Archive for the ‘James Luther Mays’ Tag

The Superscription and First Epigram of the Book of Amos   2 comments

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel during the Reigns of Kings Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING AMOS, PART I

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Amos 1:1-2

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The superscription (1:1) provides information useful in dating the original version of the Book of Amos.  Jeroboam II (r. 788-747 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 14:23-29) was the King of Israel.  Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 15:1-17; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23).  In a seismically-active region, the “big one” of circa 770 or 760 or 750 B.C.E. was apparently a memorable natural disaster.  (Ironing out wrinkles in the chronology of the era from Uzziah to Hezekiah has long been difficult, as many Biblical commentaries have noted.  For example, reputable sources I have consulted have provided different years, ranging from 742 to 733 B.C.E., for the death of King Uzziah.)  Centuries later, after the Babylonian Exile, Second Zechariah recalled that cataclysm in the context of earth-shaking events predicted to precede the Day of the Lord–in Christian terms, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God:

And the valley in the Hills shall be stopped up, for the Valley of the Hills shall reach only to Azal; it shall be stopped up as a result of the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.–And the LORD my God, with all the holy beings, will come to you.

–Zechariah 14:5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The original version of the Book of Amos, then, dates to circa 772 or 762 or 752 B.C.E.

The final version of the Book of Amos, however, dates to the period after the Babylonian Exile.  The prophecies of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah, in their final forms, all do.  So do the final versions of much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis to the two Books of Kings.  The final version of the Book of Amos indicates a pro-Judean bias, evident first in the listing of Kings of Judah before King Jeroboam II of Israel.

“Amos,” the shorter version of “Amasiah,” derives from the Hebrew verb for “to carry” and means “borne by God.”

Amos was a Judean who prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  He was, by profession, a breeder of sheep and cattle, as well as a tender of sycamore figs (1:1, 7:14).  The prophet was wealthy.  In 2 Kings 3:4, King Mesha of Moab was also a sheep breeder.  Amos hailed from the village of Tekoa, about eight kilometers, or five miles, south of Bethlehem, and within distant sight of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:2; Jeremiah 6:1).  King Rehoboam of Judah (r. 928-911 B.C.E.; 1 Kings 12:1-33; 1 Kings 15:21-31; 2 Chronicles 10:1-12:16; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:23) had ordered the fortification of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 11:6).  Although Amos prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, “Israel” (Amos 1:1) was a vague reference.

Since the prophetic office as manifested in Amos was a function of Yahweh’s lordship over his people, the political boundary that had been set up between Judah and Israel was utterly irrelevant.  Amos was concerned with Israel in their identity as the people of the Lord; the sphere of his activity was the realm of the old tribal league, all Israel under Yahweh, and not the state cult with its orientation to the current king and his kingdom.

–James Luther Mays, Amos:  A Commentary (1969), 19

I wonder if the vagueness of “Israel” in Amos 1:1 is original or if it is a product of subsequent amendment and editing.  The later editing and amendment do present questions about how to interpret the edited and amended texts.  Anyhow, I recognize that the message of God, via Amos of Tekoa, received and transmitted faithfully in a particular geographical and temporal context, remains relevant.  That message remains germane because human nature is a constant force, often negatively so.

The reference to the cataclysmic earthquake (Amos 1:) may do more than help to date the composition of the first version of the book.  One may, for example, detect references to that earthquake in Amos 2:13, 3;14f, 6:11, and 9:1.  One may reasonably speculate that the Book of Amos, in its final form, at least, may understand the earthquake of circa 770 or 760 or 750 B.C.E. as divine punishment for rampant, collective, persistent, disregard for the moral demands of the Law of Moses.  This presentation of natural disasters as the wrath of God exists also in Joel 1 and 2 (in reference to a plague of locusts) and in Exodus 7-11 (in reference to the plagues on Egypt).  This perspective disturbs me.  I recall certain conservative evangelists describing Hurricane Katrina (2005) as the wrath of God on New Orleans, Louisiana, allegedly in retribution for sexual moral laxity.  I wish that more people would be more careful regarding what they claim about the divine character.  I also know that earthquakes occur because of plate tectonics, swarms of locusts go where they will, and laws of nature dictate where hurricanes make landfall.

