1902 Encyclopedia > Amos


AMOS (not the same as Amoz, the father of Isaiah) was an inhabitant of the district of Tekoa, a fortified town (2d Chron. xi. 6) among the hills of the south of Judah, where a breed of stunted sheep and goats, prized, how-ever, for their wool and hair, found a scanty pasturage (Amos i. 1). Possibly he was a common day labourer ; certainly he was far from wealthy, as the Jewish com-mentators would have him ; for though he is called a " nôkëd " (loc. cit.), like one of the kings of Moab (2 Kings iii. 4), he tells us himself that he was glad to com-bine this employment with that of a dresser of sycamore fruit (vii. 14). He may thus be contrasted, as the peasant prophet, with Isaiah, the prophet of the capital and the court. It does not, however, follow that Amos was devoid of such cultivation as could then be had. Distinctions of rank were not, among the primitive Semitic races, co-incident with those of culture ; it is enough to refer to the pre-Mohammedan Arabs, whose poetry has been so accu-rately reproduced by Ruckert. And in the case of Amos there is evidence in his own works that he was well acquainted with the literature of his day. It is true that he boldly admits the irregularity, from an official point of view, of his prophetic ministrations—" No prophet I, and no prophet's disciple I" (vii. 14); but his discourses are not only full of references (sometimes dubious) to the book of Joel and the Pentateuch, but framed, however imperfectly, on a genuine artistic plan. This is unmis-takably the case in the discourse contained in i. 3-ii. 16 ; but with greater or less correspondence to the course of thought in the remainder of the book. Thus, according to Ewald (who aims, it is true, at an unattainable pre-cision), chapters iii. and iv. consist of five strophes—iii. 1-8, iii. 9-15, iv. 1-3 (incomplete), iv. 5-11, iv. 12, 13; chapters v. and vi. of a prologue (v. 1-3) and four strophes —v. 4-6, 8, 9; v. 7, 10-17 ; v. 18-27; vi. 1-10; with a sort of epilogue in vi. 11-14. And the great critic De Wette goes so far as to declare that no Hebrew prophet has shown an equal regard for clearness and harmony .of proportion. (Comp. Dr Pusey, Minor Prophets, p. 152.)

The date of the first public appearance of Amos cannot be ascertained. From the heading of the book (i. 1), which, though not by the prophet himself, has the air of a genuine tradition (Ewald, Die Propheten, i. 123), we learn that he "saw"—that is, prophesied—"two years before the earthquake." This earthquake is referred to again in Zech. xiv. 5, and, as some think, in passages of Joel and other prophets. It seems, therefore, to have constituted an era in popular tradition, but is of no significance for chronology, as has been well shown by Dr Pusey (Minor Prophets, p. 148). More to our purpose is the former part of the heading, which limits the prophetic career of Amos to the twenty-five years that Uzziah and Jeroboam II. were contemporary—i.e., 810-784, according to the common chronology; 775-750, according to the Assyrian. (Comp. Schrader, Die Keilinschriften unci das Alte Testa-ment, p. 120.) He flourished, therefore, in the greatest age of Hebrew prophecy. He seems to have been younger than Joel, to whose prophecy he makes several references, and more or less senior to Hosea and Isaiah. This view is fully borne out by the gradual emergence of the Assy-rians on the prophetic horizon. Altogether absent from Joel's prophecy, they are but vaguely alluded to in Amos, and first mentioned by name in Hosea and Isaiah.

It was while "following the flock" (vii. 14, 15) that Amos received a prophetic impulse to leave his home and <preach in the sister country. The circumstances are on several accounts worthy of notice. They indicate—1. A distinction between Hebrew prophecy, in its mature stage, and non-Hebrew—viz., that the former is not dependent on a special artificial training; 2. That though his writ-ings are included in the prophetic canon, Amos did not consider himself, officially a prophet (which has a bearing on the great controversy of Daniel); and 3. That prophets of the higher or spiritual order did not recognise the revolt of the first Jeroboam (comp. ix. 11; Hos. iii. 5). But the prophecies of Amos had a wider scope than the destiny of Israel. They show a dim presentiment of the philosophy of history, and of the reproductive power of revolutions. Accordingly, Syria, Philistia, Phoenicia, Edom, Amnion, Moab, and Judah were successively rebuked by the in-spired messenger. But the chief blame fell upon Israel, whose unparalleled prosperity under Jeroboam II. had developed the germs of vices inconsistent with the religion of Jehovah. The denunciations of Amos produced a power-ful impression. He was expelled with contumely by Amaziah, a priest of the reactionary image cultus at the frontier town of Bethel (vii. 10-17).

It is not to be supposed that the discourses of Amos were delivered exactly as they stand. This view is pre-cluded by their elaborate literary character, and by the allusions to the prophet's experience in Israel in ii. 12, v. 10, 13. He probably put them together, with the addi-tion of a grand Messianic epilogue, after his return to Tekoa. There has never been a doubt of their genuineness. The text is good, but there are a few corrupt passages.

Some of the characteristics of Amos have been already mentioned. The tradition that he was a stammerer (based on an absurd etymology of his name), and the statement of Jerome that he was "imperitus sermone (sed non scientiâ)," only prove the incapacity of the ancients for literary criticism. The simplicity of his style is that of the highest art. He delights in abrupt short clauses, but they are linked together by the closest parallelism. And the supposed rusticity of his dialect is deduced from the spelling of only five words, analogies to which may be traced in the great poem of Job. All that we can admit as probable is, that the native force and talent for observation displayed by this prophet were derived from his early converse with nature on the wild hills of Judah. His imagery, in fact, from its freshness and appropriateness (comp. ii. 13; iii. 5, 12; iv. 2, 9 ; v. 19 ; vi. 12; ix. 9), almost reminds us of Dante, and entitles him to as high a place in the history of literature as in that of theistic religion. (T. K. C.)

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