Date of Graduation

Spring 2012


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Victor Matthews


The book of Amos, in a fashion almost preternaturally relevant to contemporary conditions, discusses issues of war and welfare. Amos condemns several foreign nations for various war crimes and then turns to Israel, excoriating it for its mistreatment of the poor. Specifically he indicts the wealthy for enacting policies that created new poor while preventing the old poor from regaining their rightful positions in society. Israel’s elite used economic and judicial methods to enrich themselves at the expense of the vast majority of the population. As a result, Amos predicts the destruction of Israel just as he predicted the destruction of the foreign nations. The nature of Amos’ prophecy as well as the crimes with which he indicted Israel may potentially create some consternation to members of modern society. Amos provides no standard by which the nations were judged. Further, the punishments he announces seem suspiciously similar to the actions for which the nations were first condemned. Nor do all of the crimes for which Israel was condemned seem to have any basis in Hebrew law. Yet Amos announces that Israel will share in the punishment of the foreign nations. It is my thesis that the book of Amos can be best understood when read in the light of its ancient Near Eastern context. Three basic Near Eastern concepts help provide clarity: an understanding of international customary law; ancient customary treatment of the poor; and the concept of retributive punishment. Finally, retributive punishment, especially as subsumed under the concept of virtuous vengeance, is applied to the book.


Hebrew prophesy, book of Amos, eighth century BCE, retributive justice, ancient international law, treatment of the poor, ancient Near Eastern customs, vengeance

Subject Categories

Biblical Studies | Ethics in Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


© Mark D. Arnold

Open Access