AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents. | Authorship. | Date. | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint.


A brief survey of the contents will show wherein the problem of this book lies.

It contains two elements - narrative and apocalyptic.

1. The Narrative portion is as follows:- The book opens with a description of a plague of locusts from the ravages of which the land has suffered (i.2-5). So terrible has been the scourge that the swarms are compared with an invading army (i.6, 7). The prophet calls to lamentation. Let the priests mourn because the offerings cannot be brought to the sanctuary. Corn, wine, and oil, which formed an important part of the offerings, are unprocurable. Let the vinedressers and agriculturists mourn because everything has been devastated. All the inhabitants are called upon to fast and to cry unto Yahweh (i.8-14). The prophet points to the ravages before the very eyes of the people, and leads them in a plaint to the Almighty (i.16-20). Let them now at once turn to Him in fasting and weeping and mourning, for He is very merciful; it may be that He will hear their cry (ii.12-14). So the prophet commands a fast and a solemn assembly (ii.15-17). As a result the answer comes from Yahweh that He is about to give them once more all that they need. The enemy, i.e. the locust swarms, are being driven away, the land may rejoice, the beasts of the field need fear no more. There shall again be plenty in the land, let the people praise God, for He is in their midst (ii.18-27)

That is the narrative. It is not quite clear whether there was only the promise of returning fertility in which the people implicitly trusted, or whether this had actually taken place. In which case the lapse of some time must be assumed between ii.17 and 18-27. But otherwise the narrative in itself is perfectly straightforward. It covers i.2-20 (excepting verse 15), ii.12-27 (excepting verse 20).

2. The Apocalyptic portion begins abruptly at i.15, which breaks the course of the narrative portion:

"Alas for the day for the day of Yahweh is at hand, and as destruction from Shaddai shall it come."

It continues in ii.1ff. Here the locust swarm is allegorized. The day of darkness and gloom is at hand. A description of the advent of a mighty people follows. They will overrun the land and leave it waste. All men will be in fear of them, they will come in serried ranks and overwhelm the city. The earth will quake before them. The heavens will tremble, sun and moon and stars will be darkened; who can abide the day of Yahweh? (ii.1-11). After these terrors have passed the Almighty will pour His spirit on all flesh. Then there will be further wonders in the heavens and on earth, the sun and moon turned to darkness. But the remnant of the people, i.e. those who call on the name of Yahweh, will be delivered from all the terrors (ii.28-31 [Hebr.iii.1-51]). The dispersed of Israel will be brought back, but all the nations shall be gathered together in the valley of Jehoshaphat to be punished for the evil which the people of God have suffered at their hands. Tyre, Zidon, Philistia, and the Greeks are specially mentioned (iii.1-8 [Hebr.iv.1-8]). The nations are again bidden to gather themselves in the valley of Jehoshaphat, when the sun, moon and stars will be darkened, and Yahweh will utter His voice from Jerusalem, and the children of Israel will no more be troubled. But fruitfulness will be poured out upon the land, the people will dwell in prosperity, for Yahweh will dwell in Zion (iii.9-21 [Hebr.iv.9-21]).

The apocalyptic portion is thus contained in i.15, ii.1-11, 20, ii.28-32 (Hebr.iii.1-5), iii.1-21 (Hebr.iv.1-21). Like the narrative portion it is written in poetry. [Duhm (ZATW 1911, pp.184-188), however, maintains that it is in prose; it must be allowed that the metre is not always clear, & even where the poetical form is evident it is not always uniform, e.g. iv (EV, iii) 9-14 is irregular while iv (EV, iii) 15-17 is 3 : 3.]


The question now arises as to whether these two portions are to be assigned to the same author or not.

If the narrative portion be understood in a literal sense, which is the most obvious and natural, then it is a little difficult to understand how an author can intermix in one and the same writing such very different themes as a locust visitation and an apocalyptic prophecy regarding the end of the present world. Placing oneself in the position of the writer of the narrative portion one cannot fail to notice how terrible to him was this visitation, with its awful ravages, and with the consequent danger of famine. Not less intense was the feeling with which he exhorted priests and people to fast and mourn and pray, in order that by the mercy of God better times might come. Clearly his thoughts were concentrated on these things, his whole attention absorbed by the present distress and the means to be adopted for ensuring a happier future. Under such conditions it seems extremely unlikely that he could at the same time be thinking about the end of the world and the various apocalyptic elements with which the later part of the book is full. Later thought might well suggest an allegorical interpretation of the visitation in the sense of its being a symbolical heralding of the Day of Yahweh; so that it could with justice be contended that the apocalyptic portion was a subsequent addition by the author to his earlier writing, setting forth his reflections as he looked back upon the dire episode. In itself this would be a perfectly acceptable solution of the problem. On the other hand, an equally satisfactory explanation would be to suppose that a prophet wrote the narrative portion, and that subsequently it was utilized by an apocalyptist for the purpose of driving home his teaching concerning the coming Day of Yahweh. That the latter inserted some minor verbal additions in the narrative, such as i.15, would be a natural process.

