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Book of Joel
JOEL, BOOK OF (jō'ĕl, Heb. yô’ēl, Jehovah is God). The
Many modern scholars believe the book to have been written much later, about 350 b.c. Others deny its unity and claim that the apocalyptic elements come from a time as late as 200. Thus it is claimed that Joel is the last OT prophetic book. Some arguments for the book’s late date: (1) There is no reference to the northern kingdom, Israel. (2) The Greeks are mentioned in
The unity of the book may be taken for granted, since it is conceded by many radical critics today. The arguments for a late date are not strong. In such a short book there need be no reference to the northern kingdom, and it is quite possible that the Hebrews may have known the Greeks at a time well before the Exile. It should be added that since the book makes no claim as to its date, this matter is not of primary importance. Locust plagues are frequent in the Near East and almost any such visitations would provide a background for this book.
The occasion of the book was a devastating locust plague. Those who have not experienced such a calamity can hardly appreciate its destruction. An article, with convincing photographic illustrations, appeared in the National Geographic Magazine of December 1915, describing a locust attack on Jerusalem in that year. This description of a visitation similar to that which occasioned Joel’s prophecy provides an excellent background for understanding the Book of Joel. The prophet, after describing the plague and its resulting chaos, urges the nation to repent of its sins and then goes on to predict a worse visitation, the future.
I. The Locust Plague and Its Removal (1:1-2:27).
A. The plague of locusts (1:1-20).
B. The people urged to repent (2:1-17).
C. God pities and promises relief (2:18-27).
II. The Future Day of the Lord (2:28-3:21).
A. The Spirit of God to be poured out (2:28-32).
B. The judgment of the nations (3:1-17).
C. Blessing on Israel following judgment (3:18-21).
In the second chapter Joel continues to to describe the plague and to urge repentance. The verbs in
The second major theme of Joel’s prophecy is introduced in
Bibliography: L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (NIC), 1976; H. W. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 1977.——JBG
JOEL, BOOK OF (יוֹאֵ֔ל, Yahweh is God, LXX ̓Ιωήλ, ̓Ιουήλ). In the Heb. list of the twelve Minor Prophets, the stood second, whereas in the MSS of the LXX it was put in fourth place. The MT consisted of four chs., whereas the VSS had only three, because of the combining of two of the Heb. chs. into one. The Eng. VSS followed the LXX and Vul. in combining chs. 2 and
There can be no doubt as to the factual nature of the successive insect plagues that formed one of the principal themes of Joel, although the absence of the customary dating formula in the superscription, as well as the timeless nature of the contents of the book make the question of the date of composition, and therefore the whole matter of the historical background, one of great difficulty. Critical estimates of the date of Joel have ranged all the way from the 9th cent. b.c. to the Maccabean period, and it must be admitted from the start that there are strong arguments in favor of both a preexilic and a postexilic date for the work. Certain vv. of the prophecy can be taken as implying that the enemies of the nation were preexilic peoples such as Egypt, Edom (
From a theological point of view, as the prophet used the familiar 8th cent. b.c. eschatological term “the day of the Lord,” he did so in a manner that differed significantly from its usage in the Book of Amos, and this fact might suggest an era other than that of the 8th or 7th centuries b.c. Any description of the historical background of Joel is therefore dependent to a larger extent than in most other OT prophecies upon the date of composition that the individual scholar is prepared to assign to the work. Locust plagues, like some other natural phenomena, have been frequent occurrences in the Near E for millennia, and almost any visitation of that kind could provide at any time a proper and immediate background for the composition.
Unity and special problems.
The main critical issue regarding the prophecy of Joel concerns its integrity as a literary composition. In particular, questions have been raised why a work from a single hand should have historical and apocalyptic sections placed side by side. The chief objection to this procedure has been that, if the narrative material is to be understood literally, which seems most reasonable under the circumstances, it is not easy to see why an author should then intermingle such a different theme as an apocalyptic section of prophecy and still furnish what has all appearances of being a unified work.
