The Samaria Ivories

AMOS 3 The reference to"houses adorned with ivory" in Amos 3:15 finds confirmation in the discovery of the Samaria Ivories, a collection of hundreds of pieces of artwork, including over 200 fragments uncovered in the rubbish heap of a building on the city's acropolis.' This"ivory building" is associated with the Israelite king Ahab (c.874-853 B.c.), who is said to have constructed a palace "inlaid with ivory" in Samaria (1Ki 22:39).2 An alabaster jar found with the largest of the ivories and incised with the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Osorkon II (874-850 B.c.) is contemporary with Ahab. There are also other ivories discovered throughout Syria-Palestine and Mesopotamia that date to the same general period and resemble the Samarian artifacts in craftsmanship and style.

The artistic features of these ivories appear to have originated in Phoenicia,4 an area strongly influenced by Egyptian motifs and artwork. Characters from Egyptian mythology often appear in the collection, which also includes ivory plaques incised with Hebrew script—most likely inlays for palace furniture. These plaques could be related to the "beds inlaid with ivory" of which Amos spoke in 6:4.

The Nimrud Ivories

AMOS 6 Amos 6:4 spoke of "beds inlaid with ivory"and attested to the availability of ivory in Israel, as well as to the high esteem in which it was held. Indeed, throughout the Near East elephant ivory was treasured as a medium for artwork. A large collection of carved ivories was discovered in the palace area of Nimrud, an Assyrian, city on the eastern bank of the Tigris.These ivory carvings were artistic masterpieces in the form of human figures, animals (both real and mythological)„ plants and abstractions. Many of these carved pieces were originally covered in gold. On the other hand, many of the objects were used for practical purposes. For example, one ivory piece was the handle of a fly-whisk or a fan,and another carving was used as a blinder for a horse.

In 1961 fragments of an ivory plaque were unearthed at Nimrud. Surprisingly, in light of how far removed this site is from Israel,this plaque had a Hebrew inscription. Because of the broken condition of the find, a complete and certain translation is impossible.Even so, the plaque appears to contain the phrases,"the great king" (evidently refer-ring to the king of Assyria; 2Ki 18:19) and "may Yahweh shatter. "The plaque dates to around 750 B.C. and was either part of the tribute given to the Assyrians or taken as booty by the Assyrian army after the Assyrians had destroyed Samaria in 722 B.C.

Prophets in the Bible and Pagan Nations

AMOS 7 Prophecy was a common feature in the world of the Old Testament. Men and women who were called by God to speak on his behalf were known by a variety of Hebrew terms that may be variously translated as "prophet [prophetess]," "seer," "visionary"and"man of God." Since there was no substantial difference among these terms, the Septuagint often translates "prophet," "seer" and "visionary" with the single Greek word for "prophet." Early prophets in Israel seem to have been connected to a prophetic group (e.g., "the company of the prophets" who followed Elisha; 2Ki 2:3) while later prophets appear to have been more independent. Archaeological confirmation of prophetic activity in Israel is seen in the Lachish ostracon that speaks of a certain person called the"prophet."

Yet prophecy was not a phenomenon unique to Israel, as the Bible itself attests (cf. "prophets of Baa I" and"prophets of Asherah" in 1Ki 18:19). Ancient texts have yielded numerous examples of pagan prophets:

    • The archive from the city of Mari on the Middle Euphrates,2 dated to the mid-eighteenth century B.C., speaks of a number of men and women who addressed the king on behalf of the gods. Like the Biblical terms for prophets, multiple titles were given to these individuals at Mari, including on one occasion the term nabu, the Akkadian equivalent of the Hebrew navi ("prophet").While some of the Mari prophets were connected to religious sites as priests or servants of a temple, many appear to have been ordinary people from various walks of life. Ecstatic behavior, seen among Biblical prophets in Samuel's day (1Sa 19:24) and later in Ezekiel's (Eze 4:4), was also evident at Mari. 4- An ecstatic seer called a "man of god" is attested in the fourteenth century B.C. Hittite Prayer of Mursilis.

    • The eleventh-century B.C. Egyptian story of Wen Amon tells of a page in the court of the king of Byblos who was seemingly possessed by a god during an offertory ritual, as evidenced by his ec-static behavior.

    • An inscription from the eighth-century B.C. Syrian state of Hamath recounts the story of a man named Zakir praying to Baal for his besieged city and subsequently receiving assurance of divine assistance through seers and other inspired people.

    • Late eighth-century B.C. plaster texts from Deir Allah speak of a certain Balaam, who is said to be "a seer of the gods"and who, later in the story, sees a vision from the god El.

As God's spokesman in 7:14, Amos es-chewed any prophetic title, perhaps because of unwanted associations with the term in his day. As seen in so many other parts of Scripture, the words of Amos enforce the reality that God uses everyday people to carry out his will.

