Journal of Hebrew Scriptures – Volume 10 (2010) – Review

Garrett, Duane A., Amos: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text (BHHB; Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008). Pp. 304. Softcover. US$24.95. ISBN 978-1-932792-69-0.

This is the third volume in the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series, which focuses on the Hebrew text, rather than the social and historical background or the theology of Amos. In the introduction Garrett offers some brief comments on Amos' redaction and structure, concluding that “redaction-critical approaches are neither compelling nor heuristically valuable” and adopting, with some minor modifications, the structure proposed by James Limburg in his 1987 article “Sevenfold Structures in the Book of Amos.”[1] Thus, for Garrett, the book of Amos falls into the following seven parts, each of which features seven divine speech formulas: 1:1–2; 1:3–2:16; 3:1–15; 4:1–13; 5:1–6:14; 7:1–8:3; and 8:4–9:15. One of Garrett's express concerns is to demonstrate the internal coherence of these sections and he argues that the six major divisions (i.e. excluding 1:1–2) follow a chiastic pattern.

Turning to the conventions of his commentary, Garrett explains that, whereas prose sections are analyzed on a clause-by-clause basis, poetic texts are discussed line by line, taking into consideration the major disjunctive marks of the cantillation system as well as the “line constraints” outlined by Michael P. O'Connor,[2] and William Holladay.[3] These “line constraints” suggest that poetic lines may have from 0 to 3 clause predicators, from 1 to 4 constituents (which are defined as words or phrases filling one grammatical slot), and from 2 to 5 units (which are essentially equivalent to individual words).

Following these introductory explanations, the main part of the book is devoted to a close analysis of the Hebrew text of Amos. To illustrate Garrett's approach, I shall focus on his analysis of Amos' oracles against the nations in 1:3–2:16. The discussion opens with some general comments, which include structural observations (e.g. that Amos may be geographically encircling Israel, or that the prophet's rhetoric may be based on the nations' ethnicity), a reference to the rhetoric of entrapment employed by the prophet, as well as comments on the characteristics of the individual poems (esp. regarding their formulaic use of language) and the pattern of concatenation proposed by Shalom Paul.[4] A translation of the passage then leads into Garrett's analysis of the Hebrew text.

Moving from one oracle (or poem, as Garrett prefers to call them) to the next, he comments on stanzas and strophes, the relationship between adjacent lines as well as general syntactical issues. He also offers brief summaries of the poems' content. This then leads to his line-by-line (or, in the case of prose sections, clause-by-clause) analysis. For each line of Hebrew text, Garrett identifies the colon marker and the constraints, i.e. the number of predicators, constituents, and units, before turning to an analysis of the individual constituents. The focus here is not on morphology, however, and Garrett does not normally provide translations, as the Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible series assumes some familiarity with the Hebrew language. It is the syntactical and discourse levels that receive particular attention, as Garrett elucidates issues such as the use of prepositional phrases, gapping, apodosis–protasis constructions, and tropes, to name but a few. Morphological help is, however, regularly offered in the case of verbs. For instance, the constituent לֹא אֲשִׁיבֶנּוּ is explained as a “negated hiphil yiqtol 1 c s of שׁוּב with 3 m s suffix.” As can be seen from this example, in line with recent developments in the study of Hebrew grammar, conjugations are identified as qatal, yiqtol, wayyiqtol, weqatal, and weyiqtol.

There is much to commend in this handbook on the Hebrew text of Amos, which offers the kind of help with Hebrew syntax and discourse that can sometimes be hard to come by in a traditional commentary. But Garrett's discussion is not limited to these issues, for he also engages fully in the exegetical investigation of the text. For instance, regarding the phrase הַשֹּׁאֲפִים עַל־עֲפַר־אֶרֶץ in 2:7, he makes a strong case for retaining the usual translation of שׁאף as “pant” or “sniff” (the vast majority of commentators either amend the text to שׁוּף or take שׁאף to be a by-form of the former, which they understand to mean “trample”), suggesting that it means “they sniff at the dust of the earth” and that “the oppressors are metaphorically represented as a pack of hunting dogs seeking their prey” (pp. 58–59).

Similarly, he argues that 2:13 is best understood along the lines of “I am weighted down under you, just as a cart filled to the brim (‘to the brim‘ is Garrett's rendering of לָהּ, lit. ‘to herself‘) with sheaves is weighted down.” Garrett's main reason for reverting to a rendering that was adopted, for instance, in the KJV but has been rejected by most modern commentators is that he regards עוּק hiphil as intransitive. And he criticizes Paul[5] for his inconsistency of taking the verb as transitive in the first line of v. 13 but as intransitive in the second line.

Regardless of whether one accepts all his conclusions (I certainly remain unconvinced of the suggestion that the book of Amos features a chiastic arrangement), it is clear that Garrett's handbook has much to offer, both in terms of providing students of the text with valuable help regarding matters of Hebrew syntax and discourse, and in making a noteworthy contribution to the exegesis of the book of Amos. A useful glossary, a bibliography, and indices of authors and subjects conclude the book.

Karl Möller, University of Cumbria

[1] JBL 106 (1987): 217–22. reference

[2] Hebrew Verse Structure (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1980). reference

[3] “Hebrew Verse Structure Revisited,” JBL 118 (1999): 19–32, 401–16. reference

[4] Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991). reference

[5] Amos. reference