Bible and Beyond

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Amos, Hosea, Micah—An Archaeological Commentary

Philip J. King

(Philadelphia, PA- Westminster Press, 1988) 192 pp., $20.95 (hardback), $15.95 (paperback)

As the readers of BAR and Bible Review know, archaeologists are making enormous contributions to our understanding and appreciation of the Bible. What may not be as apparent, however, is this- Of the data relevant to the Bible in the possession of archaeologists, only a small portion ever comes to the attention of the nonspecialist. Not only are many archaeologists notorious for their procrastination in issuing reports, but the relevant data that does find its way onto the printed page is often lost to the interested reader amidst the details of stratigraphy and ceramic typology.

Professor King, whose twin disciplines of Biblical archaeology and Hebrew Bible place him in an ideal position to bring archaeological finds and Biblical texts into contact with each other, has made a unique contribution in the present book. In a lively narrative style accompanied by several dozen illustrations, he has placed before the reader the world of objects and events assumed, but often left unclarified, by the books of Amos, Hosea, and Micah.

For what wrong is Damascus being accused in the divine oracle in Amos 1-3–5- “because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron.” The reader is informed of the history of tension and war, between the northern kingdom of Israel and Syria, that stands in the background of this allusion, and also learns the exact nature and function of the threshing sledge of iron that serves here as a metaphor of military devastation. “[They] consecrated themselves to Baal,” the Lord declares in Hosea 9-10. The Baal cult comes to life in King’s discussion of evidence available from ancient inscriptions as well as from cultic figurines and reliefs. The reader of the Bible who is both baffled and intrigued by references to Gath, Shaphir, Moresheth-gath and Mareshah in Micah 1-10–15 discovers both the location and significance of these sites and their fate in the devastating campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C. In similar fashion the book goes on to cover historical geography, architecture, warfare, agriculture and many other aspects of the world against which the prophetic drama unfolded.

The research that went into this book was enormous, and it is completely up to date. Hosea’s warning against placing trust in “fortified cities” (Hosea 8-14) is illuminated vividly by Ussishkin’s Lachish excavation. Recent epigraphic finds, such as the reference to “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah” found by Zeev Meshel at Kuntillet Ajrud, clarify Micah’s prophecy that “I [the Lord] will root out your Asherim from among you and destroy your cities” (Micah 5-14). Recent study of the institution of the marzeah\ helps us to understand that Amos was not merely railing against debauchery, but against a very ancient pagan ritual (Amos 6-4–7). The concluding chapter on “Banquets and High Living” alone is worth the price of the book. Older archaeological evidence is not neglected either, as illustrated by King’s careful reconsideration of the Samaria ivories discovered in 1932 and the Taanach cult stand found in the 1960s.

Phil King the teacher is very visible in the book’s lucid style and in the care to furnish definitions of technical terms, to indicate the dates of kings and happenings, and to locate the many sites discussed or alluded to. A helpful glossary, topical and scriptural indexes, and charts covering archaeological periods and ancient New Eastern history are provided (in the chronological chart, one wishes Egypt had been included alongside Palestine and Mesopotamia).

My greatest hope is that the author will move on to produce similar volumes for other books of the Bible. The alternative, of course, would be the daunting task of presenting an archaeological commentary covering the entire Bible. I prefer the model that King’s Amos, Hosea, Micah represents. As Gustaf Dalman’s once-comprehensive Arbeit und Sitte in Palästina (all six volumes! [Gütersloh, West Germany- Bertelsmann, 1928–1939]) indicates, an exhaustive study results in a work more suitable for reference than for reading and assimilation. King’s book is preeminently suitable for enjoyable reading from cover to cover. Amos, Hosea and Micah will never again look the mine for anyone who ventures into the fascinating world of this archaeological commentary.