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, Hosea –Jonah (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.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.