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Amos as a Representative Prophet

 

I have been discussing the book of Amos, possibly the oldest of the “classical” prophets of the Hebrew Bible, parts of which were probably written in the 8th century, making it, arguably, the oldest book of the Bible.   I have wanted to discuss Amos a bit because his views became the more or less standard perspective of the prophets, and many centuries later it was out of such views that Jewish apocalypticism emerged, the view held by many Jews in the days of Jesus, including, I have argued, Jesus himself.  And so, in one sense, to understand apocalypticism, you have to know where it came from.

Here is the final section on Amos in my textbook The Bible:  A Historical and Literary Introduction.   Especially important for what I want to say about apocalypticism is the overview I provide at the end.

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The Judean Redaction of Amos

It is impossible, at the end of the day, to know whether Amos himself wrote down these prophecies that bear his name, or if they were penned by someone else in his name.  What is clear is that he not only made these proclamations orally, probably over the period of a number of years, but that someone – either himself or another scribe – wrote them down and put them in circulation as a written text.   Obviously the predictions are dire, and they do not make for cheerful reading.

But after they had been in circulation for a long while, a

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Are the Prophecies Being Fulfilled?
The Prophet Amos

24

Comments

  1. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 12, 2016

    “(Amos is more concerned about social issues; other prophets will be focused more on religious issues – the proper worship of Yahweh)”

    This may answer a question I meant to ask: whether the “Jewish nation” was really doing better, re those social issues, in the later era when they thought they were suffering *despite* their not deserving it!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2016

      I suppose it’s hard to geneneralize, and it probably depended on an author’s perspective.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  January 12, 2016

    The other thing that all of them have in common is that none of them aspire to temporal power–they wish to influence the ways of men, but seeing God as the only valid authority, and seeing themselves as speaking on God’s behalf, it would be blasphemous for them to wish for power in their own right. That is not their function. They do not wish to be earthly kings.

    To draw a parallel between them and Jesus is quite accurate–he saw himself as part of their lineage. He also saw John the Baptist, his direct inspiration and teacher, as part of that lineage, and John could not have lived a more humble lifestyle. It’s generally believed now that the passages in the gospels that speak of him being descended directly from David are add-ons, something later Christians came up with to justify their claims that he was Messiah, and the future king of all. But he made no such claims in his lifetime, that we know of.

    Jesus went out of his way to live in absolute poverty, literally owned nothing but the clothes on his back, said possessions weighed you down, took you further away from God. A crown is a possession, and so is an earthly throne. He seems to have drawn parallels between himself and Elijah and Moses. Moses was a sort of king, to be sure–but a king who never lived to see his kingdom.

    There are no Prophet-Kings in Judaism. That was an innovation of Islam, and one that didn’t take over the long term (one might argue groups like ISIS/Daesh are trying to revive it). How could Jesus see himself as being in the apocalyptic prophetic tradition of Judaism and see himself as a future king of the material world–at the same time?

    • Avatar
      MMahmud  January 16, 2016

      Muslims take David and Solomon as Prophet-Kings. Furthermore Muslim belief is that Jewish scriptures are heavily corrupted( which I don’t think historians doubt)

      • Avatar
        godspell  January 18, 2016

        Interesting, but not relevant to what Jesus would have thought. If he saw himself as following in that tradition, hard to see how he’d think of himself as a king.

        We don’t have any original manuscripts from Muhammad.

        The same problems that led to ‘corruption’ of the Old and New Testaments would apply here, though probably not to the same extent.

  3. Avatar
    Boltonian  January 12, 2016

    Thanks Bart. Don’t some OT scholars think that none of the OT was written down before the Babylonian exile and that what appear to us to be predictions were, in fact, compiled after the events they foretell?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2016

      Yup!

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  January 13, 2016

        Thanks Bart. I realise that this (the earliest OT scriptures being compiled during the exile) is not your view so which bits do you think were written prior to the exile? And, if time allows, why?

        Thanks.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2016

          I give a full list in my book The Bible. But I think much of the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History and many of the prophets were pre-exilic, e.g.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  January 15, 2016

        How is that possible? Ezekiel prosephied to Nebuchadnezzar that he would destroy Tyre, but he didn’t. It reads as though Ezekiel is (presently) confident about the outcome, but it took so long for Nebuchadnezzar to make an impact on Tyre that he gives Nebuchadnezzar another prophecy concerning Egypt. It’s almost like Ezekiel is backtracking from his earlier prophecy, so he gives Neb. a new goal to work toward. It doesn’t read as though it was compiled after the fact.

  4. Avatar
    tcroberts02  January 12, 2016

    Where does the early Amos end and the redaction begin? Do you think that Amos’ prediction of imminent disaster actually predated 722 BCE?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2016

      It’s hard to say. But yes, I think prophets could sometimes read the writing on the wall, so to speak, just like we sometimes can.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  January 13, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, I have my own personal theories about how and why the ancient Hebrew prophets operated, and how they are connected to Jesus’ prophetic mission. If you could tell me how much of this you agree with or not.

