By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
Fragments taken from the medieval Roman Church of St. Nicholas in Prison include images of Old Testament prophets like Amos, Jeremiah and Aggeus.
Many of the images painted on the 31 Vatican frescoes, scheduled for display in Lubbock beginning in June 2002, represent stories of saints and prophets.
The portraits, and their corresponding symbols, held deep meaning for Europeans of the 11th and 12th centuries, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, the Catholic priest who convinced the Vatican to allow an exhibit in Lubbock.
With time's passage, memories of some prophets faded, but religion and art scholars recall the significance of their images, and their lives, Neyland said.
Everyone who attends "Traditions and Renewal: The Vatican Museums Exhibition" at the Texas Tech Museum, will have an opportunity to learn about stories passed on for more than 2,000 years, he said.
One of the frescoes depicts an image purported to be the Old Testament prophet Amos.
"Amos was a man of perseverance," Neyland said. "He was asked by God to deliver a very harsh message to the Israelites for the need to repent.
"And he was challenged ... to be an example of what that message meant."
Amos, like nearly all Old Testament prophets, was given a seemingly impossible mission, Neyland said.
"But because of his firm resolve, his faith and total dependency on God, he fulfilled, successfully, the message," Neyland said. "Amos' example is one that people in his day, and ours, can turn to for consolation, strength, and the real meaning of mercy, which basically is, mercy toward those who have harmed or unjustly treated us."
Amos was a herdsman of Thecua, a village 12 miles south of Jerusalem.
Some scholars say he also was a simple dresser of sycamore-trees and, as far as is known, was not a wealthy man.
But God called upon Amos for a special mission, Neyland said.
"Go, prophesy to My people (of) Israel," God commanded.
In the eyes of a simple shepherd, this must have appeared a daunting command, Neyland said.
Amos was not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, and he had no formal schooling.
Yet, God called upon him to warn the Israelites of impending doom should they continue living lives dedicated to wealth and pleasure.
Amos went to deliver a stern rebuke to a people who believed they were chosen by God, and who were thoroughly convinced that God was pleased with them, Neyland said.
When, in God's name, Amos announced their impending doom and life in captivity if they did not repent, the Israelis scoffed, Neyland said.
"Amos was, within his own family, given many trials and tribulations, in which he always had to show the concept of love as unconditional," Neyland said. "Therefore he had to repeatedly forgive people for their actions against him, actions that would be, for most people during his day, and probably ours, unforgivable."
The Israelite leader Jeroboam II (B.C. 781-741) had rapidly conquered Syria, Moab, and Ammon, thereby extending Israel's dominion from the source of the Orontes River in Lebanon on the north to the Dead Sea on the south.
The northern empire of Solomon was practically restored, and the people enjoyed a long period of peace and security marked by a revival of artistic and commercial development.
Samaria, the capital, was adorned with substantial buildings. Riches were accumulated; comfort and luxury reached their highest standard and the Northern Kingdom attained a material prosperity unprecedented since the disruption of the empire of Solomon.
But social corruption and oppression of the poor and helpless was prevalent, Neyland said. Public degeneracy was excused on the plea that the people were under the influences of Oriental civilization.
Outwardly, religion was flourishing, and the sacrificial worship of the God of Israel was carried on with pomp and, in general, faithfulness.
But public morals gradually were eroded by vices that often accompany success and wealth, Neyland said.
Religion was debased in various ways. Many Israelites offered sacrifice, without inward conviction or the solemnity required for their presentation to a holy God.
Amos, a southerner, went to the Northern Kingdom and followed God's command, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II.
He described tenets which became known as "The Book of Amos."
Those tenets, in brief, describe the doom of the heathen nations, "because of their breaches of the elementary and unwritten laws of natural humanity and good faith."
And for Israel, "utter destruction" was promised by Amos, because "they were especially cared for by the Lord ... yet they have committed the same crimes as their pagan neighbors."
The prophesies of Amos are universally regarded as authentic. And Amos' book is considered by some scholars as the earliest prophetical writing known, the encyclopedia states.
The Book of Amos gives scholars valuable information concerning the widespread beliefs of the eighth century B.C., and the years before.
"The prophet Amos is the Old Testament prophet," Neyland reiterated. "A man of perseverance."