The concept of folklore emerged in Europe midway in the nineteenth century. Originally it connoted tradition, ancient customs and surviving festivals, old ditties and dateless ballads, archaic myths, legends and fables, and timeless tales and proverbs. As these narratives rarely stood the tests of common sense and experience, folklore also implied irrationality: beliefs in ghosts and demons, fairies and goblins, sprites and spirits; it referred to credence in omens, amulets, and talismans. From the perspective of the urbane literati, who conceived the idea of folklore, these two attributes of traditionality and irrationality could pertain only to peasant or primitive societies. Hence they attributed to folklore a third quality: rurality. The countryside and the open space of wilderness was folklore's proper breeding ground. Man's close contact with nature in villages and hunting bands was considered the ultimate source of his myth and poetry. As an outgrowth of the human experience with nature, folklore itself was thought to be a natural expression of man before city, commerce, civilization, and culture contaminated the purity of his life.
Ben-Amos, D. (1983). "The Idea of Folklore: An Essay." In Ben-Ami, I. & Dan, J. (Eds.), Studies in Aggadah and Jewish Folklore, pp. 11-17. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
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Amos is recognized as the first of the Israelite prophets whose words were recorded on a scroll. He was not a prophet all his life and never prophesied professionally. Amos earned his living as a "herdsman and dresser of sycamore figs. " (Amos 7: 14) Since he already had an occupation he did not have to prophesy for money. He prophesied because God had called him to do so. Amos was not a poor sheep herdsman. The word herdsman, used to describe his occupation, was not the common Hebrew word used to refer to shepherds.
The Hebrew word used described the vocation of a Moabite king, King Media. The Hebrew word means sheep-master, and refers to the owners of a special breed of sheep, famous for their wool. Amos may have been one of the more important men in his region, Tekoa. Tekoa was a village about ten miles south of Jerusalem. It was situated atop a large hill some 2800 feet above sea level. Therefore, Tekoa was strategically located.
It was fortified and walled. "Tekoa is mentioned elsewhere, in 2 Chronicles 11: 6, as one of several cities that King Rehoboam (Solomon's son and successor) rebuilt and fortified after the breaking away of the ten northern tribes and founding of the northern kingdom of Israel (in 931). " (Miller p. 45) Like many other prophets Amos was called directly by Yahweh through some divine intervention. Yahweh "took" him from his flocks and said, "Go and prophesy to my people Israel. " (Amos 7: 15) He also saw five visions. Throughout the third and fourth visions God's voice claimed, "I will forgive them no longer. " (Amos 7: 8; 8: 1) He was referring to the people of Israel. The Book of the Prophet Amos begins with a short description of the prophet. This is followed by his words. He begins by condemning several nations, Israel's neighbors.
Finally, and most importantly, he goes on to condemn Israel. This condemnation of Israel would come as a surprise to listeners in Amos' time, because the people of Israel were the chosen people. Amos goes on to list some of the sins of Israel. The underlying theme behind many of the sins was that the wealthy and powerful were alienating the poor and the weak. Amos lived during the long and prosperous reign of Jeroboam II.
During this time many people became very wealthy. There were, however, some who remained poor. The wealthy exploited the weakness and vulnerability of the poor. "Because they sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. " (Amos 2: 6) Amos goes on to criticize the Israelites for their disingenuous religious services and festivals. He attacks their lack of sincerity and lack of gratefulness. "When will the new moon be over, " you ask, "that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display our wheat?" (Amos 9: 5) Amos makes it clear to his listeners that God is especially upset with Israel more so than its neighbors. This is because God had traditionally favored the Israelites. "Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites before them, who were as tall as the cedars, and as strong as the oak trees.
I destroyed their fruit above and their roots beneath. " (Amos 2: 9) Another reason God was upset with the Israelites was because God made a covenant with the Israelites. The Israelites, instead, stopped obeying Jewish Law. If they lived by Jewish law they would care for the poor and weak. Yahweh abhors the pride of the Israelites who had come to regard their prosperity as works all of their own hand. They forgot that God makes all this happen and they ignored those less fortunate than themselves.
Their pride meant they replaced Yahweh as the foundation for their existence. Social justice was an important aspect of the Israelite religion, as was love of one's neighbor and love of God. During Amos' life, these aspects of the religion were undermined if not completely lost. Wealthy Israelites would use the courts to take what little land and goods a poor man owned and add it to their already abundant wealth. The Israelites knew of the importance of social justice because it is stressed in the first books of the Bible.
