Denver Journal

Denver Journal

The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos.

03.17.11 | Denver Journal, Old Testament, M. Daniel Carroll R. | by Tchavdar S. Hadjiev

    M. Daniel Carroll R. review of Tchavdar S. Hadiev's book

    Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos. Beihefte zur Zieischrift für die alttestamenthliche Wissenschaft 393. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009. xviii + 247 pp. Hardback, $112.00. ISBN 978-3-11-021271-6.

    The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos is a slightly revised doctoral thesis that was supervised by H. G. M. Williamson at the University of Oxford and completed in 2007. As the title indicates, the author’s goal is to reconstruct the compositional and redaction history of the Book of Amos. These two terms, which often are employed interchangeably in scholarship, refer to different processes to Hadjiev. He explains his terminology on the opening page: “Composition” refers to the “initial stage(s) of the creation of a prophetic book when various disparate (literary and/or oral) traditions are brought together to form one larger literary whole.” “Redaction,” he says, “is a subsequent literary activity in which tradents insert new material into a pre-existing work, or change, rearrange or omit already existing material” (p. 1). The task of the book is to sort out these developments and then explain how the present, canonical shape of the Book of Amos arose.

    This volume is divided into nine chapters. The first chapter reviews scholarship regarding the authorship and redaction of the book of Amos (pp. 1-23). This is a very capable overview of various theories on these matters. One particularly useful component of this section is his list of arguments against the recent tendency to date the Book of Amos (and most of the Old Testament) to the post-exilic period and Persian Yehud (pp. 12-23). He offers at least eight reasons why that theory does not fit the textual or historical data. These include, for example, the anonymity of the enemy, the fact that the exile is not central to the book’s message and is only one of the calamities to be suffered in judgment, the importance of the Northern Kingdom/Israel, the existence of Israel’s armies, and the lack of emphasis on Jerusalem and its temple. Another helpful part of the first chapter presents the author’s eight criteria for identifying what he labels “redactional interventions” in the text. These are literary breaks, later linguistic and theological influences, thematic tensions, later historical situations, unusual style and ideas, literary dependence on later passages, the presence of different structures, and a method of identifying passages of the same redaction layer (pp. 25-40). This transparency and consistency in approach is not common among commentators, so the author is to be commended. At the same time, however, one cannot but feel that the argumentation can be subjective and speculative. On the one hand, some of the listed literary points demand a uniformity that may not be a fair expectation of ancient authors; on the other hand, some of those inconsistencies may well have been by design for literary-theological effect. His method looks for diachronic explanations for structural or linguistic difference; others would seek literary explanations and disagree with his reconstructions. Hadjiev will admit that, in some cases, his suggestions may not be convincing, but he asserts that the cumulative force of the entire presentation makes for a stronger case.

    Chapters two through eight discuss the passages that would reflect editorial work and additions to each of the major sections of the prophetic book. These chapters are a wonderful resource for detailed surveys of different scholarly positions on textual details, and the footnotes can serve as up-to-date bibliographies of modern debates. Hadjiev has done a good piece of doctoral work here! Chapter two deals with the Oracles against the Nations (Amos 1-2), chapter three the visions of Amos 7-9, chapter four the narrative of 7:9-17, chapter five the oracles that follow the fourth vision (8:3-14), chapter six the closing oracles (9:7-15), chapter seven the initial motto and the three so-called doxologies (4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6), and chapter eight the oracles of Amos 3-6.

    In such a detailed rehearsal of textual data and redactional suggestions, it would require a much longer review to evaluate the proposals in each chapter. I do not find many of these persuasive, and alternative analyses are available. There are also some factual limitations and faulty reasoning within the larger arguments. I mention three examples. The first concerns the historical material related to Edom (Amos 1:11-12). Hadjiev claims that the “archaeological evidence suggests that Edom’s state consolidated only in the 8th century BC and Edomite prosperity and growing power was a direct result of the establishment of Assyrian control over the area” (pp. 44-45). This has been a standard position, but the sources he cites are dated. Hadjiev does not mention the recent archaeological work of Thomas Levy and his team that now offers a very different picture of the status and history of Edom prior to that date. A second example of critical commitments overriding historical evidence concerns the mention of Gath in Amos 6:2. He cites but does not engage in depth the important excavations of Aren Maier at Gath (Tell es-Safi), and then states, “whatever is decided on the historical front, it must be born in mind that this is only half of the picture and the literary argument for the secondary character of v. 2 must still be addressed” (p. 172). Critical considerations trump historical evidence.

