AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon. | Historical Background. | Structure and Contents. | Date and Authorship. | The Man and his Message. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


The book of Amos stands third in the order of the "Twelve" in the Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, however, it is placed second, the book of Joel coming later. The Peshitta, Vulgate, and modern versions follow the order of the Hebrew Bible.


The reign of Jeroboam ii was the most brilliant period in the history of the Northern Kingdom. The old rivalry between Israel and Damascus was ending with Israelite supremacy, and even districts to the east of Jordan were recovered for Israel. Egypt was too weak to interfere, and Assyria had not yet begun the movement, which ended in the conquest of Palestine.

For the internal condition, Amos himself is our chief witness. He shows us a people, rich and luxurious, but selfish and careless of human rights; the upper classes have all that they want, while the poor, especially the peasants, are sinking into misery and even slavery. Beneath the fair surface the whole country is rotten, and its doom cannot be long delayed.


All three types of material are found in the book or Amos, though B is confined to a short passage in ch.vii, and C, to a series of visions in the last three chapters.

The general construction of the book presents some peculiar features. There appear to be headings of a kind at the beginning of chs.iii and v, which may mean that there were minor oracular collections.

Other oracles are found attached to the visions in chs.vii-ix. A large proportion of these must be classed as eschatological. They have, apparently, been selected by the main compiler, or by the compiler of this last section, as being suitable to the general trend of the visions.

The first section opens with a collection of oracles against foreign nations, preceded by a general statement of the prophet's message in i.2.

The peoples denounced are: Damascus (i.3-5), Philistia (6-8), Phoenicia (9-10), Edom (11-12), Ammon (13-15), Moab (ii.1-3), Judah (4-5), and at the end we have Israel (6-7a).

The originality of the section dealing with Philistia, Phoenicia and Edom has been challenged, but the reasons have not generally been deemed decisive. For instance, the absence of Gath in the list of Philistine cities has been held to prove that its fall in 711BC had already taken place. Clearly, there may have been other reasons for the omission. On the other hand, it is generally agreed that the oracle against Judah (ii.4-5) is a later insertion.

A more serious problem is created by the structure of the oracles. They are all couched in the same form, and in almost identical language. The chief difference lies in the crime for which each nation is condemned. It is as though a framework has been used and filled in with different names and different charges, and it may be observed that the inserted portion is in most cases metrically discordant with the framework. Is it likely that this was the work of the prophet himself?

Against the inherent improbability of his adopting such a method, we have the fact that Amos does seem to use formulae that he adapted to various needs, e.g. in the series of little utterances that we have in iv.6-11.

In view of all the facts, we may take it for granted that Amos did utter threats against the peoples mentioned on the grounds given, even though we suspect that a collector or editor was responsible for the identity of the mould in which all are cast.

The list of nations concludes with Israel, introducing a further and more detailed account of her iniquities. Two oracles are added in this section, ii.7b-12 and 13-16, the first (in Qinah 3 : 2) dealing with ritual sins, and the second (metre 3 : 3) announcing punishment.

The second group of oracles opens with a rhetorical statement of the law of causation (iii.2-8), followed by a summons to foreign powers to witness the iniquity of Samaria. Then we have a fragment in verse 11, short threats of punishment in verses 12-13 and 14-15, a denunciation of the women in iv.1-3, and of the cultus in iv.4-5. Then comes a group of utterances, each of which describes some calamity and ends with the formula: "Yet ye have not returned unto me." The signature "saith the Lord" suggests that they were originally independent utterances, which have been connected either by the prophet himself or by an early collector. They mention famine (verse 6), drought (7-8), blight (9), pestilence (10), earthquake (11), and conclude with a final threat of the coming of Yahweh Himself to execute His final vengeance (12-13)

The next group opens with the lovely dirge over Israel, the fallen virgin (v.2), to which, perhaps, verse 3 should be attached, eliminating its introductory clause as redactional. Verses 4-6 denounce the sanctuaries. Verse 7 is an isolated fragment. 8-10 are clearly taken from a hymn to Yahweh as Lord of Nature. 11-13 contain two fragmentary denunciations of social iniquity; 14-15 are an exhortation to see Yahweh. 16-17 a threat of punishment; 18-20 a description of the Day of Yahweh; and 21-27 a condemnation of the cultus. In vi.1-7 we have a denunciation of the ruthless luxury of the rich, and verse 8 expresses Yahweh's loathing of the pride of Israel. This will result (verses 9-11) in pestilence and earthquake-apparently two oracular fragments have been worked over in prose form, and verses 12 and 13-14 are isolated fragments.

