Rawlings School of Divinity


Master of Divinity (MDiv)


Gary E. Yates


Amos, Prophet, Rhetoric, Rhetorical Questions


Biblical Studies | Christianity | Religion


The book of Amos contains a message of repentance and judgment to eighth-century Israel. However, the book also portrays the Hebrew prophet persuading his audience of their condemnation before a God whom they do not fully understand. The prophet employs rhetorical questions to help assert his argument. Modern scholarship, however, does not address the function(s) of rhetorical questions from a purely Hebrew context, but evaluates them from an approach heavily influenced by Classical rhetoric. This error results in an incomplete view of Amos’ rhetoric and message that removes the rhetorical questions from the context of the Hebrew prophet. Thus, a new understanding must be proposed to recover Amos’ rhetoric and message that honors his context. After exegesis of each rhetorical question posed by Amos or YHWH against his audience (2:11-12; 3:3-8; 5:18-20; 5:25-27; 6:2; 6:12; 8:5-8; 9:7), the passages reveal that the prophet drew from common thought in nature, society, and Torah to form agreeable statements in the form of a rhetorical question for the purpose of imposing a superior argument or judgment. This conclusion is supported by an analysis of the book’s structure. The functions listed above are embedded in rhetorical structures familiar to Amos and his audience: disputation speech and entrapment language. Amos’ questions are an integral aspect of his message rather than a literary device merely used to form common ground between a speaker and his audience. Amos’ questions contain strong assertions that draw in the audience with common thought, condemn the audience through their response, and impose the prophet’s divine message. In opposition to Classical rhetoric, this approach results in a view compatible with the prophet, his message, and his rhetoric.