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The Remnant of Israel | Amos 3:10-12

The book of the prophet Amos addresses a crisis, but it is not entirely clear which crisis it addresses. Towards the end of the eighth century BCE, during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, the crisis took the form of the Neo-Assyrian Empire’s westward expansion into the Levant. This is the historical context in which the prophecy of Amos is set, but there are a number of problems assuming this Assyrian crisis to be the crisis addressed by the book. Amos presupposes, for example, the destruction of Samaria and the exile of Israel, and the oracle against Judah (Amos 2:4–5) — if indeed it is a later insertion — undermines this assumption. The presupposition of the fall of Samaria and the possible Judah insertion point to a later crisis — the Babylonian crisis of the late sixth century.

The Words of Amos | Amos 1:1

Amos, we are told, was ‘among the shepherds of Tekoa.’ Tekoa is a village 14 kilometres almost due south of Jerusalem in the Judean highlands, and the area would have been associated with oviculture in the eighth century BCE. It is entirely plausible then that Amos is intended to be read as a simple shepherd called by Yahweh to a prophetic mission in the northern kingdom. The content of his prophecy, however, is simply too sophisticated for this to be reasonable. Unless it can be established that Tekoa was a centre for sheep-rearing and dealing — which it may have been, then Amos as a נֹקֵדּ (‘shepherd’ or ‘sheep trader’) in a community of shepherds or sheep traders is as likely to signify some type of prophetic guild. The ‘shepherds of Tekoa’ reads very much like the designation of an organised society or guild in and around the village of Tekoa, and we know that such guilds did exist.

Make Yourself an Ark | Genesis 6:11-17

The ark Noah was instructed to build is a sanctuary; both a place of safety and a place of cultic sacrifice. The ark is a holy place constructed in a written text composed after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Knowing this, we are able to reconstruct the meaning of the allegory of the great flood in Genesis. God had ‘determined to make an end of all flesh.’ This we can only read in reference to the fates of the Hebrew kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel — a people of Yahweh — was destroyed by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BCE. The population of the northern kingdom was deported to exile beyond the Euphrates and so Israel ceased to exist as a political and cultural entity. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judah, and its temple in 587 BCE threatened the Judeans with the same fate of cultural annihilation.