Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Amos in Later Jewish Tradition

What follows is a selection of texts and traditions, by no means exhaustive, relating to Amos and the book of Amos, in the Judaism of late classical and medieval eras, as well as in Qumran.

All the selections from the Zohar I’ve included are to be found in Isaiah Tishby’s “The Wisdom of the Zohar”. When his footnotes are included, I’ve indicated so by his initials in square brackets.
The Damascus Document is from Wise, Abegg, and Cook’s “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation”.

*Amos and the Dead Sea Scrolls*

The book of Amos played a small but crucial role in the formulation of Essene thought and teachings. The very first Dead Sea scroll discovered was the Damascus Document, or Zadokite Fragments. In 1896 Solomon Shechter discovered two medieval manuscripts in the genizah, or repository, of a Cairo synagogue. Schechter considered them a work of the first century B.C., but it wasn’t until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls that his position was proved correct.
The Damascus Document seems to have been one of the fundamental texts of the Dead Sea sect, outlining their history and position as God’s true covenantal people.
The Dead Sea Scrolls often use symbolic pseudonyms for members of the sect, for its enemies, and for the world surrounding it. Thus it is doubtful that the Damascus of the text is the actual city, but rather a code word for either Babylon[1] or Qumran[2].
Damscus is drawn from Amos 5:26-27 “So shall ye take up Siccuth your king and Chiun[3] your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves; Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith He, whose name is the LORD God of hosts.”
The group dramatically recast these verses in allegorical terms of their own sacred history.
…All who backslid were handed over to the sword, but all who held fast escaped to the land of the north, as it says, “I will exile the tents of your king and the foundation[3] of your images beyond the tents of Damascus” (Amos 5:27. The books of Law are the tents of the king, as it says, “I will re-erect the fallen tent of David” (Amos 9:11). The “king” is the congregation and the “foundation of your images” is the book of the prophets whose words Israel despised. The star is the Interpreter of the Law[4] who comes to Damascus, as it is written, “A star has left Jacob, a staff has risen from Israel” (Num 24:17). The latter is the Leader of the whole nation; when he appears, “he will shatter all the sons of Sheth” (Num. 24:17). They escaped in the first period of God’s judgement, but those who held back were handed over to the sword. And such is the verdict on all members of the covenant who do not hold firm to these laws: they are condemned to destruction by Belial…
-4Q266, 7:13-8:2.
Damascus is where the new covenant was set up after the period of exile. The history of Israel’s rebellion against God and the subsequent destruction and exile is made personally relevant to those of the sect, for their lives run according to the pattern set in scripture.

In 4Q174, a text known as “The Last Days: A Commentary on Selected Verses”, Amos 9:11 is again used, but the “fallen tent of David” is here a reference to “the fallen Branch of David, [w]hom He shall raise up to deliver Israel”. That is, the Davidic Messiah.

The Jeremiah Apocryphon (4Q387) describes the last days, in which Israel will suffer under a false priesthood and will be “fighting against one another because of the law and because of the covenant.” In other words, false interpretations of the law and covenant will lead to strife and bloodshed, which, according to the author of this text, is the meaning of Amos 8:11: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD”.

*Amos in Early Rabbinic Judaism*

The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (ARNA) is a very early commentary on a mishnaic tractate, Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot). The latter is a collection of teachings and maxims of the early sages. ARNA expands on those themes and ideals, particularly on the study of Torah.
Pirkei Avot 1:1, perhaps one of the best known statements in the work, quotes the members of the great assembly[5] as saying, “Make a hedge about the Torah.”
ARNA 2 poses the question, “What the hedge which the prophets made about their words?” One of the examples provided is from Amos.
The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken, who can but prophecy? (Am. 3:8): [yet God is] not merely like one lion but like all the lions in the world.” Judah Goldin, on pg. 180-181 of his translation of ARNA, explains the hedge of the prophets as their having employed “some metaphor in the description of God who, strictly speaking, is beyond description and comparison.”

