A. Authorship and Date of Composition~
1. All that we know of Joel for certain is what we are told in the superscription (Joel 1:1), which is paltry indeed: his name was Joel, and his Father was Pethuel. The content of the book has led to the supposition that he was either a cultic prophet or a priest, due to his “familiarity with the Jewish liturgy (Joel 1:13-14; Joel 2:15-17), and devotion to the sancturary (Joel 1:8-9; Joel 2:27; Joel 4:16-17)”~Jerome Biblical Commentary 25:2.
It should be noted that their is nothing in the book to lead us to believe that Joel authored it himself, though this is possible. It is also possible that he had a scribe write down the prophecies (see Jeremiah 36), or, that the work exists like our Gospels: an inspired disciple was moved to record the teaching of the prophet.
2. Unlike most of the other works of the writing prophets Joel’s superscription (Joel 1:1) lacks any indication of when his ministry took place. This fact has caused a number of “guesses” to be made concerning this issue. Essentially, there are four major theories: (1) 9th century BC, probably during the reign of Joash. (2) During the last 5 decades of the Kingdom of Judah (David) which fell to Babylon in 587 BC. (3) circa 520-500 BC, during or after the return from Babylonian Exile. (4) During the Persian period, after the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, sometime between 530 and 350 BC. Most scholars today choose number four as the most likely time period and narrow time the date to circa 400.
3. The content of the book indicates that the work, or at least the prophet’s ministry, was conducted in Judah, and especially its capital of Jerusalem.
B. The Unity of Joel~
For about a century and a half the unity of the Book of Joel has been questioned, with some postulating that chapters 1 & 2 were written by a hand different from that which produced chapters 3 & 4. Other scholars maintain that the work is a unity, noting literary connection between the allegedly disparate parts (compare Joel 1:15 and Joel 2:1 with Joel 3:4 and Joel 4:14; also Joel 2:27 with Joel 4:17). I find the reasons for a single author more plausible (see the Joel commentaries in the Jerome Biblical Commentary and The New Catholic Commentary On Holy Scripture).
Most scholars divide Joel into two major sections, with the first corresponding to chapters 1 and 2, and the second with chapters 3 and 4. (But see Volume 1 of Marvin Sweeney’s The Twelve Prophets for a different structure). With Sweeney I think that the dividing point between the two major sections is at Joel 2:18.
C. Division of the Book~
The book opens with a superscription in the first person titular (or archival) style (Joel 1:1).
The first major part of Joel is chapter Joel 1:2-2:18:
Chapter 1 is divided thus: A plague of locusts has descended upon the nation, the likes of which had not been seen before (Joel 1:2-4). This leads to a call for liturgical lamentation to be done by drunkards (Joel 1:5-7); by the people in general Joel 1:8-10); by farmers and husbandmen (Joel 1:11-12); and priests (Joel 1:13) who are to gather together the people for the liturgy (Joel 1:14).
Chapter 2 opens with a statement of the threat posed (Joel 2:1-11). Inasmuch as chapter 1 has spoken of the threat as an existing reality we should perhaps see these verses as a threat of something to come, a worse locust plague or, more likely in my opinion, an army of men who would, like the locusts, destroy the land to such an extent that the former destructive invasions of Assyria and Babylon would look of little account. This is the army of Israel’s God, who, because of their infidelity, now uses a foreign army as his instrument of punishment (an idea not foreign to the Bible, see Isaiah 10:5-11)
Locusts were one of the punishments God said he would bring against Israel if they fell away from the covenant and its demands (Deuteronomy 28:38), and, apparently, if this didn’t check them an army of invaders would be sent (Deut 28:49-57). It is not then hard to see that a locust plague and an invading army could be closely associated in their effects (see Judges 6:5, Judges 7:12; Jer 46:23; Nahum 3:15-17). Indeed, as Theodoret notes, “If one carefully considers the head of a locust, he will find it very much like that of a horse.” In fact, the Italian word for locust (cavaletta) means “little horse;” and the German word (heupferd) means “hay horse.” The comparison of locust to war horses is not unknown in the Bible (Job 39:19-20).
The people have sinned against the covenant and punishment has come (Joel 1), but an even greater threat looms (Joel 2:1-11), thus the call to repentance which forms the heart of our first reading for Ash Wednesday (Joel 2:12-17, with 18 capping off the passage and providing a transition to the second major part, Joel 2:19-3:21, [NAB 2:19-4:21]).
Some scholars divide part two into two major sections:
Others (e.g., the original NAB) divide it into three major sections:
For some idea of how devastating a locust plague can be read this account of the 1874-1875 Rocky Mountain Locust plague.
SUGGESTED READINGS: Posts marked *** are online
*** My Personal Notes on Joel 2:12-18 for Ash Wednesday.
***Catholic Encyclopedia on Joel.
*** Brief Introduction to Joel. Posted by the Catholic News Agency.
***How to Study the Books of the Old Testament Prophets. Catholic. Agape Bible Study.
Navarre Bible Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Catholic
***Joel: Misplaced Prophet of the Locust Plague. By Jewish scholar Michael Fishbane. He sees chapters 1 & 2 as treating of a single locust plague, a minority opinion among scholars.
The Twelve Prophets, Volume 1 (Sacra Pagina Series). By Jewish scholar Marvin Sweeney.
St Cyril of Alexaqndria’s Commentary on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 1. Covers Hosea and Joel.
The Twelve Prophets: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: The Old Testament, Vol XIV. Excerpts from the Fathers of the Church.
Old Testament Message. Catholic. Covers Joel and several other prophets, along with Lamentations and Baruch.