Last week we met Amos, the sheep-breeder from Tekoa, south of Bethlehem in Judah, who was credited with rants against all the nations around Israel and Judah, but then zeroed in on the existing rulers of Israel in the north. I ofund myself thinking of Rick Mercer the Newfoundlander, taking sarcastic shots against various urban elites in other regions.
I claimed that the original oral prophecies were written, collected, rearranged and edited over centuries, at least from mid 700’s before Jesus. Assyria conquered Israel around 750CE, finally dispersing the people by 722CE. One set of editors reminded people in Josiah’s time in the next century to heed Amos’ warning or Judah could be next. Once Judah did indeed fall about 600CE and their elite were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon (Iraq), another round of edits with 20:20 hindsight, and finally, this scroll of ‘The Twelve’ locks in our version probably in Persian days, 250 years after the original Amos lived.
There’s something about the images in Amos 7 and 8, if not every word of reflection interpreting the visions, that smacks of an original echo of Amos to my hearing. This is good graphic memorable prophecy – the locusts, the plumb line, and the basket of fruit. I am grateful that our the recent revisions to our 3 year lectionary brought a couple of these back into our regular reminders, late in the summer once each cycle. Enjoy the reminders on Monday and Tuesday.
There’s a difference between the apocalyptic tone of such prophecy, and fatalism. Yes, these are big transpersonal forces of good versus evil, beyond our control. Yes, we find ourselves on the wrong side, not all by our own fault. But for one thing, the prophet’s prayers for divine mercy are heard and partly granted. For another thing, we are assured that God’s in charge, not evil.
For the rest of this second week with ‘The Twelve’, we listen to a second of the ‘Minor Prophets’ - the one who comes first in Tanakh and in our bibles. I put it second because the original person (assuming that there was a Hosea) likely preached a bit later than Amos, a Northerner preaching to Northerners.
It could be that the opening verses placing Hosea in relation to one king in Israel and four in Judah in the south are added later, and not for facticity but to tie the story to Hezekiah, another reformer in Judah after Israel fell. At least Hezekiah was alarmed, and trying to react to the ‘dominoes’ theory.
Israel in the north was still enjoying a bit of a holiday and some military room on the Syrian border, as the Lebanon turf was less contested while Assyria threatened from further north. Some made hay while that sun shone – but didn’t share the profits of their international trade boom.
The south, Judah, more securely buffered from the threats from the Assyrians, was also enjoying fewer threats from Egypt, who didn’t want to signal aggression toward Assyria – can you picture smaller states and economies like Korea or Canada enjoying a couple of decades of stand-off between US and China, for instance? Sure you can!
This week you’ll think you’re hearing a misogynist rant from a guy with an unfaithful wife, or two, blaming God and saying bad things about his own kids. Try to hear it as a metaphor, acceptable in that subculture (and in much of ours until recently), equating sexually promiscuous women with profiteering opportunists who play one business trade partner off against another.
As the original oral prophecies are written, rewritten, and edited over the same 250 years as Amos, hindsight is much of the message, whether Hosea predicted it in detail or not. Also, the issues of fraternizing and cultural assimilation – not just doing business with ‘others’, but intermarrying and partying together among elites, which carries different existential threats during affluence than when a besieged marginalized and racialized minority, later.
Anyhow, that’s my 700 word intro for another week – if you have time, spend it listening now – or as the week continues and the tweets keep coming!