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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary


- Joel

by William Nicoll


(539-331 B.C.)

"The exiles returned from Babylon to found not a kingdom, but a church."-KIRKPATRICK.

"Israel is no longer a kingdom, but a colony."


THE next group of the Twelve Prophets-Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and perhaps Joel-fall within the period of the Persian Empire. The Persian Empire was founded on the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 B.C., and it fell in the defeat of Darius III by Alexander the Great at the battle of Gaugamela, or Arbela, in 331. The period is thus one of a little more than two centuries.

During all this time Israel were the subjects of the Persian monarchs, and bound to them and their civilization by the closest of ties. They owed them their liberty and revival as a separate community upon its own land. The Jewish State-if we may give that title to what is perhaps more truly described as a Congregation or Commune-was part of an empire which stretched from the Aegean to the Indus, and the provinces of which were held in close intercourse by the first system of roads and posts that ever brought different races together. Jews were scattered almost everywhere across this empire. A vast number still remained in Babylon, and there were many at Susa and Ecbatana, two of the royal capitals. Most of these were subject to the full influence of Aryan manners and religion; some were even members of the Persian Court and had access to the Royal Presence. In the Delta of Egypt there were Jewish settlements, and Jews were found also throughout Syria and along the coast, at least, of Asia Minor. Here they touched another civilization, destined to impress them in the future even more deeply than the Persian. It is the period of the struggle between Asia and Europe, between Persia and Greece: the period of Marathon and Thermopylae, of Salamis and Plataea, of Xenophon and the Ten Thousand. Greek fleets occupied Cyprus and visited the Delta. Greek armies-in the pay of Persia-trod for the first time the soil of Syria.

In such a world, dominated for the first time by the Aryan, Jews returned from exile, rebuilt their Temple and resumed its ritual, revived Prophecy and codified the Law: in short, restored and organized Israel as the people of God, and developed their religion to those ultimate forms in which it has accomplished its supreme service to the world.

In this period Prophecy does not maintain that lofty position which it has hitherto held in the life of Israel, and the reasons for its decline are obvious. To begin with, the national life, from which it springs, is of a far poorer quality. Israel is no longer a kingdom, but a colony. The state is not independent: there is virtually no state. The community is poor and feeble, cut off from all the habit and prestige of their past, and beginning the rudiments of life again in hard struggle with nature and hostile tribes. To this level Prophecy has to descend, and occupy itself with these rudiments. We miss the civic atmosphere, the great spaces of public life, the large ethical issues. Instead we have tearful questions, raised by a grudging soil and bad seasons, with all the petty selfishness of hunger-bitten peasants. The religious duties of the colony are mainly ecclesiastical: the building of a temple, the arrangement of ritual, and the ceremonial discipline of the people in separation from their heathen neighbors. We miss, too, the clear outlook of the earlier prophets upon the history of the world, and their calm, rational grasp of its forces. The world is still seen, and even to further distances than before. The people abate no whit of their ideal to be the teachers of mankind. But it is all through another medium. The lurid air of Apocalypse envelops the future, and in their weakness to grapple either politically or philosophically with the problems which history offers, the prophets resort to the expectation of physical catastrophes and of the intervention of supernatural armies. Such an atmosphere is not the native air of Prophecy, and Prophecy yields its supreme office in Israel to other forms of religious development. On one side the ecclesiastic comes to the front-the legalist, the organizer of ritual, the priest; on another, the teacher, the moralist, the thinker, and the speculator. At the same time personal religion is perhaps more deeply cultivated than at any other stage of the people’s history. A large number of lyrical pieces bear proof to the existence of a very genuine and beautiful piety throughout the period.

Unfortunately the Jewish records for this time are both fragmentary and confused; they touch the general history of the world only at intervals, and give rise to a number of difficult questions, some of which are insoluble. The clearest and only consecutive line of data through the period is the list of the Persian monarchs. The Persian Empire, 539-331, was sustained through eleven reigns and two usurpations, of which the following is a chronological table:- B.C. Cyrus (Kurush) the Great 539-529 Cambyses (Kambujiya) 529-522 Pseudo-Smerdis, or Baradis 522 Darius (Darayahush) I, Hystaspis 521-485 Xerxes (Kshayarsha) I 485-464 Artaxerxes (Artakshathra) I, 464-424 Longimanus Xerxes II 424-423 Sogdianus 423 Darius II, Nothus 423-404 Artaxerxes II, Mnemon 404-358 Artaxerxes III, Ochus 358-338 Arses 338-335 Darius III, Codomannus 335-331 Of these royal names, Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes (Ahasuerus), and Artaxerxes are given among the Biblical data; but the fact that there are three Darius’, two Xerxes’ and three Artaxerxes’ makes possible more than one set of identifications, and has suggested different chronological schemes of Jewish history during this period. The simplest and most generally accepted identification of the Darius, Xerxes (Ahasuerus), and Artaxerxes of the Biblical history (Ezra 4:5-7, etc.; Ezra 6:1-14, etc.), is that they were the first Persian monarchs of these names; and after needful rearrangement of the somewhat confused order of events in the narrative of the Book of Ezra, it was held as settled that, while the exiles returned under Cyrus about 537, Haggai and Zechariah prophesied and the Temple was built under Darius I between the second and the sixth year of his reign, or from 520 to 516; that attempts were made to build the walls of Jerusalem under Xerxes I (485-464), but especially under Artaxerxes I (464-424), under whom first Ezra in 458 and then Nehemiah in 445 arrived at Jerusalem, promulgated the Law, and re-organized Israel.

