Reconsidering the relevance of the Prophet Amos in the quest for a just society in contemporary Zimbabwe

By Gunda, Masiiwa Ragies

Lecturer Old Testament Studies, University of Zimbabwe

PhD Candidate, Bayreuth University, Germany

Research Assistant, New Testament Studies, Bamberg University, Germany

mrgunda2002@yahoo.co.uk or ragies.gunda@uni-bamberg.de

Published 2010-04-23

Abstract

In this article I argue that the eighth century BCE Israelite prophetic condemnations belong to those sections of the Bible that remain essentially relevant for contemporary societies, especially Zimbabwe where the quest for a just society has been expressed by many. It is argued that the diagnoses on the complicity of political, economic elites together with the judiciary and religious leaders in the exploitation of the poor remains a concern in our society today. The condemnations are not targeted at political stability or economic prosperity but against the injustices that were nurtured in these environments. It is therefore argued in this article that justice is the central issue. The history of the state of Zimbabwe shows that justice has not been a central concern to the successive political regimes hence making the prophetic insights central to the quest for a just society. In short, this article argues that the prophetic sections analysed remain relevant in our society.

 

 

Introduction

 

For many the question of the relevance of the Bible or any part of it remains a critical question. As someone pointed out, what has the Bible got to do with the contemporary globalized world? Why should a technologically advanced contemporary world ‘waste time' consulting some text more than two thousand years old? Further, why should a largely secular global world consult these books that belong to Christians and Jews and maybe to a certain extent Muslims? These are some of the questions that biblical scholars in Africa continue to face from peers in Africa and abroad. By seeking to argue for the relevance of Amos and other eighth century Israelite prophets, am I not afraid of these criticisms? Essentially, is there anything that our so-called globalized and technologically advanced world can learn from these texts based on activities of some small town farmer-cum-prophet, whose entire known world may have expanded to Egypt in the West and Iraq in the East, Syria in the north and the seemingly endless Judaean desert in the south? The known world of these prophets is not even similar to what we call the Middle East today; can we learn anything from people who knew so little of the world? Besides these criticisms, there are also those challenges brought about by Pan-Africanist biblical scholars, who appear to suggest that biblical scholars must search for Africans in the text of the Bible, as if to suggest that if Africans are not directly referred to in the Bible that would negatively impact the relevance of the Bible in Africa. To that extent we have witnessed some highly speculative assertions presented as facts yet they are built on assumptions and wishes.

 

The various criticism noted above notwithstanding, this article will argue that while it may be over-ambitious to argue that the Bible as a whole is relevant to us as it was relevant to the intended audiences of the various texts, nonetheless there are sections of the Bible that remain valid in our context. The reasons for this line of arguing will be outlined below, yet it is critical to observe that there are certain fundamental human socio-economic traits that appear to have stood the test of time. Today, we talk of different ideologies such as capitalism, communism, socialism, human rights and so on, yet the central concerns of these ideologies were already known to and even practised by many ancients. This forms part of the argument for the relevance of eighth century prophets, we have named and systematically presented these ideologies but we certainly were not inventors. Further, the quest for a just society has been the preoccupation of many ancients that contemporary political activists cannot claim to be pioneers in this regard. From the ancient times it has always been the case that "religion and politics [economics and judicial] influence each other in a myriad of ways, some blatant others subterranean."[1] Is it irrelevant to know how the ancients dealt with this interconnection? Can we not learn something from past generations or even millennia? Also, it cannot be disputed that the Bible, with its latest texts being around one thousand nine hundred years old remains one of the most influential texts in this contemporary globalized world. This is especially true when looked at in Africa, where Christianity is still a force to reckon with, certainly not to the extent that it was during the days when it controlled political power in Europe, but still very influential to the extent that African politicians still try to paint themselves as Christians and sometimes even ‘create' some Christian leaders to legitimize themselves.

 

Central to this article is the realization that while it is a fact that the Bible is at least one thousand nine hundred years old, it is also a fact that its existence to date is not based on its age but on its ability to inspire people of different generations, centuries and millennia. The Bible remains a central and critical manual for daily living to multitudes of people throughout the world. In fact, it has been one of the all time best-sellers and its circulation in Africa has been on the rise.[2] Studying the Bible in Africa, therefore, is not an aesthetic endeavour but an issue of life and death for the future of Africa. While the role of religion in public life in Europe has waned from the enlightenment era, the same is certainly not the case in African states where public leaders almost always use the Bible to legitimize their actions and opinions. How does civil society confront the Bible without offending the majority Christians? Can civil society transform our African society without the input of religious leaders and scholars? Even in Europe, where religion and in particular the Bible no longer plays such a central role, it was not only secular civil society that transformed the societies but also biblical and religious scholars.

 

 

Are we free from the clutches of the Bible?

 

Contrary to the opinions that we are a globalized and technologically advanced world, free from the influence of ancient documents called the (Hebrew) Bible used by Jews and Christians (and the same applies to the Koran used by Muslims), the reality is that now like at any time in more than two thousand years we remain under the influence of these "sacred" documents. This section will seek to highlight a few examples illustrating that these documents remain the most influential texts in the greater part of our globalized world, and this even more so in Zimbabwe where I belong. In Zimbabwe, the influence of the Bible extends sometimes even to non-Christians. Further, the Bible has been invoked on issues that do not only concern Christians but the nation as a whole. How can the Bible be irrelevant in situations where Dr Herbert Murerwa, senior member of the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, in his Budget speech [in 2002], ended with an extraordinary quotation from the Bible - referring to the prophet Jeremiah - in a plea to God to help this country emerge from its self-inflicted economic morass?[3] While many people would agree that there is nothing religious or biblical in the presentation of a national budget, which is meant for all citizens some of whom being non-Christians, yet Dr. Murerwa, when presenting his 2007 national budget again "quoted from the Bible book of Second Corinthians urging Zimbabweans to stay the course resolutely because their present tribulations were temporary."[4] These were not meaningless statements from the Minister of Finance; they were designed to influence public opinions especially to divert blame from the authorities to divine powers.

 

The use of the Bible in public affairs in Zimbabwe has not been monopolized by ZANU-PF but has also been used by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), now itself part of the Government of National Unity (GNU) formed in February 2009. Renson Gasela, a senior member of the MDC and Member of Parliament made use of the Bible when moving a motion in the Parliament of Zimbabwe on the use of food for political mileage. The charge was that ZANU-PF, then the ruling party was distributing food on a partisan basis, demanding party membership cards before one could access food handouts. In attacking this ZANU-PF practice, Gasela quoted first from Micah 2:1-3 which reads,

How terrible it will be for those who lie awake and plan evil! When morning comes, as soon as they have the chance they do the evil they planned. When they want fields, they seize them, when they want houses they take them. No one's family or property is safe and so the Lord says I am planning to bring disaster on you, and you will not be able to escape it. You are going to find yourselves in trouble and then you will not walk so proudly anymore.

