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The Book of Joel is one of the Books of the Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), and was ostensibly written by the eponymous prophet. Much like the Books of Zephaniah and Nahum, it describes God in violent, martial terms, though unlike those texts, God's patronage of Israel (and his judgment of other nations) is described in moral rather than simply nationalistic terms.
Given the lack of historical details present in the text itself, scholars have not arrived at a definitive dating for it, with possibilities ranging from 835 B.C.E. to 300 B.C.E.
Authorship and Historical Context
As with many of the Hebrew prophets, virtually nothing is known of Joel aside from the contestable details that can be gleaned from the text. In fact, the only biographical data in the book itself can be found in its sparse superscription, "The word of the Lord that came to Joel son of Pethuel" (Joel 1:1). Unfortunately, this brief snippet is not terribly revealing, as Joel was a relatively common name throughout Israelite history.1 Further, it is possible that this name was chosen more for its symbolic resonances than due to any biographical realities:Joel's name, which means "Yahweh is God," may carry symbolic significance. Although Joel calls Judah to repent of its sins, he never specifies the nature of those sins. But Joel's name, along with 2:27 and 3:17, may indicate that the primary sin that the prophet had in mind was the sin of apostasy, the failure to recognize that Yahweh alone was God.2
Regardless, it does seem likely that Joel was a resident in Judah, as the entirety of his prophecy is directed to the Judean people-as evidenced by his frequent mentions of Judah and Jerusalem (1:14; 2:1, 15, 32; 3:1, 12, 17, 20, 21). However, this inarguable preference for the Southern Kingdom can be explained in two mutually exclusive manners: either Joel was writing with a Judean's myopic concentration on his own kingdom or he was writing after the exile of his Northern brethren. Either way, it is impossible to resolve this dichotomy without addressing the larger question of the text's historical provenance.
Dating the Text
Just as the character of Joel is ultimately enigmatic, so too is the text ascribed to him. Though it contains hints of various social realities, each of which could theoretically offer insight into the book's context, these tantalizing suggestions are simply too vague to allow for a definitive dating of the text. As a result, it remains a considerable puzzle for biblical scholars, with various possible solutions being proposed, discussed, and then ensconced into the ever-expanding library of possibilities.
Some of the more common suggestions for the dating of the text include the following:
- 835-796 B.C.E. - "During the time when Joash was too young to govern and Jehoiada did so in his place" (2 Kings 11; 2 Chron. 23-24).3 This account, which was historically the favorite of commentators, has fallen into disrepute of late.
- Circa 639-608 B.C.E. - During the reign of King Josiah. Keller offers some compelling evidence for this perspective:
- 500 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E. - during the Persian period. Defending this later dating, Crenshaw argues that "the omission of references to Assyria and Babylonia, classical enemies of the Jews, can hardly be explained as prudence growing out of fear of reprisal, and the absence of specific reference to a king alongside the rulers of society indicates a time after the disappearance of the monarchy in Judah. Priests have taken over the responsibility for sanctifying a fast and assembling the people, earlier associated with royal figures."6
Given the lack of consensus on this chronological issue, it seems reasonable to assume that the text was explicitly written (and/or redacted) with the intent of being easily generalizable. As Achtemeier notes, "the book brings with it a message that was a matter of life or death for Judah, but Joel also deliberately directs that message to every age (cf. 1:3), and thus this prophetic literature is never out of date."7Tell it to your children,and let your children tell it to their children,
This type of extensiblity removes the Book of Joel from its historical bearings, allowing it to respond to the lived experience of people instead of focusing too much attention on trivial historical matters.
At first blush, the Book of Joel appears to be a single, cohesive literary structure, proceeding logically from beginning to end. With the advent of source criticism, however, this position began to be questioned, as scholars noted that the subject matter varied considerably (with the initial sections describing a horrific plague of locusts, and the later sections centered on the upcoming Day of the Lord).8 In more recent studies, the sheer number of thematic and structural parallels between the various sections of the book have caused biblical exegetes to return the notion that the text was either composed in its present form or redacted so expertly as to make source-critical dissection nigh impossible. For instance, Keller argues that "we may consider the whole as one in thought and speech. There is no reason either to doubt that it is a single author's work."9
In general, the text can be broadly divided into two parallel sections, with the first describing YHWH's wrathful judgment of Judah (1:2 - 2:17) and the second depicting the renewal of His relationship with the Judean nation and His judgment of the other nations (2:18 - 3:21 / 4:21).10 Over and above this two-part division, the text can be further subdivided based on its contents:
- Superscription (1:1)
- Judgment of Judah
- The drought and the plague of locusts (1:2 - 1:12)
- The "call for repentance" (1:13 - 1:20)
- Locusts as God's army - fulfilling His divine plan (2:1 - 2:11)
- Additional calls for supplication and repentance, in response to God's evident wrath (2:12 - 2:17)
- Reparations with Judah / Judgment of the Nations
- God's mercy and the rectification of the relationship with Judah (2:18 - 2:27)
- "Signs of the Coming Day of the Lord" (2:28 - 2:32)
- The Day of the Lord (3:1 - 3:21)
- "The judgment of the nations" (3:1 - 3:16)
- Blessings and prosperity delivered to the Israelite people (3:17 - 3:21)11
God as Warrior
Much as in the Books of Nahum and Zephaniah, Joel's God is described using the metaphors of conflict and war. This martial imagery is invoked to describe both Judah's present punishment and the future judgment of the nations:Blow the trumpet in Zion;sound the alarm on my holy hill.
However, unlike the more blatantly nationalistic texts in the prophetic corpus, the punishments that this warrior god inflicts are proportional to the offenses committed by the nations, rather than simply being responses to the actions of His chosen people:"Now what have you against me, O Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.