But this has by no means satisfied all modern critics. Some in the interest of the authenticity and correct order of the Book of Ezra, and some for other reasons, argue that the Darius under whom the Temple was built was Darius II, or Nothus, 423-404, and thus bring down the building of the Temple and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah a whole century later than the accepted theory; and that therefore the Artaxerxes under whom Ezra and Nehemiah labored was not the first Artaxerxes, or Longimanus (464-424), but the second, or Mnemon (404-358). This arrangement of the history finds some support in the data, and especially in the order of the data, furnished by the Book of Ezra, which describes the building of the Temple under Darius after its record of events under Xerxes I (Ahasuerus) and Artaxerxes I [Ezra 4:6 - Ezra 5:1-17] But, as we shall see in the next chapter, the Compiler of the Book of Ezra has seen fit, for some reason, to violate the chronological order of the data at his disposal, and nothing reliable can be built upon his arrangement. Unravel his somewhat confused history, take the contemporary data supplied in Haggai and Zechariah, add to them the historical probabilities of the time, and you will find, as the three Dutch scholars Kuenen, Van Hoonacker and Kosters have done, that the rebuilding of the Temple cannot possibly be dated so late as the reign of the second Darius (423-404), but must be left, according to the usual acceptation, under Darius I (521-485). Haggai, for instance, plainly implies that among those who saw the Temple rising were men who had seen its predecessor destroyed in 586, [Haggai 2:3] and Zechariah declares that God’s wrath on Jerusalem has just lasted seventy years. [Zechariah 1:12] Nor (however much his confusion may give grounds to the contrary) can the Compiler of the Book of Ezra have meant any other reign for the building of the Temple than that of Darius I He mentions that nothing was done to the Temple "all the days of Cyrus and up to the reign of Darius": [Ezra 4:5] by this he cannot intend to pass over the first Darius and leap on three more reigns, or a century, to Darius

II. He mentions Zerubbabel and Jeshua both as at the head of the exiles who returned under Cyrus, and as presiding at the building of the Temple under Darius (Ezra 2:2;, Ezra 4:1 ff;, Ezra 5:2). If alive in 536, they may well have been alive in 521, but cannot have survived till 423. These data are fully supported by the historical probabilities. It is inconceivable that the Jews should have delayed the building of the Temple for more than a century from the time of Cyrus. That the Temple was built by Zerubbabel and Jeshua in the beginning of the reign of Darius 1 may be considered as one of the unquestionable data of our period. But if this be so, then there falls away a great part of the argument for placing the building of the walls of Jerusalem and the labors of Ezra and Nehemiah under Artaxerxes II (404-358) instead of Artaxerxes I It is true that some who accept the building of the Temple under Darius I nevertheless put Ezra and Nehemiah under Artaxerxes II The weakness of their case, however, has been clearly exposed by Kuenen; who proves that Nehemiah’s mission to Jerusalem must have fallen in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes I, or 445. "On this fact there can be no further difference of opinion."

