Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Hadjiev,Tchavdar S., The Composition and Redaction of the Book of Amos (BZAW, 393; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2009). Pp xvii+247. Hardcover, US$112.00. ISBN 978-3-11-021271-6.

Two opposite trends pervade the research on the book of Amos. On the one hand, valuable commentaries in English (e.g. by Anderson and Freedman in the Anchor Bible series[1] or by Paul in Hermeneia)[2] take most of the book for a unified literary work stemming from the preaching of the historical prophet of the eighth century b.c.e., or in the editorial work of his disciples. Many articles are devoted to synchronic studies, discerning (generally chiastic) structures covering pericopes[3] or even the entire book.[4] On the other hand, detailed works in German (for example, Wolff's commentary [5] and Rottzoll's monograph)[6] distinguish up to twelve stages in the compositional history of the Book, from before the fall of Samaria to the postexilic period. Admittedly, Rottzoll has already made an attempt to integrate some insights from the synchronic approaches in his own diachronic model, notably in postulating a “concentric redaction” whereby a redactor (RRK) created an overall chiastic organization for the book. Nevertheless, the contrast between the continental European exegesis and the English-speaking approach remains striking.

Tchavdar Hadjiev, in his doctoral dissertation under the supervision of H. G. M. Williamson submitted to the University of Oxford in 2007, and of which the present book is a slightly revised version, seeks to follow an intermediate approach in advocating a relatively simple model comprised of four stages. His reconstruction of the compositional history of the book of Amos may be outlined as follows:

(1) A “Polemical Scroll” (1:1*; 1:3–8, 13–15; 2:1–3, 6–16*; 9:7–8a; 3:3–8*; 7:1–8; 8:1–2; 9:1–4, 9–10; 7:10–17), was formed shortly before 734–32 b.c.e. or shortly before 722. It was an attempt by Amos' followers to defend the validity of his prophecies against his detractors, notably by interpreting the earthquake as the first step in a series of fulfillment of his predictions, leading to the nearly final destruction of the land.

(2) A “Repentance Scroll” (4:1–6:7), written between 733 and 722, consisted of an “urgent and desperate” call to change. An update then occurred in Judah, flanking the scroll with 3:9–15 and 6:8–14, the first now closely attached to the following verses (4:1–3) by thematic and semantic links, while the latter became attached to the immediately preceding passage (6:1–7) in a similar way. Hence the extant 3:9–6:14 formed the Judahite Repentance Scroll.

(3) The combination of the two former scrolls, bound by the hymnic passages (1:2; 4:13; 5:8–9; 9:5–6), may have occurred in the 7th century b.c.e..

(4) An exilic redactor, in Judah rather than in the Golah, expanded the text in several directions. First, he extended the oracles against the nations (OAN) by composing the oracles against Tyre, Edom, and Judah (1:9–12; 2:4–6) as well as by adding some verses (2:7b, 10–12) to the oracle against Israel. Second, he moved the Bethel narrative to its present place (7:10–17, inserting 7:9 to smooth the transition from the third vision), in order to identify the plumb-line with Amos. Third, he added 8:3–14; 9:7–15 as well as 5:25–27, and perhaps the note on the two kings in 1:1.

This study proves to be clear, well organized, well written and up-to-date. After an initial short status quaestionis and some methodological considerations, the bulk of the monograph consists of seven chapters revisiting the main sections of the book: the oracles against the nations, the visions, the Bethel narrative (7:9–17), the oracles after the fourth vision (8:3–14), the oracles after the fifth vision (9:7–15), the doxologies, and the central oracles (chs. 3–6). Finally, the author sums up his results by describing what he considers to be the compositional history of the book of Amos.

With regard to the method Hadjiev uses, it should be noted that it does not consist of a totally fresh study of each aspect of the book. Rather, the way he addresses each situation seems twofold: a) summing up and evaluating arguments that have been used by other exegetes to discern different compositional layers; b) using the ideas that seem still justified to him, and proposing other arguments concerning the unity of some sections as well as the delineation of different redactions.

As for the first kind of reasoning, in many instances Hadjiev meticulously discusses challenges to the authenticity of verse(s) under scrutiny. To that end, he firstly reviews the main opinions of several scholars about the origins of the verse(s), then he isolates their principal reasons for denying its connection to Amos himself or to his disciples, and he carefully points out the weaknesses of these arguments. For example, he methodically answers the major arguments for ascribing the fifth vision to a different redactor than the four others, or for taking it as a Fortschreibung to the report they form (pp. 62–76). As it appears, there is neither thematic discontinuity, nor sufficient formal differences to prove that Amos 9:1–4 stems from another author than the other visions. The possible hints of a later origin, whether they concern the (allegedly non-Amosian) style or the literary motifs, prove to be uncompelling. Similarly, Hadjiev examines the different kinds of arguments in support of a Dtr affiliation for the Bethel narrative (Amos 7:10–17). He shows that, strictly speaking, there is neither proof of influence from the Dtr ideology (pp. 83–86), nor literary dependence on particular Dtr passages (pp. 86–87), nor borrowing of Dtr language (p. 88). Thus this passage could be theoretically proto-Dtr or post-Dtr; Hadjiev adds some reasons in favor of the first option.

