DOI: 10.5325/bullbiblrese.33.2.0136 ISSN: 2576-0998

A Famine Motif in the Book of Amos: Amos 8:11–14 and Ancient Near Eastern Innovations of Hunger, Drought, and Famine

Michael C. Lyons
  • General Medicine


Ancient Near Eastern famine language occurs as a motif throughout the book of Amos, climaxing in a cataclysmic famine in Amos 8:11–14. This article investigates that famine motif and shows how the motif derives from well-established ancient Near Eastern famine language from Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, and Anatolia. Amos uses this famine language to allude to famine, drought, or starvation in nearly every chapter of Amos. These allusions create the expectation that Yhwh’s judgment against Israel will arrive as a physical famine upon the people. In the culminating judgment oracle of chapter 8, the author innovates ancient Near Eastern famine language to portray the words of Yhwh becoming absent. This novel approach to famine as a lack of the word of God comes as a literary and theological surprise that has gone unnoticed in scholarship. The expected physiological starvation culminates instead in an unexpected starvation of Yhwh’s word—a far more severe judgment on Israel.

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