Author Archives: Anne-Marie Belinfante

About Anne-Marie Belinfante

Anne-Marie Belinfante is a specialist in Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.

Hosea & Amos: Prophets to the North

The Political World of Hosea and Amos

The prophecies of Hosea and Amos are part of a collection of books known as the trei asar (The Twelve) or the Minor Prophets. Both prophets were active during the eighth century B.C.E. during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah. Hosea apparently continued beyond this period through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah. 

Despite the essentially “religious” nature of prophecy, an understanding of the prevailing political and economic circumstances is a vital element in deciphering the prophets’ message. The first half of the eighth century B.C.E. brought a period of relative stability and prosperity to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for some segments of society at least. The relative weakness of Syria meant that Israel was no longer harried, nor subject to the payment of tribute, and Jeroboam extended the nation’s borders. Likewise in Judah, Uzziah enjoyed a long reign of relative peace and prosperity.

The end of the Jehu dynasty in the North came with the assassination of Jeroboam’s son Zechariah after a merely a year on the throne. Subsequently the kingdom descended into chaos. Between the death of Jeroboam and the fall of Samaria (the capital city) in 722, Israel had six kings, all but one of whom was assassinated. Beginning in 743 B.C.E., the westward sweep of the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser III contributed significantly to this chaos. The shifting patterns of foreign alliances, revolt against vassal status and return to payment of tribute are reflected in the book of Hosea.

Amos: “Neither a Prophet nor the Son of a Prophet”

Amos is introduced as a noked ( a shepherd or breeder of sheep) from Tekoa, a village in Judah. Elsewhere he is described as a cattleherder and a tender of sycamore trees. There has been much speculation as to the meaning of Amos’ statement that he is neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. (One possibility is that he was making it clear that he was not part of the circle of “professional” prophets, many of whom were attached to the courts of kings.)

Elijah & Elisha

The stories of the prophet Elijah and his protégé Elisha are found at the end of First Kings and the beginning of Second Kings (1 Kings 17-2 Kings 13). Elijah’s activity spanned the reigns of Ahab (reigned c. 871-854 BCE) and his two sons. Elisha then assumed the mantle and presided over the demise of the Omride dynasty and the accession of Jehu (c.842 BCE).

Elusive Prophet

Considering the wealth of tradition that now accompanies the figure of Elijah in Jewish tradition, he occupies comparatively little biblical text.  We have few personal details. He is introduced as the Tishbi from Gilead, a region to the east of the Jordan. He is neither a royal court nor sanctuary prophet and has gained a reputation for elusiveness, moving as the spirit of YHWH directs. (1 Kings 17:12). He is characterized as a hairy man wearing a girdle of leather around his loins (2 K. 1:8) 

The central theme of the Elijah narratives is his conflict with the monarch of the Northern Kingdom, Ahab, and his Phoenician born, Baal-worshipping wife Jezebel. It is Ahab’s accommodation of his wife’s religion  (erecting a temple and an altar to Baal in his capital Samaria, and making an asherah (a tree-like post symbolizing a fertility goddess), that places him at odds with YHWH and His prophet Elijah.

The Drought, and a Miracle

The prophet bursts onto the scene announcing to Ahab a drought.  YHWH instructs Elijah to hide in the wadi Kerit on the east side of the Jordan near Jericho. There he is fed by ravens. Elijah is then dispatched to the north to Zarfet in Phoenicia, where a widow looks him after.  On hearing his request for water and bread, the woman protests that she has only enough meal and oil to make a final meal for herself and her son before they die. Elijah’s assurance that that the meal and oil will last until the end of the drought proves to be the case.

However, with the death of her son, the woman lays the blame squarely on the “man of God” Elijah. Laying the boy on his own bed Elijah calls on YHWH to reverse the evil He has brought upon the widow. After stretching himself three times over the child’s body YHWH heeds his call and the child is restored.  Faced with such a miracle the woman declares,