Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Words of Amos

Kevin Snapp left two comments at Waiting on tables, part 4, regarding “extra-Pentateuchal quotations in the mouth of a Samaritan.” Snapp states quoting S. Lowy that “No Samaritan would or could say” something quoted from outside the Torah. Initially I am appreciative that Kevin Snapp provided his comments and two additional books to read.

My very good Jewish friend and law partner for twenty five years regularly quoted scripture and was not averse to quoting the New Testament. Being able to quote your opponents’ scripture is a good rhetorical technique to employ. It provides the basis for a devastating attack. An appeal to authority is more effective if the assertion of authority is to one accepted by your opponent because you do not have to establish the source as authoritative. Scripture is accepted as authoritative because it is the word of God.

Acts 7:43 quotes Amos 5:26 LXX “you brought along the tent of Moloch” which suggests that during the wilderness years the Israelites worshiped Moloch (Saturn) and continued to do so until the time of the Prophet Amos and beyond. Since Molock is a member of the “host of heaven”, verse 43 explains the reference to the “host of heaven” in the preceding verse. The worship of the “host of heaven” which included the sun, moon, stars and planets, was one of the earliest forms of idolatrous veneration (Deut. 4:19, 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16, 21:3, 5; 23:4; Jer. 8:2, 19:13; Zeph. 1:5). The Book of Deuteronomy twice specially distinguishes the host of heaven as objects which the Israelites should not worship. Jeremiah and Zephaniah both record that the cult of the host of heaven had spread from the courts of the Temple to the house-tops in Jerusalem. Luke is the only NT writer to mention the host of heaven.

Quoting Amos 5:25-27, Stephen records God rhetorically asking if Israel had really been offering their sacrifices to Him. Clearly Israel had not. On this basis, Stephen could in effect say, “Don't accuse me of blaspheming the law; check your own history.” He could imply this only because he was not a Judean! At the end of the Amos passage, Stephen changed the quote from “Damascus” to “Babylon” to broaden the focus of divine judgment to include the exile of Judah. In the NT, Babylon is a code word for Rome. This unexpected reminder of Judah’s disastrous history must have jolted his audience. As Marshall noted “Idolatry found its due reward in exile to a land of false gods.”

Both Judaism and Samaritanism accepted absolute monotheism and the related concern for the avoidance of images. According to Goggins, “The Samaritans were even stricter than the Jews in this matter and regarded the Jerusalem cult with suspicion on these grounds.” I suspect that the quotation in Stephen’s Sermon from the Prophet Amos was in fact an attack on the emperor worship and iconography in the Jerusalem Temple of the Late Second Temple period. Joseph Gutmann demonstrated that the Judaism of the Hellenistic Roman period was not as aniconic as claimed.

Although a more detailed study is warranted, it is for our purpose sufficient to note that the war with Rome began in 66 CE when the captain of the temple, Eleazar, son of Ananias, persuaded the temple priests to terminate the twice daily sacrifice for the Roman emperor. This daily offering for the emperor had begun when Judea became a Roman province in 6 CE during the reign of Augustus. The twice daily offerings, described in Num. 28:1-8, are mandated to be provided by the people to be consumed by YHWH.

Since Roman cultic practice made the emperor a god, admitted to the Pantheon and thus became a member of the host of heaven, this twice daily offering was a form of idolatrous veneration. The misuse of the Temple is considered an act of idolatry. The Samaritans probably found this divine emperor worship objectionable as well other cultic practices as did the temple priests when Eleazar persuaded them to act. The Prophet Ezekiel accused Israel of bringing idols of other nations into the Temple. Stephen may have done the same when he quoted “the host of heaven” phrase from the Prophet Amos.

Stephen has directed his anti-idol polemics not only against the ancestors of the Judeans but also against all those who worship idols. Those people who worship idols, whether in the Temple or on the housetops, oppose the followers of Jesus. This proposal would be mere speculation but for the fact Luke in Acts 12:20-23 has criticized the ruler cult and its false claim of deity with his description of the death of Herod Agrippa.

What “seems unthinkable” is often the most effective rhetorical tool. I call it “thinking outside the box.”

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2007


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