Weights and Measures

AMOS 8 Weights in the ancient world were crafted of either metal or semiprecious stones, often carved in the shapes of ducks, lions or turtles. They had a flat base and were inscribed with their weight standard. The law called for standardized weights and measures (Lev 19:35 —36), and yet, of the weights that have been found, very few of the same denomination are identical. It is important to note that ancient weights were never able to achieve the precision of modern standards, due in part to the method of production, as well as to standards that varied at different times and in different regions. Thus, they must be thought of as commonly accepted estimates. Those who knowingly used dishonest weights and balances came under prophetic critique for defrauding God and their fellow human beings (Am 8:5-6; Mic 6:11; Mal 3:8-10).

The talent, the largest standard weight used for gold, silver, iron and bronze (1Ki 10:14; 2Ki 23:33), weighed approximately 75 pounds (34 kg). The mina, .017 of a talent, most likely was incorporated as a postexilic measure and was made infamous in the judgment of Belshazzar, who was "weighed" by God and found to be deficient (Da 5:27).2 The shekel, derived from the verb "to weigh," was the primary weight unit of ancient Israel, yet its valuation displays a certain degree of variability. The common shekel was approximately .41 ounces or 11.6 grams, the royal shekel about .46 ounces or 13 grams (2Sa 14:26) and the sanctuary shekel about .35 ounces or 9.9 grams (Lev 5:15). Subdivisions of the shekel include the beka, valued at half a sanctuary shekel (Ex 38:26), and the gerah, valued at .05 of a sanctuary shekel (Ex 30:13).

Since height and length were measured in ancient cultures by laying the forearm or hand upon an object, linear measures were named after the parts of the arm by which they were counted. The cubit, or "forearm," was the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger and was used to measure height, depth and distance (Jos 3:4; 1Sa 17:4; Zec 5:2). While the Bible records varying cubit standards in the Hebrew system of measurement, the "ordinary cubit" was approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 cm). Other measures in decreasing size were: the span (Ex 39:9), counted as the breadth of an out-stretched hand from thumb to little finger and equaling half a cubit; the palm (1Ki 7:26), the width of the base of the hand; and the width of the finger (Jer 52:21).

Capacity measures throughout the ancient Near East bore common names and were essentially similar. The homer, a "donkey load," was equivalent to a cor, both equaling an average of 158.5 quarts (150 I) and used for cereals such as wheat and barley., The ephah, measuring .10 of a homer, was a vessel large enough to hold a person (Zec 5:6-8). An omer, meaning "small bowl," was equivalent to .10 of an ephah and identified as the daily bread ration (Ex 16:32, 36). The bath' and hin' were the two major liquid measures used for water, wine and oil. The bath was the liquid equivalent of the ephah (2Ch 2:10; Isa 5:10), while the hin, named after a measuring vessel, was equal to .1666 of a bath (6.34 qts or 61).

The Unity of Amos

AMOS 9 Some scholars have argued that the latter part of Amos 9 is stylistically inferior to the rest of the book and that the book of Amos is actually a haphazard collection of writings from various authors that was compiled many years after the time of the prophet (Amos himself lived during the eighth century B.C.). In particular, many scholars believe that Amos did not write 9:11-15. However, this perspective denies the inherent unity that permeates the book. The linguistic and structural elements of Amos create a solid, cohesive work of literature. Indications of the book's integration are as follows:

    • Precise structure allows the work to be divided into logical sections, as outlined below (see also the briefer outline in the introduction):

Amos 1-2 describes judgment on eight nations with the pattern,"For three sins ... , even for four ..."

-3:1-15 has an introduction and three parts; each begins with a lion metaphor (vv. 4,8,12).

-4:1-13 describes deficits in Israel: The women lacked compassion, the shrines lacked holiness and the land lacked rain and crops.

-8:7-9:15 is held together by parallels that not only show this as coherent text but imply that 9:11-15 be-longs with the preceding text. 8:7-8: Yahweh swears an oath not to forget Israel's sins (v. 7); the land will rise [heave] like the Nile (v.8).

-8:9-14: "In that day" (v. 9) there will be darkness and famine for Israel (vv. 10– 14).

-9:1– 10: Yahweh stands on the altar and makes a solemn declaration to pursue Israelites wherever they flee (vv. 1-4; this parallels God's oath in 8:7) and says that Samaria will rise like the Nile (vv. 5 –10; this parallels v.8:8).

-9:11-15: "In that day" (v. 11;this parallels 8:9) there will be deliverance for Israel and abundant harvest (9:13; this parallels the famine in 8:11).

    • The book employs inclusion, a literary device whereby the first and last sections (in this case, chs. 1 and 9) share several literary connections. For example,

Amos 1:2 refers to Carmel,which is not mentioned again until 9:3.

Judah, "David's fallen tent" (v. 11), would be restored and rebuilt.This parallels the mention of" Zion" (Jerusalem) in 1:2.

Other parallels in vocabulary, literary technique and theme between chapter 9 and the rest of the book demonstrate that the text of Amos is indeed unified linguistically and artistically from beginning to end.