Book of Joel

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The Book of Joel is part of the Hebrew Bible. Joel is part of a group of twelve prophetic books known as the Minor Prophets or simply as The Twelve; the distinction 'minor' indicates the short length of the text in relation to the larger prophetic texts known as the "Major Prophets".


After a superscription ascribing the prophecy to Joel (son of Pethuel), the book may be broken down into the following sections:

  • Lament over a great locust plague and a severe drought (1:1–2:17)
    • The effects of these events on agriculture, farmers, and on the supply of agricultural offerings for the Jerusalem temple, interspersed with a call to national lament. (1:1–20)
    • A more apocalyptic passage comparing the locusts to an army, and revealing that they are God’s army. (2:1–11)
    • A call to national repentance in the face of God’s judgment. (2:12–17)
  • Promise of future blessings (2:18–32)
    • Banishment of the locusts and restoration of agricultural productivity as a divine response to national penitence. (2:18–27)
    • Future prophetic gifts to all God’s people, and the safety of God’s people in the face of cosmic cataclysm. (2:28–32)
  • Coming judgment on God’s (Israel’s) enemies and the vindication of Israel. (3:1–21)

Prominent in Joel is the theme of the day of the Lord/Yahweh (1:15, 2;1, 2:11, 2;31, 3:14), which is applied to Joel’s contemporary situation as well as to future blessing and judgment.

Historical context

The Prophet Joel as imagined by Michelangelo (Fresco, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508–1512)
The Prophet Joel as imagined by Michelangelo (Fresco, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508–1512)

As there are no explicit references in the book to datable persons or events, scholars have assigned a wide range of dates to the book. The main positions are:[]

  • Ninth century BC, particularly in the reign of Joash - a position especially popular among nineteenth-century scholars (making Joel one of the earliest writing prophets)
  • c.630587 BC, in the last decades of the kingdom of Judah (contemporary with Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk)
  • c.520500 BC, contemporary with the return of the exiles and the careers of Zechariah and Haggai.
  • The decades around 400 BC, during the Persian period (making him one of the latest writing prophets)

History of interpretation

The preservation of the book of Joel indicates that it was accorded special status by its contemporaries as “the word of the Lord” (1:1). Its history as part of the Jewish and Christian canons followed that of the entire scroll of the Minor Prophets.

The Masoretic text places Joel between Hosea and Amos (the order inherited by the Tanakh and Old Testament), while the Septuagint order is Hosea–Amos–Micah–Joel–ObadiahJonah. The Hebrew text of Joel seems to have suffered little from scribal transmission, but is at a few points supplemented by the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate versions, or by conjectural emendation.

While the book purports to describe a plague of locusts, some ancient Jewish opinion saw the locusts as allegorical interpretations of Israel's enemies.[1] This allegorical interpretation was applied to the church by many church fathers. Calvin took a literal interpretation of ch.1, but allegorical view of chapter 2, a position echoed by some modern interpreters. Most modern interpreters, however, see Joel speaking of a literal locust plague given a prophetic/ apocalyptic interpretation.[2]

The traditional ascription of the whole book to the prophet Joel was challenged by liberals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with a flawed theory of a three stage process of composition: 1:12:27 were from the hand of Joel, and dealt with a contemporary issue; 2:283:21 were ascribed to a continuator with an apocalyptic outlook. Mentions in the first half of the book to the day of the Lord were also ascribed to this continuator. 3:48 could be seen as even later. Details of exact ascriptions differed between scholars.

This splitting of the book’s composition began to be challenged in the mid-twentieth century, with scholars defending the unity of the book, the plausibility of the prophet combining a contemporary and apocalyptic outlook, and later additions by the prophet. The authenticity of 3:48 has presented more challenges, although a large number of scholars defend it.[3]

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