Arguments for the unity of authorship of Joel have in some cases regarded the locusts as symbolic and in others as real, without apparently impairing the validity of the conclusions. Some conservative scholars have seen in the prophetic description of the plagues an accurate picture of a historical event, with the behavior of the insects indicating nothing more than an idealized description of the ruin and havoc wrought by a marauding enemy. Following the pattern of apocalyptic thought in Ezekiel, Daniel, or Revelation, this disaster would suggest to the prophet something of the nature of the coming judgment. If these concepts were actually associated in this manner in the mind of the prophet, it would be easy to account for the eschatological references in the historical section of the prophecy.
Scholars who have postulated duality of authorship have generally argued that the apocalyptic passages, as well as the eschatological allusions in
Authorship and compilation.
Apart from the name Joel ben Pethuel, found in the title of the prophecy, nothing is known of the life or circumstances of the attributive author. In the LXX the cognomen “Pethuel” was rendered “Bethuel,” which goes back to the patriarchal period as the designation of the nephew of Abraham and the last son of Nahor and Milcah (
As observed previously, the prophecy can be divided into two distinct units comprising
Questions of authorship and compilation are closely related to those of the interpretation and integrity of the work. The first section (
From the vividness and accuracy of the description, there is every reason to suppose that the locust plague was an actual historical fact. For purposes of interpretation, it is important to notice that the locust plague is described in terms of a human army. The insects are said to be like soldiers (
Whereas the first section was recognized by many scholars as having a predominantly historical basis, the second portion of Joel (2:28-3:21; in the
It is misleading to regard the prophecy as rigidly divisible into predominantly historical and apocalyptic sections of a rather independent nature. For one thing, the eschatological concept of the day of the Lord occurs in both suggested divisions (cf.
Some scholars have held that whenever the calamity described by the phrase, “the day of the Lord,” occurs, the meaning is uniformly of an eschatological nature, having reference either to the future disturbances that would preface the coming of the messianic day or to the actual day itself. On this interpretation, the locust plague described by Joel would depict the day of the Lord quite accurately. Other scholars have pointed out that, whereas the phrase is generally eschatological in usage, there is no ground for supposing that it must always be so. In this instance, therefore, it might possibly be that Joel was referring to the locust visitation as being a particular example of divine judgment and destruction. From this position it would be easy for the prophet to show that, if such a devastating insect invasion that had reduced the land to a desert within a very short period of time was “a day of the Lord,” how much more dreadful would be the situation when God punished a sinful world in the final day of the Lord.
Again, the interpretation of the locusts presents important considerations in the matter of compilation and integrity. If the locusts are to be regarded as symbolic of those heathen forces whose judgment is narrated in
Consequently it would not be difficult for one prophet to use such a happening as the basis for an utterance dealing with the nature of future judgment and produce a unified composition in which the association of the locust plague with a larger disaster would account for the juxtaposition of historical and eschatological material in one prophetic work. The presence of apocalyptic elements in the first two chs. is surely a sufficient warrant for the apocalyptic expositions of the remaining portion of the prophecy, which is seen to constitute an expanded form of the futuristic theme implied in the first section. It is a commonplace observation that a great many of the Heb. prophets interwove the contemporary with the eschatological in their utterances, and in view of this fact the arguments for divisive authorship of the book lose much of their force. That the prophecy was deliberately composed as an integer may be indicated by the elaborate correspondences between the section dealing with the locust visitation and that concerning the pagan enemies of the Israelites, which serve to knit the book together as a symmetrical unit.
Other features that support the integrity of the composition are in the literary style of the author, and not least in the way in which he repeated important phrases and used expressions borrowed from other prophets. A final testimony to the unity of authorship is found in the uniform historical background that is clearly apparent throughout the work. From the foregoing arguments, therefore, it is difficult to find a valid reason for assuming that the whole prophecy was not written at one time by the attributive author Joel. As noted earlier, however, some scholars have suggested that the original prophecy comprised only
Perhaps more worthy of serious consideration is the theory that
Although a great many scholars have viewed Joel as the work of one author, there has been much argument with regard to the date of composition of the prophecy, the divergent views expressed ranging over half a millennium. Since any specific historical references that would enable a firm assessment of the date of composition to be made are notably lacking, the period of authorship has to be considered on the basis of internal evidence alone. Particularly important in this connection are the implied political, social, and religious conditions existing in the nation, parallels in the matter of the distinctive ideas of the prophet to those that can be dated with reasonable assurance, the literary relationships between the book and other similar compositions, and questions of diction and style.