    1) The ancient prophets began as advisors in the courts of leaders (kings, lords, et al.), not unlike the royal diviners and augurs you see in the service of Pharaohs, Chinese emperors, Assyrian kings, and other such leaders. Since the prophets were, originally, in the employ of the leadership class, the prophets’ main concern was predicting future developments important to kings and lords–the outcome of an upcoming battle, or whether or not it was even auspicious to go to battle, or whether to shift loyalty from the Pharaoh to the Assyrian king, or even the size of the coming grain harvest, etc. All of these specific things are important mainly to a leadership class that depends on knowing these things.

    2) At some point, some ancient Hebrew prophets went from being in the immediate employ of a king or lord to being, in a way, freelance, wandering around the countryside, proclaiming various prophecies for kings and peasants alike. We can actually see this shift in the Bible itself, with men such as Elijah and Elisha literally wandering around Israel, and Ahijah, the prophet who seems to come out of nowhere to proclaim Jeroboam the new leader of Israel. And we can even seen the growing tension between these new intinerant prophets with the established courtly prophets portrayed in the story of Elijah and Jezebel’s prophets of Ba’al. Not only was it important that Elijah win the cattle burning contest because he was a representative of Jahweh, but also because he was not attached to any one leader, but was, so-to-speak, an independent “voice of God” in service to Yahwah alone.

    3) We can see this tradition of the independent, itinerant voice of God in Amos and several other of the biblical prophets. Amos is claimed to come from humble origins (as opposed to the courtly prophets, who descended from long lines of respected and powerful prophet families). The implication is that such humble origins means a prophet is less corrupted by power and privilege.

    4) From there it became natural for the new, humble prophets to begin proclaiming matters that concerned the non-leadership class (i.e. peasants, slaves, women, children, et al.), and so their message became one of social justice, fairness, righteous–in other words, things the kings and lords generally don’t give a second thought to, because they’re so fixated on courtly intrigue and war. Hence why a prophet like Amos would compare Samaria’s noble ladies to cows. The prophets went from being a tool of the powerful to a tool of the powerless.

    5) I believe it is this evolution from tool of the powerful to tool of the powerless that culminated in a man like Jesus. Jesus inherited this prophet-ala-social-justice-warrior from a tradition in Israel of the prophets moving away from the employ of the leadership class to a voice of justice and righteousness for the less powerful.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2016

      I’m not sure prophets began as royal advisors. they are more often portrayed as royal *critics*.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  January 13, 2016

        The writings we have preserved portray the prophets as royal critics. But my point is the critics emerged out of a prophetic class originally in service to the leadership class. We don’t have those courtly prophecies preserved because the independent critics won out in the end.

  6. Avatar
    Jimmy  January 13, 2016

    Hi bart, I have a question about miracle claims in the bible. For the sake of the argument I will say the bible we have today is pretty much the same as when it was written. Granting that premise I still find it hard to believe that some guy walked on water, changed water into wine, was born of a virgin, raised the dead and made accurate predictions of the future. That being said what do you think of Craig Keener’s book on miracles supporting that fact that they happened in the past and still happen today?

  7. Avatar
    Morphinius  January 13, 2016

    Do you think ravings of the prophets contributed to the negative image Christians have of the Jews and indirectly aided the rise of Christianity? The prophets appeared to directly correlate the status of Israel with sin: when Israel suffers it is because they are disobedient and sinful, when Israel prospers it is because the people are abiding by the Torah (and the prophets are silent). This false, if not perverse, correlation occurs today. Remember when Kazem Seddiqi blamed Iranian earthquakes on promiscuous and immodestly dressed women? Or when Pat Robertson blamed Hurricane Katrina on American abortion policies. Given this disturbing line of thought, when Jerusalem was destroyed it was obvious to the prophets that the Jews must have been acting sinfully and deserved it. The prophets essentially gave Israel a bad rap they probably did not likely deserve simply because their armies were weaker than their enemies or because they fell upon hard times.

  8. Avatar
    plparker  January 13, 2016

    It’s interesting how the two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north, are sometimes treated as antagonistic and separate from each other, and other times as extensions of each other, building on each other’s stories. With Amos, the two kingdoms start as distinctly separate, but in the end the revival of Judah is regarded as sweet justice or revenge from the destruction of Israel.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2016

      good point!

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  January 13, 2016

        Am I right in thinking that there is no evidence independent of the scriptures either for a united kingdom or for the existence of Saul, David and Solomon? I read somewhere many years ago that that there were some references in contemporary Egyptian sources of a warlord living in the hill country of Judah who might have been the basis for the folk hero David (I think he was called Dadu, if memory serves).

        • Bart
          Bart  January 15, 2016

          Yes, there are reference to Israel, and we have a reference to David, but not much external evidence for the history of Israel that we get from Israelite books (the same is true, of course, for most ancient kingdoms — the details of their history are not discussed by other sources)

  9. Avatar
    Forrest  January 13, 2016

    How much do you think the whole Deuteronomic emphasis during the reign of Josiah impacted this later redaction? Or do it think it came exilic or postexilic? I have been interested in Finklelstein and Silberman’s theories regarding the composition of the OT.

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