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JOEL (Heb. יוֹאֵל; "yhwh is God"), the second book in the *Minor Prophets. The superscription of the book names the prophet Joel son of Pethuel as the author. No indication of the author's life, time, or place of residence is given, and the name of the prophet is not mentioned again either within the book itself or anywhere else in the Bible.

The four chapters of the book fall into two distinct parts:

(1) Chapters 1 and 2 give a vivid, graphic description of a plague of locusts of unprecedented severity which strikes the land like a marauding enemy, leaving in its wake ravished fields and vineyards, depriving the people of food and the sanctuary of its grain and wine offerings. Though most of the work is couched in literary images, the locusts are described realistically – even to their various forms, apparently stages in their development: there is the cutting insect (gazam), the swarming one (ʾarbeh), the hopping one (yelek, yeleq), and the destroying one (ḥasil) (1:4). The prophet exhorts the priests, the elders, and all the people to seek the Lord's mercy through repentance, fasting, and prayer. He promises that the Lord will have pity on His people, bringing an end to the plague, rains in their season, new blossoming and abundant harvests, and a time of fruitfulness and peace.

(2) Chapters 3 and 4 consist of a prophecy of the end of days, "of the great and awesome *Day of the Lord." Then the spirit of the Lord, the gift of prophecy and vision, will be poured out on all flesh, and awesome signs will be seen in the heavens and on earth. Only those "who call on the name of the Lord," the remnant of Israel who had remained true to Zion and Jerusalem, will escape total destruction. The Lord will gather all the nations into the valley of Jehoshaphat and deliver judgment on those who drove the people of Israel into exile, scattering them among the nations, on those who divided the land of the Lord among themselves; the land of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon and the regions of Philistia are singled out as those who sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks. The nations will be destroyed on the day of judgment; God will restore His exiled people, fructify His land, and avenge the blood spilled by Egypt and Edom.

Early and later commentators alike disagree on the connection between the two parts of the book, which, though remote from one another in content, are close in vocabulary and imagery – notably in the use of the phrase "the day of the Lord" (1: 15; 2:11 and 3:4; 4:14) and in the description of changes in the order of nature (2:2, 10 and 3:4; 4:15, 16). Among earlier scholars, Rothstein, Duhm, and Hölscher maintain that only chapters 1 and 2 can be attributed to the early Joel, while chapters 3 and 4 are the work of a post-exilic seer, and they include in this later composition even those verses from the first two chapters which deal with "the day of the Lord." Another opinion (held by Y. Kaufmann among others) holds that the entire book is an eschatological unity and the plague of locusts is a symbol heralding the day of judgment of the Lord, a view already found in the Aramaic Targum Jonathan. A third group of scholars (J. Wellhausen and K. Marti) believes that Joel composed the book after an actual plague of locusts, which he saw as a first sign of the approach of the end of days. It would therefore seem that "the day of the Lord" was not used with the same meaning in the first part of the book as in the second: in the first part it is simply a general name for the day of upheaval, while in the second it is the day when the nations shall be punished, the herald for Israel of the time to come (U. Cassuto). To come to some conclusion in this argument it is necessary to take account of the similarity of the imagery in both sections, which would appear to be convincing evidence of the unity of the book. There is no reason categorically to assume that a prophet who could give a realistic description of a plague of locusts could not on another occasion prophesy in a different spirit concerning the day of judgment and the end of days. More recently, Woolf analyzed Joel from a form-critical perspective and concluded that it is the work of a single author, with some later additions. On the basis of historical allusions, Cogan suggests a date in late 6th–early 5th century. The destruction and exile are fresh in memory (4:2); the temple is standing and there is no mention of royalty, only the priesthood. Cogan also demonstrates the familiarity of Joel with earlier biblical literature, as well as his artful use of the work of his predecessors (Cogan, 6–8), an indication of relative lateness.

The role of Greeks as buyers of slaves from the Sidonians and Philistines points in the same direction. The date of the Book of Joel still cannot be determined with certainty, and scholars differ by centuries in their estimations. Nonetheless, it is probably safe to accept Cogan's dating of the bulk of the book and to view Joel 4:4–8 as a fourth century interpolation.

In the Arts

The prophecies of Joel inspired some medieval artists and Renaissance composers, though scarcely any works of importance in literature. Joel announced an invasion of locusts, described as a people with lions' teeth (Joel 1: 1–6), which stripped the land of vegetation; later, however, there would be a period of abundance. His attributes in art are therefore a lion, a swarm of locusts, and a cornucopia. In another passage (Joel 2:1–12), he announced the day of the Lord and was therefore sometimes shown blowing a trumpet of judgment. The passage in which the prophet said that God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 3:1–2) caused him to figure in representations of the Pentecost. A mosaic in St. Mark's, Venice, and a fresco by Pinturiccio (1434–1513) in the Vatican show Joel holding 12 scrolls, representing the gospel preached by the 12 apostles in 12 languages, as a manifestation of the outpouring of the Spirit. The prophet was chiefly represented during the Middle Ages. He appears in medieval manuscripts, including the 12th-century Hortus Deliciarum (Strasbourg University Library), the Admont Bible (Vienna State Library), and the 14th-century French Bible of Robert de Bylling, illustrated by Jean Pucelle (Bibliothèque Nationale). Other representations include a statuette from the 12th-century Shrine of the Three Magi (Cologne Cathedral) and 13th-century carvings and stained glass. In the 16th century, Joel is represented by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He is shown seated, reading a scroll. In music there are several late 16th- and early 17th-century settings of Canite tuba in Syon (Joel 2:1). These catered for the predilection for festive compositions allowing "trumpet fanfare" imitations by the choir, and include motets by Regnart (printed 1568); and by Palestrina and Ingegneri (both printed in the collection Corollarium Cantionum Sacrarum, Nuremberg, 1590).