 

However, it was clear to Gasela that this message was targeted at the elites yet he also wanted to give a message to ordinary Zimbabweans, especially those who were being denied food aid because they were deemed supporters of the then opposition party MDC. To that extent Gasela sought to comfort them by quoting from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, "‘There hath no temptation overtaken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond what you are able but with the temptation, will make a way so that you are able to bear it.' There is a way that people being starved by ZANU PF will survive."[5] Once again these are not statements made in jest, they are statements made after serious considerations. These are statements that are meant to inform both perpetrators and victims of the divine interests in their daily conduct. These are statements that are, most importantly, believed by many Zimbabweans. How can we listen to those who suggest that the Bible has now become an obsolete archaic document with no role to play in contemporary societies?

 

The quest for a just society is not a men only adventure as is widely agreed in our globalized world. Women like men deserve to live in societies that acknowledge them as equal and full citizens, yet in the Parliament of Zimbabwe, the so-called ‘August House', a different opinion was raised. "During debate on the Domestic Violence Bill, Timothy Mubhawu, Member of Parliament (MP) for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), told parliament: ‘I stand here representing God the Almighty. Women are not equal to men. This is a dangerous bill, and let it be known in Zimbabwe that the rights, privileges and status of men are gone'."[6] While some are not aware of the dangers posed by the Bible, many appreciate the fact that we still have some in our society who are using the Bible to further entrench sexist and patriarchal tendencies in their quest to protect, as Mubhawu puts it, "the rights, privileges and status of men." Clearly these illustrations show that contrary to assertions that we are free from the influence of the Bible, we are still firmly under biblical influence. The challenge is to identify ways in which we can use the Bible to achieve the opposite of what Mubhawu and some like him are trying to achieve. This is bearing in mind the long established folk wisdom in our society that you can best fight your rivals by using their own weapons. Then, as now, religion has been manipulated to promote narrow nationalist or selfish interests and objectives.[7] Then, as now, the Bible must be liberated from such selfish interests and reclaim its aura of being liberative.

 

How can the Bible be thought of as fit for museums and special collections of libraries when such emotive contemporary discussions of subjects such as sexual minorities appear to be entirely dependent on one way or another of reading the Bible? This has been an issue that has been prominent in Zimbabwe for close to two decades now. From the claims by Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF and President of Zimbabwe that ‘God did not create us this way' to the contribution in the Parliament of Zimbabwe by the late Border Gezi (MP) that homosexuality could be accepted only if homosexual men could prove that they can fall pregnant as if sexual intercourse is solely for purposes of procreation, the Bible has played the most decisive role in shaping the public response to Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).[8] These are matters that are central to any quest for a just society unless our quest is to establish a selective just society, where only the leaders benefit as in the case of the various attempts at liberating ourselves from colonialism, which appears to have been a quest exclusive to the ruling political and economic elites. Sexual minorities have the Bible thrown in their faces as the judge on their acceptability in our society. If the Bible is thus used, it cannot be an obsolete text with no role to play in our society. We remain servants of the Bible; if not slaves to this very old compilation of texts and the earlier we accept this, the better for our quest for a just society.

 

Contrary to some claims that we are the pioneers in the quest for a just society, this article will demonstrate that around two thousand eight hundred years ago, there were already some individuals and groups who dedicated their lives and activities to the ideal of a just society. While they may have not been exposed to all that we have been exposed to, their wisdom can still play a significant role in our fight today. This is based on the assumption that the quest for a just society is not novel to the modern and post-modern worlds hence the means of fighting for this cause are not limited to those means that were developed in this globalized world alone. If we are building up on top of what some ancients did, it is apparent that we need to incorporate the wisdom of the ancients by adopting and adapting such wisdom to our times. A just society was, is and will be a work in progress even after our time. If each generation is to start afresh, then those who are disadvantaged today have no hope of ever being members of a just society. In fact, strides have been made in those areas where this "work-in-progress" has been acknowledged. Being a black African, this is easier to understand, if we had not build on top of the fight made by slaves in America, our forefathers' and foremothers' resistance of the colonial regimes, we would not have gained political independence. One small success leads to another and cumulatively they make tangible differences.

 

Why do some people in all generations in the past and present clamour for this so-called "just-society" or simply justice? Frequently, people have always wanted to be members of societies where they can pursue their interests and be rewarded for their efforts. In short, many people seek justice. "Whatever the verbal shape, it [justice] connotes a complex of meanings like equal, fair, right, good, which however modulated, constitute a focus of value that is understood to be essential to social well-being."[9] We seek a society that encourages and rewards hard-work while at the same time discouraging and punishing those who seek to benefit even where they did not labour, a society that promotes fairness and equality. These are the ideals for the majority of the people in Zimbabwe and in other societies. However, these ideals have not been realised by many because as we shall illustrate using examples from Zimbabwe and eighth century BCE Israel, in most cases the institutions that are supposed to regulate societal activities are instead involved in exploitation directly or indirectly. This reality is what has always informed those who have dedicated themselves to fight for a just society. Biblical scholars should not be any different because these are concerns that affected ancient Israel much in the same way they affect contemporary societies, more so African societies. Central to this concern is the fact that teachers and students of the Old Testament are never content with the world of the Old Testament only, but in essence seek to transform the world they abide in, if necessary through the usage of the Bible as an authoritative text.[10] In this case, the quest for a just society remains central to biblical scholars and their interaction with the Bible should always be directed by this quest.

 

The use of the Bible in public fora by respected public figures flies in the face of those who refuse to accept that the Bible remains an influential text today, at least in Zimbabwe. The whole life of at least seventy percent of Zimbabweans is dependent on the Bible, not only for private religious convictions but also for public convictions. This becomes part of the point of departure for biblical studies in Africa from its counterpart in Europe. The task of biblical scholars in Africa is not only to establish what the Bible meant to ancient Israelites or early Christians but to go a step further and ask the question; is the Bible useful or destructive to our quest for establishing a just society? Further, are there sections of the Bible that can be used towards this goal? These questions recognize the fact that the Bible remains critical in our society and any attempts at reforming our society will have to involve some engagement with the Bible, negative or positive. The establishment of flourishing democracies in Europe is a child of a critical engagement with the Bible and we cannot avoid this step in our own quest for a functional democracy in Zimbabwe. Do these illustrations paint us as people who are free from the influence of the Bible? No. We are all under the influence! This influence is itself testimony to the fact "that our encounter with the past is very much an encounter with ourselves."[11]

 

 

Amos and the diagnosis of dysfunctional societies: Then is now!

 

This section seeks to use the prophetic book of Amos with additional materials from other eighth century BCE Israelite and Judahite prophets, namely, Isaiah of Jerusalem, Micah and Hosea, to identify the problems that led to prophetic condemnations in both Israel and Judah. The prophet Amos, a southerner in origin, coming from a village called Tekoa, 8 miles south of Jerusalem prophesied in the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) in the middle of the 8th century BCE.[12] While there is an almost three millennia historical gap between the diagnosis of these prophets and our societies today, it would appear that the central concerns of that time remain our concerns today. Indeed, then is now, the past is the present! A critical analysis of the prophetic texts coupled with extra-biblical material shows that the eighth century BCE "prophetic condemnation was directed against a broad range of public misdeeds: the land-hunger of the landed aristocracy, capitalistic ruthlessness and the venality of the judges."[13] The condemnations of these prophets were not for the sake of being heard but were an attempt at transforming their world, a quest we share as we seek to transform our own world.

