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A REVIEW ON ALLEN, SPENCER L. “UNDERSTANDING AMOS VI 12 IN LIGHT OF HIS OTHER RHETORICAL QUESTIONS.” VETUS TESTAMENTUM, NO. 58 (2008): 437–48.

I. Overview of the article

Spencer L. Allen attempts to emend the difficult reading of Masoretic Text (MT) of Amos 6:12aβ which comprises of rhetorical questions (RQ). He tries to solve the difficult reading of MT in three steps. Firstly, he analyses the other RQ’s used by Amos.

Secondly, he suggests four characteristics of RQs which Amos used that are to be taken as four criterion to evaluate other proposals to solve Amos 6:12aβ. Thirdly, he evaluates different proposals against the four criterion. Finally, he proposes Alan Cooper’s emendation proposal as best fitting when evaluated against the four criterion.

The analysis of other RQ’s used by Amos demonstrated a high degree of semantic and structural parallelism which is absent in Amos 6:12aβ. Moreover it does not follow the pattern of RQ’s used by Amos. Therefore, Allen regards MT of Amos 6:12aβ to be corrupt and suggests emendation. The four criterion that Allen suggested in the paper are as follows: 1. the same answer is required by the pair of RQ’s; 2. High degree of Semantic parallelism; 3. High degree of parallel sentence structure; 4. Subject of each verb found within the question.

The above outlined criterion is then illustrated with other RQ’s in Amos. Allen’s identifies 16 other RQ’s along with more than 6 pairs of RQ’s. He finds that all other pairs of RQ’s which has two individual questions have the same answer. He identifies four pairs of RQ’s in Amos 3:4-8 and the other two in Amos 6:2b and Amos 9:7 respectively. Further Allen identifies that Amos 6:2b follows ה –led/ אם – led paired RQ as that of Amos. 6:12a implying a negative affirmative answer. contrastingly, Amos 9:7 is slightly different. It follows הלוא – led RQ’s implying a positive affirmative answer.

 

 

He analyses Amos 3:4-8 which consists of four pairs of RQ’s. He identifies the following by looking at Verse 4: (1) An appeal to the audience’s common sense; (2) A negative/affirmative answers which is implied by the two individual questions in the RQ; (3) The highest degree of internal parallelism—semantically and structurally. Allen identifies the verbs ישׁאג and יתן which means “roar” and “raise one’s voice” at the beginning of the RQ’s and are semantically similar in meaning. Each verb is followed by a subject “lion” and the first clause ends with a location.

Allen proposes a general pattern basing his analysis on the pair of RQ’s in Amos 3:4: The patter is as follows:

הישאג אריה ביער וטרף אין לו

                                                                      N1         O1         L1     S1          V1 –ה

Where V= verb; S= subject; L= Location; O= Object and N= Negation. However, the other pairs of RQ’s differ little bit but a high degree of semantic parallelism was found in Verse 5, 6 and 8.

Regarding the pair of RQ’s in Amos 6:2; it stands unique as it demonstrates a synonymous parallelism among the adjectives. Amos used a ה-led/ אים – led paired RQ pattern. The subjects of RQ’s are synonymous. The subject in the first colon of the RQ is imported through ellipsis (you/their). Allen finds that Amos arranged the possessors in a chiastic structure.

The final pair RQ is found Amos 9:7. Allen finds out the following: (1) the first colon is relatively short when compared to the second colon; (2) the RQ contains additional objects; (3) Two nations are mentioned in the first colon whereas four in the second; (4) The first colon assumes a linking verb whereas the second colon has transitive verb; (5) RQ’s are not continuous as they were interrupted by a vocative and interjection.

Allen suggests that due to the lack of continuity, a minimal parallelism and interruption by a vocative and interjection, he calls for another standard from that of paired RQ’s he mentioned in the paper.

Why MT of Amos 6:12 is corrupted? Based on the analysis, Allen makes the following observations. Firstly, the pair of RQ in Amos 6:12 does not follow the general pattern that was suggested. Secondly, the individual questions in the RQ do not imply the same answer. Thirdly, the pair of RQ’s has minimal amount semantic parallelism. Due to the aforementioned reasons Allen calls for reconstruction of the text according to the four criterions derived from other RQ’s used by Amos.

In order to emend the difficulty in MT of Amos 6:12, Allen evaluates different proposals. The first one he looks at is LXX. The LXX is not qualified proposal as it does not fulfill the four criterion derived. Firstly, LXX translated בְּקָרִים as “mare.” In other words, LXX wrongly renders a feminine plural to a masculine plural noun i.e., “cattle or Oxen.” Secondly LXX confuses the word חרשׁ to mean “silent” while the word means to cut in, engrave, and plow. Thirdly there is lack of semantic parallelism.

Regarding J. D. Michelins, Allen points out that Michaelis emendation is accepted by RSV and tentatively JPSV. It was observed that Michaelis divided בַּבְּקָרִים in to בבקר and ים which can be translated as “Does one plow the sea with oxen?” In this way individual question in the RQ imply same negative answer. The “oxen” is a collective noun as that of the horses in the first colon. However, בקר is used instrumentally and has no parallel in the first colon. The subject “one” is imported. Due to the above reasons Michaelis emendation is not qualified as it is not in agreement with the four criterion.

