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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Background.

Nothing is known about Joel (which means ‘YHWH is God’), son of Pethuel (which perhaps means ‘Man of God’). Most scholars think that he lived in the middle of the fourth century BCE, but their arguments are open to criticism. The following observations point to a date shortly before 600. Israel, the northern kingdom, has disappeared, but Judah and Jerusalem still exist ( 3:1 ): this detail agrees with the situation of the seventh century BCE. Moreover, the expression ‘Judah and Jerusalem’ alludes to the political status of the city and the countryside which were not the same: the city, conquered by David, was more closely related to the reigning dynasty than the province which had freely submitted to David and his successors (see Alt 1953: 116–34). The absence of an allusion to the king is not surprising, as there are many oracles which do not mention a king (though see the collection in Isa 1:1 ). On the other hand, 3:1–8 offers arguments which suggest the end of the seventh century (between 630 and 600). During the final years of the seventh century, the declining power of the Assyrians encouraged the small states along the Mediterranean coast, Tyre, Sidon, and the Philistine towns, to join hands in order to make incursions into Judaean territory, to carry away whatever they found and to sell the booty, including men, women, and children, to the Greeks ( 3:4–6 ). Archaeological evidence testifies to trade relations between Phoenicia and Greece at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the sixth century. The language of the book is a final and decisive argument in favour of an early date. It is throughout classical, living, pre-exilic Hebrew. The Hebrew of the fourth century (Nehemiah; Ecclesiastes) is rather rigid and gives the impression that it was no longer a living idiom. We consider the Book of Joel in its entirety as a piece of creative prophetic discourse (see JOEL D. 1). Other interpretations have also been offered. Some scholars divide the book into at least two parts. They think that chs. 1–2 contain the reactions of the prophet to an invasion of locusts, whereas 2:28–3:21 was added by a later author who belonged to the ‘apocalyptic’ tradition, describing events of the end times. This ‘apocalyptic’ author is also thought to have enriched chs. 1–2 with allusions to the Day of the Lord. But the divide between prophetic and apocalyptic discourse is extremely tenuous and the notion of the Day of the Lord is an ancient one found also in pre-exilic prophecy. On the other hand, Joel features none of the characteristics of the great apocalyptic texts such as books of Enoch: ascensions and periodizations of history. The announcement of a judgement is not specifically apocalyptic, it is rather an essential part of prophetic literary resources. Other scholars read Joel as a liturgy used on the occasion of an invasion of locusts. There are undoubtedly liturgical elements in it (see JOEL D. 2), and the book (at least chs. 1–2 ) might indeed have been used as a liturgy, but there is no indication that this was actually the case.

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