The Babylonian Talmud (t. Yoma, 86b) quotes rabbi Yose bar Yehudah as saying that, “A man transgresses once, and he is forgiven; twice, and he is forgiven; thrice, and he is forgiven; [but if he transgresses] a fourth time, he is not forgiven, as it says: “Thus saith the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, yea, for four, I will not reverse it” (Amos 2:6).”
When our rabbis entered the orchard of Yavneh they said that Torah is destined to be forgotten in Israel, as it is said: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). And it is written: “And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:12).
The word of the LORD- This is Halakhah.
The word of the LORD- This is the end time.
The word of the LORD- This is prophecy.
And from where will they roam seeking the word of the LORD? They said a woman is destined to take a portion of terumah and go to synagogues and study houses to know if it be impure or pure, but none shall know if it be impure or pure…
Shimeon ben Yohai says heaven forbid that Torah should be forgotten by Israel[6], as it is said: “For it shall never be lost from the mouth of their offspring” (Deut. 31:21). It is to fulfill, “they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it”, that is, they will not find a clear doctrine and a clear halakha in one place.
–Babylonian Talmud, t. Shabbat 138b.
The prophetical activity of Amos commenced after Hosea's had closed, and before Isaiah's began. Though he had an impediment in his speech[7], he obeyed the call of God, and betook himself to Beth-el to proclaim to the sinful inhabitants thereof the Divine message with which he had been charged. The denunciation of the priest Amaziah, of Beth-el, who informed against the prophet before King Jeroboam of Israel, did him no harm, for the king, idolater though he was, entertained profound respect for Amos. He said to himself: "God forbid I should think the prophet guilty of cherishing traitorous plans, and if he were, it would surely be at the bidding of God." For this pious disposition Jeroboam was rewarded; never had the northern kingdom attained to such power as under him. However, the fearlessness of Amos finally caused his death. King Uzziah inflicted a mortal blow upon his forehead with a red-hot iron. Two years after Amos ceased to prophesy, Isaiah was favored with his first Divine communication.

-Louis Ginzberg, “The Legends of the Jews” vol. IV, part IX.

S. Y. Agnon, a preeminent Israeli writer of the 20th century and Nobel laureate, was asked by a relative of the Archbishop of Canterbury if there was anything in Judaism comparable to the power and drama of Easter. Agnon in response drew upon his vast storehouse of knowledge of traditional Jewish texts and rituals to compose “Days of Awe”, which although technically is an anthology of texts dealing with then period from Rosh Ha-Shanah to Yom Kippur, is far more than that. It is a journey through the days leading up to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the day of judgment, the time when people remember and reflect on their sins, their follies, mistakes and shortcomings, a time for reparation and restitution, of drawing nearer to God and man. Yom Kippur is perhaps the day of the Jewish calendar. Agnon wrote “The liturgical poem beginning “These I do Remember,” which is recited after the description of the Temple service, is in memory of the ten who were martyred by Rome, who were killed for the sake of the unification of the Name of God. For when the temple still stood and the altar stood in its habitation, sacrifices were offered upon the altar every day. But now what is offered are the souls of the righteous.
It is cited in the Midrash: Why were the ten martyrs, the sages of Israel, given over to be slaughtered at the hands of the wicked kingdom of Rome? Because his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. For the quality of divine justice brings charges every day before the throne of glory, and says, “Is there any superfluous letter in your Torah? You have said, ‘And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death’ (Exod. 21:16). The ten brothers sold Joseph, and yet You have not punished them or their seed” [Ele Ezkerah][8]. Therefore the decree against the ten sages of Israel was passed, in punishment for the sake of Joseph.”
The book of Amos lies at the heart of this tradition.
As a different recension of the midrash about the ten martyrs explains it, “Israel would not have come to this[9] had they not taught the emperor Torah, as once when he was sitting and studied Torah he found it written: “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death” (Exod. 21:16). And he went and plastered all his walls with shoes, sticking them to the walls and sent for Rabbi Shimeon ben Gamliel and his friends, and said unto them: Whosoever kidnapped a man from Israel and sold him, what is his penalty? They replied that he must be put to death, and he said unto them: If that be so, then you must be put to death, accept the judgement of heaven. They asked him what for, and he replied for the brothers of Joseph who sold him, as it is written: “And sold Joseph” (Gen. 37:28). It is further written: “Because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6). That is why that evildoer plastered his home with footwear, so that they would know for what Joseph was sold, for when it says for shoes it means for the price of shoes… They said if Joseph’s brothers sold him, what is our crime and why will you execute us? He replied unto them that if Joseph’s brothers were alive today then I would catch them and execute judgment upon them, but since they are not alive I will do so upon you…”
Joseph quite probably is a veiled reference to Jesus, a popular accusation in anti-Jewish polemics was that the Jews sold and betrayed him. See the section below for a later example.