 

While many attempts have been made to explain why a prophet would engage in cross-border ministry, a question that sometimes dominate discussions on the ministry and book of Amos, it is becoming clearer that Israel was by far richer than Judah and that the riches of the north would have led to the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, an issue central to Amos. The situation in Israel may have been more urgent than that of Judah, and the fact that Israel did not survive long after Amos since it was overrun by Assyria in 722/1 BCE may be confirmation of this urgency. The gulf between Judah and Israel is excellently articulated by Israel Finkelstein and Asher Silberman who write;

While Judah continued to be poor and isolated, the natural richness and relatively dense population of the kingdom of Israel made it a tempting target for the increasingly complex regional politics of the Assyrian period. The Omrides' prosperity and power brought jealousies and military rivalries with neighbours - and the covetous ambition of the great Assyrian empire. The wealth of the kingdom of Israel also brought growing social tensions and prophetic condemnations.[14]

 

While Israel as a state may have been rich, the prophet saw beyond the national scale to the family scale to which he observed the dark side of the wealth of Israel. The prophet sums up what was happening in Israel in 6:4, where he sums up the manifestation of economic prosperity experienced by some but not all Israelites; "Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall." In proceeding with this section, four subsections will be used focusing on the diagnosis of the prophet on four critical areas, which normally are expected to guarantee the delivery of justice in a given society. The lack of justice is from the understanding of the prophet an indication that either one or all of these institutions is/are no longer playing their role in society. The subsections will focus on the political situation, economic situation, the judiciary and finally the religious situation of eighth century BCE Israel.

(a) The political situation of 8th century Israel

 

Politics can be determinative to all other aspects of life in any given community and we bear witness to this truism in our own society. When political decisions are made, they may result in the improvement of the economic fortunes of all or some. We contend that the political situation and system obtaining in ancient Israel plays a central role in understanding the prophetic condemnations. But, politics like other endeavours may take time to hatch its eggs, such that some contemporary political issues may actually be a result of policies of some centuries or decades ago. To understand the political situation of Amos, it is critical to briefly highlight the political history of Israel from the formation of the state in the ninth century BCE. The kingdom of Israel faced an early turbulent period in its early stages, that is, from its founding by Jeroboam I, which culminated in the ascension of Omri to the throne and the establishment of the first stable dynasty which ruled until 842 BCE, when it was overthrown by Jehu whose descendant Jeroboam II was king during the time of Amos.[15]

 

It is widely acknowledged that during the ninth century the small states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea were almost always fighting against each other. The biblical texts of the Judges, I and II Samuel as well as I and II Kings testify to the existence of these intermittent wars. However, after the initial problems of the state of Israel, the people eventually proclaimed Omri, an army general to be their king. The most significant political move by Omri was in his foreign policy where he managed to make "some political alliances with Judah, Phoenicia and the Aramean states."[16] This meant that focus was diverted from the inter-state wars to developing the state as political stability was achieved. The looming shadows of the Assyrian superpower remained a constant threat and point of worry for all these small states, such that by about 841 BCE, Israel under Jehu was a vassal since the "Black Obelisk" depicts Jehu bowing down to the king of Assyria paying his annual tribute.[17] However, "by the year 800 BCE, Assyrian power weakened and the western states of the Near East enjoyed about fifty years of relief."[18] In the political history of Israel, the Omride dynasty was overthrown by Jehu around 842 BCE, who in turn established a new dynasty which was in power in Israel for close to a century, the greater part of which was during the years when Assyrian power had significantly waned.

 

In spite of the clear bias against the northern kingdom, the Deuteronomist editors of the books of Kings could not deny the fact that under Jeroboam II, Israel expanded her territory. According to 2 Kings 14: 23 and 25;

In the fifteenth year of King Amaziah son of Joash of Judah, King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel began to reign in Samaria; he reigned forty-one years... He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.

 

Politically, therefore, Israel experienced its golden era during the reign of Jeroboam II. However, in this golden period the prophetic condemnation of Amos was issued. The charge against the political establishment was its failure to carry out its mandate of leading the people in the proper worship of Yahweh, but most significantly for this article, was the failure to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. Among the central concerns of the Prophet was the treatment of the poor and lowly people within the northern kingdom. After noting several instances of the manner in which the rights of the vulnerable groups were being violated in Israel in 2: 6-8, the prophet charges in 2: 9-10;

Yet I destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of cedars, and who was as strong as oaks; I destroyed his fruit above, and his roots beneath. Also I brought you up out of the land of Egypt, and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite.

 

The political leadership has failed in protecting the vulnerable yet from the prophet's understanding of the tradition of the Exodus, they were supposed to protect these vulnerable groups much in the same way Yahweh had protected the Israelites at a time when they were vulnerable. The protection Yahweh afforded them was to be duplicated in their own society such that the vulnerable could not be exploited. Yahweh taught them in deeds hence all the political leaders needed to do was repeat what Yahweh had done for the Israelites before. This appears to be a central function of the political leadership. By allowing the orphans, widows, and the poor to be exploited, the political leaders are directly and indirectly guilty of this oppression. "Micah 2-3 is devoted to precise scathing attacks on the political and religious leaders responsible for the deterioration of the old tribal order of communal equity. He is merciless in his descriptions of the violations of person and property which the rich and powerful have perpetrated on their vulnerable fellow Judahites."[19] The political establishment is according to the prophets supposed to oversee how the society functions with an eye on the protection of the rights of the vulnerable, yet the political leaders were not doing so.

 

The final charge against the political leaders appears to be the existence of a tax regime that appeared to worsen the plight of the poor of Israel as the prophet charges in 5: 11a that "you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain." Heavy taxation would have financed the extravagances of the political elite, creating an elitist consumption culture without regard to production and sustainability. The dignity of the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers could no longer be guaranteed in this society. It was clearly a society wherein only the fittest, in terms of resources at their disposal, had their survival guaranteed through the employment of unjust means. Eventually, therefore, all the glitter of political stability is seen as useless if it results in the injustice that the prophet saw in the northern kingdom. The charge is not that states must not tax citizens for the efficient provision of services but that taxation must strike a balance between the need to have a functional state without starving the people. Taxation must not be a way of financing the luxurious consumption practices of the elite when tax-payers are starving. Finally, services should not be auctioned otherwise they only become the preserve of the rich.

(b) The economic system of 8th century Israel

 

While the political stability obtaining in Israel during Amos' time convinced the prophet that it was not good, the truth is that it fed into the economic life of the state. Overall, the Israel of Amos' time experienced economic prosperity. It is also widely accepted that this economic prosperity was not accompanied by a fair distribution of the national wealth hence while some were getting richer from the expanded markets owing to the expansion of Israelite territory and foreign markets, the majority of the people remained poor, hence the "prosperity and prominence that the kingdom of Israel attained during the reign of Jeroboam II offered great wealth to the Israelite aristocracy."[20] That Israel was doing well economically has been boosted by "the discovery of a number of potsherds in its ruins [Samaria, the Capital of Israel] which list the dates and amounts of shipments containing oil and wine. These ‘Samaria ostraca' are among the few records of Israel that we have apart from the Bible."[21] In fact these appear to be the earliest written documents from both Israel and Judah giving credence to the argument that Israel attained statehood later than the postulated Davidic era and earlier than Judah.[22] This prosperity manifested itself in various ways; the expropriation of the land belonging to the poor resulting in the creation of large private estates, dishonest trading and business practices and a ruthless credit recovery system.

 

In most non-industrialized societies the means of production is almost always land, and this appears to have been the case in ancient Israel and remains the case in contemporary Zimbabwe. Owning land was the most basic starting point to guaranteeing one the necessities of life. However, the case of Naboth's vineyard happening under the rule of the Omrides appears to have set a precedent which continued during Amos' time. In 1 Kings 21, king Ahab decides to dispossess Naboth, a poor farmer, of his vineyard which was next to that of the king by offering to buy it, when Naboth refused to sell because it was "his inheritance" implying that it was hereditary and therefore could not be sold, Jezebel the wife of the king devised a plan to continue with the dispossession. This tradition of unfair and unjust land dispossessions may be one of the reasons behind the development of privately owned large estates and landless peasants because the rich "were systematically expropriating the land of commoners so that they could heap up wealth and display it gaudily in a lavish ‘conspicuous consumption' economy."[23] Isaiah also observes from the same period but in Judah that this was a time when large estates privately owned, developed in Judah. Hence, the Prophet says; "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land" (Isa. 5: 8). Similarly in Micah 3, the Prophet "is merciless in his descriptions of the violations of person and property which the rich and powerful have perpetrated on their vulnerable fellow Judahites."[24] The economic prosperity of Israel was such that the vulnerable groups were dispossessed of the most basic means of production and in that environment, the rich got richer while the poor got poorer.

 

These dispossessions did not only lead to the creation of two classes of people, that is, the landed aristocracy and the landless peasants. It also meant the two classes were at two opposite economic extremes, the former being extremely rich while the latter were in stinking poverty. These extremes are best illustrated in the two types of houses that emerged in Israel that time: bungalows or private mansions while there were also some big one-roomed structures in which whole families were housed, in some instances having to share with their sheep.[25] The prosperity of the rich also manifested in the constructions of winter and summer houses as noted by Amos in 3: 15 when he says; "‘I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end', says the LORD." This is clearly illustrated by E. W. Heaton, who notes that while the rich were leading lives of splendour and extravagance, the poor were wallowing in poverty.[26] How can a society be just when it cannot protect the basic rights of the most vulnerable members? How can such prosperity as obtaining in Israel be celebrated when it is based on the deliberate starvation of the masses through a systematic policy of dispossessing them of the only means of production? Essentially, the economic prosperity of Israel was based on a cannibalistic tendency. Israel had become a vampire-state, sucking the blood of some of its citizens.

 

The growth of trade in Israel due to the permitting political environment also led to the rise to prominence of a group that possibly was neither involved in the production nor end use of most of the tradable goods. This group, which some prefer to call the middlemen/traders or the merchants were trading unfairly to maximize their profits, the women of the elites (Amos 4:1) continued to demand more luxuries thereby instigating their husbands to commit more injustices in their pursuit of wealth. The indifference of the political establishment led to the creation of some form of "free market economy" where all decisions and practices had to satisfy one fundamental regulating principle, that is, the desire to maximize profits. All other considerations were relegated to this overarching interest hence in Amos 8:5-6, the Prophet sarcastically represents the mindset of the merchants as follows;

When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.

 

This text clearly alludes to some of the consequences of the "free markets" in ancient as well as contemporary societies and of special concern being the deliberate move towards the falsification of scales, balances and measuring buckets, the sale of substandard products, the use of inflated prices and trading in human beings. Isaiah of Jerusalem was a contemporary of Micah and Hosea and "his commission was to announce the unmitigated destruction of the twin kingdoms Israel and Judah ... The basis of the announced destruction of the twin kingdoms was their rulers' rampant violation of the rights of the common people and their headlong rush to amass quick wealth and political power at any cost (1:12-17; 3:13-15; 5:1-7,8-10)."[27] This is not only an issue for contemporary societies but was already an issue in 8th century BCE Israel as clearly articulated in the book of Amos.

 

Israel being prone to droughts was always risky for poor farmers, this coupled with the apparent encouragement by the state for the farmers to engage in cash crop farming terribly increased the risk of hunger for the poor farmers. Frequently the poor had to borrow from the rich for them to be able to plant their fields, while it is laudable that they could access the necessary loans, the law of credit was always their worst enemy. The danger was especially great in those seasons when droughts struck after they had borrowed. "The main instrument in this process of economic repression was the harsh credit law. It provided for the creditor to seize not only the whole property of the defaulting debtor, but also his family and his person (cf. II Kgs. 4:1, Neh. 5:1-5)."[28] This is the context in which we can further understand the sarcastic reference to merchants and the rich in Amos 8: 4-6, those who would have defaulted to their creditors were sold into slavery and lost all their rights. In short, some people became part of the properties of the elites. The need for standard human life is apparently a response to the excesses of the desire by man to master the world, which entails also dominating other human beings, though the danger is that some will do anything and everything that gives them advantages irrespective of what such actions do to their fellow human beings. Hence, in Amos 2: 6, the Prophet says; "Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals." The rich were happily trading in human beings because the poor would have defaulted in their loan repayments and could then be sold by their owners.

 

Israel had become full of dishonest business practices crafted in such a way that it was only benefiting a select few while the majority became the collateral damage in the quest for personal wealth and political power and influence. A society that should have valued the protection of the vulnerable groups became essentially the worst violator of the vulnerable groups. Clearly, these eighth century prophets encountered "a generation of ‘leaders' bent on protecting their own narrow interests by seizing every advantage at the expense of others."[29] There were no business ethics to regulate the activities of the merchants and the rich because those who were supposed to protect the poor had become complicity if not outright guilt in the exploitation of the poor. This does not at all suggest that the prophet was therefore against wealth; the charge is that those who have acquired wealth have done so through dishonest means. Wealth has to be acquired through just means.

(c) The justice delivery system of 8th century Israel

 

Many societies are structured in such a way that all members of such societies should be able to seek redress from anyone who is under the jurisdiction of such societies. In both ancient and contemporary societies, this function has been the central and defining characteristic of the judiciary. The judges are strongly encouraged to dispense justice irrespective of the social status of the litigants, simply put, there is not supposed to be one justice for the rich and another justice for the poor. In Israel as in Zimbabwe, when other institutions conspire to act against the common good and the poor, the poor look up to the judges or the judiciary for protection. However, in most such contexts, the judiciary may not be able to discharge its duties fairly and without fear because the political and economic elites "hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth" (5:10), as observed by Amos. The institutions that were meant to guarantee justice and fairness were symbolically and literally accused of "turning justice into wormwood" (Amos 5:7), a bitter herb. The weakness of the judiciary in such situations appears to be the result of the fact that "judicial authority ultimately lay in the hands of the king who had both military and political power to enforce royal law."[30] It would appear that in some cases judges serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority, in this case, the king. This realization is critical because the king and his political elites appear to have been indifferent to the plight of the poor and other vulnerable groups, meaning the political system was such that it encouraged injustice to thrive.

