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Does Amos 2:11-12 tell us anything about Nazirites?

March 21, 2009

Amos 2:11-12 mention prophets and Nazirites in the context of those who have been raised up by YHWH. This passage is often appealed to as an early example of an early, charismatic Nazirite that should be seen distinct from the later temporary ritual vow found in Numbers 6 (see Niditch “My Brother Esau Is a Hairy Man”: Hair and Identity in Ancient Israel, pp. 74-75 for the latest proponent of this view). However, does the text really do all that?

ואקים מבניכם לנביאים
ומבחוריכם לנזרים
האף אין זאת בני ישראל
נאם יהוה
ותשקו את הנזרים יין
ועל הנביאים צויתם לאמר לא תנבאו

And I raised up prophets from among your children
And Nazirites from among your young ones.
Is that not so, O people of Israel?
—says YHWH
But you made the Nazirites drink wine,
And the prophets you commanded: ‘Do not prophesy!’

If it seems that scholars pull too much information from this little poetic passage, you are not alone. Shalom Paul in his Amos: A Commentary (Hermeneia) asserts that this passage give us little information of the type seen by Niditch.

As for the Nazirites, this is the only place in the Bible where their selection is described as indicative of God’s favor and goodness in Israel. They are mentioned here alongside the prophets (who were selected and elected by the Deity) because by their own voluntary strict ritual behavior and vows they, too, exemplify the will of God. (p.92)

Even if one were to take issue with Paul’s portrayal, there is another issue to be dealt with: the passage is part of the Deuteronomic redaction of the book. Hans Walter Wolf in his commentary sees 2:10-12 as an elaboration of v.9 based on Deuteronomic theology (p.141-142).  Jörg Jeremias dates the passage to the 6th century editor as well (The Book of Amos (Old Testament Library) pp.7-8, 38-42).

Taken together, the information gleaned from Amos 2:11-12 is little and late.

  1. Erik permalink
    March 23, 2009 8:44 pm

    out of curiosity, how much talmudic research do you do on this?

    • March 24, 2009 9:09 am

      Not much. The Bible is the latest material that I tend to deal with. I’ve used Stuart Chepey’s Nazirites in Late Second Temple Judaism, but it isn’t overly helpful in answering the questions I’m asking of the text.

      It’s a bit of tricky question as to whether one can see Mishnaic, Talmudic or even later Rabbinic material as providing an emic perspective on the Nazirite. In terms of Numbers 6, there seems to be an inherent tension between what I would argue is the older rite of the Nazirite and the newer priestly schema that has been imposed over it. I’m beginning to wonder if the problems I’m having with the purification (aka sin) offering are part of this dynamic.

      • Erik permalink
        March 26, 2009 6:31 pm

        just curious, was perusing tractate nazir, thinking of the scholastic interpretations you’ve cited and how they differ from rabbinic interpretation. just seemed like interesting food for thought.

        • March 28, 2009 6:02 pm

          I understand entirely. But there are good reasons for these differences. The biggest one being the postbiblical expansion of the Nazirite to include both Samuel (in the LXX and 4QSamA) and Absalom (in the rabbinic sources) . This change of a data set helps point to why they differ in terms of interpretation.


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