which, by virtue of its inimitable originality, is unanimously ascribed to Amos, can not have formed the concluding verse of the book, but appears to have been the beginning of a new address. If the verses 8-15 are to be taken in their entirety as a later addition, the original continuation must either have been lost through the mutilation of the manuscript, or have intentionally been stricken out on account of the too mournful survey of the future. The latter suggestion is improbable, because verse 7 would have been rejected for the same reason, and because in other passages (see verses 1-4) the most terrible predictions have been retained. If, on the other hand, the conclusion had been lost in consequence of the mutilation and then supplied at hazard, a more uniform continuation would have been expected in place of such a rugged one, with its disjointed and disconnected sentences. The possibility remains that verses 8-15 are a repeated elaboration of the original conclusion. It is erroneous to consider verse 11, concerning the restoration of the fallen tabernacle of David, as a specifically Judaic prediction; it can only assume this character through the addition of verse 12, which regards the subjection of the vassals of Judah as an essential feature of such reestablishment. The verse refers to the reestablishment of the united kingdom of Israel, founded by David and sundered after the death of Solomon. Verses 8, 9, 11, 14, and 15 may possibly contain an original prediction directed, like vii. 9, against the house of Jeroboam, and promising for the future the restoration of a united Israel, as pleasing to Jehovah. Of course, conclusive proof of this theory can no longer be secured, nor can the original text of such prediction be restored with reasonable certainty.
(3) The third group of additions are the doxologies iv. 13, v. 8, ix. 56, which invoke YHWH as the Creator and Ruler of the world. While it is not impossible that they may have been written by Amos, the style of these additions indicates a much later period, possibly later than Deutero-Isaiah. Since all three passages interrupt the context, and iv. 12 and v. 7 have inherent difficulties of their own, it may be suggested that the interpolator designed these doxologies to fill up gaps or illegible sentences in the manuscripts.
(4) To the fourth group, iii. 14 and viii. 11, and 12 may be assigned. Other passages are open to discussion, particularly the enigmatical verse v. 26 (Wellhausen, Nowack, Cheyne), the difficulty of which is hardly solved by the suggestion of its being simply a marginal gloss. Finally, there are many individual words of the text of this book which present numerous difficulties.
Concerning the problem which the severe logical attitude of Amos presents in the history of religion, compare especially F. Giesebrecht, "Die Geschichtlichkeit des Sinaibundes," p. 14; also K. Budde, "American Lectures on the History of Religions," vol. iv. lecture iv. To ascribe the whole book to another age, the pre-Deuteronomic period of Josiah (638-621), on account of this and similar difficulties,as H. J. Elhorst, "De Profetie van Amos" (Leyden, 1900), proposes, is entirely unwarranted and impossible. See the criticism of P. Volz in Schürer's "Theol. Literatur-zeitung," May 12, 1900.
Karl Budde Kaufmann Kohler Louis Ginzberg
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Bibliography: See, besides the monographs and articles already referred to, the commentaries of Orelli, Hitzig, Steiner, Keil, Reuss. Nowack, Handcommentar zum A. T., 1892, et seq.; Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten, 1892; J. J. P. Valeton, Amos en Hosea, 1894; Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, 1896; idem, The Expositor's Bible; Driver, Joel and Amos, in Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, 1897; Heilprin, Historical Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews, 1882, ii.K. B.
In Rabbinical Literature:
According to the rabbis (Lev. R. x., Eccl. R. i. 1) Amos was nick-named "the stutterer" by a popular etymology. The people, on hearing his bitter rebukes, retorted: "Has the Lord cast aside all His creatures to let His spirit dwell only on this stutterer?" Regarding the teachings of Amos, the following utterance of Simlai, an amora of the beginning of the third century, is noteworthy: Six hundred and thirteen commandments were given to Moses; King David reduced them to eleven (Ps. xv.); Isaiah to six (Isa. xxxiii. 15); Micah to three (Micah vi. 8); Isaiah, a second time, to two (Isa. lvi. 1); but Amos to one: "Seek Me and Live!" (Mak. 24a). According to rabbinical tradition (Suk. 52b, Pirḳe R. ha-Ḳadosh, viii., based on Micah v. 5 ), Amos is one of the "eight princes among men" alluded to in Micah, v. 5. K.
According to rabbinical tradition, Amos was killed by King Uzziah, who struck him on the forehead with a glowing iron (Gedaliah ibn YaḦyah in his "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah," quoted by Heilprin in "Seder ha-Dorot," i. 3110, Venetian ed. of 1587, does not mention anything of this).
The story of the martyrdom of Amos, found in the pseudo-Epiphanean writings ("Vita Prophetarum"), is somewhat different; according to this version, Amos was killed by a blow on the temple struck by Amaziah, priest of Beth-el. L. G.
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