But why, it may be asked, is the idea of dual authorship suggested at all, especially when the great mass of Old Testament scholars believe in single authorship? [Dual authorship is held by Duhm (ZATW for 1911, pp.184-188) & Marti, in Kautzsch-Bertholet's Die Heilige Schrift des A.T., ii.p.23 (1923); but they reckon ii.1-11 as belonging to the narrative portion, though with apocalyptic insertions. We have reached our conclusion as to duel authorship independently.]

The reason is that there are indications in the two portions of the book, respectively, which point to difference of date. To this subject we turn next.


It was, no doubt, due to the position of our book in the Canon, viz. between those of Hosea and Amos, which induced the belief, held for long, that it belonged to pre-exilic times. [In the Septuagint it occupies the fourth place, after Micah.]

But the place of a book in the Canon is no indication of its date, as is clear, e.g., from the positions of Ruth, Daniel and Jonah.

1. The narrative portion must be regarded as post-exilic for the following reasons; not that these are all decisive, but taken in the aggregate they offer a convincing case:

In the titles of almost all the pre-exilic prophetical books the name or names of the kings during whose reigns the prophet worked is given. That this is not the case with our book does not necessarily point to a post-exilic date, for the same is the case with Nahum and Habakkuk; but it must be noted as not being in accordance with the general usage of pre-exilic prophetical books.

More convincing is the fact that not only is there no reference to the Northern Kingdom, but "Israel" is used as synonymous with Judah; this usage occurs only after the time of Ezra. In ii.27 it is said: "And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel"; but the people addressed are those of Judah:

"Be glad then, ye Children of Zion" (ii.23).

In iv.2, again, we read of "my heritage Israel", but the reference, as verse i shows, is to "Judah and Jerusalem". And, once more, in iv.16 Israel is mentioned, but it is from Zion, from Jerusalem, that Yahweh will make His voice heard; clearly, therefore, by "Israel" is meant the people of Judah.

This points unmistakably to post-exilic times.

Again, Jerusalem is the only sanctuary; not that this necessarily points to post-exilic times, for it could be argued that inasmuch as the prophet belongs to the south there would be no need to mention the northern sanctuary.

But what is of real significance is that no reference whatsoever is made to the high-places (bamoth). This must mean that either this narrative portion was written some considerable time before Amos, or else after the Exile. But as there is not a single argument that will bear examination for such an early date, the only alternative is to place the narrative portion in the post-exilic period. It should also be noted that i.14, ii.15, 16 give the impression that the people are all living in close proximity to Jerusalem, which points to post-exilic conditions.

But there are yet stronger arguments in favour of this date. The priests are the leaders of the people; a king is never spoken of. Interest is centred on the worship of the Temple. The threefold reference to the meal offering (minhah) and the drink offering (nesek) in i.9, 13, ii.14 is quite conclusive as to date, for these refer to the daily morning and evening offering to which the abbreviated name Tamid ("continual" offering) is given.

In pre-exilic times the burnt offering was offered in the morning, the meal offering in the evening (see ii Kgs.xvi.15) ; but in the Priestly Code of post-exilic times these were combined and were offered together both morning and evening. [In Ezek.xlvi.13-15 the morning burnt offering & meal offering are already combined, but the drink offering has not yet come into vogue; no evening offering is mentioned. In the Joel passages burnt offering ('olah) is not used, but it was probably included in the minhah, which was a general term for sacrifices (see Gen.iv.3-5; Num.xvi.15; I Sam.ii.17, xxvi.19).]

To these was then added the drink offering (Exod.xxix.38-42, Num.xxviii.3-8); so that the mention in Joel of the drink offering in connexion with the other offering points indubitably to post-exilic times.

The importance of offerings shown in this narrative portion is very different from the attitude of the pre-exilic prophets, to whom the sacrifices were of small account, if not unnecessary, at any rate when offered in the wrong spirit.

And striking, too, In contrast to the earlier prophets, is the entire absence of ethical teaching. The pre-exilic prophets would assuredly have pointed to the locust visitation as a mark of divine wrath for the sins of the people (see, e.g., Am.iv.9). There would have been a call to forsake sin and refrain from evil.

But here the prophet exhorts to fasting, weeping and mourning.

Only once does the phrase "turn unto Yahweh your God" occur (ii.13).

