Hosea & Amos: Prophets to the North

Hosea and Amos share prophetic concern for a nation in turmoil.

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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.)

Judgment for Social Injustice

The first five oracles in Amos are pronounced against neighboring peoples. All are indicted for war crimes. The sixth oracle accuses Judah of disregarding the Torah and God's laws, while the seventh sets out Amos' prophetic agenda: Israel will be punished for its treatment of the poor and righteous, for offenses against the code of sexual ethics, for keeping a pledge overnight, and inappropriate behavior at a shrine. The essential qualities for Amos are mishpat (correct judgment) and tzedakah (righteousness).

 It is upon those who pervert justice and throw aside righteousness that disaster will fall. Addressing the northern kingdom (referring to it as "Yosef" or Joseph ), Amos describes a society in which the righteous are hated, bribes are taken and the poor are turned away. People are traded for the price of a pair of sandals while others lie on couches, eating choice meats making music and drinking wine. Feeling themselves to be secure they have no concern for the plight of Yosef, the nation as a whole. They will be the first to be taken away.

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