Admittedly, since Hadjiev does not address each argument of all the scholars who consider the verse(s) as later additions, some of them at least presumably would not be convinced by his refutation. On the other hand, answering all the ideas brought into the debate would hardly have been possible in such a monograph, and the selection that Hadjiev makes enables him all the same to undermine some significant foundations of many reconstructions. Moreover, most of his analyses in this respect prove to be clear, logical, thorough, and finally compelling. In fact, this ability to pertinently point out the weaknesses of many rationales that support models accepted by some scholars without discussion might be the most significant contribution of the present book to the research on the compositional criticism of the book of Amos. One could ask, indeed, whether some exegetes accept Wolff's or Rottzoll's impressive models after a close scrutiny of their lengthy and minute analyses, or simply take their validity for granted as a premise for their own research. The existence of such demandingly close scrutiny as Hadjiev's is healthy for research in that it compels future contributors to be more rigorous, and to resist the temptation to use the presence of some surprising features of the text as automatic criteria for discerning different literary interventions. For example, in reviewing some diachronic explanations for the intermixing of masculine and feminine grammatical forms in 4:1–3, Hadjiev points out their insufficiency and adopts McLaughlin's idea of idiosyncratic tendencies to use masculine forms in the Hebrew language (pp. 145–147). At the same time, since Hadjiev himself advocates a diachronic model in four major stages, he cannot be suspected of refusing a priori the use of composition-critical criteria in order to defend a conservative model.

The trouble is that the author seems more persuasive when critically evaluating the arguments of others than when offering new explanations. In a sense, by getting the reader used to taking a demanding look at the argumentation, he has made his own task of proposing a new hypothetical model rather difficult. In other words, applying the same kind of rigorous analysis that he developed for the previous models to his own positive reconstructions might lead to similar results. This concerns several individual rationales as well as the viability of his final model.

One example of a weak argument is Hadjiev's main reason for separating 3:9–15 and 6:8–16 from 4:1–6:7, which seems to consist in the difficulty of extending the concentric structure of 4:1–6:7 to 3:9–6:14 (pp. 179–84). The fact that 4:1–6:7 forms a unit all of one piece as a result of the concentric arrangement of its constituent oracles could well indicate that it was conceived, at a certain stage of the prehistory of the book, as a self-sufficient collection. However, this fact in itself says nothing about the date of the additions of the others parts of 3:9–6:14. Moreover, Hadjiev points out several links between 3:9–15 and 4:1 on the one hand, and between 6:1–7 and 6:8–14 on the other hand. He writes: “3:9–15 possesses a striking overall thematic consistency which is indissolubly related to the material that follows in chs 4–6” (p. 188). He chooses to interpret these links as the work of the redactor when joining them to the central section, but they could also be analyzed as the sign of authorial unity behind them. Thus, in this particular matter, Hadjiev seems to propose a credible scenario rather than a compelling one.

Likewise, Hadjiev seems more demanding with other authors than with himself when he adopts a postexilic date for the oracle against Edom (Amos 1:11–12). He knows perfectly well that competent commentators envisage several possible backgrounds for this oracle (pp. 43–44). But he adopts a postexilic date on the grounds that “Judean extreme anti-Edomite sentiment developed only in the 6th century” (p. 43, my italics), so that it would constitute the most probable background (p. 44). Considering the lacunae in our knowledge of the history of Israel and of Edom in the Iron Age, not to mention the limits of our knowledge of the evolution of their mutual sentiments, this kind of argument might entrench scholars who are already convinced, but it will not impress the historians. This is not to say that the context that Hadjiev retains does not make sense, but we are far from being offered a scientific proof here. With the same reasoning, we would date all the modern anti-Semitist writings to the period 1933–1945, since it is “the most probable period” for such appalling sentiments. This, unfortunately, would not match reality. Similarly, historical dating of ancient texts cannot consist merely in guesswork based on the little knowledge we have of the sentiments among the people who produced them, especially when there exists a multiplicity of possible contexts. In passing, it is a shame that Hadjiev does not examine the oracles against Damascus and against the Philistines due to space limitations (p. 42).

Regarding the global model he proposes, the “Polemical Scroll” (PS) seems at first to be negatively defined as the remaining oracles when the “Repentance Scroll” (RS) and the other additions are subtracted from the book of Amos (p. 193). However, Hadjiev gives reasons for considering it as a proper unit. There exist some links between the five original (according to Hadjiev) oracles against the nations (OAN) and the five visions, already pointed out by Wolff and Jeremias, and they share a common idea: the OAN insist on the fact that Yahweh will not “bring it back,” the visions exhibit an evolution in which God ceases to repent (“I will no longer pass by him,” 7:8; 8:2); the Bethel narrative could mark the breaking-off after which the announcement of the destruction becomes definitive.

