Amos - Introduction
THE FIRST VERSE OF THE BOOK sets the text in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam, king of Israel—from our perspective, the 8th century BCE. The book is set in the monarchic period, in a world in which the sanctuary at Bethel served as a central cultic place of the Northern Kingdom. Some scholars propose that the book of Amos was written (wholly or in the main) in the 8th century; others that it is the result of a lengthy process of redaction that spanned centuries; still others focus on the present text of Amos and date it to the postmonarchic period, since it implies the fall of the monarchy ( 9.11–15 ).
Even a cursory reading of the book shows that it deals mainly with the malady of Israel, its condemnation, and the future restoration and glory of Israel within a friendly, renewed physical world. When it condemns Israel, it repeatedly stresses social and political ills. (Contrast Hosea, which largely concerns religious ills.) As expected in a prophetic book meant to be read again and again, and meditated upon—as all prophetic books are—these social and political ills are described in relatively general terms. Thus, the critique becomes applicable to different historical and social circumstances. It is thus not surprising that a substantial number of readers in the 20th century considered either the book or the prophet it describes an inspiring source for their endeavors in social reform. For instance, Labor parties in the first decades of the State of Israel and its leaders (e.g., David Ben Gurion) considered Amos a source of inspiration. Currently, some advocates of “liberation theology” in Latin America see the book as a source of support for their theological and social positions.
The book also makes an unequivocal but somewhat implicit claim about the absolute primacy of Jerusalem/Zion, linked to a strong condemnation of the sanctuary of Bethel. The theme of repentance is important in the book, and so is the distinctive relation between the LORD and Israel along with its limitations; for example, not only that the LORD executes judgment against Israel like all other nations ( 2.6–3.2 ), but also explicitly states, “To Me, O Israelites, you are just like the Ethiopians” ( 9.7 ) and yet says “You [Israel] alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth” ( 3.2 ). The book also restates the common prophetic position about the primacy of morality over sacrifices.
The basic structure of the book is unambiguous. It includes a superscription or title that serves as an introduction ( 1.1 ), a clear motto that communicates one of the most significantmessages of the book ( 1.2 ), and a series of prophetic readings of which the last two encapsulate much of the book: The LORD asomewhat implicit claim about the absolute primacyhe deserved punishment ( 9.7–15 ). The series of prophetic readings begins with announcements of judgment against the nations, including Judah and Israel ( 1.3–2.16 ) and continues with reports of prophetic speeches and visions of the fate of Israel, along with a biographical vignette in 7.10–17.
[EHUD BEN ZVI]