*Amos in Medieval Commentaries*

Saadia Gaon (882-942)
Saadia was born in Egypt but moved to Iraq, where he became the head of the academy in Sura, and was one of the most prominent and influential leaders in the Jewish world. He polemicised greatly against the Karaites, and introduced philosophical, rational interpretations into his defence of rabbinic Judaism.
"Amos 1:3.
I have forgiven him three sins, but this, the fourth one, I will not forgive."

Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1164)
One of the premier Spanish commentators, grammarians, and poets.
He wrote extensively on the scriptures, particularly from the standpoint of grammar plain, unallegorical or homiletical interpretation.
"Amos 3:3.
Before I [the Lord] shall afflict you I will inform you of it by my prophets, perhaps you shall return unto me. Had I not appeared to my prophet and revealed to him my secret with which to reprove you, he would not have prophecied of himself, for how should he know what I am going to do, and thus are his words not by chance. See this, is it possible for two men to go simultaneously to the same place for the same thing if they did not agree to do so beforehand? And so, when you see that the words of the prophet are true, know that I have sent him, how then can he disobey me and not prophecy just because you said unto him prophecy not?"
"Amos 3:4.
If even the lion does not roar except over his prey, have I [the Lord] roared in vain?"
"Have you seen prey able to escape from a lion when he rises from his thicket and roars? How then do you think to escape my [the Lord’s] decrees?"

David Kimhi
Kimhi perhaps exerted more influence over non-Jewish translations of the Bible than any other Jewish exegete. When the Bible known as the King James Version was prepared, the translators frequently consulted Mikraot Gedolot (the Rabbinic Bible), an Old Testament printed with several commentaries, including Kimhi’s ones on the prophets.
"Amos 2:1.
This is about what is said in the book of Kings: “Then he took his eldest son that should have reigned in his stead, and offered him for a burnt offering upon the wall. And there was a great indignation against Israel.” The indignation was from the king of Edom against Israel from that day forth, because the king of Moab burnt the son of the king of Edom during the war, for he was with Israel, as we have interpreted there, for this God, may he be blessed, punished him [the king of Moab]. And the interpretation of la-sid – burnt them completely, until the ashes were like lime… And Jonathan[10] translated it as, “for burning the bones of the king of Edom and using them to whitewash his house.” This means that he used those ashes to whitewash his house out of spite and vengeance. "
"Amos 3:6.
As the targum[10] states: “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city outside its proper time”, because a trumpet is sounded many times in the city without the panicking, during celebrations or for singing, or to assemble the people for the establishment of municipal ordinances, that is why this was translated as “outside its proper time”, since it is known that when none of these are taking place, [the trumpet] is to warn the people of an enemy, so how shall the people not be terrified when they hear it. So shall you not be terrified by the words of the prophet which I [the Lord] send unto you?"
"Amos 3:6.
Why do you suppose that a calamity should overtake your city which has not been done by God, may he be blessed, after the prophet has said unto you [that it would happen] before it occurred, and since you will see the prophet’s words coming true, how is it that you will not return unto me [the Lord]?"

