Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tsedaqah Righteousness in Amos

There are three instances of צדקה in Amos, and two instances of the adjective צדיק, but no instances of צדק as a noun or verb. In all three instances of צדקה, the noun is paired with משפט (justice). For Amos, it seems that צדקה is used primarily to denote judicial righteousness, or else active righteousness that has judicial justice at its core.

The first instance of צדקה in Amos is found in Amos 5:7. This verse is has some textual and exegetical difficulties. Taking the Masoretic Text as is—ההפכים ללענה משפט וצדקה לארץ הניחו—the verse seems to translate as “you who turn justice into wormwood, and set righteousness to the earth.”

Amos 5:1–17 is the third of three discourses in the middle of the book of Amos. These discourses can be delineated thanks to the recurrent expression “hear this word” in Amos 3:1; 4:1; 5:1. The third discourse can be further divided into a lament over the coming military defeat of Israel (5:1–3) and a call to repentance (5:4–17). The seek me and live refrain in 5:4, 6, 14 recalls the life language of Moses in Deuteronomy (e.g., Deut 30:19–20), but occurs here as a call to repentance. Israel was to seek Yahweh, but not at the illegitimate centres of worship at Bethel or Gilgal, or even at the shrine in Beersheba in Judah (5:5). In this context, 5:7 seems to function basically as a vocative expression of indictment. The call in 5:10–12, 15 to “establish justice at the gate” and to stop oppressing the poor suggests that the content of v. 7 is characterizing wealthy Israelite society as abusing the legal system, turning it into an instrument of bitter oppression over the poor and needy. If this is so, then the parallel of צדקה with משפט in v. 7 suggests that צדקה here particularly denotes judicial righteousness rather than the more general idea of active righteousness. Yet judicial righteousness cannot be totally divorced from active righteousness. Judicial righteousness is an expression of active righteousness in a judicial context, as well as being that which defends and fosters active righteousness within society.

This interpretation of the Masoretic Text makes good sense, but it should be noted that the LXX translation of Amos 5:7 is rather different: “the Lord is he who makes justice on high, and he has established righteousness in the earth.” The LXX takes κύριος as the subject of the clauses in the verse, and looks to have read ללענה as למעלה (εἰς ὕψος). In the end, I reckon that the use of ללענה in combination with צדקה in Amos 6:12 (see below) supports the Masoretic Text rather than the LXX at his point.

The next occurrence of צדקה in Amos occurs in the woe oracle (5:18–27) that follows the third discourse (i.e., 5:1–17). The coming day of Yahweh would be a time of judgment against those who do evil, meaning that the day of the Yahweh would actually be a day of “darkness … and gloom” for Israel (5:18, 20). The reason for this was because God was not pleased with Israel’s cultic worship (5:21–23). Why? Because their worship (apart from being exercised at various illegal shrines around the country) was hypocritical. This is evident from the content of 5:24 when Yahweh calls upon Israel to “let justice roll like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The practice of worshiping Yahweh without a genuine righteousness expressed in their way of life was to make a mockery of the cult and the relationship with Yahweh that was maintained through it. It is probably best to take צדקה here in the more general sense of active righteousness, although in the wider context—i.e., given the relative proximity of 5:24 to 5:7, and the use of ויגל (and let it roll) in 5:24 that harks back to the word play with הגלגל (Gilgal) and גלה יגלה (it will surely go into exile)—a denotation of judicial righteousness, or at least to see judicial righteousness as the primary focus of צדקה here, is also a strong possibility.

The final instance of צדקה in Amos occurs in Amos 6:12. The wording of the clauses that pair משפט and צדקה is quite similar to the reference from Amos 5:7: “Will horses run on a cliff, or will someone plow there with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.” This verse occurs within an oath oracle (Amos 6:8–14) which speaks of the certainty of judgment upon the strongholds of Israel and “the pride of Jacob” (v. 8), which is most likely a reference to the city of Samaria. The similarity between this verse and Amos 5:7 suggests that צדקה as judicial righteousness is probably in focus, but once again the more general sense of active righteousness is not impossible.

Overall, how delimited צדקה is in these three instances in Amos is completely dependent on the context, and weighing up the context is often a משפט of probabilities.

No comments: