—Biblical Data:

The prophecies of the Book of Joel are divided into two parts, comprising respectively (1) ch. i. 2-ii. 17 and (2) ch. ii. 18-iv. 21. The contents of the first part may be summarized as follows:

The prophet at the beginning calls the attention of the elders and of all the inhabitants of the land to a coming event the like of which has never been seen, a terrible visitation by locusts (i. 2-7), which will be coincident with a famine, and which will together reduce the entire land to the bitterest misery (i. 10-12, 16-20). The prophet exhorts the people to fast, to pray, and to mourn (i. 13 et seq., ii. 1-12 et seq.). In this double visitation the prophet perceives the approach of the "day of the Lord" (i. 15), which is to be ushered in by a terrible affliction (ii. 2-11) unless the people become truly repentant (ii. 12-17).

In the second part it is first related how the people did actually bring about a gracious change in God's plans by obeying the prophet's injunctions (ii. 18); this is followed by Yhwh's answer to the prayer of the people (ii. 19 et seq.); then there is the promise of relief from famine through abundant rains and through a marvelous fruitfulness, after which the spirit of prophecy is to be poured out over all flesh, and the day of the Lord will draw near, accompanied by terrifying signs in heaven and earth. These terrors, however, are not for the Jews, who will be rescued in the day of judgment because they called on the Lord, but for their enemies (iii. 1-5). At the time of the change in the fate of Judah and Jerusalem the Lord will gather all nations into the valley of Jehoshaphat (see Jehoshaphat, Valley of), there to be destroyed through the fulfilment of the divine judgment of wrath (iv. 11-13), because they have plundered the treasuries of the Lord and have sold the sons of Judah and of Jerusalem to the sons of the Grecians (iv. 5-8). God will be a refuge for His people (iv. 16); strangers will no longer pass through Jerusalem (iv. 17); the soil of Judah will become exceedingly fruitful, and a fountain will even water the valley of Shittim (i.e., the unfruitful Jordan valley), whereas Egypt and Edom will be changed into a wilderness on account of the evil they have done to Judah (iv. 18-19).

§ 1. Duplicate Character. —Critical View:

That Joel consists of two parts appears from ii. 18, which, if the rules of Hebrew syntax are applied, must be construed as a narrative reporting the change of God's attitude subsequent to the exhortation to repentance. Only through a misunderstanding of the method of Hebrew narrative will the demand be urged, in opposition to this construction, that such a report should necessarily include the story of the actual accomplishment of penitence. Stylistic carelessness is very usual in Hebrew narrative; and the act of penitence is left to be supplied by the reader from the context—i.e., in this instance from the prophetical exhortation to repentance (the accomplished penitence must be supplied between verses 17 and 18). On the other hand, neither the interpretation of the imperfects in verse 17 as jussives nor even the reading of the consecutive imperfects (, etc.) as simple historical imperfects (, etc.) justifies the following translation approved by De Wette, Baudissin, and others: "Then will Yhwh be jealous for His land and will protect His people; and Yhwh will speak and say to His people," etc. In this rendering, which is inadmissible on linguistic grounds, the words following verse 17 appear as a promise connected with the foregoing petition for a return to favor, and the prophecy of Joel would then form a consecutive whole. But even the acceptance of this theory would not remove the difficulties in the way of fixing the time of Joel's prophecy.

§ 2. Date of the Book:

Theory of a Pre-Exilic Period: (a) According to the formerly generally accepted opinion, Joel wrote in the beginning of the reign of King Joash (836-797 B.C.), 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 (comp. Hazael).

Reasons for the Time of 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.), on which occasion the Arabs and the Philistines plundered Jerusalem (II Chron. xxi. 8 et seq., 16 et seq.; comp. § 3, below).

Reasons for the Time of Josiah.

(b) König places the composition of the book at a much later date, but still in the pre-exilic period; namely, in the time of King Josiah, or in the period immediately following. His reasons are these: The form of the prophecies is too finished to date from the beginning of the prophetic style of writing; indeed, the linguistic character is that of about the seventh century B.C. Moreover, the contents reflect the time of Josiah, because it was then that the great famine occurred which Jeremiah (Jer. xiv. 2-6) describes in a similar way to Joel. Finally, the mention of the Egyptians points to the last years of Josiah (or else those immediately following), referring to Josiah's campaign against the Egyptians. The fact that neither the Assyrians nor the Babylonians are alluded to militates against König's dating, since all the other pre-exilic prophets, from Amos to Jeremiah, recognize God's judgment, which is to fall on His people precisely in the extension of the Assyrian and, later, of the Babylonian empire.