Amos seems to have prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel briefly, perhaps for only one festival and certainly for less than a year, at Bethel, a cultic site.  Then officialdom saw to it that he returned to Tekoa, his livestock and sycamore figs, and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.

[Amos] proclaimed:

The LORD roars from Zion,

Shouts aloud from Jerusalem;

And the pastures of the shepherds shall languish,

And the summit of Carmel shall wither.

–Amos 2:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The theological understanding in Amos 2:2 holds that God was resident in Zion.  The reference to Mount Carmel, on the Mediterranean coast and in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel makes plain that the message was, immediately, at least, for the Northern Kingdom.  Looking at a map, one can see the geographical setting.  For the divine voice, shouted in Jerusalem, to make the summit of Mount Carmel writhe, poetically, God really is a force with which to reckon.

God is near, but he is also far–immeasurably exalted, inexpressively different.  He is the king who does not die.

–R. B. Y. Scott, The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 121

How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God depends largely on our theological and social contexts–how well we understand science, how we define moral parameters, and how wide or narrow our theological imagination may be.  How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God must also include much poetry, even prose poetry.  If we are theologically, spiritually, and intellectually honest, we will acknowledge this.  How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God may or may not age well and/or translate well to other cultures.

Despite certain major differences from the pre-scientific worldview of the eighth-century B.C.E. prophet Amos and the world of 2021 B.C.E., the social, economic, and political context of the Book of Amos bears an unfortunate similarity to the world of 2021.  Economic inequality is increasing.  The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the numbers of poor people while a relative few already extremely wealthy people have become richer.  God still cares deeply about how people treat each other.  God continues to condemn institutionalized inequality.  Many conventionally pious people–religious leaders, especially–are complicit in maintaining this inequality.

Amos of Tekoa continues to speak the words of God to the world of 2021.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACQUES ELLUL, FRENCH REFORMED THEOLOGIAN AND SOCIOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT CELESTINE V, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT DUNSTAN OF CANTERBURY, ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF KERMARTIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ATTORNEY, PRIEST, AND ADVOCATE FOR THE POOR

THE FEAST OF GEORG GOTTFRIED MULLER, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

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Israel’s Punishment and Restoration, Part II: Parenting and Ingratitude   1 comment

Above:  Lion and Lioness

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HOSEA, PART IX

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Hosea 11:1-13:16 (Anglican and Protestant)

Hosea 11:1-14:1 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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Hosea 11:5 and 12:1/12:2 are two verses in this book that refers to Egypt, with Egypt described as the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  “Egypt and Assyria” may be a motif in Hebrew prophetic literature, as some of the commentaries I consult suggest.  Egypt, as part of a motif, recalls slavery in a foreign land.  Returning to Egypt, metaphorically, is abandoning freedom in God and reversing the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:17-14:31).  Perhaps the reference to King Hoshea of Israel (r. 732-722 B.C.E.) attempting a last-minute alliance with Egypt (2 Kings 17:4) offers a partial explanation for the motif of returning to Egypt in this portion of the Book of Hosea.  Otherwise, that motif makes no historical sense in the timeframe of the prophet Hosea, when Aram was the main rival to the Assyrian Empire.  If, however, one acknowledges subsequent Judean editing and updating of the Book of Hosea, this motif does make sense historically, assuming that one replaces “Assyria” with “Babylon.”  An astute student of the Bible may recall that, after the Fall of Jerusalem, some Judean fugitives went into exile in Egypt and took him with them (Jeremiah 42:1-44:30).  Anyway, the people, whether Israelite or Judean, were returning to Egypt, metaphorically, not to God.

Their one hope is the one possibility which they ignore.

–James Luther Mays, Hosea:  A Commentary (1969), 155

The main idea in these verses is that God loves the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, which he has refused to repent, to return to God and the covenant.  Israel has continued to surround God with deceit.  Israel has condemned itself, and God has pronounced sentence.  The people have no excuse and only themselves to blame.

Ephraim was bitterly vexing,

and his bloodguilt shall be set upon him,

and his Master shall pay him back for his shame.

