Amos: 1:1-2 — Superscription and Preamble

א דִּבְרֵי עָמוֹס, אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה בַנֹּקְדִים מִתְּקוֹעַ: אֲשֶׁר חָזָה עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּימֵי עֻזִּיָּה מֶלֶךְ-יְהוּדָה, וּבִימֵי יָרָבְעָם בֶּן-יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל--שְׁנָתַיִם, לִפְנֵי הָרָעַשׁ. ב וַיֹּאמַר--יְהוָה מִצִּיּוֹן יִשְׁאָג, וּמִירוּשָׁלִַם יִתֵּן קוֹלוֹ; וְאָבְלוּ נְאוֹת הָרֹעִים, וְיָבֵשׁ רֹאשׁ הַכַּרְמֶל

1: The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

2: And he said: the LORD roareth from Zion, and uttereth His voice from Jerusalem; and the pastures of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither.

(Translation doth cometh from Mechon Mamre (JPS 1917), which I feel best captures the optimally intimidating biblical voice.)

Sefer Amos begins with a short introduction which presents us with some important explicitly discernible information:

  1. The identity of the navi Amos along with some biographical information.
  2. The historical setting of the sefer.
  3. The currently weak religious state of the nation (implied by the already present threat of punishment).
  4. God’s foretold reprimanding response to the state of the nation.

These initial two lines also act as a sort of preamble to the entire sefer, by presenting not only important preliminary facts, but also by more subtly introducing certain key themes which will remain relevant throughout our study of the sefer.

  1. The sefer is specifically dated to the earthquake which occurred during Uzziah’s reign. This dating is not just convenient for the navi, but thematically significant, as we will later read a great deal of Amos’s employment of earthquake imagery within his speeches. This either means Amos spoke those words before the event in prediction of the earthquake, or spoke them after and was employing retroactive imagery which he knew his audience, having lived through the terrifying event, would emotionally respond to.
  2. Amos is introduced in v1 as a shepherd from Tekoa. His identification as a shepherd becomes very significant in an altercation he is involved in later in chapter 7, where he is dismissed as a professional navi who is paid to insincerely espouse certain anti-establishment ideas. Amos responds there that he is not a professional navi, but merely a shepherd who was raised by God. In addition, his status as a shepherd places him in socioeconomic opposition to the status of the wealthy merchant aristocracy, thus allowing him to naturally identify with the victims of oppression and recognize and respond with moral indignation to the extravagant lifestyle of the aristocracy. This idea is illustrated by the type of destruction specified in v2, specifically said to effect the pastures of shepherds, implying Amos’s joined suffering with the nation*.
  3. Despite the fact that Amos is identified in v1 as a navi of the north, his hometown also noted in v1 is Tekoa, a southern city of Yehuda situated near Beit Lechem. Furthermore, v2 places the perspective of God’s voice emanating from Tzion and Yerushalayim, obviously southern locations. These preliminary references to Yehuda introduce an important aspect of the study of this sefer, which concerns the question of intended audience. Despite the fact that the original audience of the navi Amos was undoubtedly a northern one, there are strong textual reasons to believe that the book we have in front of us was edited and canonized with the intention of a later southern readership. These points generally consist of direct and significant references to Yehuda or the Davidic dynasty, as well as more subtly intended double entendre, all of which will be noted as we move through the sefer.
  4. v2 also introduces the theme of nevuah and the voice of God, both of which will be dealt with in further detail later as Amos asserts his validity as a navi, as well as the navi’s position relative to God and the nation.

Everything so far has been necessary preliminaries. Next time we will enter into the sefer proper, and contend with a much more fun, textually complicated, and, rest assured, longer piece, requiring the aggressive deployment of charts and bullet points.

*Notwithstanding the fact that the destruction in v2 reads as a future consequence of national sin, I believe the implication holds, based on the specific choice of “shepherd” and it’s obvious connection back to Amos himself just one line ago.

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