Theory of a Post-Exilic Period: This theory was first, and in the beginning rather hesitatingly, brought forward by Vatke; since then it has been adopted by Merx (who takes the book for a midrash written after 445 B.C.), by Stade, Kuenen, Wellhausen, Wildeboer, Nowack, Kautzsch, Duhm, Oort, Cornill, and others. The last named scholar, holding the book to be a compendium of late Jewish eschatology, places it in the year 400 B.C., because Jerusalem at that time not only was inhabited, but had a temple (i 14, ii 15), as well as a wall (ii. 9), which would indicate a period after Nehemiah. But he overlooks the fact that the walls mentioned in the text are certainly those of the houses within the city.

Of all that has been adduced in support of the post-exilic theory, only passages like iv. (A. V. iii.) 17 really have any weight. The statement, "Then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more," indicates a city that had been destroyed—a fate that befell Jerusalem only under Nebuchadnezzar (see further § 3, below).On the other hand, iv. (A. V. iii.) 1 can not be appealed to, since the words do not mean, as was formerly believed, "to bring back the captivity"—which would indeed lead to the presupposition that deportation of the inhabitants of Judea and Jerusalem had preceded—but more correctly "to turn the fate."

Objections to Post-Exilic Date.

The other reasons advanced for the post-exilic theory are not very plausible. Thus the fact that the king is not mentioned is not remarkable, since the king is likewise not mentioned in Nahum and Habakkuk. If silence of this sort is of weight, it ought to be considered just as decisive against a post-exilic dating if the governor and high priest were not mentioned in a work. Neither is the absence of any mention of the high places and their cult beside the Temple at Jerusalem remarkable, since Isaiah and, before him, Amos recognize only the Temple at Jerusalem as the habitation of God; and Isaiah, unlike Amos and Hosea, even polemizes against other places of worship. When, however, Joel in i. 9 speaks of the discontinuance of the meat-and drink-offerings as a calamity, and in i. 13 et seq. calls on the priests to fast in consequence, this should not be considered as proof of any high regard for the ritual, an attitude so utterly foreign to the pre-exilic period. Isaiah also mentions the meat-offering (Isa. i. 13), and Amos emphasizes the observance of the Sabbath (Amos viii. 5); and when the pre-exilic prophets reject the external worship of God, they do so only in so far as it tends to represent the whole of man's religious life and to displace entirely the true inner relationship to God (obedience).

On the other hand, the appointment of a fast on the occasion of exceptional afflictions is found in the narratives of the Book of Kings (I Kings xxi. 9; comp. II Chron. xx. 3). It has justly been pointed out that the way in which Joel, by dint of his prophetic office, gives, as it were, higher commands to the priests, does not at all agree with the position which the priesthood occupied during the time of the Persians and later. The post-exilic composition of the book can least of all be proved from the mention of the "elders" (see especially i. 14, where, however, is accusative, not vocative), since Joel does not speak of them as official persons, but connotes by "old men" only the most respected of the people.

The post-exilic theory, moreover, far from removing difficulties, gives rise to various additional ones of a serious nature. In the first place, the acceptance of the post-exilic theory of composition necessitates the wholly improbable hypothesis that the prophet in i. 1 et seq. places himself at the end of time and speaks to the generation of the last day. Since there is no announcement of the final day, the conclusion is natural that the opening address of the book was intended for the contemporaries of the speaker; but, if so, the apocalyptic interpretation of the opening words becomes impossible, and this negatives one of the most weighty arguments in favor of the late date of composition. It must be noticed, moreover, that no mention of a future judgment is made until after iii. 1 (A. V. ii. 28), for which reason the nations hostile to Israel are not mentioned until then (e.g., in iv. [A. V. iii.] 2).

The Plague of Locusts.

Another difficulty arises when, for the sake of the post-exilic theory, the locusts are taken to mean not real but "apocalyptic locusts"; that is, such as the fantasy of the prophet has invented to illustrate the final judgment. But the plague of locusts is represented as actually having begun; the prophet describes it without indicating that it is to be expected in the future; and he therefore exhorts his countrymen, who have suffered this affliction with him, to lamentation and repentance. Moreover, by "locusts" is not meant, as some have held, the mounted army of a human enemy, for there is nothing in the description to indicate anything else than a real plague of locusts. If it were true that by them the prophet intended horsemen of the enemy, there would result the incongruity of comparing an army of horses and riders to heroes and warriors (ii. 4. et seq.). When the swarms of locusts are called "northern" () in ii. 20, it is indeed most natural to think of an army coming from the north, because locusts in Palestine always come from the south. Whereas it is not unreasonable to argue that the locusts here described might have been driven into Palestine by a northeast wind from the Syrian desert (so Volck), this theory, in face of the more natural explanation of , appears only a makeshift. But the difficulty disappears with the hypothesis next to be considered.