 

Having noted above the manner in which the law of credit was being used against the poor farmers, it would appear that political elites and the judges conspired with the merchants and the rich to reap off the poor. It would appear from the prophet Amos that corruption among the leaders, particularly the judiciary system was rampant. The judges were sitting near the city gates and there pronounced judgment. They were supposed to be independent and neutral, but many of them were bought by the rich, and the innocent suffered. Regarding the judges of his time, Amos says; "For 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 gate (5: 12)." Many times Amos alleges the existence of corruption among the judges (2:7; 5:7,10,12,15; 6:12). That some may have remained true to their calling is seen in the accusation by Amos that the elites of Israel hated those who "reprove or speak the truth in the gate", the gates were the normal places where cases were heard and judgments passed. Those who ruled against the rich were hated and suffered deprivation from the withdrawal of privileges granted by the rich. The exploitation of the poor farmers and producers by the rich estate owners and merchants therefore should be understood as having been carried with "governmental and juridical connivance."[31]

 

Witnessing this state of affairs, the prophet realized how it was impossible for this society to be transformed into a just society. While it was clear to the prophet that the society had become inherently unjust, the prophet still believed that "it was possible to act justly in the courts and in the economy."[32] This is why the prophet called upon those responsible to "let justice roll down like rivers!" While the rich may have acted legally, that is, according to the law of credit, the prophet articulates the dictum that: "Justice is the foundation and the criterion of law; law is not the foundation and criterion of justice."[33] In essence, laws are supposed to be based on the principles of fairness, right, good, in short on justice. Justice could not be fully understood as compliance with laws only, even if the laws have dehumanizing consequences. Justice in Amos' time depended so much on one's social status and political, economic and judicial connections. The poor had no redress anywhere because they had become part of the spoils for the rich, supported by the political elites and the judges.

(d) The religious life of 8th century Israel

 

The prophecies of Amos were primarily religious and indeed the whole book could be looked upon as a theological treatise. Its understanding of the political, judiciary, economic and social situations of Israel was based on a particular understanding of Israel's god, Yahweh. Much has been said about this subject hence this section will highlight the key issues in line with our quest for a just society. In societies that are religiously conservative or predominantly religious, religion ceases to be a matter for the faithful alone; it develops into a question of power. Frequently, the powerful manipulate religious ideologies for the purposes of entrenching and sustaining their hold on power. The prophet Amos identifies some fundamental problems with the religion of Israel. Central to Amos' understanding being that "righteousness expressed in justice is the indispensable qualification for worship - no justice, no acceptable public religion."[34]

 

The first problem identified by Amos is one of misinterpretation or clear manipulation of critical doctrines of faith as the reason behind the rampant injustices of his time. "Yahweh has become for them [the rich] the awarder and guarantor of personal advantages."[35] Religion therefore had become the basis upon which the political indifference, judicial complicity, and economic exploitation had been rationalized and normalized. Yahweh had now moved on, from caring for the vulnerable Israelites out of Egypt to caring exclusively for the rich and well to do. This theology is famed for its conception of Yahweh as a God who is just and therefore rewarding materially those who obey him while at the same time punishing, by withdrawing material possessions and thereby inflicting poverty, on those who disobey him (Deut. 8: 17-20). Due to the nature of this theological ideology, by the time of Amos in the 8th century BCE, the rich in Israel had manipulated this to justify the abnegation of their moral duties to assist [and to deal fairly and justly with] the poor and the needy of their own time.[36] The conviction of the prophets to proclaim judgment against the status quo is based on their knowledge of "the murderous oppression of the poor; not only did he detest that oppression, but he knew that it was diametrically opposed to Yahweh's wishes."[37] Fair business practice was no longer an issue because the end result, wealth or poverty was enough to judge one's obedience or disobedience to Yahweh.

 

The first problem leads directly into a second problem that is identified by Amos regarding the religious situation of Israel, that is, the priests were acting in complicity with the elites and the merchants in the violation of the rights of vulnerable groups. The priests appear to be encouraging the exploitation by positing that Yahweh is fully behind the wealthy members and in return the priests were benefiting immensely from the multiple sacrifices and offerings being given by the rich. In acting in complicity with the rich and merchants, several "snapshots and examples of normal or abnormal human behaviour"[38] appear to have become manifest in the lives of the priests. The prophet argues "They [Priests] lay themselves down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge; and in the house of their God they drink wine bought with fines they imposed" (2:8) suggesting sexual immorality and abuse of liquor became common. All the priests did was encouraging those with the means to make many sacrifices and offerings (4: 5). Finally, the priests appear to have engaged in a battle against the nazirites and prophets, possibly represented in the spat between Amos and Amaziah (7:14). The prophet accuses the priests of instigating "the nazirites [to] drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy'" (2:12). The priests saw their most important function as stifling the operations of prophets in a bid to maintain the status quo.

 

Finally, the prophet identified the formalisation of Israelite religion as an impediment to the establishment of a just society. Religion had ceased to have a moral face, it had now been reduced to some tangible and practice oriented set of beliefs. What had become central was the ability to offer sacrifices and offerings, being able to take part in Sabbath meetings and festivals hence in 4: 4, the prophet says; "Come to Bethel - and transgress; to Gilgal - and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days." In fact these offerings had become central in publicizing one's wealthy since it appears that those bringing the offerings always wanted them publicized as can be seen in 4: 5 where the prophet says; "bring a thank offering of leavened bread, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel! says the Lord GOD." Clearly, the offerings appear to have no other purpose except to satisfy the egos of the rich and greedy of the priests. Religion had become formal, to be judged only on the basis of the external manifestations of religious practices. At that time, the vulnerable groups' rights were infringed upon and disregarded on the pretext that their religion made it clear that people's material possessions were directly linked to their relationship with God, hence making religiously sanctioned abuses more subtle and appear acceptable.

 

 

Contemporary Zimbabwe as a basis for re-engaging the Prophets

 

The critical question we seek to grapple with in this section is; what are the implications of the eighth century BCE Israelite prophetic diagnoses to our contemporary quest for a just society in Zimbabwe? To what extent are these prophetic insights relevant to this quest and to the relevance of the church as a desirable institution in Zimbabwe? In attempting to answer these questions, it should be appreciated that while celebrated African scholars such as John Mbiti have argued that "Africans hear their stories retold in the Bible"[39] there are some fundamental differences between the situation of Amos and our contemporary situation. Despite these differences, there are critical points of correlation which makes the prophetic insights as relevant today as they were in eighth century BCE Israel. In carrying out the task of this section, we shall highlight the differences and how they can be mitigated.

