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Yahweh Roars from Zion | Amos 1:2

Yahweh Roars from Zion

Yahweh roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither, and the top of Carmel dries up.
Amos 1:2

Amos’ oracles against the nations are introduced by what at first reads like a statement of divine authority; that it is Yahweh — the god of Israel — who is making these pronouncements. Yet, this is not actually the case. While this is a series of pronouncements of Yahweh, they do not come from Yahweh the god of Israel but from Yahweh the god of Judah. This passage betrays the ideological conflict between Jerusalem and Samaria; because it comes from Jerusalem in the first instance and in the second because the image of Yahweh here is that of a lion — the lion of Judah. Certainly, Amos is a text composed in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah after the destruction of Samaria by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but the narrative is of a Judean prophet — Amos of Tekoa — preaching to the royal and cultic establishment of Samaria before its destruction — during the reign of Jeroboam II (Amos 1:1). Therefore, we may be able to read this as a Judahite victory song over the Israelite cult of Yahweh and his representation as a bull.

We know Yahweh was represented as a bull in Israel. Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel, established two bull-Yahweh shrines; one at Dan and the other at Bethel (1 Kings 12:25–33). But this is at odds with what we know from the archaeology of Israel. Dan in the extreme north of Israel was not in Israelite control in the late tenth century BCE — during the reign of Jeroboam I — and Bethel was an insignificant village. Yet, this picture is quite different in the eighth century during the reign of Jeroboam. Israel had expanded to the north to include the city of Dan and Bethel had become a royal sanctuary. It is probable then that the biblical authors confused these two kings, and that it was in fact Jeroboam II who built the bull-Yahweh temples at Dan and Bethel.

The golden calf episode in Exodus 32:1–35 is undoubtedly a Judahite polemic against the traditional bull representation of Yahweh in Israel, another ideological assault on the bull-Yahweh cult by the Yahwists of Jerusalem. This was not, as the Deuteronomists would have us believe, because the Jerusalem cult of Yahweh was aniconic. We know this not to have been the case. Jerusalem and Judah produced images of Yahweh — the Yahweh of Jerusalem. This Yahweh was depicted in the style of the Canaanite high god Ēl, as a bearded man seated on cherubim throne and flanked by seraphim. These deities — the Yahweh of Samaria and the Yahweh of Jerusalem — had different attributes and, despite their sharing the same name, may not have been considered to be the same god. Where Israel continued the cult of Ba’al, certainly as far as the iconography of its Yahweh was concerned, Judah continued the cult of Ēl — albeit with the likely fusion of Elyon and the ancient solar deity (Shamash) of pre-Davidic Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem, then, we appear to have the lion being used as a literary metaphor for Yahweh. This is an image with royal connotations which we see employed by both the Assyrians (the lion hunt of Ashurbanipal, c. 640 BCE) and the Babylonians (the Ishtar Gate, c. 575 BCE). Yahweh roaring as a lion from Jerusalem in the context of a Judahite prophetic message to Israel is a statement of the superiority of Jerusalem’s Yahweh over the idolatrous bull-Yahweh of Israel.

This intention is confirmed by what follows in the statement. It is from Zion Yahweh roars; that is the sacred mound of the Jerusalem-imagined Urheiligtum. This is underlined by the explicit reference to Jerusalem, the city and temple from where he utters his voice. This identification is pressed further by the reference to the heights of Mount Carmel. This was from remote antiquity a sacred mountain — a sacred mound — to the Canaanites and to the later Israelites. This was the mountain of Ēl, the mountain of Ba’al, and indeed the mountain of bull-Yahweh — an Israelite cognate of the Canaanite Ba’al, who was also represented as a bull. This was where Elijah contested with the Israelite prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18:20–40). In fact, we have good reason to believe that this Israelite Ba’al was simply the Israelite representation of Yahweh. These prophets of Ba’al were prophets from Samaria during the reign of King Ahab — who we know to have been a Yahwist. The drying of — the making a waste of — Carmel must then be read as the Yahweh of Jerusalem’s victory over the Yahweh of Samaria.

The book of the prophet Amos in many places presupposes the destruction of Samaria and the exile of the Israelite population (see for example Amos 4:2–3). It must then be assumed that this work was composed — or began to be composed — after the destruction of Samaria in Jerusalem at a time when Jerusalem scribes and refugee scribes from Samaria and Israel were bringing the Yahwistic traditions of the two Hebrew kingdoms together (Hosea 1:11). This Israelite refugee element in Jerusalem explains a great deal. It explains in large part the preservation of northern traditions — such as the Exodus and the Joseph story — in the Hebrew Bible and it explains why the Yahweh of Israel wasn’t simply condemned as a foreign god and why the people of Israel are remembered in the Torah as one elect people with Judah.

What we have in Amos 1:2 is not a simple statement of divine authority; that these judgements come from Yahweh, but an ideological statement of Judah and Jerusalem that they come from the correct Yahweh — the Yahweh of Jerusalem. We can thus imagine that it was somewhere in this clash of Yahwistic symbols that the germ was planted of the aniconic Yahweh of later Judaism. Where both Samaria and Jerusalem — and many other Yahwistic temples in Israel and Judah — had visual representations of their god, this conflict between the bull-Yahweh of Samaria and the lion-Yahweh of Judah ultimately assisted in the process which ended with the complete prohibition of graven images of Yahweh or any other god (Deuteronomy 5:8–9).


Published by Jason Michael

Scottish journalist and blogger living in Dublin, Ireland. Postgraduate in Sociology, Academic Fellowship (History of World War I) and lecturer in Biblical Studies.

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