Prophets as Performers by Terry Giles

The Hebrew prophets were dramatic speakers first and foremost. The prophets, as orators and performers, used communication techniques that gave life and vitality, and often a sense of urgency, to their messages. It is easy to imagine the prophet Amos commanding attention as he bellows, “The Lord roars from Zion” (Amos 1:2). No calm restraint in this address! Remnants of performance techniques can still be found embedded in the written form of the prophetic messages, and sensitivity to these techniques helps breathe renewed life into the interpretation of prophetic texts. Prophetic performance is vividly present in Amos 5-6, a sophisticated series of laments, oracles, and woes. Among the techniques present in these orations are imagined reality, tension construction, and resolution.

The prophetic performer asks the audience to imagine reality differently—to see through the prophet’s eyes. With practiced skill, the prophet draws his audience into the alternate world of his drama by weaving together the familiar and the unexpected, creating a series of reversals that open the audience to alternate social possibilities. A cheer of military victory becomes a dire warning (Amos 5:3). An invitation for the faithful to worship at the royal shrines of Bethel and Gilgal becomes a dire warning against normal life (Amos 5:4-5). In turn, religion (Amos 5:6, Amos 5:18-24), the judicial court (Amos 5:10, Amos 5:12-15), the political elite (Amos 6:1-3), and the marketplace (Amos 5:11, Amos 6:4-7) is each exposed as immoral and violent despite being bathed in a semblance of religious and social propriety (Amos 5:21-23). The resulting discord is intended to create audience tension in search of resolution, guided by the prophet’s designs.

Through his oration, the prophetic performer moves his audience past appearances, behind the everyday and familiar, to unveil the true nature of Israelite social constructs: a world of abuse, pain, and sorrow. The stunning direct address (Amos 5:7, Amos 5:11-14) woven into the dramatic speeches demands audience attention, as the audience suddenly becomes part of the performance, no longer mere spectators.

By the power of his words and the force of his delivery, the performer compels his audience to confront unpleasant truths about themselves, creating a sense of regret that is intended to propel the audience to action. As with any good theater, the prophetic performer does not leave his audience as he found them. Rather, the prophet leads his audience to imagine a world that could be, a world in which evil is hated and goodness is loved (Amos 5:15), where justice flows like water and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24). The prophet presents, as a viable alternative, a potential and imagined universe, just as real as the actual, lived, but condemned social universe of the audience. If only the imagined reality of the performance, the world of prophetic theater, constructed jointly by the performer and the audience, can seep out of the realm of the dramatic and invigorate the world of the everyday, a new and bright future is in store (Amos 9:14-15).

Terry Giles, "Prophets as Performers", n.p. [cited 23 Aug 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/passages/related-articles/prophets-as-performers

Contributors

Terry Giles

Terry Giles
Professor, Gannon University

Terry Giles teaches biblical studies as professor of theology at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. 

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

The artistic and sometimes symbolic public communication of social, political, or religious events, more common in oral cultures.

Amos 1:2

Judgment on Israel's Neighbors
2And he said:
The Lord roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds wither,
and the top of ... View more

Amos 5-6

A Lament for Israel's Sin
1Hear this word that I take up over you in lamentation, O house of Israel:2Fallen, no more to rise,
is maiden Israel;
forsaken on her ... View more

Amos 5:3

3For thus says the Lord GOD:
The city that marched out a thousand
shall have a hundred left,
and that which marched out a hundred
shall have ten left.

Amos 5:4-5

4For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:
Seek me and live;5but do not seek Bethel,
and do not enter into Gilgal
or cross over to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal s ... View more

Amos 5:6

6Seek the Lord and live,
or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire,
and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.

Amos 5:18-24

The Day of the Lord a Dark Day
18Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;19as if someone fle ... View more

Amos 5:10

10They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.

Amos 5:12-15

12For I know how many are your transgressions,
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and push aside the needy in the gat ... View more

Amos 6:1-3

Complacent Self-Indulgence Will Be Punished
1Alas for those who are at ease in Zion,
and for those who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
the notables of the first o ... View more

Amos 5:11

11Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have pl ... View more

Amos 6:4-7

4Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory,
and lounge on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock,
and calves from the stall;5who sing idle songs to the sound ... View more

Amos 5:21-23

21I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.22Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will ... View more

Amos 5:7

7Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground!

Amos 5:11-14

11Therefore because you trample on the poor
and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not live in them;
you have pl ... View more

Amos 5:15

15Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

Amos 5:24

24But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 9:14-15

14I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
a ... View more

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.