A. Merx, Die Prophetie des Joel und ihre Ausleger (1879); S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (19139), 307–19; J. Schmalohr, Das Buch des Propheten Joel (1922); G. Amon, Die Abfassungszeit des Buches Joel (1942); A.S. Kapelrud, Joel Studies (1948); T.H. Robinson, Die Zwölf kleinen Propheten (1954); Kaufmann Y., Toledot, 3 (1960) 334–47; W.O. Oesterley and T.H. Robinson, An Introduction to the Books of the Old Testament (19656), 355–63. add. bibliography: H.W. Woolf, Joel and Amos (1977); D. Stuart, HoseaJonah (Word Biblical Commentary; 1987), 222–71, extensive bibl.; T. Hiebert, in: abd, 3:873–80, incl. bibl.; M. Cogan, in: Joel and Amos (1994; bibl. 11–15); K. Nash, in: dbi, 1:599–602, incl. bibl.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

Joel, Book of

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The second of the minor prophets. The Book of Joel can be divided into two parts. Two sermons in which Joel calls the people to prayer and repentance to avert a severe locust plague constitute the first part (1.22.17). For his first sermon the prophet seems to use a liturgical framework. After picturing the ravages of the locusts (1.212), he urges the priests to assemble the community for a solemn fast (1.1314), and finally he recites the prayer for the occasion (1.1520). The second sermon opens with a cry to sound the alarm in Zion and a description of the oncoming locusts as an army (2.111). An urgent, moving call to repentance follows (2.1214) ; the sermon then ends with a renewal of the command to assemble the community for a solemn fast (2.1517).

The second part (2.184.21) opens quietly. Yahweh responds to Israel's repentance, in an oracle announcing the end of the locusts (2.1820). The prophet replies with a hymn of thanksgiving (2.2124) ; Yahweh's response continues with promises of prosperity (2.2527). Suddenly, Joel's vision of the future unfolds the final, climactic day of the lord (yahweh). The description is striking, resembling apocalyptic rather than prophetic literature. The heralds, or symptomatic signs, of that final, messianic Day of Yahweh will be the pouring out of the Spirit (3.12) and astronomical, cosmic disturbances (3.35) from which Mt. Zion will be a refuge for those who call upon the name of the Lord. The judgment and destruction of the nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (merely a symbolic name, "Yahweh judges") will then take place (4.117). A dramatic scene then pictures the nations assembling from every side to war against Yahweh and His people in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Yahweh's judgment on them is an execution, accompanied by dreadful cosmic disorders. Peace and calm then return in the description of the new earth of the messianic age, a peaceful, marvelous country (4.1821). Judah and Jerusalem will remain continually with Yahweh, who dwells in Zion. The elements in Joel's vision of the final day of Yahweh, taken together, indicate that the work belongs to a literature in the process of transition from simple prophetic to apocalyptic.

Debate continues over the unity of authorship. For various reasons, many recent critics favor a literary unity, e.g., A. Bentzen (1940), A. Lods (1950), A. Weiser (1940), and A. S. Kapelrud (1948). Others hold for a duality of authorship. According to B. Duhm (1911), a Deutero-Joel would have written ch. 3 and 4. Duhm was followed by G. Hölscher (1914), O. Eissfeldt (1934), W. Baumgartner (1947), J. Trinquet (1953), and T. H. Robinson (1938). Robinson would apparently demand a further special author for 4.48. The interpretation of the first two chapters is closely connected with this question of the unity of authorship.

The figurative interpretation sees the locust plague as a military invasion or political catastropheone of the signs of the Day of Yahweh. Many favoring this interpretation understand as lying in the future the disaster that is described as present, the future being a historical or an eschatological one. The real or "literal" interpretation sees in these chapters a description of an actual locust plague. However, some of these "realists" regard the plague as eschatological: the historical locusts figured in the plagues in Egypt, but the disaster was placed among the final disorders that would herald the Day of Yahweh. Others prefer to interpret this description of an actual locust plague as present. Even here there is a division of opinion. Some commentators maintain that since these passages are concerned with a historical present, whatever is eschatological must be due to a Deutero-Joel. Others claim that this present actual locust plague is viewed in a prophetic perspective that sees the plague as a symptomatic sign of the Day of Yahweh.

Scholarly opinion regarding the date of Joel is fairly unanimous: c. 400 b.c. This date is based on a combination of factors, e.g., the absence of any reference to Jewish kings or to Babylon, the position of the priests and elders as heads of the community, and a strong similarity to several books regarded as late.

Joel's message envisions a final onslaught against Jerusalem, an eschatological conflict between Yahweh and the nations (see Ez ch. 3839; Zec ch. 14). Yahweh will intervene with cosmic disorders, slaughtering His enemies. This catastrophic divine intervention will usher in the final age, an entirely new age in which God's people will be forever at peace.

Bibliography: r. pautrel, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 4:10981104. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible (New York 1963) 117375. a. robert and a. feuillet, Introduction à la Bible (Tournai 1959) 1:576578. l. h. brockington, in Peake's Commentary on the Bible, ed. m. black and h. h. rowley (New York 1962) 438a540d.

[j. moriarity]

Joel, Book of

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Joel, Book of. One of the books of minor prophets of the Hebrew scriptures and Christian Old Testament.


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Joel a Hebrew minor prophet of the 5th or possibly 9th century bc; a book of the Bible containing his prophecies.