Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review
Aspects of Amos: Exegesis and Interpretation gathers essays that were presented originally at a symposium in Oxford in June 2008 to commemorate Professor John Barton's sixtieth birthday. The eight contributors are former students of his. In the Preface the editors explain that the choice to concentrate on Amos was based on Barton's important work in that prophetic book, the impact of receiving classes from him on Amos, and the usefulness of Amos for exploring diverse methodological approaches.
There is no thematic thread that holds the chapters together. Their focus is quite diverse, and that fact makes the volume an interesting read. The order of the contributions, however, does exhibit a certain logic. The first five examine passages in Amos, and these chapters follow in textual sequence. The last three are topical studies.
In the opening chapter Katherine Dell surveys the verses that could refer to the earthquake, which is first mentioned in 1:1. The purpose of looking at these passages (9:14, 56; 8:8; 7:4; 6:9, 11; 5:67, 89; 3:1415) is to ascertain the significance of earthquake imagery for the theology and moral vision of the prophet. On the one hand, it is clear that the earthquake substantiates the incomparable power of God's sovereignty over against Israel's misplaced sense of security. The foundations of the nation's confidencethe Temple and the landwill be overturned. She touches briefly on the questions of the relationship between the divine punishment of humans and its impact on creation and the theological conundrum concerning the suffering of the innocent in natural disasters. This fine chapter ends with these profound questions that may have merited a more in-depth treatment.
In the next chapter Daniel Smith-Christopher looks at the horrific statement in 1:13 about the ripping open of pregnant women by the Ammonites to expand their territory. After carefully examining the terminology, he proposes that a look at the cultural implications of the verse can open up a different appreciation of its thrust. His thesis is that Israel looked at that Transjordanian people with suspicion and revulsion. The brutalizing of women in war can serve to eliminate what is considered to be a threat to one's identity by attacking the fertility of the enemy. What is not clear is whether Smith-Christopher believes that 1:13 depicts an actual atrocity suffered by Israel or whether the verse is instead a projection by Israel onto Ammon to demonize that neighbour.
In chapter three, Anselm Hagedorn examines the appearance of Edom in the book of Amos, beginning with its mention in the Oracles against the Nations (OAN, chs. 12). He relies heavily on recent redaction studies to reconstruct the history of the composition of the prophetic book, and this perspective determines the direction of his study of the OAN and 9:12. Hagedorn contends that a more negative attitude toward Edom is reflected in the later additions to the text. His argument will find agreement to the extent that one concurs with his critical stance.
The fourth chapter offers a novel interpretation of the classic interpretive crux in 2:68 about the nature of the activity of the father and son. Sharon Moughtin-Mumby discounts the common understanding that 2:7b has sexual connotations, which she attributes to the LXX translation. She proposes that what is in view throughout 2:68 is a patronal marzeaḥ feast (cf. 6:47) and that the enigmatic הַנַּעֲרָה does not refer to a young woman but is rather a place name. She translates the line, For a man and his father got to Naarah in order to profane my holy name!
The last chapter to deal with a specific passage is Aulikki Nahkola's discussion of the animal imagery in 5:19. Applying social science theory, Nahkola helpfully distinguished three dimensions of the imagery: the biological (the probable population of these animals in ancient Israel), the psychological (how people perceived them), and the conceptual (the representations of these animals in literature and artifacts). Of the three creatures listed in this verse, the lion is by far the most mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and can portray humans or the deity. The characteristic feature shared among the biblical references to all three is that of threatening, wild power. Her interesting conclusion is that the actual numbers of lion, bear, and snake would not have been large, but the symbolic power of imagined encounters with them would have been great.
In the sixth chapter Paul Joyce is interested in a psychological interpretation of Amos. While there is not enough material in the book to get at the prophet's inner life, he suggests that there are motifs that can generate psychological reflection. These include, for example, the rhetoric of cognitive dissonance that puts into question the assumptions of the nation's traditions and raises the possibility of an inherent racism in the statement about Ethiopians in 9:7. Joyce closes by underscoring the value of recognizing the impact of the reader's psychology in interpretation.
In the seventh chapter Andrew Mein goes to late fifteenth century Florence and the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola. This Dominican preached 27 sermons on the book of Amos in February and March 1496 after the ouster of the House of Medici from power. Empowered by his conviction that he was a prophet, Savonarola used Amos to condemn the sexual and social transgressions of political leaders and the clergy. This chapter offers a glimpse into the pre-critical interpretive methods of the day and demonstrates that appropriation of this prophetic text for social commentary has a long history.
The eighth and final chapter of Aspects of Amos reviews Julius Wellhausen's use of Amos. Hywel Clifford assesses his treatment of the book as an historical source in the formulation of his hypothesis concerning the historical development of the religion of Israel and his views about the impact of the ethical priorities of the prophet on that religion. He places these ideas against the background of the anti-institutionalist sentiments of nineteenth-century German Protestantism and Wellhausen's professional setbacks to counter the notion that his presentation was motivated by anti-Semitism.
The volume closes with a bibliography and indices both of scripture and other ancient sources and of cited authors. Strangely, these indices are not comprehensive. All in all, Aspects of Amos is a valuable resource for Amos research. There are several fresh interpretations and new insights here, and the addition of social science and historical material make it a unique work. For those of us involved in Amos research, John Barton has been an important voice. We are grateful that some of his students have continued his legacy.