Vision and Prophecy in Amos
A review of John Watts', "Vision and Prophecy in Amos," by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R.
Watts, John D. W. Vision and Prophecy in Amos. Anniversary ed. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997. $18.98. 144 pp.
The appearance of this volume marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of a book of this title by E. J. Brill in 1958. This edition, however, contains not only the four chapters of that book (albeit in a different order, as chapters two through five), but also four others that were presented as papers at later dates or are articles published elsewhere.
For those versed in Amos studies, Watts’ 1958 volume is a familiar classic. Although some of the views expressed in that work are held by few today (for example, his textual emendations and the reconstruction of the cultic origin of the doxologies in that prophetic book: “An Old Hymn Preserved in the Book of Amos,” chapter two [chapter three in the original volume]), Watts’ book offered helpful summaries of Amos research of that time, as well as stimulating discussions on the biblical material. In addition to this investigation of the hymn(s) in Amos, this edition reproduces “What Kind of Prophet Was Amos?” (‘ a substantial citizen of Tekoa,’ familiar with the cult and called to announce judgment), “Vision and Oracle in Amos” (an attempt to coordinate the visions with the stages in the prophet’s career), “Amos’s Eschatology” (the concept of the Day of the Lord, whuich he links with the autumn New Year festival). These four chapters appear as first published, without any updating of footnotes or revisions in content. Two other chapters in this edition also are pieces first published decades ago: “The Origin of the Book of Amos” (The Expository Times 66 ) and “Amos – The Man and His Message” (Southwestern Journal of Theology 9 ).
“Amos: Across Fifty Years of Study” (chapter seven; originally appeared in Review & Expositor 92 ) is a testimony of the pilgrimmage of this now retired scholar. Watts speaks of his early interest in writing on historical, text critical, theological , and form critical matters. More recently, his focus has been on literary issues and the integration of Amos into the Book of the Twelve. There is no mention, though, of pursuing areas now prominent in Amos research and prophetic studies in general – for instance, sociological approaches (of both the exegete and the background of the prophetic message), literary studies of a different sort than his that deal with characterization, internal structure and coherence and the like (e.g., Meynet and this reviewer), and comparisons with the prophecy of the Ancient Near east.
The issue of the book of the Twelve occupies the book’s final chapter, a reproduction of a paper given at the annual meeting of the Institute of Biblical Research in November 1990, in New Orleans. This topic has generated an entire field of study over the last few years, and scholars are propounding a variety of hypotheses concerning the possible techniques of an intentional compositional strategy to mold this collection of prophetic books into a single literary whole. Watts’ proposal is that the Twelve be considered a drama in which several personae give speeches in different settings; this drama, he suggests, could simply be literary or perhaps might even have been presented on stage.
Watts believes that this macro-genre of drama is evident, too, in Isaiah, a point of view fleshed out in his commentary on that book in the Word Biblical Commentary series. He suggests that Israelite literature might have been influenced by the dramas of Greek literature in the fifth century BCE. Isaiah and the Twelve would reflect this impact. His suggestion concerning Isaiah has met with little acceptance, and the projection of this concept onto the Book of the Twelve will probably meet the same fate. There is no evidence of such cross-fertilization, and his literary understanding is very distant from the literary approaches that now dominate prophetic studies.
In sum, this book can be a handy volume for those without access to the 1958 publication and to the other related offerings by this Southern Baptist scholar which are gathered here. There is little, however, for those seeking new insights and direction in Amos research today and in the future. Rather, this book is a memorial to the committment of an experienced hand of someone convinced that the prophetic message of Amos remains relevant across the centuries.
M. Daniel Carroll R.