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Diana Lipton

A letter in response to Teaching the Hebrew Bible amid the Current Human Rights Crisis: The Opportunities Presented by Amos 1:3-2:3 by Matthew R. Schlimm:

Michael Walzer's "The Prophet as Social Critic" [in INTERPRETATION AND SOCIAL CRITICISM [Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1987],69-94] approaches Amos from a similar perspective. I have used it in the classroom for many years and can think of only two or three other examples of a piece of secondary literature that so effectively transforms a student's experience of a biblical text.

It is hard to buy into the "shock value" theory after reading Walzer. The oracles against the nations are international relations, the demands we can reasonably make of other nations at the usual point of encounter: borders. The oracles against Israel, by contrast, are domestic policy. As I read Amos, we are shown via the oracles against the nations an obstacle to achieving social justice at home — a preoccupation, necessary or not, with acquiring and maintaining territory. We are told that God has removed this obstacle for Israel; God himself acquired their land and led them into it (2:9-10). This should enable Israel to focus on moral and ethical issues that are usually out of sight for nations at war or striving for mere survival. But instead, the people abandon their own agricultural economy and involve themselves with other nations through trading alliances. Their unwillingness to be self-sufficient and deal compassionately with problems in their own society pushes them towards their borders in a way they had not intended — not as traders or politicians, but as exiles.

Diana Lipton
Newnham College

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Citation: Diana Lipton, " Amos as Social Critic," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2006]. Online:


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