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Many scholars believe that Amos was the earliest of all of the biblical prophets to have his words put in writing—minor, major or somewhere in-between. Although Hosea is believed to have arrived a little later on the prophetic scene, Hosea did marry a prostitute, which, scholars believe, is a lot spicier than anything that Amos ever did.
One telling clue to the time when Amos preached is the book’s series of references to a big earthquake, believed to be the one that struck the region in the middle of the eighth century BCE. For instance, here’s chapter 8, verse 8, in which Yahweh’s judgment makes the people of Israel seasick:
Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? (NRSV 8:8)
Scientists have tried to pinpoint the date of this earthquake with greater accuracy, but the quake’s effects were largely eliminated after Amos flew around the Earth backwards to turn back time and save his girlfriend from the falling rocks. Still, Israeli archaeologists guess around 750 BCE.
Besides his characteristic obsession with plate tectonics, Amos is also known for establishing the themes that would dominate prophecy in Israel and Judah for centuries to come. We know you want examples.
Challenging the legitimacy of spiritual and political authorities:
Then Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (NRSV 7:14-15)
Privileging ethics over religious ceremony:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (NRSV 5:21-24)
Condemning the wealthy and protecting the poor:
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practise deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.” (NRSV 8:4-6)
God’s judgment on the day of Yahweh:
Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (NRSV 5:18-20)
The ultimate restoration of God’s people:
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that I have given them, says the Lord your God. (NRSV 9:14-15)
Amos may not have called firsties on the official prophetic comment thread, but he didn’t have to—everyone after him just riffs on his posts.