It also says that they should not take bribes. "You shall not distort justice; you must be impartial. You shall not take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes even of the wise and twists the words even of the just. Justice and justice alone shall be your aim, that you may have life and possess the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you. " (Deuteronomy 16: 19 - 20) The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels have similar meanings and themes throughout. In the book of Amos, God condemns, through the words of Amos, the Israelites for their sins such as pride, insincerity in religious services, and lack of compassion.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells his listeners that the humble, the merciful, and those who desire to do what God requires should be hopeful because God will watch over them. He promises them a reward in heaven. Also in the Final Judgment scene of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus states that God will separate the "righteous people" and the "others" and says, "Come you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. " (Matt 25: 34). Jesus describes the righteous as those who feed the hungry, clothe the poor, give drink to the thirsty, and visit the sick and those in prison. "I tell you whenever you did this for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me. " (Matt 23: 40) "Amos consistently uses righteous and justice as terms for the qualities which ought to be present in the social order (Amos 6: 12; 5: 7, 15) " (Mays p. 108) Amos also criticizes the corrupted religious festivals and ceremonies of the Israelites. Thus Jesus and Amos present similar messages expressed in very different ways.
Amos criticizes the rich for their abuse of the poor. Jesus warns us that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. (Matt 19: 24; Mark 10: 25; Luke 18: 24, 25) The Lord, through Amos, accused the Israelites of not caring for those less fortunate. We know that the second greatest commandment is, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself. " (Matt 22: 39; Mark 12: 28 - 34; Luke 10: 25 - 28) Today, in our society we continue to have those who are less fortunate. Their lives are in stark contrast to those who are wealthy. Television, movies, and music idealize wealth, power, and material things as being most important and as necessary for happiness. Advertisements equate material possessions with happiness.
Acquiring things is more important than caring for one's neighbor. Someone of wealth but without compassion is often portrayed as someone to emulate. In Amos' time, the wealthy cheated the poor in courts. This situation reminds us of corporate executives who are paid large salaries in addition to excessive bonuses while employees are let go or divisions are downsized to balance budgets. In the recent Enron scandal employees were left with worthless pension funds while executives sold their stocks at a profit. The condemnations of Amos are as applicable today as they were in the time of the Israelites.
In the Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World the Church formally states its belief regarding human dignity, social justice, private property, the poor, and peace among nations. Amos is concerned with the weak in society. The Church addresses the weakest in our society, the unborn child, and clearly states its objections to abortion. The Pastoral Constitution states that everyone must have food, clothing, and shelter. Charitable donations, non-profit organizations, and government institutions provide those in need with some of these basic necessities.
The Pastoral Constitution speaks to social institutions. "After all, the whole purpose of social institutions such as the family, political parties, labor organizations, and even the churches, is to enhance our lives. " (Huebsch p. 142) Their purpose is to enhance human dignity. Can spouses who divorce be concerned with the children and other family members? Can politicians who are preoccupied with reelection and personal ambition be truly concerned with the needs of their constituents? Can labor organizers who are primarily concerned with power and political influence be concerned about the well being of their members? Many times politicians, labor leaders, husbands and wives are motivated by self-interest and human pride rather than by the needs of those who depend on them. Individuals need to become active participants in their families, their communities, and their relationships with others.
Social justice and human dignity should be integral parts of our goal for a just society. In our interactions with our families we should avoid unkind words and insults. We must treat family members with respect and caring. In school and in our community one can use his or her talents to tutor a friend so that he can achieve success. Community service at a local school or hospital can be a way to help those in our community who need help or are less fortunate. In these acts of compassion and caring we live the word of God.
The Book of Amos, the teachings of Jesus through the Gospels and the Church's Constitution all make one thing very clear. Our actions and social institutions should all benefit the human person and respect human dignity. These actions and institutions should be "founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love. " (Huebsch p. 144) Bibliography Huebsch, Bill, and Paul Themes. The Constitutions. Allen: Thomas More Publishing, 1997. Mays, James Luther.
Amos. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1969. Miller, John W. Meet the Prophets: A Beginner's Guide to the Books of the Biblical Prophets. Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1987. Rad, Gerhard von.
The Message of the Prophets. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1962.
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