Prophetic literature

Prophets and "the prophets"

Prophets and "the prophets"

The division in the Hebrew Bible called "Prophets" contains both historical books and the books that we call prophetic today: Isaiah-Malachi (but not Daniel, that is placed among the "Writings" - modern scholars call it apocalyptic). The second half of this material therefore corresponds to what we now call "prophetic books", that history is also among the "Prophets" is an indication both of their importance to Israelite identity, and of their concern with events that we would call politics or economics as well as religion.


The book of Amos gives us no information directly about how it came to be:
Did Amos write it?
Did his friends and disciples make a collection of his words?
Was that collection added to or edited as circumstances changed?

Although there is no direct description of the production of Amos (or indeed the other prophetic books), they do provide some clues:

There are also hints that the books have been shaped so that the continued relevance prophets' words is clear to people of a later age:


Prophets spoke God's message without fear or favor. This message varied according to the circumstances of the time, so 8th and 7th century prophets faced kingdoms, that were often complacent in the face of increasingly powerful empires based in Mesopotamia, but whose economic and political structures oppressed the weak and poor. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586bce by contrast the prophets addressed discouraged people, who often lacked hope that God could or would save them from pagan empires and their many gods.

The dominant tone and purpose of particular books, or sections of a book, can be understood against these historical periods. So, Amos contains mainly threats and warnings. While a prophet speaking to a later time might contain mainly messages of hope and encouragement. Yet the God who seeks to persuade the covenant people to put their lives right is also the God who remains faithful, even to an often faithless humanity, and so all the books also contain glimpses of future blessing.

Amos was active during the last years of the Northern Kingdom, while Jeroboam II (a king who restored Israel to wealth and power) still reigned. His primary purpose is to warn the elite that destruction is coming unless they change their behavior, and look to the rights of the poor, and protect the weak, as God requires.


This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.