Understanding the Book of Amos

By Gerhard F. Hasel
Grand Rapids : Baker (1991). 171 Pages.

Reviewed by
3.1 (Spring 1992) : 106-107

The author, Professor of Old Testament at Andrews University, summarizes for the serious Bible student the unusually rich thoughts about and research into the book of Amos. His book, not a commentary per se, focuses primarily upon major issues in the already extensive research on this formative OT book.

Hasel feels that the significance of understanding Amos can hardly be overstated. Because the book is the first of the writing prophets (dating "probably somewhere between 780 and 760 B.C." [p. 12]), it serves as a "paradigm`if not a microcosm for the study of all of the prophetic writings of the Old Testament" (p. 11). In short, "To understand Amos means to understand and to have a key to Old Testament prophecy" (p. 12).

The author shows great reserve when pointing out the tentative nature of many issues involved in past studies of Amos. No universally satisfactory solution to many intensely studied problems, particularly those of an introductory nature, has emerged. One difficult passage and "the most notorious crux interpretum of the book of Amos" (p. 45), Amos 7:14, continues to elude scholarly consensus. In fact, the issue of Amos' role as a prophet remains largely unresolved (p. 45). Even Amos' place of origin is problematic. Disputing with Stanly Rosen-baum, who argued that Amos' home of Tekoa was in the north, the author defends the southern Tekoa solution and concludes, "It appears that the northern Tekoa hypothesis calls for complex linguistic exercises that go beyond the readings of the Hebrew text" (p. 55).

Because Amos was the first of the writing prophets, continuity with earlier Scripture is a major focus in the book's analysis. To what extent does Amos introduce new or build upon old elements in Israel's religion? An answer to this question highlights the importance of the prophet's use of earlier Scripture. He explains the continuity of themes in Amos neither as "linked singularly to cultic, wisdom or other traditions" (p. 75) nor to the covenant alone. He uses internal evidence to conclude, "The thought and connections of Amos are too rich to restrict him to one or another major tradition" (p. 75), and again, "The current trend is to steer away from the unilinear backgrounds and connections and to see Amos as drawing on a rich reservoir of Israelite thought that he creatively adapts and transforms to his proclamation" (p. 81).

Hasel has provided a current survey of the enormous accumulation of scholarly research on Amos. The issues with which he deals are necessarily selective, but they supply a basis for Hasel's interpretation of Amos. His extensive work on the remnant theme furnishes a most important support for the unified interpretation of the book and a defense of the book's unity. Those preaching and teaching the book of Amos will find this to be one of the most concise, best-organized, and amazingly readable treatments of Amos (a good companion to Shalom Paul's new commentary on Amos).