[K:JNWTS 20/1 (May 2005) 64-65]

Book Review

Karl Möller, A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of Persuasion in the Book of Amos. London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003. 352 pp. Cloth. ISBN:0-8264-6568-4. $130.00.

This is an important book on a stunning prophet (and his galvanizing Hebrew) on several counts. First, the footnotes and bibliography display a massive acquaintance with the study of the book of Amos over the past century. Möller knowns Julius Wellhausen, William Rainey Harper, Klaus Koch, Francis I. Andersen and David Noel Freedman (Anchor Bible), Hans Walter Wolff and Shalom Paul (two Hermeneia commentaries) and David Dorsey, among many others. Second, Möller is refreshingly conservative in his respect for the integrity of the text (he resists form and redaction critical methodologies) and the provenance of the book (8th century B.C. for the origin of the material). Third, our author is a skilled Hebraist with penetrating insights into the organizing structure of the entire book (he provides a complete rhetorical outline of all nine chapters), as well as detailed rhetorical analysis of chapters 1 through 4. Careful study of this portion of Möller's work (pp. 154-296) will reward the reader with even deeper appreciation for this prophet "out of due time" (cf. Amos 7:14-15). Fourth, Möller makes a very persuasive (he's a good rhetorician!) case for retaining chapter 9 as coming from the prophet Amos. This, of course, runs counter to the critical fundamentalist approach of the higher-critical fraternity (recall Wellhausen's dismissal of this portion: "roses and lavender, instead of blood and iron"). These elitists consider eschatology (cf. Amos 9:11 with Acts 15:16-18) to be anachronistic to an 8th century B.C. social critic (i.e., Amos has tunnel vision and can only see his oppressive current culture. Destroy it! That's all!! The End!!!). The critical presupposition is that eschatology in the Old Testament prophets must have been imported from the experience of the Babylonian exile. Hence Amos 9 is a later appendix—attached to the "doom and gloom" prophet by a post-Exilic optimist. Möller is not buying this stupidity—and on rhetorical grounds, restores the eschatological 9th chapter to the Amos of history. (This reviewer may add—much as the Lord God of Hosts restores the "fallen booth of David" to the eschatological Israel of God, as the inspired apostle points out in Acts 15.) While biblical-theological implications are left to the biblical-theological student, Möller lays the foundation with his superb work on the text.

Möller has some salient remarks about chiastic structure and the rush to discover chiasms everywhere in the Old Testament (Dorsey, take note!). He rightly scores the French commentary by Bovati and Meynet for finding chiasms in every chapter of Amos, as well from beginning to end in Amos. Surely this is a word of caution to all of us excited by chiastic patterning. Let it come from the text, in the words of the original Hebrew (or Greek). Do not read it into the text on the basis of alleged parallels. The latter flows from the temptation to force the structure into a chiastic pattern by imposing a thematic coherence upon it from outside the original, inspired version.

If I have one regret about this volume, it is the exorbitant price. Sheffield has priced so many of its important monographs out of the reach of the average pastor and student—the very people who will benefit most from using and communicating the insights of their better titles to the church. Let us hope that Möller will shortly be available in a more affordable paperback version. Then the church will benefit from his thorough and commendable labors. And may we also hope to see a thorough rhetorical analysis of the subsequent portion of Amos (chapters 5-9) from our author's pen some time soon?

James T. Dennison, Jr.