–Hosea 12:15, Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019)

Alternatives to “shame” in other translations include scorn, blasphemy, insults, and mockery.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in both Testaments of the Bible.  This can be a difficult teaching to digest.  I struggle with it sometimes.  Yet I strive to be spiritually and intellectually honest.  God refuses to fit into human theological boxes and categories.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FELIX OF CANTALICE, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC FRIAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

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Israel’s Punishment and Restoration, Part I: The Fruits of Idolatry and Punishment for Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Small Waterfall, Poss Creek, Ben Burton Park, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, October 29, 2017

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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…Like foam upon water.

–Hosea 10:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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READING HOSEA, PART VIII

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Hosea 10:1-15

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St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) defined sin as disordered love.  The great theologian and Bishop of Hippo Regius explained that God deserves the most love.  Furthermore, people, as well as certain items, ideas, institutions, and activities deserve less love than God.  Furthermore, some some ideas, items, institutions, and activities deserve no love.  The Bishop of Hippo Regius taught that to give God less love than proper and anything or anyone else more love than proper is to have disordered love–sin.  This sin is also idolatry, for it draws love away from God.

Hosea 10:1-15 employs metaphors for the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  10:1-10 describes Israel as a vine.  The vine’s days of economic prosperity and military security during the reign (788-747 B.C.E.) of Jeroboam II are over in the vision.  Also, we read, the golden calf at Bethel (“House of God”), or as Hosea called the place, Beth-aven (“House of Evil;” see 4:15 also), will become an object of tribute hauled off to the Assyrian Empire.  And

Samaria’s monarchy is vanishing

Like foam upon the water….”

–10:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) offers an alternative translation:

Samaria and her king will disappear,

like a twig upon the waters.

Israel is like a heifer in 10:11-15.  Israel, trained to sow righteousness and, therefore, to reap the fruits of goodness, instead plows wickedness.  Therefore, Israel reaps iniquity and eats the fruits of treachery.  Israel’s reliance on its way has led to its preventable fate.

I detect what may be evidence of subsequent Judean editing of 10:11:

I will make Ephraim do advance plowing;

Judah shall do [main] plowing!

Jacob shall do final plowing!

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Hosea 10:13-14 refers to military threats.  The immediate threat was from either Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser V (r. 727-722 B.C.E.), or Sargon II (r. 722-705 B.C.E.) of the Assyrian Empire.  Shalmaneser V began the siege of Samaria; Sargon II finished it.  This detail seems to have been lost on the author of 2 Kings 17:1-6.  Perhaps Hosea 10:13-14, in referring to Shalman having destroyed Betharbel, means Shalmaneser III (r. 858-824 B.C.E.), from the time of King Jehu of Israel (r. 842-814 B.C.E.).  (See 2 Kings 9:1-10:30; 2 Chronicles 22:5-9.)  The reference to the battle at Betharbel is obscure, but the warning is plain.  The collective consequences of collectively forsaking the divine covenant are terrible, we read.

Perhaps James Luther Mays summarized the situation best:

Yahweh will be the one who acts in gruesome devastation against those whose faith makes them secure against his judgment and independent of his power.  Autonomy as a state of violation of their existence as the covenant people is the “evil of their evil.”  The king to whom the army belongs and who therefore incarnates their independence of Yahweh will be the first to fall.  In the dawn’s first light, when the battle has hardly begun, he shall be cut off.

Hosea:  A Commentary (1969), 150

After all, as R. B. Y. Scott wrote:

If the righteousness of Yahweh could not find realization in a social order, it must destroy the order of life men built in its defiance.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 188

The prophets Hosea and Amos were contemporaries with different foci.  As Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel wrote, Amos saw episodes yet Hosea saw a drama.  Also, Amos focused on social injustice (especially economic injustice), but Hosea focused on idolatry.  Injustice and idolatry were related to each other.  The people and their kings, by straying from God, strayed also from the divine covenant, of which social justice was an essential part.

That is a timeless message that should cause many people to tremble.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MALTBIE DAVENPORT BABCOCK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FELIX OF CANTALICE, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC FRIAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1945

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