Wordplay And Dialect In Amos 8:1-2 -- By: Al Wolters

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 31:4 (Dec 1988)
Article: Wordplay And Dialect In Amos 8:1-2
Author: Al Wolters


Wordplay And Dialect In Amos 8:1-2

Al Wolters*

It is well known that the fourth vision in the book of Amos (8:1–2) turns on a pun: The qayiṣ (“summer fruit”) shown to Amos is interpreted by the Lord as the qēṣ (“end”) now imminent over the northern kingdom. A number of versions attempt to reproduce the pun by using the word “ripe”: “a basket of ripe summer fruit” and “the time is ripe for my people Israel.”1 This is ingenious and effective, but it obscures the fact that the Hebrew words being punned on are not homonyms. To be sure, some recent commentaries have suggested that the two words may have been pronounced alike in the Hebrew spoken by Amos,2 but this goes against the linguistic and textual evidence. The fact is that one of the characteristic features of the Judahite dialect spoken by Amos, by which it was distinguished from both the Israelite dialect of the northern kingdom and from other varieties of Canaanite, was the distinctive pronunciation of words like qayiṣ(or qayṣ)3 compared to words like qēṣ.

Although this point of difference between the Judahite and Israelite dialects of Hebrew is widely recognized,4 commentators have generally failed to note its significance for the qayiṣ/qēṣ pun in Amos. To my knowledge only E. Y. Kutscher and M. Dahood (each in a passing remark and apparently independently of each other) have connected the wordplay in Amos with this dialectal difference. Kutscher suggested tentatively in 1961 that Amos, proph-esying in the northern kingdom, “attempts to speak with the accent of the

*Al Wolters is associate professor of religion and classics at Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario.

people whom he is addressing” and that therefore qayiṣ in Amos 8:2 should perhaps be revocalized as qēṣ.5 Dahood made the same point some years later. In a review of the first volume of John C. L. Gibson’s Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions he notes that in Gibson’s notes on the Gezer calendar “qṣ = qēṣ is correctl...

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