Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

... in Amos 4:13: New Evidence for the Yahwistic Incorporation of Ancient near Eastern Solar Imagery

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

... in Amos 4:13: New Evidence for the Yahwistic Incorporation of Ancient near Eastern Solar Imagery

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

The phrase ... in Amos 4:13 has posed difficulties for commentators ancient and modern. Its rare vocabulary and terse, poetic style have allowed disagreement to persist over what exactly is being described in this short line and particularly over the syntactic problem of which of the two terms ??? and ???? is to be understood as the material and which the rendered product, and over the interpretive issue of whether the phrase presents an ominous image or a creative and hopeful one like those in the surrounding text. Complicating matters further, Amos 4:13 forms the first of three so-called doxologies in the book of Amos that are widely regarded as secondary insertions in their current contexts, and opinions about their date and original relationship to one another vary widely.1 In this short essay, I argue for a new interpretation of ??? ??? ???? that finds the phrase to contain a previously unrecognized reference to a common ancient Near Eastern solar icon-the winged sun disk-and therefore offers additional evidence for the way in which such imagery was recovered in ancient Yahwistic circles.2 In section I, I briefly review previous interpretations of our phrase; in section II, I propose a new translation in light of Phoenician parallels and discuss its implications for understanding Amos 4:13; finally, in section III, I offer some final reflections on how the image comports with other known instances of ancient Yahwistic solar imagery.

I

I begin with a brief discussion of previous translations of ??? ??? ????. The vast majority of these follow one of two main trajectories, each understanding the term ???? to mean "darkness." Perhaps the most frequently adopted translation of our phrase regards it as containing an ominous image, that is, "the one who makes dawn into darkness."3 According to this view, the phrase comprises syntactically a construct chain with an objective genitive (???) followed by an accusative (????) designating the final rendered product.4 Moreover, the term ???? is understood to be related to a root *??? ("to be dark"), so that we must understand the product (darkness) to be something that utterly negates dawn, doing away with it altogether, and therefore as a quasi-apocalyptic description.5 While this explanation of the phrase is syntactically plausible, the resulting image of YHWH's threatening (indeed, creation-destroying) power seems especially out of place in a hymnic moment that is otherwise devoted to positive descriptions of YHWH's role as the creator (e.g., "the one who forms the mountains / the one who creates the wind") and as one who maintains an amicable relationship with the created order (e.g., "the one who tells to humankind what his thoughts are").6 Those who support this interpretation argue that the doxologies are, in fact, focused on judgment or otherwise seek to balance the theme of YHWH's sovereignty over creation with his ability to overthrow it.7 However, while punishment of the wicked is briefly mentioned elsewhere in the doxologies (i.e., Amos 5:9, 9:5a), there is nothing in them that amounts to the undoing of creation, as the darkening of the dawn would seem to imply.8 In fact, in both Amos 5:9 and 9:5, YHWH punishes humanity as part of the maintenance of the created order. Moreover, this sense also goes well beyond what is found in Amos 4:1-12 (the Unheilsgeschichte leading up to this doxological refrain), where punishments in Israel's past are explicitly understood to be didactic9 and the future punishment is envisioned, somewhat concretely, in terms of exile (vv. 2-3) rather than apocalypse.10

Those who interpret the phrase as a creative and hopeful image-that is, as "the one who makes dawn out of darkness"-understand its syntax differently. They view it as a hyperbolic (or literal?) description in which ???? is the material out of which the dawn (???) is made, implying one of the following assessments of the phrase's syntax: (1) a double construct chain with an objective genitive (? …

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