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508)
Abravanel was a member of the most renowned Jewish family in Portugal. He served as treasurer to Afonso V, but his successor, Joao II, implicated Abravanel in a plot, as a result of which Abravanel fled to Spain and served as a minister under Ferdinand and Isabella. Despite his great influence he was unable to prevent the expulsion of the Spanish Jews, and went into exile with them.

“The Christian sages thought to use this verse as proof of their faith, and interpreted the three sins of Israel the same as I did, idolatry, bloodshed, and incest, but with the fourth being “they sold the righteous for silver”, that is Jesu the Nazarene.
The refutal of their proof is made up of two parts: The first is that this section was said of none other than the kingdom of Israel, and they know very well that the matter of Jesu the Nazarene was not in the First Temple period when the kingdoms were divided, but took place during the Second Temple period, and Israel had been exiled for over X years.
The second refutal is that Amos himself repeated his prophecy, and said: “Hear this, O ye that would swallow the needy… making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances of deceit; That we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes…” (Amos 8:6). Here it is made clear that he was not speaking of any particular person, but of many poor, whose judgment was perverted for bribes of silver or of shoes, which is why Amos used the plural.”
-Commentary on the Prophets and Writings.

*Amos in the Kabbalah*

The book of Amos is used in two main ways by the Zohar, the premier book of the Kabbalah, which appeared during the 13th century.
The first way is to ground a unique doctrine in the biblical framework, or perhaps it was even suggested by the verse in the first place.
The second way is to enhance the prestige, authority, and reputation of Simeon bar Yohai, and, by extension, the teachings of the Zohar itself.

Zohar I, 183b.

Rabbi Hiyya and Rabbi Jose were in the presence of Rabbi Simeon. Rabbi Hiyya said: We have learned that an uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter[11]. Does this mean that it will be fulfilled without [the dreamer] knowing, or that it will not be fulfilled at all?
He said to him: It will be fulfilled without being disclosed, because the dream has its own power[12], and [the dreamer] need not know whether it will be fulfilled or not. Everything that happens in the world is first of all intimated by a dream or a herald, for it has been made clear that everything that happens in the world is first of all announced in the firmament, and from there it spreads out into the world and is transmitted by a herald. And this because it is written “For the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). This is the case when there are prophets in the world. But, if not- even if prophecy does not exist[13]- the sages are the next best to the prophets. And if not, it is intimated in a dream. And if not, the matter may be found in the birds in the sky[14].

Zohar I, 191a.

Rabbi Judah began by quoting “Will a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Will a young lion utter a sound from his den if he has captured nothing?” (Amos 3:4). Come and see how attentive men must be to the worship of the Holy One, blessed be He, for whoever occupies himself with the study of the Torah and the worship of the Holy One, blessed be He, instills in everything awe and fear of him. When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He made every creature in the world in the likeness that was suited to it, and afterward He created man in the most exalted likeness[15], and gave him dominion over all the others because of this likeness; for as long as man remains in the world, all the creatures in the world will raise their heads and gaze upon man’s exalted likeness, and then they will be in fear and awe of him, as it is said “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air…” (Genesis 9:2). In what circumstances?[16] –When they look up and see that he has this likeness with the neshamah within him.
Rabbi Eleazar said: Even if the neshamah is not within him, the righteous do not change from their original state when they had the likeness. But if man does not follow the ways of the Torah the holy likeness vanishes from him[17], and the beasts of the field and the birds in the air can then rule over him. Once the holy likeness disappears, man’s likeness also disappears.

Zohar III, 15a.

One day [Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai] was sitting at the gateway to Lydda. He raised his eyes and saw the sun shining, but its light was blotted out three times. As the light grew dark, black and green colors appeared in the sun.
He said to his son, Rabbi Eliezer: Follow me, my son, and let us see, for a decree has certainly been proclaimed in the world above, and the Holy One, blessed be He, does not act before informing the righteous, as it is said, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants, the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

Zohar II, 15a, Midrash ha-Ne’elam.