The real problem lies in the fact that Hadjiev does not really establish the independence of the two collections of oracles he dubs the “Polemical Scroll” and the “Repentance Scroll.” It seems difficult to differentiate between such “scrolls” and steps consisting in provisional collections of oracles in the elaboration of the book, as conceived in models where it substantially goes back to the prophet (Andersen and Freedman, Paul, etc.). Should we to postulate two contemporaneous Amos “schools” independently collecting some of his oracles, both in the northern kingdom, and furthermore in a restricted period covering hardly more than a decade? Hadjiev dates the PS to the years shortly before 734–32 or shortly before 722 on the vague grounds that “the confident attitude of the audience addressed by the Polemical Scroll breathes a different air from the Repentance Scroll” (p. 198). Yet he ascribes the RS to the range 733–722, thus allowing the two scrolls to be completely contemporaneous.

With regard to the date of the RS, Hadjiev rightly points out that the oracles are addressed to the northern kingdom and would have no direct relevance to a Judean audience, hence a terminus ad quem in 722. On the other hand, the reason he gives for considering 733 as a terminus a quo is the interpretation of the “remnant of Joseph” in 5:15 (and a short allusion in 6:6) as referring to the reduction of the population and/or land due to Tiglath-Pileser III's invasion in 734/32 (p. 186). In itself, 5:15 is taken for an addition by a redactor possibly responsible for the ring structure in 5:1–17 (p. 166). However, if the oracles were updated following such a disaster of major scale, it is astonishing not to find more than a short and imprecise allusion to it. Moreover, other explanations of the expression “remnant of Joseph“ tracing it back to the time of Jeroboam II have been offered by commentators, as Hadjiev himself indicates (p.186 n. 17). It could, for example, have had a sense very close to the proposition made by Hadjiev but as a proleptic reference to the survivors of the doom announced by Amos. The vagueness of the allusion fits a general prediction better than an analepsis (flashback). As a result, his dating of the RS, albeit conceivable, remains fragile.

Furthermore, according to Hadjiev, the PS was an attempt to convince adversaries of the validity of the prophet's message, whereas the RS aimed to urge people to repent. Yet these differences in focus between the two scrolls could well be explained by the evolution in the career of Amos, as Hadjiev himself envisages; they do not necessitate different authorships or editions. Besides, he thinks that the aim of the compilers of the PS was to convince people of the accuracy of Amos' predictions based on the fact the earthquake was foretold by him (p. 198). However, the dating of this earthquake remains uncertain: the traditional date is ca. 760, but the archaeologists have provided various dates between 780 and 740.[7] Therefore, we have no means to measure the distance between this event and the period 733–722; it could have been half a century. In any case, it is doubtful that people who would not have been convinced by the marginal prophet during his career would have changed their minds because some of his followers claimed, decades after the earthquake, that he had foretold it. Therefore, it is also doubtful that redactors would have constructed the PS for such an uncertain purpose, and the Sitz im Leben of the so-called PS remains unknown.

Finally, although the existence of “scrolls” during the prehistory of the book of Amos seems plausible, this concept remains vague and the model proposed by Hadjiev with the PS and the RS contains, in the reviewer's opinion, several debatable aspects (their exact delineation and their independence), as well as some ill-defined parameters (their dating, Sitz im Leben and redaction milieu).

In sum, this book may be seen as a twofold contribution to scholarship. On the one hand, it includes a critical, thorough, and demanding evaluation of many arguments usually invoked in the compositional criticism of the book of Amos. On the other hand, it proposes a new model, less complex than Wolff's and Rottzoll's propositions, but which does not seems to the reviewer really compelling. At any rate, future works on the same topic will have to interact with Hadjiev's well-informed, careful, and methodical discussions, so his work is an important landmark in the scholarly study of the book of Amos.

Matthieu Richelle, Faculté de Théologie Evangélique (Vaux-sur-Seine)

[1] F. I. Anderson and D. N. Freedman, Amos: A new Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB, 24A; New York: Doubleday, 1989).

[2] S. Paul, Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).

[3] E.g. Y. Gitay, “A Study of Amos's Art of Speech: A Rhetorical Analysis of Amos 3:1–15,” CBQ 42 (1980): 293–309; N. J. Tromp, “Amos V 1–17: Towards a Stylistic and Rhetorical Analysis,” OTS 23 (1984): 65–85.

[4] E.g. A. van der Wal, “The Structure of Amos,” JSOT 26 (1983). 107–13; J. Limburg, “Sevenfold Structures in the Book of Amos,” JBL 106 (1987): 217–22; D. A. Dorsey, “Literary Architecture and Aural Structuring Techniques in Amos,” Bib 73 (1992): 305–30.

[5] H.-W. Wolff, Dodekapropheton 2: Joel und Amos (BKAT, XIV/2; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969).

[6] D. U. Rottzoll, Studien zur Redaktion und Komposition des Amosbuchs (BZAW, 243; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996).

[7] Z. Herzog and L. Singer-Avitz, “Redefining the Center: The Emergence of State in Judah,” Tel Aviv 31 (2004): 209–44, esp. 230; A. Fantalkin and I. Finkelstein, “The Sheshonq I Campaign and the 8th-Century-BCE Earthquake—More on the Archaeology and History of the South in the Iron I-IIA,” Tel Aviv 33 (2006): 18–42.