Narrative Poetics of Am 7:10-17

Narrator

The narrator of this little account is not evident, there are no surface features of the text which identify its "speaker". This is not uncommon in biblical narrative, biblical narrators are usually "distant" yet "omniscient".

Scholars have tended to suppose that the narrator is a disciple of Amos. This fits well with the third person style (both Amos and Amaziah are "he"), yet with the adoption of Amos' point of view.

On the surface little declares one perspective, however
the presence of the story in a book largely containing Amos' speech,
the quantity of his speech in the telling - vv.14-17 -
and the fact that he is the hero - the only other character, Amaziah, ends being viewed most negatively -
all contribute to ensuring that Amos' is the dominant point of view.

Some have read 7:10-17 as autobiography. Interestingly the text provides no real evidence to confirm either impression, the narrator is truly "distant".

Narration

Again typical of biblical narrative is the absence of description and the reliance on the words and actions of the characters to tell the tale.

This piece strongly focuses on words. Though we hear at the very start of Amaziah's action: he sent to Jeroboam... the rest of v.10 is a report of his message, and the only other words that are not direct speech are the beginning of vv.12 & 14 (the introduction to v.11 is part of Amaziah's message).

Speech

The significance of speech in this piece can be seen in two ways. Firstly its sheer quantity, only three phrases are not direct speech or messages. Secondly by the level of reported speech and messages within the character's speech:

Amaziah's message to Jeroboam reports Amos words
Amos' reply first cites Adonai's instructions; then begins to declare Adonai's message to Amaziah, quoting his own words; before returning to report Adonai's judgment.

Amaziah's speech (v.16) is cited within Adonai's message, which is spoken by Amos. Three levels of speech, and ten changes of speaker, or of level of quotation, in just eight verses.

Narrative Speed

This story begins with action so fast it is not mentioned. Amaziah sent to Jeroboam..., then before the results of this action are mentioned we hear him speak to Amos (who presumably was not present at the sending of the message). From this point the action and telling move at the same pace. Notice though that the segments of speech become longer, putting the emphasis on the end.

Plot and Storyline

This story begins abruptly. The characters are not introduced (beyond the appellation "priest of Bethel" identifying Amaziah) the place is not mentioned, nor is the time. Indeed, unless Amaziah's report to the king presents the problem to be overcome there is no plot.

Similarly there is no denouement or resolution, we are not told how the conflict between priest and prophet ended. This leads readers (such as Andersen & Freedman, 70) to invent their own endings to the story supplying what is lacking in the canonical version.

In this respect Wolf was right, the focus of this narrative is on the speech. However I will argue below that it is not the oracle against Amaziah which is highlighted, but rather the processes and fact of speech, and of messenger speech in particular.

Purpose and Function

I have argued that 7:10-17 is narrative, but recognized that it is unusual in its lack of plot and in its use of direct speech. These peculiarities can be understood in the light of its purpose.

The setting, in the royal temple at Bethel, is significant (it underlines Amaziah's professional commitment to the Israelite state).

As we have seen there is no disagreement between Amos and the priest about whether he is a "prophet". Their conflict is about what "being a prophet means". For Amaziah being a prophet, like being a priest, is a profession - a means of "eating bread". For Amos being a prophet means a divine calling as messenger, with no liberty to choose message or audience.

This message about messages is reinforced by the focus on speech, the nested quotations and by centering the piece on Amos' words "I am no prophet!", as well as by the severity and bitterness of Amaziah's condemnation.

 


 

This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos , 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.