With ch.vii begins the series of visions. These are described in prose (type C), and the first (vii.1-3) is that of locusts, followed by a devouring fire (4-6), and Yahweh Himself standing with a plumb-line against a wall (7-8a). To this last a short oracle has been appended in 8b-9. Ch.vii.10-17 is the only instance of biographical prose in the book, and it describes the conflict between Amos and Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. The fourth vision is that of a basket of summer fruit (viii.1-3), which is followed by a series of short oracles. Most of these are eschatological in tone - viii.4-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14 - Ch.ix opens with the fifth vision, - that of Yahweh smiting the sanctuary (at Bethel?), with which is closely linked a prediction of the complete annihilation of Israel (ix.1-4). Next, we have another fragment from a hymn of praise (ix.5-6), and two oracular fragments in verses 7 and 8a. Verse 8b to the end of the chapter consists of a series of hopeful oracles, all of which seem to presuppose the Exile, and one of them (ix.11-12) certainly does so, since it speaks of the tabernacle of David as having fallen.


Apart from one or two passages and small fragments, which seem to come from the compiler, and especially the small collection of exilic prophecy at the end of the book, there is little that we cannot ascribe to Amos himself. In v.8 we have language that suggests that the prophet may have actually witnessed an eclipse. This can only have been that which took place in June 763BC, and we can thus date the prophecies of Amos with some degree of probability, shortly after that date. They were, as it appears, delivered in Bethel and Samaria, and his boldness aroused official hostility against him. He is not likely, then, to have remained long in the north, and the whole of his activity may be placed within the reign of Jeroboam ii.


Amos, as he himself tells us, was a shepherd and a dresser of coarse figs, whose home lay in the semi-wilderness of the Tekoa region in southern Judah. He was essentially a countryman, intimate with all the creatures of the wild - the vulture, the lion, the bear, the serpent. But he had visited famous sanctuaries and great cities, and knew both Bethel and Samaria. His home life, far away, enabled him to come to them with a certain detachment, and to see them from the outside. Thus he is free alike from the drugging influence of familiarity and from the numbing sense of inevitable complicity in the evils that he so clearly sees. His detachment gives him a certain austerity, and we miss the passionate horror of sin and the equally passionate sympathy for the doomed sinner that we find in Hosea and in Jeremiah.

Yet Amos, from his external standpoint, can fasten on the real spiritual dangers of Israel. His poetry, with its vigour and its wealth of imagery, casts a fierce light on the condition of Israel as he saw it. Beneath the fair surface of prosperity he could detect the rotting mass of spiritual corruption, and could expose it to men's eyes. He saw the falsehood of worship, the foulness of professional religion, and the commercial dishonesty of his day. More terrible and perilous to him was the total neglect of the rights and demands of human personality. Men were crushed below the human level by the reckless luxury of the rich and by the sordid corruption of justice. Ruin stared Israel in the face, but he alone could recognize its form, a nd he knew that, without righteousness, fair dealing, truthfulness, and recognition of the status of humanity, the nation was doomed.

Amos had a remedy to offer the people for their social and national disease. He had inherited the traditions of the true Yahwism, which traced its history back to Moses, and stood for the faith of old times, uncontaminated by Canaanite syncretism. Let men seek Yahweh - which involved establishing true justice - and they might live; otherwise they must perish. He did not, like the Nazirite and the Rechabite, condemn, and seek to escape from, the higher civilization of the agricultural and civic community, but he did insist that Israel's only safety was to be found in transfusing that more complicated social order with the true spirit of Yahweh. It was not enough merely to observe the old commandments in literal simplicity; their essence must be applied to the life the people now led. No consideration, political or religious, must be suffered to dam the stream of righteousness. Spiritual worship, purity of life, and above all, justice, must be established and maintained as the indispensable conditions of a safe and happy future.

Religiosity was no substitute for the fulfilment of Yahweh's moral demands; unaccompanied by righteousness sacrifice was merely loathsome. Men believed in the approach of a Day of Yahweh, in which Israel should triumph over all her enemies. Amos accepted the belief, but insisted that Yahweh would come, not to vindicate indiscriminately His own nation, but to assert the claims of His moral character on all who had denied them in practice.

His message was primarily a "cry for justice".


In spite of the fragmentary character of much of this book, the text seems, on the whole, to have been well preserved, though there are some places where emendation seems necessary (e.g. ii.7; iii.12, 14; iv.3, 5, 9; v.6, 26; vi.2, 10; vii.2; viii.3; ix.1). The Septuagint and other versions offer no striking variations from the traditional Hebrew text, but the Septuagint is sometimes of real help (e.g. ii.16; iii.5; iv.7; v.9; vi.12; viii.4).