    A third illustration of this reviewer’s frustration is the treatment of the hapax legomenon ’anak in Amos 7:7-8 (pp. 89-95). A common, long-standing translation is “plumb line,” but over four decades ago a study demonstrated that a more correct translation is “tin.” Hadjiev cannot figure out how “tin” fits here, and suggests that, “some exegetical imagination, therefore, has to be exercised to explain the vision” (p. 89). In this reviewer’s mind, its significance within the flow of Amos 6-7 is clear: Israel’s armies have enjoyed only hollow victories (which the text mocks) and will be defeated, as the country will be overrun (6:13-14); the nation actually is small and weak (7:1-6); and its religious center and monarchy will be destroyed, and this judgment is connected to downfall in war (7:9-17). Within this context the wall of tin symbolizes and continues the theme of vulnerability and pretentious self-deception (at a distance the wall can appear strong, because it is made of metal). Yet, because 7:9-17 are later additions, according to the author’s scheme, the military and religious interconnections are not perceived. The plumb line is interpreted to represent the prophet, and the classical view that its function is to show that the nation is not true to the demands of God is maintained (which is also the published position of his advisor). Again, critical commitments are foundational and override the data, which in this case is linguistic.

    In the final and ninth chapter, Hadjiev puts forth his theory of how the Book of Amos was produced. He postulates four stages. He envisions two compositions, which were combined, and then one redaction. One composition is the first edition of the “Repentance Scroll” (4:1-6:7), so called because it contains the calls to seek God (5:4-6, 14-15). This is made up of a ring, or chiastic, structure. A second edition of this composition added the introductory material of 3:9-15 and 6:8-14. He dates the former to 733-722 BCE, the latter to after 722. The second composition Hadjiev labels the “Polemical Scroll,” because it reflects the debates centered on the message of the prophet. This composition consists of the five original oracles against the nations in Amos 1-2 (the Tyre, Edom, and Judah oracles are excluded), the five visions of Amos 7-9, as well as 7:10-17, 3:3-8*, and 9:7, 9-10. It can be dated to 734-722. How and why two compositions rooted in the ministry of the prophet Amos could have coexisted and been preserved as such (and by whom) is not explained. These two compositions, he believes, were combined in Judah in the 7th century. This would have included the addition of material, and a few existing passages would have been relocated to integrate the work into a single whole. For the last stage Hadjiev envisions a single exilic redaction produced in Judah before the return of the exiles, which was meant to explain the disaster of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 and offer a word of hope. This redaction included the Tyre, Edom and Judah oracles of Amos 1-2; 2:7b, 10-12; 5:25-27; 7:9; 8:3-14; and 9:7-15.

    Like other authors, Hadjiev speculates about what these successive stages looked like and how they were reworked. For instance, he believes that in the Polemical Scroll the five original oracles against the nations were followed by 9:7 and 3:3-8*, while 9:9-10 and 7:10-17 followed the five visions. Note how the order differs from the present form of the Book of Amos. The compiler of the two compositions and the redaction, he argues, transposed verses and added others to smooth transitions. For example, the final redaction supposedly moved 7:10-17 from its position after all the visions to follow the third vision (7:7-8) and then composed 7:9 as a bridging connection between the two passages. This sort of complexity cannot be proved and depends solely on a scholar’s sense of what he or she feels makes sense. The subjectivity of this kind of exercise is admitted by the author: “The nature of this reconstruction is of necessity highly hypothetical but my hope is that the literary analysis of the text has demonstrated that it possesses at least a certain measure of plausibility” (p. 209). This does not mean that there were no additions made to the Book of Amos by later scribes, nor does it deny the possibility that there may have been some reordering of the prophetic material. Our claim, however, is that these changes are extremely difficult to substantiate for lack of evidence and because many suggestions by critics can be explained on other grounds and do not require the processes that some scholarship has proposed.

    This is a scholarly work that, as mentioned earlier, is a very good resource for anyone interested in Amos research. Discussions are comprehensive and well-written, and the footnotes and bibliography are extensive. One complaint is that this volume has only an author index. An index of biblical passages would have made it even more useful. Although this reviewer confesses to not agreeing with some of the presuppositions and much of the methodology of The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos, I commend it—not only for its value as a reference tool, but also as a carefully thought-out and fresh contribution to a certain trajectory of research.

    M. Daniel Carroll R., Ph.D.
    Distinguished Professor of Old Testament
    Denver Seminary
    March 2011