Biblical Studies Book of Joel
Sara Kipfer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0308


The Book of Joel is characterized more by the experience of destruction than hardly any other biblical book. Nevertheless, scholars are divided about the fundamental interpretation of the book. Specifically, were the disasters detailed in the book (i.e., a drought, a plague of locusts, and military destruction) actual events experienced by the people of Judah as YHWH’s judgment? Or do they employ figures and symbolic language to imagine the day of YHWH as future eschatological disaster? This fundamental disagreement then leads to different judgments about the origin of the book, its purpose, and its genre (e.g., lament, liturgical or apocalyptic literature, narrative, performative text, etc.). The Book of Joel is only three (LXX or Septuagint) or four chapters long (MT or Masoretic) with a total of 73 Masoretic verses. Chapter 3 of the Masoretic text is in most English and in some German translations counted as Joel 2:28–32. Consequently, chapter 4:1–21 becomes Joel 3:1–21. In the first two chapters disaster seems to have already occurred and people are called to repentance. The second part of the Book of Joel deals with God’s outpouring of the spirit, a day of salvation, and a future judgment against other nations. In older research, Joel 1:2–2:27 and Joel 3:1–4:21 (2:28–3:21) have therefore often been attributed to different authors. It has been assumed that a primary layer by a prophetic author was supplemented by a later apocalyptic addition. In current research, this position has been increasingly abandoned, last but not least because of the numerous resumptions that hold the two parts together and refer almost exclusively to the day of YHWH. Scholars tend to see Joel as a single literary unit with no or few later additions, or they try to explain its formation in the context of the Book of the Twelve using very elaborate literary models. The Book is ascribed to a certain Joel, son of Petuel, in Joel 1:1. Some see him as a cultic prophet, others rather tend to see the book as a simple continuation of other prophetic scriptures, and thus as scribal prophecy (schriftgelehrte Prophetie). While in older research the date of Joel ranges from the 8th century BCE until the Maccabean Period, the majority of current scholars dates it to the Persian Period. In favor of this dating are the many cross-references with the Book of the Twelve often understood as “quotations,” and “allusions.”

General Overviews and Encyclopedia Entries

The current research on the Book of Joel is diverse and contradictory. It is difficult to find balanced overviews reflecting the antagonistic scholarship. Seybold 2009 and Birdsong 2017 provide concise introductions into the Book of Joel giving a very general outline whereas Jeremias 1988, Hiebert 1992, and Zenger 2012 offer more substantial introductions with attention to the book’s historical, literary, and theological components. Ebach 2020 promotes the most recent scholarship, seeing the Book of Joel as a literary Fortschreibung of earlier prophecies. Hagedorn 2021 provides an introduction focusing on the content and various themes without going into the genesis of the Book of Joel.

  • Birdsong, Shelley L. “Joel (Book and Person). I. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception 14. Jesus—Kairos. Edited by Christine Helmer, Steven L McKenzie, Thomas Römer, et al., 413–416. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2017.

    A very concise introduction focusing on genre, dating, composition, imagery, and message of the Book of Joel.

  • Ebach, Ruth. “Joel in the Book of the Twelve.” In The Book of the Twelve: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation. Edited by L.-S. Tiemeyer, and J. Wöhrle, 124–138. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 184. Leiden, The Netherlands, Boston: Brill, 2020.

    An overview over the current scholarly research on the Book of Joel focusing on the development of the book within the context of the growing Book of the Twelve. The Book of Joel is described as a late prophetic book whose message is only understandable with other prophetic books as a background.

  • Hagedorn, Anselm C. “Joel.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Minor Prophets. Edited by J. M. O’Brien, 411–423. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    This essay explores the structure, themes, and contested issues of the Book of Joel. Hagedorn especially stresses the topic of the relation between Israel and the foreign nations where he also sees the most important link to other prophetic books.

  • Hiebert, Theodore. “Joel, Book of.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary 3. Edited by D. N. Freedman, 873–880. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    A rich and well-balanced overview including different research positions. It does not only consider the literary structure but also includes an overview of text versions, canonical position, and theological themes (e.g., ecological crisis and apocalyptic thought).

  • Jeremias, Jörg. “Joel/Joelbuch.” In Theologische Realenzyklopädie 17. Edited by Gerhard Müller, Gerhard Krause, Frank Schumann, et al., 91–97. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1988.

    The overview by Jeremias pays attention to the prophet Joel (about whom we know almost nothing), his message, as well as the Book of Joel and its formation. Jeremias reflects here the position of Wolff 1977 (cited under Commentaries) and argues for a secondary addition only in Joel 4:4–8, 18–21 (3:4–8, 18–21).

  • Linville, James R. “Joel.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible. 2 vols. Edited by M. D. Coogan, 450–457. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    This entry provides a very general introduction. It mostly focuses on the structure and content of the Book of Joel but also traces some important interpretative questions such as the relationship of the Book of Joel with the rise of apocalypticism in the Second Temple period. A short outlook on the history of its effect rounds off the article.

  • Seybold, Klaus. “Joel/Book of Joel.” In Religion Past and Present. Vol. 6. Edited by H. D. Betz. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

    A very concise introduction to the Book of Joel which gives a first impression about the book, its origin, and its position in the Book of the Twelve Prophets.

  • van Gemeren, Willem. “Joel.” In Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament. Edited by K. J. Vanhoozer, et al., 251–256. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

    This article not only discusses the message of the Book of Joel and its theological concerns but also refers to its reception history.

  • Zenger, Erich. “Das Buch Joël.” In Einleitung in das Alte Testament. Edited by E. Zenger and Christian Frevel, 635–640. 8th rev. ed. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2012.

    This section in one of the most frequently used textbooks in German universities gives a very balanced overview over structure, formation, and theology of the Book of Joel.

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