Tyre was denounced by Amos (
The parallels in phraseology with other prophetic writings are numerous, and indicate either that Joel was early and influenced subsequent writers greatly by his prophecy, or that, being later, he cited earlier prophets frequently or at least quoted from a common prophetic theology reaching back to the preexilic period. Although the majority of scholars have concluded that Joel is postexilic and that he quoted from earlier sources, it is still true that no single element of his thought is incompatible with a preexilic date for the prophecy. The difficulties of dating are not simplified by the literary style of the author, which is marked by striking rhythms, acutely descriptive figures of speech, the use of repetition to heighten expressions of contrast or succession, and the drawing of parallels between similar situations. Some writers have seen evidences of postexilic terminology in the work, including some Aram. forms, but others have contested these assertions, making the whole matter inconclusive. In view of the prolonged history of the Aram. language and its usage in preexilic Israel, the mere presence of Aramaisms in any canonical writing cannot be used as incontrovertible evidence for a late date of composition. The dating of Joel is a matter of great difficulty, and the prophecy has been assigned in consequence to dates that vary between the 9th cent. b.c. and the Maccabean period. From internal evidence it would appear that an earlier rather than a later date of composition is preferable. The most reasonable estimate appears to place the book in the minority of King Joash, about 830 b.c., at a time when Jehoiada the high priest was regent in Judah.
Place of origin and destination.
Just as nothing is known about the author, so there is no certain information about the place where the prophecy arose. The references to the Temple and the official priesthood would suggest some area of Judah, perhaps even Jerusalem, which may also have been the recipient of the utterances, since their essential message involved the active participation of the priesthood. It is unlikely that the prophetic oracles originated in the northern kingdom, particularly if a comparatively late date of authorship is upheld.
Occasion and purpose.
The immediate occasion of the oracles was the incidence of a severe locust plague, and this natural calamity was used by Joel as the means of illustrating the nature and scope of an even more significant occurrence of an eschatological nature, the day of the Lord. It was the purpose of the author to call his people to repentance in order that divine punishment might be averted and the spirit of God be poured out upon Israel in blessing.
Hebrew tradition placed Joel between the 8th cent. b.c. writers Hosea and Amos, whereas the canon of the LXX located it in fourth place after Micah in the group of short writings known to the Hebrews as the Twelve Prophets. Whereas this corpus concludes the Eng. OT, it formed the final portion of the second major division of the Heb. Scriptures, namely the Prophets.
The Heb. text has been transmitted very well, aside from a few minor corruptions. Some small additions occur in the LXX, but they do not seem to represent a better Heb. text form. The Peshitta and Vulgate, with the LXX, diverge only slightly from the MT and from each other.
The book reflects that attitude of religious particularism that deemed the Israelites to be the sole recipients of divine favor, a view that had both prophetic as well as priestly advocates. Joel, however, pointed out the responsibility that such an elevated position carried, and demanded to see in Israel those moral and spiritual qualities that merited divine blessing. He particularly stressed that only the remnant that was faithful to God would be saved, and not the entire house of Israel (
In the final conflict, when divine judgment would be manifested, the heathen would be cut down like vegetation by a cataclysm, whereas the elect of God would be kept safe until the restoration of Jerusalem. Joel had a remarkable vision of the relationship of divine purpose to human history, even though a single messianic figure is lacking in his book. His abiding contribution to Christian thought is in his teaching about the outpouring of the divine Spirit on “all flesh” (
J. A. Bewer, ICC (1912); E. Sellin, KAT (1929); S. R. Driver, CBSC (1934); A. S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies (1948); J. A. Thompson, JNES (1955), XIV, 52-54; ibid. IB (1956), VI, 727-760; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the OT (1969), 874-882.