When Rabbi Hiyya came and related all this to Rabbi [Judah ha-Nasi], he was amazed, and his father, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, said to him; My son, Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai is a lion, and Rabbi Eleazar, his son, is a lion. But Rabbi Simeon is not like other lions. Of him it is written, “The lion has roared. Who will not fear?” (Amos 3:8). And since the worlds above tremble before him, how much more should we? He is a man who has never had to ordain a fast for something that he really desired. But he makes a decision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, supports it. The Holy One, blessed be He, makes a decision, and he annuls it.

*Amos in Early Modern Jewish Preaching*

Saul ha-Levi Morteira (1596-1660)
A Venetian Jew by birth, Morteira moved to Amsterdam in 1616 and served as one of the rabbinic leaders there until his death. He was part of the court which excommunicated the philosopher Spinoza. Morteira preached a sermon every year on a verse from the weekly Torah lesson, his main concern being the proper ethical conduct of his congregation, both towards the gentiles and among themselves. Although this is a common theme for preachers of all times and persuasions, in affluent 17th c. Amsterdam, Morteira's focus was particularly relevant. Marc Saperstein[18] notes that Morteira emphasised that "arrogant behavior, ostentatious apparel, and high living by Jews angers both God and their Gentile neighbours", something which would have resonated with people who were 3rd or 4th generation exile from Iberia. The trauma of the Spanish expulsion had not yet gone away completely.Saperstein further notes that the Dutch Calvinist preachers vigorously denounced a life of luxury, indeed "were certain that such behaviour would arouse God's wrathful punishement".
A few words more from Saperstein before delving into the sermon itself:
"The art of the sermon is expressed in the way the preacher derives his thesis from the traditional sources. In this case, Morteira argues that his contemporaries were courting disaster by making precisely the same mistake their ancestors had made in Egypt... Despite the extensive use of biblical and rabbinic material, this is not a sermon intended primarily to elucidate the classical sources for their own sake. Here we see a preacher marshalling the ancient texts in order to address what he considers to be a pressing problem of his time."

R. Isaac said, Whoever takes pleasure in an optional banquet will eventually be exiled, for the Bible states, Who feasts on lambs from the flock, and soon after Now they shall head the column of exiles (Amos 6:4, 7).
"Our rabbis taught, Whoever feasts excessively anywhere will eventually destroy his household, make his wife a widow and his fledglings orphans, and forget what he has learned. He will be the center of many conflicts, and his words will not be heeded.
He profanes the Name of Heaven and the names of his father and his teacher; he gives a bad name to himself, his children, and his children's children to the end of time. Abbaye said, They call him 'oven heater.'
Raba said, 'tavern dancer.'
R. Papa said, 'dish licker.'
R. Shemaiah said, 'one who folds and lies down' (Bab. Talmud, t. Pes 49a)...
The prophet Amos Amos denounced such behavior when he said, They lie on ivory beds, stretched upon their couches (Amos 6:4), reproaching them for their splendid beds, costing fortunes. Stretched upon their couches refers to the large cloths that overhang the couch on every side, serving absolutely no function except in their appearance, not to mention the other costly accoutrements of the bed.
Then he said, Feasting on lambs from the flock, and on calves from the stall (Amos 6:4). Here he was referring to the various kinds of food with which they contrive to fill their bellies. They drink from the wine bowls (Amos 6:6), calling out to each other until they empty the barrels, hurting both those who provide the wine and their own health...
While all of this is bad in itself, it is doubly bad when they are not concerned about the ruin of Joseph (Amos 6:6), meaning that they forget they are in exile, forget that some of their brothers have no bread at all for themselves or their children. It would be better for them to spend their money inviting the poor and providing them with food and other necessities. But they curse the poor and spend their money on trivial luxuries that can do them no good, giving money again and again to men who mock them as soon as they leave their homes. They do no good to themselves, and they do great harm to their children.
As parents discipline their children, so did the sages not hesitate to give all manner of ethical instruction that would discipline us, for our own benefit. They touched upon this subject directly in the passage cited at the beginning of the sermon, as is clear to all who understand their words. First, they prohibited all feasts and banquets unconnected with the performance of a commandment, saying, "Whoever takes pleasure in an optional banquet will eventually be exiled, for the Bible states, Who feasts on lambs from the flock, and soon after Now they shall head the column of exiles." A religious banquet is one for a circumcision, a wedding, completion of study of a talmudic tractate, Rejoicing in the Law (Simhat OTrah, redemption of a first-born sonPurim, Hanukkah, and other ordained festivals. All others are optional banquets.
-The People's Envy: Sermon on Shemot (Ca. 1622, Amsterdam).