(a) Zimbabwe is not 8th century BCE Israel

 

While political stability and economic prosperity figure prominently in the prophetic condemnations in eighth century BCE Israel, the central concern as noted above is justice. Many Zimbabweans today will point to the "fact" that Zimbabwe is politically unstable and as Ezra Chitando observes this can also be applied to the early years of independence when the government was involved in the Gukurahundi operation in Matebeleland.[40] In the post 2000 era, Obvious Vengeyi has clearly articulated the political environment as unstable.[41] In the understanding of many Zimbabweans, therefore, Zimbabwe has never enjoyed the kind of political stability that can be compared to the situation of Amos. This understanding could be extended back to the colonial era because of the wars in 1893, 1896 and the various resistance strategies which eventually led to the liberation war of the 1970s. Despite this outlook, there are some people who experienced some political stability in independent Zimbabwe, especially in the predominantly Shona speaking provinces because as Chitando correctly observed the Gukurahundi operation was targeted against Ndebele people. While Zimbabwe enjoyed cordial relations with her neighbours, there was always the threat of apartheid South Africa, which sponsored some elements to destabilize Zimbabwe. While there are many dynamics to the political conditions in Zimbabwe from the formation of the modern state, we shall not engage in a detailed analysis here. The political differences could be used to argue against the relevance of Amos in Zimbabwe today.

 

The second point that could limit the relevance of the prophetic insights in contemporary Zimbabwe is that the foundational unifying principle for ancient Israel was a religious identity that was strengthened by the claim to having been descendants of the same ancestor. This cannot be claimed for Zimbabwe, pre-colonial, colonial or post-colonial, with the post-colonial state having to use the liberation war as the central unifying principle. While Zimbabwe is predominantly Christian and while Christianity is the de facto state religion other religious traditions and faiths have constitutionally guaranteed rights in the state of Zimbabwe. The situation of Israel therefore differs from that of contemporary Zimbabwe. Further, we noted that Amos operated at a time when Israel was experiencing economic prosperity something that Zimbabwe has not had for some time now. In fact, since 1997, the Zimbabwean economy has gradually been failing and it almost imploded in the period 2007-2008. Are these differences not strong enough to undo any attempts at re-engaging the prophets in our age? Are there other considerations that can outweigh these differences? Below, I shall attempt to show that there are indeed other issues that can sustain a re-engagement of the prophetic insights in contemporary Zimbabwe.

(b) The prophetic insights speak to our situation: Amos for today

 

Instead of being bogged down by the differences between eighth century BCE Israel and contemporary Zimbabwe, this section seeks to demonstrate that there are profitable ways in which to make use of the prophetic insights from so long ago. This is based on the fact that these insights form part of the widely used insights from the sacred traditions of Christians hence have many followers. Further, the differences noted above are actually superficial because the prophet did not direct his energies against political stability, common religious heritage or economic prosperity. These are elements that all would gladly embrace. Instead, the prophetic insights are targeted at attitudes and actions, amounting to injustices, nurtured in certain conditions, in ancient Israel they were nurtured in a politically stable environment but the same can be nurtured in volatile situations as the Zimbabwean case will demonstrate here.

 

The first critical diagnosis of Amos is targeted against the political establishment in Israel and the crime committed by the political elites is that they have developed an indifferent attitude towards fairness and justice as pillars towards creating a just society. While, it may have taken Israel a level of political stability to nurture this attitude, Zimbabwe has nurtured this attitude even in times of political distress. Political indifference to the plight of the poor and vulnerable in Zimbabwe is not a crime committed in the post-2000 era alone but can effectively be traced back to the formation of the modern state of Zimbabwe, from the days of the British South Africa Company (BSAC). There were indeed massive politically sanctioned dispossessions of the vulnerable African communities of their land by the colonial regimes. Further, at the height of the so-called "fast-track land reform" carried out under the encouragement of Robert Mugabe, the poor were encouraged to settle anywhere, without the necessary services to make them productive. There are obvious differences between the actions of colonial regimes and the ZANU-PF government, yet the bottom line is that they both did not act to protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable. In fact, the political elites in Zimbabwe have been known to use force and violence against the vulnerable whenever the poor and vulnerable have sought to highlight their plight.

 

The observation by Vengeyi regarding the period after the 29 March 2008 elections and before the 27 June 2008 Presidential election run-off succinctly sums up the attitude of the successive political elites in the history of Zimbabwe from 1890 to the present. In his observation, Vengeyi argues;

That the Zimbabwean government exhibited authoritarian traits, particularly towards 27 June 2008 presidential run-off is beyond debate, at least in the eyes of the generality of the Zimbabweans. Thousands of people were brutalized, maimed and tortured while more than hundred were murdered. Livestock were killed and homes burnt to ashes. In a majority of cases, opposition supporters were targets of the violence. Soldiers, police officers, ZANU PF militia and activists of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (zanu pf) have been positively identified as perpetrators almost justifying accusations by the opposition that the government directly orchestrated the violence.[42]

 

This political attitude which appears to suggest that the poor and vulnerable have only one fundamental right, that is, ‘the right to make the political elites happy' clearly falls into the category of the crime diagnosed by Amos against the political elites of Israel. There has never been a time when the poor and vulnerable have not been sacrificed by the political elites from the colonial era.

 

The interconnectedness of political indifference towards the vulnerable and their economic exploitation was also diagnosed by Amos as yet another impediment towards the establishment of a just society. The same situation has been clearly the case in the history of Zimbabwe, first, the indifference or active participation of the colonial regimes saw the best farmland being privatised by a few white commercial farmers. Then in order to create a class of workers, heavy and dubious taxes were introduced to force indigenous people to seek employment within the structures of the colonial regimes. Independence did not bring much joy to those who suffered the worst under the colonial regime because the indigenous political elite soon started accepting bribes from the economic elites to the detriment of the vulnerable and poor. Indeed there are projects and programmes which benefited the poor but they should be taken in their context. Some benefits came the way of the poor in order to guarantee their vote for the ruling elites. Alliances were struck between the political elites, farming and industrial moguls to the detriment of the welfare of the poor.

 

The situation deteriorated in the post-2000 era when dishonest business practices became prevalent and blatant in Zimbabwe. These practices go a long way to show how the situation has become complex because the political elites have largely become the economic elites as well and as government they created a regime of price controls to give the impression that they are protecting the poor and vulnerable yet as economic elites they simply diverted their products away from the formal market into the much more lucrative informal market where a product could be sold for more than three times its actual value. Overall, the poor and vulnerable became worse off during the era of price controls than they were without price controls. As living standards were falling daily for the poor, they were skyrocketing daily for the rich and well connected. All the latest vehicles were imported into Zimbabwe, the best of homes were built during this time yet many make-shift homes were also sprouting up in urban centres, which were later demolished under Operation Murambatsvina.[43] The poor have been manufactured in Zimbabwe from the colonial era to the present through the connivance between political and economic elites.

 

The accusations against the judiciary of Amos' time may also be extended to the contemporary situation in Zimbabwe, in that the judges have always depended on the political elites and sometimes the economic elites in two ways: for survival and for the enforcement of their judgments. In the colonial era, it would appear that there was a justice for whites and another one for blacks. Judicial procedure also appeared to have been different with whites being innocent until proven guilty while blacks were guilty until they proved themselves to be innocent. In the post colonial period there have been instances where the judiciary has been hard pressed to treat people differently, and where they dispensed justice the political elites have deliberately undermined the judiciary. The case of Patrick Kombayi, who was shot and seriously injured in the run up to the 1990 elections saw two Central Intelligence Organisation operatives being convicted and then immediately afterwards receiving presidential pardons.[44] In the post-2000 era, the old system used by the colonial regimes came back to haunt the MDC and its members, being MDC meant one was guilty of whatever crime until they proved themselves innocent, while being ZANU-PF meant one was innocent of politically motivated crimes unless it was necessary to make them sacrificial lambs.

 

The channels of judicial redress for those unfairly treated through an independent judiciary have always been tilted against the poor and vulnerable in the history of the state of Zimbabwe. Much as some judges of Amos' time were hated for dispensing justice, some judges in Zimbabwe have faced intimidation and persecution for acting fairly and justly. In some cases, the judges themselves have been terribly compromised for them to dispense justice in the courts. The case of a Chipinge magistrate who presided over the case of some white farmers who were challenging their eviction orders is a case in point. The magistrate was himself the person supposed to occupy one of the farms and yet he did not declare his interest in the case, went ahead to hear the case and as expected under the circumstances, convicted the white farmers.[45] The convictions may have been on merit but it is also true that the convictions may have been influenced by the vested interests of the presiding magistrate. For many, the Zimbabwean courts have never been agents that "let justice roll down like rives!"

 

Finally, the prophet accuses the religious leaders of conniving with the status quo thereby failing to assert their position as the conscience of the society. Many African Christian historians and theologians have extensively covered areas showing the significant contributions of Christianity in Zimbabwe and also some of the areas where missionaries failed the people of Zimbabwe. Indeed, Christian leaders like the other elites may have done some positive things for the poor and vulnerable,[46] and some of them paid the price when they did so without the blessings of the political and economic elites. But it is also critical to note that one area that falls into the diagnosis of Amos is the manner in which Christian missionaries created a class of black elites which has become the nemesis of post-colonial Zimbabwe. These elites continue to draw on Christian teachings to justify their ruthless hold on power. After losing the March 2008 election, Mugabe declared that he had been put in power by God and would therefore not vacate that office unless God removed him.[47] Zimbabwe has now become their entitlement, presiding over the affairs of Zimbabwe is no longer a privilege but a right not to be questioned.

 

Another accusation is that religious leaders sometimes allow some fundamental misinterpretations of the Bible to be developed which militate against the establishment of a just society and the formalisation of religious beliefs and practices. The policies of the colonial regimes were almost always packaged as divine interventions good for the blacks[48] while in the post-2000 era churches have been full to the brim with people who continued to give offerings and pay tithes for the upkeep of the pastors and leaders. The result is that religious leaders have become part of the axis of elites that have benefited from the exploitation of the poor. Where do the tithes and offerings go to? A politically, economically and socially unstable environment made it easy to sell the God-product to desperate people. The spiritualization of these problems opened room for the rich to flock to church and they do not tire in paying tithes and offerings to keep the Christian leaders happy. As problems mounted, more prayers were demanded and collections of offerings never stopped! The message has always been: "No one can change the fortunes of Zimbabwe except Jesus, who is the single Lord!"[49] But, Jesus has become expensive for those who are heavily taxed by the government, paying at least twice more for basic necessities of life from the economic elites. The Christian leaders have largely been acting in complicity with the other elites; the poor have had no refuge. Unlike the Israelite situation, the Zimbabwean situation has seen a compromised Christian leadership on both sides of the political divide mainly driven by selfish considerations.

(c) What are the consequences of this web of injustice? Can they be mitigated?

 

The first consequence of this interconnected web of injustices is that it wipes off any notions of internal coherence within the state. This web has only managed to create and nurture mistrust among people who are supposed to be partners in their development. As seen in the transition from white minority rule to black "minority" rule, it only instigates further acts of ruthless exploitation from within the society itself. The second consequence, which is closely related to the first, is that it weakens the state as a whole. There is nothing that unifies the people from within, and with no guarantee of redress, some may see their future as firmly dependent on some foreign intervention. The diagnosis that Israel's "external fate [annihilation by Assyria was] directly linked with their internal abandonment of the Yahwistic charter of social justice and equality,"[50] best sums up this consequence of a web of injustices in Zimbabwe. Should it be surprising that there are some Zimbabweans who wish some foreign power could invade Zimbabwe and destroy the current political structure?

 

This state can be mitigated through the deliberate movement towards transforming the oppressive institutions to begin serving the state and not the state serving these institutions. Isaiah and Hosea share the understanding that "any hopeful future could only be realized after the total collapse of the existing perverse national structures."[51] The central lesson that can be drawn from the prophetic insights is that, we should question those aspects of our society that are packaged as normal and in some instances as divine because frequently they have been devised to legitimize the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable members of society. For Israel and Judah, the exile was seen as a necessary step towards the demolition of these unjust structures but in the case of Zimbabwe, the national constitution making process should be used to dismantle these unjust structures. In essence, the current structures established by the colonial regime and to a certain extent perfected by the ZANU-PF government should be dismantled and new structures that can sustain the rights of all citizens be created. Such an opportunity is before us through the constitutional process. It should be the national goal to stop manufacturing poverty and poor people!

 

Finally, the Church has the option to remain a desirable part of society or to become part of the perverse structures that must be dismantled. In the hope that the Church would always choose to remain relevant three major aspects ought to define the character of the Church in our society: First, the Church must embrace a prophetic ministry based on the power of the Word, and even of human words, to change history; second, the ministry of the Church must have a deep awareness of historical concreteness in religious life; third, the Church must have A sense of vocation, of responsiveness to God and responsibility to and for the world.[52] All these aspects are central to making the Church relevant within the communities it operates in. In fact, the Church must assert the power to proclaim justice as Micah 3:8 says; "But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin." This power should be based not only on what religious leaders read from the Bible but what they practise in daily life. The Church fails to be relevant when it draws lines of division between today's poverty and the coming kingdom of God. In essence, the eighth century prophets proclaim that God is interested in our whole lives in this world.

 

 

Conclusion

 

In this article, I explored the legitimacy of appropriating some biblical texts for contemporary usage, in particular, this article focused on the prophet Amos. The basis for the continued engagement of the Bible I argued is the widespread and public use of the Bible in Zimbabwe. It has been argued that with such usage of the Bible, there is need to continue investigating on the impact of the Bible in the quest for a just society in Zimbabwe. Clearly, it has been demonstrated that the Bible is a double-edged sword that can be used constructively or destructively. Further, it has also been argued in this article that the prophetic diagnosis of Amos and other prophets had far-reaching implications that the diagnosis is as valid today as it was then. The complex networking of institutions that thrive on the exploitation of the vulnerable is at the heart of the problems bedevilling Zimbabwe today and have a history dating back to the formation of the modern state of Zimbabwe. Unless this structure is dismantled and replaced, the poor will remain as victims of the well to do. The prophetic insights are timeless, while the Christian leaders and Christianity as a religion risk the possibility of becoming irrelevant.

