Reviews of

Amos – Anchor Yale Bible

In Göran Eidevall, HB/OT, Hebrew Bible, Kurtis Peters, Yale University Press on December 24, 2018 at 11:14 pm

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2018.12.13 | Göran Eidevall.Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible 24G. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. pp. xx + 292. ISBN: 978-0-300-17878-4.

Reviewed by Kurtis Peters

Göran Eidevall has contributed the new Amos volume in the expanding Anchor Yale Bible commentary series. This commentary is the successor to the original Anchor Bible commentary on Amos by Francis L. Andersen and David Noel Freedman (1989). The present volume is a considerable departure from the earlier work in focus, and will undoubtedly provide a good complement to Andersen and Freedman’s work, rather than replacing it.

Eidevall states his agenda in this commentary as follows: “(1) to elucidate the rhetorical function of each passage, and each prophetic message, included in the book of Amos (in relation to the literary context as well as to a specific historical and rhetorical setting), and (2) to explore the theological and ideological aspects of (different parts of) this prophetic book, viewed as a multilayered literary composition” (4). What Eidevall is suggesting here is by no means controversial, though it is careful. In the ensuing pages, the section entitled “From the Prophet Amos to the Book of Amos,” he seeks to depart from conventional practice in Amos studies; he eschews exegeting the book of Amos through the lens of the historical Amos. He does not reject the historicity of a person named Amos, but is “suggesting that any reconstruction of Amos’ biography would by necessity be too speculative to serve as the basis for scholarly interpretation” (7). Eidevall, therefore, moves away from imagining the career of Amos the prophet in the kingdom of Israel and moves toward imagining the role of Amos the book as edited in Judah.

In assessing Amos from a literary perspective, Eidevall suggests that the book be read as a drama, though without any discernible plot and with only one agent: YHWH (13). In Act I (chapters 1 and 2) YHWH judges the Syro-Canaanite region. In Act II (chapters 3 to 6) the subjects range widely, but the common, and very general, theme is acts and their consequences. Act III (chapters 7 to 9) is concerned with the fate of YHWH’s people, now seemingly construing “Israel” to mean, or at least to include, Judah.

Eidevall not only examines the literary structure of the book, but also wades into the historical reconstruction of the book with all its presumable redactional layers. While many scholars focus on the historical period of Jeroboam II’s reign in the 8 century BCE, Eidevall suggests that this is an uncritical acceptance of the book’s superscription and brief narrative in chapter 7, both of which feature a prophet Amos active in that time. Eidevall suggests rather that, while some oracles may have originated in Jeroboam’s reign, the composition of the book is undoubtedly later. He sees many historical moments that would have been generative for the book’s composition, from the period before the fall of Samaria all the way to the Hellenistic period. He, however, proposes three main versions of the book: version 1, deriving from the period between the fall of Samaria in 722 and the fall of Jerusalem in 587; version 2, more generally dated to the period after 587; and version 3, dating to the Persian period, from 539-333 BCE (25). Version 1 serves to explain the implications of the fall of Samaria for Judah. Version 2 updates this explanation as it relates to the catastrophe that struck Judah, and injects a more hopeful message. Version 3 moves from explanation to expectation with somewhat of an eschatological interest. It is noteworthy that chapters 7-9 (corresponding to Eidevall’s Act III) only fall into versions 2 and 3. Chapters 1 to 6, however, contain material from each of Eidevall’s historical versions.

Eidevall delivers on his agenda stated above. His analysis of the famed dispute between the prophet Amos and the priest Amaziah at Bethel illustrates the first part (rhetorical and historical explanation) well. He suggests that the vision cycle of chapters 7 and the beginning of 8 is interrupted by a historically later insertion of the brief narrative of 7:10-17. The three visions that make up the short cycle are typified by mercy in the first two (of locusts and of a destructive fire), but by merciless destruction in the third (the summer fruit = Israel’s end). The intervening dispute of Amos and Amaziah explains the otherwise inexplicable move from mercy to pitilessness (203). In the first two visions, the speaker appeals to the LORD to relent from the impending judgement and his plea is heard. Then, in the narrative, the representative of the religious and royal establishment, Amaziah, rejects the LORD’s prophet. Consequently, after the third vision, there is no intercession and there is no relenting. The rejection of the prophet results in the destruction of the people.

Amos 5 provides an example of Eidevall’s theological and ideological reading. Many commentators have found in Amos 5, and elsewhere, a broad rejection of cult, especially the sacrificial system – “I hate, I reject your festivals, and I do not delight in your assemblies. Even if you bring me burnt offerings, and your grain offerings, I will not accept them” (Amos 5:21-22). But Eidevall sees here a stress on the relational terms; it is your festivals that I reject (not all festivals, sacrifices, etc.). The subsequent appeal to streams of justice and righteousness are not in opposition to the cult. In fact, Eidevall suggests that a sharp division of cult and ethics is suspiciously anachronistic (168).

The present commentary is particularly valuable in that it covers a wide array of methods and approaches to biblical exegesis. Eidevall is quite self-aware in this and consequently leaves space for readers to agree with some portions of his work and disagree with others. Most elements are able to be evaluated on their own. However, this does leave the work open to criticism in that it struggles with coherence. It would be more effective, at times, if Eidevall operated wholly in literary analysis or in historical-critical reconstruction. A blend is possible and he often succeeds in providing one, but at other points will probably lose the reader. This should not dissuade potential readers, as Eidevall has produced a volume of lasting value for anyone interested in Amos studies.

Kurtis Peters
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Unceded Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples

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