Fragments of a Hymn in Amos

Hymnic Fragments?
Their Function in the Structure of the Book
Ambiguity
      cf. Adonai's Day

Hymnic Fragments?

Some prophetic books contain whole psalms (Is 42:10-13; Jer 15:10-21; Ez 19:1-14; Jon 2:2-9; Hab 3). There is no such piece in Amos, however there are a number of short pieces which have the form and style of a hymn (Am 1:2 ; 4:13 ; 5:8-9 ; 9:5-6 ). Each has strong parallelism between paired lines, and a dominant rhythm of three word-units to the line. The last three have common vocabulary and themes which also add to the sense of cohesion among them. This can be seen if we place very literal renderings of these fragments together (word-units in Hebrew are indicated by spacing (with a line count) and participles by red italics.

Notice how well the pieces, though separated in Amos, fit together.

A common motif is the declaration that his name is Adonai.

Words and phrases are echoed from one to another, and the lines beginning with participles reinforces this sense of cohesion. Whether this is the "right" order for the parts the certainly seem to work as parts of a coherent psalm.

The first of these verses ( 1:2 ) fits the "pattern" least well, it does not make use of participles to describe God, nor does it declare that "his name is Adonai". However it begins using his name as subject, declares how he "roars" from Zion and the consequence that the shepherds' pasture "withers" - the word here is `abal which most commonly means "mourn" and that is how it is translated in 9:5 .

The verse also shares with the others the motif of reversal, in particular reversal concerning water. In 5:8 and 9:6 the reversal is in "pouring out the waters of the sea" on the land, while in 1:2 it is the opposite, not pouring out the waters of rain on the land.

So, while 1:2 may have a similar Sitz im Leben it is likely to have come from a different psalm from the others.

Ambiguity

Read in the context of the book of Amos, yet read as fragments of an existing hymn, so probably known to the readers/hearers, these verses show deep ambiguity. This is most striking for the three that look like parts of the same hymn (4:13 ; 5:8-9 ; 9:5-6 ).

In the context of a hymn used in worship the words:

"The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deathly darkness into dawn,
and darkens day into night"

sound like a comforting reassurance that the maker of the stars will ensure the regular cycle of day and night. However heard following the accusation of 5:7 their effect is different, and we notice that though it starts with turning darkness to dawn, it ends with day darkened to night!

Sung as a temple hymn the following words are a promise of needed rain:

"who calls the waters of the sea,
and pours them out across the land,"

Read as words of Amos, they suggest the great flood from the ancient story of Noah, and God's final judgment.

 


This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos commentary, if you have reached it as a standalone page, to view it in context, go to www.bible.gen.nz
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley . All rights reserved.