And, finally, as Marti has pointed out [Das Dodekapropheton, p.113 (1904).], the easy and smooth style of the writer of this book, so far from being a sign of early date, is in fact a proof of the contrary. Smoothness of style and simplicity of expression are qualities that the earlier prophets do not possess. And it is certain that from about 400BC onwards the art of writing good and smooth Hebrew was cultivated.

Holzinger has also showed that our book contains various words and expressions that belong to Late Hebrew style. [In ZATW ix.pp.89 ff.]

These considerations make it certain that the narrative portion of our book belongs to the post-exilic period. The marked influence of the Priestly Code points to a period after the time of Ezra; so that we may with some confidence assign this part of the book to about the middle of the fourth century BC.

2. Turning now to the Apocalyptic portion, there are some interesting indirect indications of date. In iii.1 (Hebr.iv.1) it is said:

"For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem..."

Here the words "when I will bring again the captivity" do not represent the meaning of the original. In an exhaustive study of the Hebrew phrase (shub shebuth) Dietrich has shown that this is a technical term. In its original sense, it occurs only in eschatological Passages, and means "to bring back as of old" or "re-establish as in primeval times", i.e. it expresses the hope of the return of the Golden Age at the end of the present world-order.

This is born out by the context in which the term stands in Joel. And this context contains all the outstanding traits of the developed form of the eschatological drama presented in the apocalyptic literature of the last two centuries BC. Viz. the salvation of Jerusalem; the judgement on the nations; followed by the time of general well being, fruitfulness of the land, etc.; the permanent abode of Yahweh on Zion - in a word, the Messianic Age. In another part of the eschatological portion of our book (ii.11, 12), which is repeated in iii.15, 16, the usual signs in the heavens and the shaking of the earth are also mentioned.

While not an absolute proof, the fact that this portion of the book is so closely similar in content to the central eschatological traits contained in the apocalyptic literature makes it highly probable that it belongs approximately to 200 BC, or slightly later.

Further, as will, be seen in the chapter dealing with Zech.ix-xiv, this portion of Zechariah was written after 200BC. The close affinities between Joel iii and Zech.xiv, therefore, make it highly probable that a similar date is to be assigned to each.

The identity of thought between these two books is so striking that it is worthwhile placing them in parallel columns:


Joel iii.  

2. I will gather all nations and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat. 2. And I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle.
11. ... thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Yahweh. 5. And Yahweh my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee.
17. So shall ye know that I am Yahweh your God, dwelling in Zion my holy mountain. 9. And Yahweh shall be king over all the earth (i.e. in Jerusalem, see verses 3, 4).
18. ... and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. 21. ... and in that day there shall be no more a trafficker in the house of Yahweh of hosts.
18. ... and a fountain shall come forth of the house of Yahweh. 8. And it shall come to pass in that day that living waters shall go out of Jerusalem.

A few other points may be noted.

In Joel iii.4ff. (Hebr.iv.4ff), it is said of the Phoenicians and Philistines that they had sold the Jews as slaves to "the sons of the Grecians".

In Zech. ix.13 "the sons of Greece" are also mentioned, and there are good reasons for believing that by these the Seleucid empire is meant, for this had been part of Alexander's dominions, and the Seleucids were ardent Hellenists. It is possible that a similar meaning is to be attached to "the sons of the Grecians" in Joel iv.6.

Jewish slaves would be at least as likely to be sold to the Syrians as to the Greeks.

Besides, Phoenicia and Philistia come to the front again and again during the Seleucid era (e.g. Zech.ix.2, 6).

And, once more, in Joel ii.20 "the northern (army)" is spoken of; there is no mention of "army" in the original, it is "the northern one", which may well be "the king of the north" in Dan.xi.11, i.e. Antiochus iii. [Torrey thinks the reference is to Alexander the Great (Martifestschrift, pp.281 ff. (1925). For extraneous influence on Jewish eschatology see Oesterley & Robinson, Hebrew Religion, pp.344 ff.]

If so, the reference would be to the abortive attempt made by this king in 218-217BC to wrest Coele-Syria from Ptolemy iv Philopator.

The many affinities between this part of Joel and the apocalyptic portion of Isa.xxiv-xxvii would also point to a date not earlier than about 200BC. (See above, p.252 ff.)


With but few exceptions the text of Joel has come down to us in a very satisfactory condition. The few corruptions that occur are not serious (e.g. i.7, 17, 18; ii.11; iii.11, Hebr.iv.ii); in these the Septuagint gives, once or twice, some help. Additions to the Hebrew text are to be discerned here and there (e.g. in ii.11, 20, 26; ii.31 [Hebr.iii.4]), but they are of no importance.

In about half-a-dozen places the Septuagint contains additions to be noted, though they are not of much importance (e.g. i.5, 8; ii.12; iii.11); in only two or three of these does it represent a better Hebrew text (e.g. i.18).