Jonathan Eybeschuetz (Ca. 1690-1764)
Eybeschuetz was a noted scholar and rabbi of the 18th century, who became embroiled in a bitter controversy with Jacob Emden, who accused him of being a secret follower of Sabbetai Tzvi, the false messiah. Eybeschuetz was still recognised as a brilliant halakhist and preacher. Here is a small portion of a sermon preached in Metz.
Woe unto those who desire the day of the Lord... that day is darkness (cf. Amos 5:18). Many also do no discern the true nature of the New Year's Day. They look forward to it because they enjoy the sound of the singer, who chants melodious hymns with his beautiful voice. Woe unto those who do not know what occurs on the day of reckoning: that day is darkness! You know that fire is pitch dark, giving forth no light. Though the elemental fire is near the sphere of the moon, it bestows no light upon the world. And hell is all fire; it is darkness and gloom.
-Sermon of Ethical Rebuke Preached... during the Penitential Period Preceding the New Year's Day, 5505 [1744], to the Congregation of Metz.

[1] Thus Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, pg. 434. They argue for Damascus being a reference to the Babylonian captivity on the strength of Stephen’s speech in Acts 7:43, in which Damascus is replaced by Babylon.

[2] Thus L. Schiffman, “Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls”, pg. 93-94.

[3] Chiun here is read not as a name of a deity, but as a variant of the Hebrew for a foundation or stand.

[4] According to Schifmann (pg. 93), the Interpreter of the Law is “the sectarian official who interprets Torah for the sect with divine inspiration.”

[5] An institution which according to Jewish tradition existed from the days of Ezra until Alexander the Great.

[6] There appears to have been some confusion as to whether or not the Torah reffered to by the sages in Yabneh meant their oral teachings or the Law of Moses. The consensus that was reached was that Torah meant halakhic rules, IE, the oral Torah.

[7] Leviticus Rabbah 10:2 employs a pun on the name Amos, which if read as amus would mean ‘laden’, or ‘burdened’.
The rest of the references employed by L. Ginzberg are Pesikta de-Rabbi Kahana 16, 125b, Pesikta Rabbati 33, 150b, and Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, 97.

[8] The date of composition for this midrash is uncertain, and there are at least four recensions.

[9] That is, the ten sages would not have been martyred.

[10] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the Prophets, an Aramaic paraphrase of portions of the Bible

[11] B.Talmud, t. Berakhot 55a. [IS]

[12] The dream has been linked to a supernal power that has decreed that it shall be fulfilled. [IS]

[13] Even now that prophecy has ceased. [IS]

[14] Birds can give information to initiates by their movements and chirping. [IS]

[15] In the image of God, which is the configuration of the sefirot, depicted as primordial man. [IS]

[16] According to the explanation that follows, the verse quoted from Amos is taken to mean that the beasts attack and seize man when the image of God is removed from him. [IS]

[17] In outward appearance even the sinner has a human form, but the sacred radiance of the sefirot that surrounds the human image has been taken away from him, and the other creatures see him merely as an animal. [IS]

[18] Saperstein, "Jewish Preaching, 1200-1800: An Anthology", pg.270-271.

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