Monday, November 4, 2013

Joel as an Apocalyptic Liturgical Text

It is readily recognized that the author of Joel, who Joel is, and when Joel was written (though the majority of scholars believe a post-exilic era) are particularly diffIcult issues to pin down.  Compounding the issues are the respective placements of Joel in both the MT and LXX appear most likely to have literary concerns in mind above chronological concerns.  The mention of "the Greeks" is only mildly helpful since the presence of Greek trade in the Levant is documented as early as the 8th century.  In other words, "the Greeks" do not need to automatically indicate a post-exilic era (contra Collins, 7).  Of note, also, both the Babylonians and Assyrians are absent. The locusts plagues do not specifically help since they could be a metaphor of other nations, or if they are in fact actual locusts, the documented occurrence of locusts plagues in the Near East is more frequent than a one-time event.  And who is the "northerner"?  Another nation? The locusts? Or, reference to divine beings?  Not sure...

So, Joel is confounding on many fronts.

What is sure is the Day of the Lord.  The universal effects upon all in this day - upon, Israel, the nations, EVEN Creation.  And the universal call to repentance in light of this day.

R.B. Dillard proposes in light of these difficulties, and this one surety, the possibility that Joel is either itself a liturgical text intended for corporate lament, or at the very least a specific example of one.

Three reasons are noted by Dillard:
1) "the people [of Israel] were often summoned to a fast at a sanctuary (Joel 1:13-14; 2:15-17)"
2) "where they would present their complaint to God in prayer and remind him of his past mercies (Joel 1:2-12, 15-20; 2:1-11)"
3) "and receive an answer of weal or woe from God (Joel 2:12-4:21 [3:21])"

Dillard continues, "If the Book of Joel was intended to serve as part of a liturgy as the temple, the difficulty in dating the book is all the more easily understood.  Repeated liturgical use would call for a composition that could be used on many different occasions, whether natural of military disaster threatens.  Specific historical references would narrow the range of events to which the text could be applied or for which it could be used liturgically."

Such an approach to Joel, as Dillard notes, also helps one understand why no specific sin of Israel is named in reference to their plight.  Sin is present, and even Creation mourns over it (contra Collins, 15).  But it is either assumed, and/or not named for a more universal use in liturgy.  ALSO, its universality is eschatological. 

In light of later use in the canon (broadly speaking), both Paul and Luke appeal to Joel, specifically 3:1-5 in reference to BOTH Jew and Gentile.  Could they do so within the semantic range and authority set by Joel if the pronouncement of sin was not open-ended, and pronouncement of the Day of the Lord was not universal (in contrast to, say, Hosea)?  Note: in Acts the Jews at
a certain point are no longer "the people," but the Jews - that is, another nation.  The relevance is clear in Joel.  Could it be that Joel is an apocalyptic liturgical text?

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