Amos (Hermeneia)

Written by Shalom M. Paul Reviewed By M. Daniel Carroll R.

This is the second volume in the Hermeneia series to be dedicated to the book of Amos. The other is the well-known commentary of H.W. Wolff (Fortress, 1977). This new work is not meant to replace the latter but, as the Editor clarifies, is designed ‘to make good our promise to commission new works on biblical books that have already appeared in the series’ (p. xvii).

The two commentaries could not be more different. Though conversant with archaeological findings, Wolff focuses his energies on classical form-critical criteria to categorize passages and to sort out what he considers the authentic material of the eighth-century prophet from later additions. On this basis, Wolff posits a six-stage development of the final form of the text. In addition, Wolff closes his discussion of each pericope with a general homiletic or theological thought (‘Aim’) directed primarily at the Christian church. For his part, Paul, a well-known Jewish scholar working in Jerusalem, presents a fine historical and exegetical study of the book of Amos against the background of Ancient Near Eastern material. His discussion and footnotes provide the reader with an impressive treasure of data from detailed comparative studies in the cognate languages and from the histories of the surrounding nations.

The author also offers a certain kind of literary reading of the prophetic text that brings out word plays and internal patterning within and between passages. This approach leads him at some points to argue against much scholarly opinion and call for greater respect for the integrity and unity of Amos. For example, his extended analysis of the oracles against the nations in 1:3–2:16 builds an impressive case for the authenticity of the entire section (pp. 7–30); another instance would be his defence of the originality of 9:11–15 (pp. 288–290). This greater commitment to the final form of the book is a welcome counterbalance to the piece-meal dissecting sometimes evident in studies concerned with hypothetical Sitze im Leben and textual development.

This reviewer, however, would have liked to have seen the incorporation of other kinds of literary methods which try to bring to light unity across larger portions and that highlight other features like characterization and point of view. This lack of sensitivity to these other kinds of literary insights is evident in several instances. Such is the case at 5:1–17, where Paul does not perceive the chiasm demonstrated by others in the past, and so he questions the appropriateness of the present setting and shape of the doxology of 5:8–9.

The author’s historical orientation excludes the contributions of liberationist and feminist studies. Some might also question Paul’s sometimes too easy dismissal of other opinions, but he is everywhere thorough in his documentation. This work provides an impressive bibliography for those who seek to penetrate more deeply into the area of Amos studies: the commentary is prefaced by an eight-page list of frequently cited articles and monographs (pp. xix–xxvi) and closes with 68 pages of material classified by topic and verse (pp. 299–367). Sadly, the massive commentary on Amos by Andersen and Freedman (Anchor Bible 24a, 1990) appeared too late for Paul to interact with. The several indices are also helpful, although inexplicably the author index ignores the footnotes and only cites names that appear in the discussions proper.

M. Daniel Carroll R.

M. Daniel Carroll R.
Wheaton College Graduate School
Wheaton, Illinois, USA