The date of the book of Joel (Joel 1)

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The book of Joel itself gives no indication of its date of authorship. This is unusual in the Old Testament prophetic literature; most prophets indicated that they preached during the reigns of certain kings (e.g. Hosea 1:1, Haggai 1:1) or provided other chronological indicators (Amos 1:1). The dates suggested for Joel range from the ninth century B.C. (making him the earliest of the writing prophets) to the late postexilic period (making him one of the latest). The following arguments are often raised in the discussion:

  • Joel is the second of the minor prophets, and thus the book is early, since they are roughly presented in chronological order. But there are exceptions to this rule: Obadiah, for example, almost certainly was written later than Micah, and Hosea later than Amos.
  • No kings are mentioned, and therefore the book is postexilic. On the other hand, postexilic prophets sometimes dated their books by Persian kings (Haggai 1:1, Zechariah 1:1). Thus, the non-mention of any king does not imply anything in particular about the book’s date.
  • Joel does mention priests and elders, and therefore the book was written when the nation was governed by these groups rather than by a king, making the book postexilic. However, the elders are mentioned only in a context of calling for ritual lamentation (Joel 2:15-17). They are not said to have been in a governing position, and the reference may in fact have been literally to a group of elderly men (1:2). Again, nothing here helps us to date the book.
  • Joel never alludes in any way to the northern kingdom (usually called Israel or Samaria), suggesting that the northern kingdom may no longer have existed and that the book was thus written after the fall of Samaria (722 B.C.)
  • Jerusalem had walls (2:7-9). Thus, the book was written either before its fall (586 B.C.) or late in the postexilic period, after they walls have been restored.
  • Worship was carried out at the temple (2:15-17), indicating that the book was written either before its destruction or after its restoration.
  • All who lived in the land could gather in Jerusalem (1:14). This suggests that the population of the community was relatively small, as in the late preexilic or the postexilic period.

A few other fine points regarding the language and circumstances of Joel are debated but have produced no consensus.

All in all, the above considerations speak against a date that was very early, very late or during the exile. Apparently the northern kingdom no longer existed, but the temple was functioning and Jerusalem’s walls were intact. A seventh century B.C. date seems reasonable, but the fact remains that the book itself does not tell us when it was written.


 

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