§ 3. Theory of the Origin of Joel in Two Different Parts Written at Different Times: Difference of Back-ground.

The theory that ch. iii.-iv. (A. V. ii. 28-iii.) are to be separated from i.-ii. was first brought forward by Rothstein in the German translation of Driver's "Introduction to the Old Testament," Berlin, 1896 (p. 333). He starts out with the fact that the general assumptions in the two parts are wholly different: in ch. i. et seq. people and state (Judah) appear in unimpaired integrity; the evil of the day is a terrible plague of locusts together with an all-devouring drought; in the passages where the relation to other nations is characterized, there is no trace of a distressing condition brought about, in a political sense, by the enemy (ii. 17; comp. ib. 19b). On the other hand, in iii. et seq. (A. V. ii. 28 et seq.) the whole historical background is a political one; a reference to the time of need indicated in i. 1 et seq. is not to be discovered (no more so in ii. 18); moreover, the people, at least a very large part of them, are in exile; the judgment from which they are to be saved according to i. et seq. has long since come to pass; and Jerusalem is already trodden down and desecrated by Gentiles.

Finally, it must be added that a large number of passages in iii. (ii. 28 et seq.) are wholly lacking in originality (with the exception of iv. [iii.] 9 et seq., where probably fragments of a vigorous original have been preserved). Rothstein concludes from this that ch. i. and ii. were written by Joel during the minority of King Joash; that, on the other hand, ch. iii. (ii. 28 et seq.) and iv. (iii.) date from a postexilic period, and were written by an author whowas lacking in originality, so that he connected his elaboration with the older prophecy in ch. i. and ii., as is the recognized case with Obadiah, verses 10-21 (with which section many parallels are found in Joel iii. et seq. [ii. 28 et seq.]) and 1-9. This author, however, who for his part regards the plague of locusts announced in ch. ii. as a symbolic reference to the inroad of hostile hordes, also wrote ii. 20, in which place he expressly chose expressions which would lead one to think of the "northern" army (i.e., the army of heathen which had already entered the country) together with the swarms of locusts which he interprets symbolically. In the same way ii. 10-11 (or else only 11a) originated from the same hand, since these verses give the impression that the author meant powerful armies rather than locusts.

Reasons for the Division.

When, on the other hand, it is objected (by Baudissin, in "Einleitung in die Bücher des Alten Testaments," 1901, p. 499) that in this way the difficulties attendant on the time determination are by no means removed, since the reasons for and against a pre-exilic date apply to both halves of the book, it must still be recognized (as Baudissin himself admits) that the difficulties of the pre-exilic theory are greater in the second part. Moreover, it can not be admitted that the reasons which could justify the acceptance of the pre-exilic theory are found almost entirely in the second part only. The placing of the prophecy in the opening period of King Joash's reign, which rested on the identification of the hostilities mentioned in iv. (iii.) 4 et seq. with the revolt of the Edomites under Jehoram, will, however, have to be abandoned. The difficulty arises that these descriptions apply even less to a post-exilic period than to the time of King Joash (see below). At any rate the prophetic character of ch. i. and ii., in contrast to the apocalyptic character, which actually begins with iii. 1 (ii. 28), is alone sufficient (as is also emphasized by Baudissin) to justify the chronological determination of the two parts. Furthermore, the oratorical attitude, the vigorous language, and the originality of expression and of illustrations—of which the picture of being spread out like the morning upon the mountain is found only in Joel (ii. 2)—speak for the older date of composition of the first part.

It is wrong to suppose that the perfection of form of this prophecy indicates that it was not written in the first period of prophetical composition, because, in the face of the song of Deborah and of the elegies on Saul and Jonathan, the possibility of perfection of form in the period in which Joel wrote can not be denied; just as in other literatures also the first poetical writings have always been preceded by a longer stage of poetic development. Whether or not Joel really prophesied under Joash, or is to be placed only shortly before Amos, is irrelevant, if one separates ch. iii. and iv. and at the same time ii. 4, 11, which are based on the early theory. In favor of the time shortly before Amos, Baudissin has suggested, not without justice, that also in Amos a plague of locusts together with a drought is mentioned as a divine punishment (Amos iv. 6-9; comp. vii. 1-6), and that in this book, as also in Joel iv. (iii.) 4 et seq. (if this passage as well as iv. [iii.] 9 et seq. also dates from an older prophecy), there is a complaint concerning the delivery of captured slaves (Amos i. 6, 9) which, in spite of single variations, makes it easy to suppose that the same event is here meant, namely, the killing of the Judeans at the time of the revolt of Edom against Judah under Jehoram (comp. Amos i. 11 and Joel iv. [iii.] 19). The mention of the "sons of the Grecians" (in iv. [iii.] 6, if this still belongs to the older part) can hardly be taken as a proof against this theory (although it has been brought forward to prove a very late date of composition), since there is no reason why Greeks should not have been mentioned in an early pre-exilic period.

