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Review by Dr. Jill Firth
M. Daniel Carroll R.
The Book of Amos.
NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2020.
Review by Dr. Jill Firth
Daniel Carroll’s Amos maintains the high academic quality of the NICOT series, bringing authenticity, compassion, and insight to his study of this eighth-century prophet. Due to his background growing up in Guatemala and then later working in Guatemala City during the twentieth-century civil wars, Carroll has a first-hand grasp of the tragedies of war and issues of violence, poverty, corruption, and racism which are so relevant to Amos’ setting, message, and history of interpretation. His ongoing interests in Old Testament social ethics and ancient and modern sociopolitical realities are also reflected in this commentary.
The volume follows the NICOT structure of Bibliography, Introduction, and Translation and detailed Commentary on the text. The Introduction walks the reader through the complexities of the history of interpretation of Amos, and outlines the approach of the current volume to Historical Background, Authorship, Composition, Structure and Poetics, Religion and Theology, Amos in Early Judaism and the New Testament, The Message of Amos for Today, and The Text. There are also excurses on the Oracles against the Nations, the “Doxologies” of the Book of Amos, The Woe Cry (hôy!) and an Introduction to the Visions. The text throughout uses transliteration of Hebrew letters into the English alphabet, so its scholarship is accessible to non-Hebrew readers.
Carroll argues for a coherent literary text, noting the formulae and genres proposed by the older form criticism, and also looking at the larger structures in the text. For example, the seven introductory Oracles against the Nations (1:3–2:16) show a three then four pattern, with the oracle against Edom and the oracle against Israel receiving the greatest prominence. The longest section of the book (3:1–6:14) is divided into two subsections, with the first featuring focusing on Israel’s guilt, including rhetorical questions and a repeated refrain, You did not return to me. A saying of Yahweh (4:6, 8, 9, 10, 11), and the second subsection presenting a lament for Israel comprising three chiasms (5:1–17; 5:18–27; 6:1–14). The final section of Amos describes five vision reports of Israel’s future, including both destruction and hope (7:1–9:15).
Reading the text as literature invites an exploration of its poetics and rhetorical aims. Carroll builds on the work of Karl Möller, using rhetorical-critical approaches and speech-act theory to propose a setting in the Northern Kingdom before its fall to Assyria in 722 BC. Carroll does not accept a distinction between “the world of the text” (in Amos’ northern preaching) and “the world of the book” (in a focus on a readership in Judah), as proposed by Möller. Rather, Carroll describes the book of Amos as an illocution based on Amos’ preaching in the Northern Kingdom, between 765 and 750 BC, perhaps in 760 BC, with a perlocutionary goal of challenging the nation to recognise and act on his warnings. The book may have been completed in Judah, where the perlocutionary purpose of the book may have been to testify to the prophecies of God’s judgment, even though the fall of the north did not occur till 722 BC. An additional effect may have been a warning to Judah, but he does not agree with Möller that this was the original purpose of the text.
Amos has a message for today – Yahweh is still the God of the nations, still concerned with injustice, and still challenges us to respond to poverty, disaster, and injustice. This commentary is a helpful model of serious engagement with the biblical text in the light of recent developments in poetics and rhetoric. It will be useful for scholars, pastors, rabbis, and students who seek a deeper knowledge of the text and message of Amos, and of God.
Dr. Jill Firth is Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia.