Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Amos

Today is the Feast of the Prophet Amos. According to the witness of the Book of Prophecy named after him, he was a shepherd, herdsman and a dresser of fig trees from the village of Thekoue, which was about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Though an unlearned man, his were the first of the prophecies to be written down. This is likely due to the fact that he was the first to warn Israel that God was going to lift up His protective hand due to their stubborn unrepentance.

The opening lines of the Book of Amos refer to the reigns of Uzziah and Jeroboam, kings of Judah as well as an earthquake. Josephus recorded that there was a great earthquake that took place when Uzziah was king and afflicted with leprosy. The earthquake was so significant that Zechariah wrote about it 200 years later.

All of these historical references place the time when Amos was proclaiming his prophecies from about 795 B.C. to about 754 B.C. It is probable, therefore, that he was a contemporary of Jonah, Elisha, Isaiah and Micah. At the end of his career, he went to Bethel in the Northern Kingdom (Israel split into two kingdoms after the death of King Solomon, with Judah being the Southern Kingdom). There, the priests, led by Amasias, clubbed him to death because they tired of his warnings. Less than thirty years later, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians.

For those interested in setting up a sandbox campaign, there is a lot of really interesting information that can be mined from the nine chapters found in the Book of Amos:

  • Damascus (also referred to as Bikath-Aven, which means Valley of Wickedness) is ruled by the House of Hazael. It is guarded by a great gate. The current ruler is Ben-Hadad who holds some kind of scepter as the sign of his office (is it some kind of powerful magic item or relic?). The palace is referred to as Beth-Eden (which means House of Pleasure). The people are called the Aram who originally are from Kir. They have recently conquered the city of Gilead.
  • Philistia has four major cities: Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Ekron. There was a fifth, but it was destroyed by the House of Hazael. There is another scepter in Ashkelon. They engage in a slave trade with Edom.
  • Tyre also engages in the slave trade, specifically those captured from Judah and the Northern Kingdom. This is a betrayal of an alliance made with Israel in the days of Solomon.
  • Edom (also called Teman) is a slavers kingdom. There are a number of palaces in the city of Bozrah (which suggests that there are several families which engage in the trade and have some kind of alliance or agreement on various slaving practices and trade routes).
  • Ammon is an ally of Damascus and took part in the sacking of Gilead where Ammonite troops took part in atrocities (it is recorded that they disemboweled pregnant women). They were paid for their part in the battle with more territory. The capital city is called Rabbah.
  • Moab is an enemy of Edom. They recently captured the king of Edom and burnt his bones (which, in the belief of the people of the region, would deny him happiness in the afterlife and, thus, is considered an act of extreme desecration). The major city is called Kerioth.
  • Israel (also called the Northern Kingdom) has a very wealthy and powerful aristocracy (there is reference to entire walls being carved from ivory). This wealth comes on the back of a desperately poor and oppressed peasantry. The major city is Bethel. They have abandoned the worship of God in favor of Sakkuth (who might be associated with Saturn) and Kaiwan who is associated with stars. This suggests that the priests of Bethel are astrologers. Bersheeba, a renowned shrine used by the patriarchs, can be found in the southern part of the kingdom.
  • Judah (also called the Southern Kingdom) is ruled over by the leper king Uzziah. Though more faithful to God than Israel, the worship of idols is widespread.

For the purposes of utilizing all of this for a typical FRPG campaign, one can say that the massive earthquake mentioned in the Books of Amos and Zechariah as well as by Josephus created a massive chasm in the earth within spitting distance of the PCs base of operations (whether that be in the Northern or Southern Kingdom). Vile creatures have been pouring forth from this chasm, raiding and pillaging.

Thus, there is a source for monstrous creatures, a dungeon complex in which can be found treasure close to the PCs base of operations  and a rich political tapestry that forms a bunch of background noise that PCs can take advantage of at higher levels.

For myself, I would be tempted to dip my toe into re-imaging the Slave Pits again, especially with the new release of Against the Slave Lords due out this week with the new introductory adventure Danger at Darkshelf Quarry. A quarry can easily be re-imagined as a chasm and Edom would fill the role of the Slave Lords very nicely, especially if one of the families was delving into a market that it wanted kept secret from the other families.

For other ideas to fill out an Amos-inspired sandbox, check out some of my other posts on OT prophets here, here and here.

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