 

 

Masiiwa Ragies Gunda has published a number of articles including, "African Theology of Reconstruction: The Painful Realities and Practical Options" in: Exchange 38/1 (2009). He can be contacted on: mrgunda2002@yahoo.co.uk or ragies.gunda@uni-bamberg.de

 

 

Notes

[1] Ezra Chitando, "‘Down with the devil, Forward with Christ!': A study of the interface between religious and political discourses in Zimbabwe" in: African Sociological Review, 6, 1, 2002, 1. Available online: http://www.codesria.org/Links/Publications/asr6_1full/chitando.pdf accessed 12 June 2009.

[2] For the details of the distribution of the Bible in Africa and other continents, see: John S. Mbiti, Bible and Theology in African Christianity, Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1986.

[3] Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance, Dr. Herbert Murerwa quoted Jeremiah as part of his presentation of a budget in 2005. "Only unpopular leaders fear the people they lead" available online: http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/nov20_2002.html accessed 8 March 2010.

[4] "We Have turned the corner, says Zim finance Minister" available online: http://www.zimbabwesituation.com/dec1_2006.html accessed 8 March 2010.

[5] Renson Gasela, MP, "Motion: Use of food for political mileage" in Parliament of Zimbabwe Hansard, Volume 29 27 November 2002, 1621-1665. Available online: http://www.parlzim.gov.zw/cms%5CHansards%5CArchives%5Chouse_of_assembly%5C29_2002-2003/27_November_2002_29-19.pdf accessed 8 March 2010.

[6] IRIN, "Gender Activists protest MP's anti-women remarks" 11 October 2006, available online: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/63fd54a782df237d3e0a3b8359ef7e00.htm accessed 9 March 2010.

[7] J. Clement (ed), Human Rights and the Churches: New Challenges, Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1998/1, 19.

[8] Cf. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, "Homosexuality and the Bible in Zimbabwe: Contested ownership and interpretation of an ‘Absolute Book'", in: Joachim Kügler and Ulrike Bechmann (eds), Biblische Religionskritik: Kritik in, an und mit biblischen Texten - Beiträge des IBS 2007 in Vierzehnheiligen, Münster: LIT Verlag, 2009, 76-94.

[9] James L. Mays, "Justice: Perspectives from the Prophetic Tradition" in: David L. Petersen (ed), Prophecy in Israel: Search for an Identity; Issues in Religion and Theology 10, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, 145.

[10] Cf. John W. Rogerson, „The potential of the Negative: Approaching the Old Testament through the work of Adorno" in M. Daniel Carroll R. (ed), Rethinking Contexts, Rereading Texts: Contributions from the Social Sciences to Biblical Interpretation, Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000, pp 24-47, 47.

[11] David J. Pleins, The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible: A Theological Introduction, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, vii.

[12] Cf. Bruce E. Willoughby "Book of Amos" in: David N. Freedman et al (eds), The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 1 A-C, New York: Doubleday, 1992, 205.

[13] Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis (1910) in: J. David Pleins, The Social Visions of the Hebrew Bible: A Theological Introduction, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, 215.

[14] Cf. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's new vision of ancient Israel and the origin of its sacred texts, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002, 196-97.

[15] Cf. Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 170-75.

[16] Rainer Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period: Volume 1: From the beginnings to the end of the Monarchy , London: SCM Press Ltd, 1994, 149.

[17] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, New York: Paulist Press, 1984, 310.

[18] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 311.

[19] Norman K. Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985, 375.

[20] Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 212.

[21] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 311.

[22] Cf. Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 153-68.

[23] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 356.

[24] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 375.

[25] Cf. E. W Heaton, Everyday Life in Old Testament times, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969, 27.

[26] Heaton, Everyday Life in Old Testament times, 27.

[27] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 377.

[28] Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period, 160.

[29] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 358.

[30] Robert R. Wilson, "Israel's Judicial System in the Preexilic Period" in: The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 74, No. 2, 1983, 229-248, 240.

[31] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 356.

[32] Mays, "Justice: Perspectives from the Prophetic Tradition", 147.

[33] Paul Lehmann cited in: Mays, "Justice: Perspectives from the Prophetic Tradition", 153.

[34] Mays, „Justice: Perspectives from the Prophetic Tradition", 146.

[35] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 358.

[36] T. E. Fretheim, Deuteronomic History, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983, 46

[37] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 357.

[38] G. Von Rad, Old Testament Theology Volume II, New York: Harper and Row, 1965, 135.

[39] Mbiti, Bible and Theology in African Christianity, 26.

[40] Cf. Chitando, „Down with the devil, Forward with Christ!", 4.

[41] Cf. Obvious Vengeyi, „Israelite prophetic marks on Zimbabwean men of God: An evaluation of the conduct of selected Zimbabwean church leaders in recent politics", in: Exchange 39, 2, 2010, 159-178, 159-60.

[42] Vengeyi, „Israelite prophetic marks on Zimbabwean men of God, 159-60.

[43] Ana Kajumulo Tibaijuka (UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe), Report of the fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe to assess the scope and impact of Operation Murambatsvina, 18 July 2005. Available online: http://testcurrent.unhabitat.org/documents/ZimbabweReport.pdf accessed 8 March 2010. See also, Fortune Sibanda et al, "‘Hawks and Doves': The impact of Operation Murambatsvina on Johane Marange Apostolic Church in Zimbabwe" in: Exchange 37/1, 2008, 68-85.

[44] U.S Department of State, "Zimbabwe Human Rights Practices", 1993. Available online: http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1993_hrp_report/93hrp_report_africa/Zimbabwe.html accessed 11 March 2010. For the pardon see, Zimbabwe Daily News, "Senator Patrick Kombayi dies" 22 June 2009. Available online: http://thezimbabwedailynews.com/2009/06/senator-patrick-kombayi-dies accessed 11 March 2010.

[45] Investigative Africa, "Judicial Fraud: Magistrate jails farmers, grabs a third of their farm" 1 February 2010. Available online: http://investigativezim.com/2010/02/01/conflict-of-interest-magistrate-jails-farmers-grabs-a-third-of-their-farm accessed 9 March 2010.

[46] Cf. Chitando, „Down with the devil, Forward with Christ!", 4.

[47] Cf. The Telegraph, "Robert Mugabe says ‘Only God' can remove him", 20 June 2008. Available online: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/2165171/Robert-Mugabe-says-only-God-can-remove-him.html accessed 11 March 2010.

[48] Andrew Cusack, "Ian Smith, 1919-2007: Prime Minister of Rhodesia" available online: http://www.andrewcusack.com/2007/12/07/ian-smith-1919-2007 accessed 11 March 2010.

[49] Chitando, „Down with the devil, Forward with Christ!", 8.

[50] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 377.

[51] Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible, 377.

[52] Gene. M. Tucker, "The Role of the Prophets and the Role of the Church", in: David L. Petersen (ed), Prophecy in Israel: Search for an Identity; Issues in Religion and Theology 10, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987, 172-3.