Joyce Rilett Wood, Amos in Song and Book Culture.
(JSOTS 337; Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 2002), 249 pp. Hardcover. ISBN 1-84127-244-2. $80
Reviewed by John D. W. Watts
Penney Farms, FL

How times do change! In 1958, 44 years ago, I wrote that the Book of Amos was actually two books, both depending upon the preached messages of the historical Amos in the 8th century.1 Now the academic climate has changed. Dr. Wood also thinks of the text of Amos being presented orally. But the oral message comes from a written work, not the written book from the oral message. A big change! We now look at the written books and their history and presentation after the fact. We used to try to reconstruct the way the book came into existence. Now we try to show how the book was used and performed.

Joyce Wood is a part of the Toronto school which includes Brian Peckham.2 She recognizes his influence on her work and viewpoint which she summarizes as “that biblical prophecy originated in the performing arts” (p. 7).

The book profits from its origin as a dissertation in a thorough review of research regarding Amos (pp. 11–21). Wood thinks of Amos as a literary work which owes its structure to an editor, a work which was later revised by a new composition which expanded and refocused the work which came down to him. Both editions were formed to be performed orally in appropriate settings.

The first editor saw that seven poems attributed to Amos “belonged together as a unity.” Wood identifies these poems as: Poem 1 (1,1a,3–5,6–8,13–15; 2,1–3,6–8,13–16), Poem 2 (3,1a–2,3–6,9–11), Poem 3 (4,1–3,4–5), Poem 4 (5,1–2,4–5,6–7), Poem 5 (5,10–12,18–20,21–24), Poem 6 (6,1–3,4–7,12–13), Poem 7 (7,1–3,4–6,7–9; 8,1–3a,4–6,9–10). The poems develop the theme of Yahweh’s destruction of the little nations of Palestine and finally of Israel and Judah. This is part of “the day of the Lord.”

The reviser is spoken of as the “author of the book.” He rewrites the whole with a new interpretation suitable for his time. He reorganizes the work in ten parts, dividing the seventh poem in two and adding two units which summarize the viewpoint of the revised book. “The revision destroys the original connection between the poems but reconstructs them with a commentary that develops an independent or contrary theme.” It constitutes an interpretation of the Amos poems. The superscription as well as the Amos narrative in 7,10–17 belong to this revision.

The reviser changes the message of the poems. “Amos argued that miscarriages of justice profane God’s name, but the book argues that disrespect of his name means that Israel and Judah have rejected the law.” (p. 53). The outline of the now revised book is: Part 1 (1,1–2,16), Part 2 (3,1–15), Part 3 (4,1–13), Part 4 (5,1–9), Part 5 (5,10–27), Part 6 (6,1–14), Part 7 (7,1–17), Part 8 (8,1–14), Part 9 (9,1–6), and Part 10 (9,7–15). “The purpose of the book of Amos is to update and give contemporary relevance to the prophet’s text (i.e., the poems) by supplementing and correcting it.” (p. 94)

The original song cycle was a performance text, written to be performed. Wood thinks Amos “recited or sang” his poetry in the 7th century during the reign of Manasseh, a period which she described as a “confident and peaceful age” (p. 113). The making of “Amos” into a 7th century troubadour from the description of him as an 8th century shepherd-prophet in the terms of the superscription and the biographical narrative is neither explained or discussed. The reviser of the “book” is understood to work in the period about 50 years after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 bce.

Reading Wood’s book requires readers to participate in her view of cultural history for the period. She thinks of it as a parallel to what was happening in Greece. In the 7th century there was a culture in which poets performed their poems in public gatherings. Her “Amos” is one of these poets. In the 6th century the culture became a “book culture.” The poems were revised, expanded, and put into books, no longer to be performed, but to be read. In both periods the works were relevant to the events and moods of their times.

She recognizes some prophetic works as “performance art,” written to be performed by a single voice or several voices. Isaiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah and Jeremiah fit this category. She again cites parallels in Greek literature. Other prophetic books present the prophets as orators. These include Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, Joel and Obadiah.

The book is an excellent supplement to Peckham’s History, showing in detail the working out of the implications of his theories.


[1] John D. W. Watts, Vision and Prophecy in Amos (Leiden: Brill, 1958). Reprinted as Vision and Prophecy in Amos: Expanded Anniversary Edition (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997).

[2] Brian Peckham, History and Prophecy: The Development of Late Judean Literary Traditions (New York: Doubleday, 1993).