The Day of the LordThis theme is also central to the Book of Zephaniah
As in many of the prophetic texts, the Book of Joel also suggests that God's judgment is not simply an eschatological end-point, but that it will instead be lived out during historical time. This coming "Day of the Lord" is treated extensively throughout the text:"And afterward,I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Though this notion was commensurate with the eschatological vision of later prophets, it was not itself eschatological, in that the events that it describes were not seen to represent the terminus ad quo of human history. Instead, it represents the religious aspirations of a society that is utterly convinced of their deity's power (and inclination) to take a direct role in historical reality:In Christian theology this 'day' became the Last Judgment. For the prophets, however, the Day of Yahweh does not mean any exact forensic investigation; it is a day of war, on which God will come in a rushing theophany accompanied by cosmic phenomena, such as storm and lightning. In a flash he will finally consummate the auras evoked by the deeds of all sinners and evil doers (i.e., he will utterly destroy the wicked) and then set up a new mispat which will endure forever… It is a day which actually is Yahweh, in which his godhead will take fully visible form.13
Use in the New Testament
The Book of Joel proved tremendously useful in the development of the Christian canon, given the text's emphasis on the themes of judgment and redemption, as well as the pseudo-eschatological notion of the Day of the Lord (discussed above).JoelNew TestamentThen afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:28-32)"In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:17-21)Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. (Joel 2:32)For, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' (Romans 10:13)
All quotations taken from the New Revised Standard Version.
- ↑ Achtemeier, 305. Crenshaw's detailed exposition of the uses of the name "Joel" throughout the Biblical corpus demonstrates that the vast majority are found in the later historical texts, namely the Book of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah (80).
- ↑ Achtemeier, 305.
- ↑ See, for instance, Hirsch and Ryssel (2002): "According to the formerly generally accepted opinion, Joel wrote in the beginning of the reign of King Joash (836-797 B.C.E.), and was therefore the oldest prophet to leave a book of prophecies. This theory of an early date of composition was, above all, strongly supported by the fact that no mention is made of the Assyrians. The beginning of the reign of Joash was urged in view of the failure of the book to refer to or to name the Damascus Syrians, who, according to II Kings xii. 18 et seq., seriously threatened Jerusalem under Joash… In further support of this theory stress was laid on the absence of any reference to the king, which would point to the period of the minority of Joash, while the predominance of the priestly influence led to the conclusion that Joash, at the beginning of his reign, was under the influence of the high priest Jehoiada. Another point of agreement in favor of this date was the hostility shown to the Israelites by the nations, mentioned in iv. (A.V. iii.) 4, 19, which was made to refer to the rebellion of the Edomites under King Jehoram of Judah (849-842 B.C.E.), on which occasion the Arabs and the Philistines plundered Jerusalem.”
- ↑ Keller, 579.
- ↑ Koch, 161-163.
- ↑ Crenshaw, 24-25. See also: Achtemeier, 301-302. Stephenson also offers some astronomical evidence to support this contention, based on the text's description of solar and lunar eclipses: "Astronomical calculations show that from very early times (B.C. 1130) until almost B.C. 300 only three obscurations of the sun could have been complete anywhere in Israel. These all occurred in or near the fourth century B.C.E. The dates expressed in terms of the Julian Calendar are January 18, 402 B.C.E.; February 29, 357 B.C.E.; July 4, 336. Although other eclipses in this interval were large, notably that of B.C. 763 June 15 which is often associated with the prophet Amos, a fraction of the solar disc invariably remained visible even at greatest phase.” (228)
- ↑ Achtemeier, 302.
- ↑ Crenshaw, 29-30.
- ↑ Keller, 578. See also: Crenshaw, 30-34.
- ↑ Crenshaw, 1-9. Note that different versions of the text are numbered incompatibly, with the original containing four chapters and many later translations containing only three.
- ↑ This summary is condensed from Keller, 578; Achtemeier, 304; and the New International Version of the Bible (accessed at biblegateway.com)
- ↑ Cf., Joel 3:9-11.
- ↑ Koch, 161.
- Achtemeier, Elizabeth. "Joel." The New Interpreter's Bible (Vol. VII). Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994-2004. ISBN 0687278201
- Crenshaw, James L. "Joel: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary." The Anchor Bible Volume 24c. Toronto: Doubleday, 1994. ISBN 0385412053
- Faulhaber, Michael. "Joel" in The Catholic Encyclopedia New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
- Finley, Thomas J. Everyman's Bible Commentary: Joel, Obadiah, and Micah. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996. ISBN 0802420974
- Fowler, Henry T. "The Chronological Position of Joel among the Prophets." Journal of Biblical Literature 16:1/2. (1897), 146-154.
- Hirsch, Emil G. and Victor Ryssel. "Book of Joel" in The Jewish Encyclopedia 2002. Retrieved May 2, 2008.
- Hurowitz, Victor Avigdor. "Joel's Locust Plague in Light of Sargon II's Hymn to Nanaya." Journal of Biblical Literature 112:4 (Winter 1993), 597-603.
- Keller, Carl A. "Joel." The Oxford Bible Commentary. Edited by John Barton and John Muddiman. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0198755007
- Koch, Klaus. The Prophets: The Assyrian Period. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1982. ISBN 0800617568
- LaSor, William Sanford. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., 1996. ISBN 0802837883
- Stephenson, F. R. "The Date of the Book of Joel." Vetus Testamentum 19: Fascicle 2 (April 1969), 224-229.
- Treves, Marco. "The Date of Joel." Vetus Testamentum 7: Fascicle 2 (April 1957), 149-156.
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