The Man from Tekoa
J.B. Snelson is a librarian, bibliographer, and (antiquarian) bookstore
owner in Wolfville.
Amos holds a special place in the history of the Old Testament. Before
him comes a series of men such as Abraham, Moses, and David, who often
seem bigger than life and stride the land like Gulliver in Lilliput.
After him come Jeremiah, Isaiah, and others, who possess literary genius
but are not an otherwise prepossessing lot. Amos is the first prophet
whose words were recorded either by himself or his associates during his
lifetime or shortly thereafter and thus speak for themselves.
None can deny the shepherd from Tekoa a certain genius for the power
and effectiveness of his message. He was the first to begin to turn from
an emphasis on the land and its possession toward the demand for social
justice characteristic of the later prophets. As such, he is a most
fascinating figure, one by whom Davis claims to have been haunted for
half a century.
Yet this novel is a disappointment. Amos, alas, has not found his
Thomas Mann here. The work is most uneven and although there are
promising passages, it lacks the force one would expect from the life of
Amos. The most powerful part is certainly that section in which the
prophet is allowed to speak for himself. The contrast between the drive
and fire of the prophet and the dragging prose of his modern chronicler
Amos himself disappears at the end of the first section and the final
third of the book follows the working out of the prophecies. But the
author starts it off with an error that should have been easily caught.
Assur Banipal was the great grandson of Sargon II, who as a yet nonroyal
general took Israel into captivity and “lost” the 10 lost tribes. In
his day, Israel was ancient history. The Assyrian monarch who fulfilled
Amos’s prophecies and took Israel the first time was not Assur
Banipal, but Adad Nirari V. This major anachronism (akin to having Henry
VIII facing down Hitler in the Battle of Britain) weakens whatever force
the final section might have had.
There should be a major novel in the life of Amos. Unfortunately, this
is not it. Still, a reminder of the power of the prophet from Tekoa and
his message is not without its merit. Certainly a less-than-perfect
retelling is better than none at all.