Reasons for Later Composition.

On the other hand, the fact that most of the data pointing to a post-exilic composition are found in the second half of the book, after ch. iii. (ii. 28), speaks for the later composition of ch. iii. and iv. (ii. 28-iii.). This is assumed on the following grounds: Only Judah is expressly mentioned, whereas the idea seems to be to connote both Judah and Israel (thus ch. iv. [iii.] 2; but not so in ii. 27); also because in the description of the approaching day of judgment for the nations and the glorification of God's people there is no reference to Ephraim; finally, above all, because in iv. (iii.) 17, as has already been remarked, not only the destruction of Jerusalem is presupposed, but also the dispersion of God's people, Israel, among the nations, and the division of Israel's land.

As to the question concerning the prophetic sources of the respective passages, it is probably easier to derive the passages iii. 5 (ii. 32) from Obadiah, verse 17; iv. (iii.) 18 from Ezek, xlvii. 1 et seq.; and iv. (iii.) 16 from Amos i. 2—all of them in a part which gives the impression of a dull and barren style of writing—than to suppose these passages in Joel to have been original. For these reasons the supposition that iii. and iv. (ii. 28-iii.) were written in a post-exilic period seems to offer the easiest solution of the difficulty.

§ 4. Theory of the Revision of an Older Book in a Later Period:

The division of the book into two parts convinces Baudissin (l.c. p. 499) that such a revision must have taken place. He considers the description of the judgment of the nations with its reference to the scattering of Israel, the division of the land of Yhwh, and the passing of strangers through Jerusalem as additions of the reviser. But the theory leaves open the possibility that single parts of the second half of the book may have belonged to the original composition and were incorporated in the compilation of the later writer, directly or else with certain changes to suit the times. In view of this, and of the further supposition, first suggested by Rothstein, that the second author made changes and additions also in the first part, there is little difference between the two theories. Moreover, it is possible to agree with Baudissin that the original writing does not need to have originated in the Persian period. It is indeed advisable to place its composition as late as the time of the Ptolemies, since then the mention of Egypt might refer to the war in Egypt.

Bibliography: Commentaries:
  • Hitzig, in Kommentar zu den Kleinen Propheten, 1838 (new ed. by J. Steiner, 1881, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch);
  • Keil, in Biblischer Kommentar, 3d ed., 1888;
  • Orelli, in Strack and Zoeckler, Kurzgefasster Kommentar, 2d ed., 1888;
  • J. Wellhausen, Die Kleinen Propheten (transl. with notes in Skizzen und Vorarheiten, part v.), 1892;
  • W. Nowack, in Handkommentar, 1897;
  • B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1888;
  • F. W. Farrar, The Minor Prophets, Their Lives and Times, in Men of the Bible series, 1890;
  • K. A. Credner, Der Prophet Joel, Uebersetzt und Erklärt, 1831;
  • E. Meier, Der Prophet Joel, Neu Uebersetzt und Erklärt;
  • Aug. Wünsche, Die Weissagung des Propheten Joel, 1872 (gives a complete bibliography on Joel to 1872);
  • Adalbert Merx, Die Prophetie des Joel und Ihre Ausleger, 1879;
  • Beck, Die Propheten Micha und Joel, Erklärt, ed. Lindemeyer, 1898;
  • Ant. Scholz, Commentar zum Buche des Propheten Joel, 1885;
  • Eugéne le Savoureux, Le Prophète Joel: Introduction, Critique, Traduction, et Commentaire, 1888;
  • W. W. L. Pearson, The Prophecy of Joel: Its Unity, Its Aim, and the Age of Its Composition, i. 885;
  • Grätz, Joel, Breslau, 1872;
  • E. G. Hirsch, The Age of Joel, in Hebraica, New York, 1879;
  • Kessner, Das Zeitalter des Propheten Joel, 1888;
  • G. Preuss, Die Prophetie Joels, 1889;
  • H. Holzinger, Sprachcharakter und Abfassungszeit des Buches Joel, in Stade's Zeitschrift, ix. 89-131;
  • G. B. Gray, The Parallel Passages in Joel in Their Bearing on the Question of Date, in The Expositor, 1893, Supplement, pp. 208 et seq.;
  • J. C. Matthes, in Theologisch Tijdschrift, xix. 34-66, 129-160; xxi. 357-381;
  • A. B. Davidson, in The Expositor, March, 1888;
  • Volck, Der Prophet Joel, in Herzog-Plitt, Real-Encyc. ix. 234-237;
  • Robertson Smith and Driver, Joel, in Encyc. Brit.
E. G. H. V. Ry.