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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.

Writing the Torah | Exodus 17:14

Some scholars have argued that scribes would have used papyrus and hides, materials which would not typically survive long enough to make it to the archaeological record. This argument does have some merit, given that we do have evidence of their use in the region from as early as the late Old Kingdom period in Egypt (c. 2300 BCE). Yet, Professor Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University in Israel makes the salient point that it is unlikely a literate society with a scribal culture capable of producing material comparable to what we find in the Hebrew Bible would not also leave evidence of writing on seals, ostraca, and inscriptions. That we find nothing of this nature in Israel or Judah before the eighth century would strongly indicate that these were pre-literate societies before this time.

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.