Regarding Rudolph Wilhelm’s emendation, Allen observes that Wilhelm proposes two separate emendations. One is he divides בַּבְּקָרִים in to בַּבְּקָרִים רִים suggesting a haplography. Second one is replacing the preposition בּ with כּ suggesting a scribal error. Thus his emendation reads as “Or the wild bull plow like the Ox?” In this way the individual questions imply the negative answer and subject is also found within the questions. However, lack of structural parallelism and semantic parallelism as wild bull and Ox semantically not parallel. Thus, Wilhelm’s proposal does not qualify the four criterion.

Regarding Andor Szabó’s emendation proposal, Allen points out to Szabó’s suggestion that בבקרים should be בקברים which is translates as “Does one plough upon tombs?” The reason behind this emendation is that Szabó sets the RQ in Amos 6:12 in the context of death that is presented in the preceding verses. In this way, the individual questions imply the same negative answer. However, subject “one” is imported and there is weak parallelism between rocks in the first colon and tombs in the second colon. Thus, Szabó’s emendation does not qualify the four criterion.

Regarding Mitchell Dahood’s emendation proposal, Allen observes that Mitchell suggested reading the preposition ב as “without” which does not have any supporting argument. Thus his emendation reads as “Doe one plough without oxen?” His emendation lacks structural and semantic parallelism and also subject is imported. Thus, Mitchell’s emendation does not qualify the four criterion.

Regarding Alan Cooper’s proposal, Allen finds Cooper’s emendation proposal as best fitting when evaluated against the four criterion. Firstly, Cooper suggests that originally there is “ע” in בַּבְּקָרִים which can be read as בַּבְּקָערִים. Secondly, the ‘ayin is dropped. The MT should be read as “Does the wild ox plough in the valley?”

According to criterion 1, Cooper’s emendation implies a negative answer. According to criterion 2, there is perfect structural parallelism—both colons have verb followed by subject and location. According to criterion 3, there is high degree of semantic parallelism—in that rocks and valley are parallel. According to criterion 4, both the animals are subjects of their respective RQ’s—there by not relying on the generic subject of the verbs. However, Allen points out that Cooper admitted that his emendation does not have textual evidence. Nevertheless, he tries to reconstruct the verse in the military context of vv. 13-14—by which he is suggesting that horses and ox are metaphors for military inefficacy of Israel to overcome their enemies. Further, he suggests a comparison between inefficacy in maintaining Israel’s power and impossibility of horses to run on rocks and a wild ox to be harnessed for ploughing.

Finally as Allen concludes his paper, while considering Cooper’s proposal to be best fitting, he makes the following remarks. Firstly, he remarks that there might have been a scribal error in the early transmission of the text which is reflected in the Greek version (LXX). Secondly, the absurdity in the verse is to attract the audience attention and challenge them which is the major function of RQ. Thirdly, Spender understand that Amos intention is to emphasise inappropriate behaviour as that of the animals mentioned in Amos 6:12—in that they would pervert justice and disregard righteousness.

 

II. Critical reading of the article

 

Allen outlines four criterion by analysing other pair of RQ’s in Amos. However, Amos 9:7 does not agree to the four criterion that Allen proposed. Further he calls for another form of RQ to which Amos 9:7 may agree with. However, he does not explain the other standard that he was referring. Amos 6:12β also does not agree with the four criterion. Could it be possible that Amos 6:12β may agree with the other standard that Allen finds Szabó’s emendation proposal regarding the semantic parallelism between “rocks” and “tombs” to be a forced parallelism. However, he finds Cooper’s emendation proposal regarding the semantic parallelism between “rock” and “valley” to be best fitting. Cooper’s suggestion that the verb יחרושׁ should be translated as “to plough in” but an instrumental preposition בּ with the same verb suggests a meaning “to plough with.” The above contention is of great importance and significance as it effects the translation of the verse and hence the meaning. The preposition בּ acts instrumentally with the verb יחרושׁ (Deut. 22:10 and Jud. 14:18). However, Allen finds Cooper’s suggestion not overtly problematic.

III. Suggestions/ remarks

Adjudication of Textual difficulty in Amos 6:12

MT reads as “Does one plough with cattle?” (Amos 6:12aβ). Allen observed that there is a lack of parallelism when read along with v. 12aα. Moreover, the subject in v. 12aβ is imported. Amos 12:12aα implies a negative answer and should be parallel to v.12aβ which should also imply a negative answer. However, MT implies a positive answer as the cattle are used in the farming. Therefore, MT is ambiguous. MT is lectio difficilior.

The variants read as “Does one plough the sea with Oxen?” Here the editor proposes בַּבָּקָר יָם – Prep, “with,” + N m pl “Oxen,” + N m s “sea.” The variants divided the word בַּבְּקָרִים of MT into בַּבָּקָר יָם to imply a negative answer as that of v.12aα. In other words variants are explaining the ambiguity of v. 12. Therefore, variant reading is lectio difficilior. By the secondary canon approach, since MT is the difficult reading, it should be preferred to be original reading.

I agree with Allen’s view that Amos might have used the absurdity and impossibility in the verse to attract the attention of the audience and also to confront Israel’s moral and ethical decadence.