These two dates then are fixed: the beginning of the Temple in 520 by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, arid the arrival of Nehemiah at Jerusalem in 445. Other points are more difficult to establish, and in particular there rests a great obscurity on the date of the two visits of Ezra to Jerusalem. According to the Book of Ezra, [Ezra 7:1-8] he went there first in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, or 458 B.C., thirteen years before the arrival of Nehemiah. He found many Jews married to heathen wives, laid it to heart, and called a general assembly of the people to drive the latter out of the community. Then we hear no more of him: neither in the negotiations with Artaxerxes about the building of the walls, nor upon the arrival of Nehemiah, nor in Nehemiah’s treatment of the mixed marriages. He is absent from everything, till suddenly he appears again at the dedication of the walls by Nehemiah and at the reading of the Law. [Nehemiah 12:36;, Nehemiah 8:10] This "eclipse of Ezra," as Kuenen well calls it, taken with the mixed character of all the records left of him, has moved some to deny to him and his reforms and his promulgation of the Law any historical reality whatever; while others, with a more sober and rational criticism, have sought to solve the difficulties by another arrangement of the events than that usually accepted. Van Hoonacker makes Ezra’s first appearance in Jerusalem to be at the dedication of the walls and promulgation of the Law in 445, and refers his arrival described in Ezra 7:1-28. and his attempts to abolish the mixed marriages to a second visit to Jerusalem in the twentieth year, not of Artaxerxes I, but of Artaxerxes II, or 398 B.C. Kuenen has exposed the extreme unlikelihood, if not impossibility, of so late a date for Ezra, and in this Kosters holds with him. But Kosters agrees with Van Hoonacker in placing Ezra’s activity subsequent to Nehemiah’s and to the dedication of the walls.

These questions about Ezra have little bearing on our present study of the prophets, and it is not our duty to discuss them. But Kuenen, in answer to Van Hoonacker, has shown very strong reasons for holding in the main to the generally accepted theory of Ezra’s arrival in Jerusalem in 458, the seventh year of Artaxerxes I and though there are great difficulties about the narrative which follows, and especially about Ezra’s sudden disappearance from the scene till after Nehemiah’s arrival, reasons may be found for this.

We are therefore justified in holding, in the meantime, to the traditional arrangement of the great Events in Israel in the fifth century before Christ. We may divide the whole Persian period by the two points we have found to be certain, the beginning of the Temple under Darius I in 520 and the mission of Nehemiah to Jerusalem in 445, and by the other that we have found to be probable, Ezra’s arrival in 458.

On these data the Persian period may be arranged under the following four sections, among which we place those prophets who respectively belong to them:-

1. From the Taking of Babylon by Cyrus to the Completion of the Temple in the sixth year of Darius I, 538-516: Haggai and Zechariah in 520 ff.

2. From the Completion of the Temple under Darius I to the arrival of Ezra in the seventh year of Artaxerxes I, 516-458: sometimes called the period of silence, but probably yielding the Book of Malachi.

3. The Work of Ezra and Nehemiah under Artaxerxes I, Longimanus, 458-425.

4. The Rest of the Period, Xerxes II to Darius III 425-33I: the prophet Joel and perhaps several other anonymous fragments of prophecy.

Of these four sections we must now examine the first, for it forms the necessary introduction to our study of Haggai and Zechariah, and above all it raises a question almost greater than any of those we have just been discussing. The fact recorded by the Book of Ezra, and till a few years ago accepted without doubt by tradition and modern criticism, the first Return of Exiles from Babylon under Cyrus, has lately been altogether denied; and the builders of the Temple in 520 have been asserted to be, not returned exiles, but the remnant of Jews left in Judah by Nebuchadrezzar in 586. The importance of this for our interpretation of Haggai and Zechariah, who instigated the building of the Temple, is obvious: we must discuss the question in detail.


(536-516 B.C.).

CYRUS the Great took Babylon and the Babylonian Empire in 539. Upon the eve of his conquest the Second Isaiah had hailed him as the Liberator of the people of God and the builder of their Temple. The Return of the Exiles and the Restoration both of Temple and City were predicted by the Second Isaiah for the immediate future; and a Jewish historian, the Compiler of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, who lived about 300 B.C., has taken up the story of how these events came to pass from the very first year of Cyrus onward. Before discussing the dates and proper order of these events, it will be well to have this Chronicler’s narrative before us. It lies in the first and following chapters of our Book of Ezra.

According to this, Cyrus, soon after his conquest of Babylon, gave permission to the Jewish exiles to return to Palestine, and between forty and fifty thousand did so return, bearing the vessels of Jehovah’s house which the Chaldeans had taken away in 586. These Cyrus delivered "to Sheshbazzar, prince of Judah" [Ezra 1:8] who is further described in an Aramaic document, incorporated by the Compiler of the Book of Ezra as "Pehah," or "provincial governor," [Ezra 5:14] and as laying the foundation of the Temple, and there is also mentioned in command of the people a Tirshatha, probably the Persian Tarsata, [Ezra 2:63] which also means "provincial governor." Upon their arrival at Jerusalem, the date of which will be immediately discussed, the people are said to be under Jeshu’a ben Josadak and Zerubbabel ben She’alti’el who had already been mentioned as the head of the returning exiles, [Ezra 2:2] and who is called by his contemporary Haggai Pehah, or "governor, of Judah." Are we to understand by Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel one and the same person? Most critics have answered in the affirmative, believing that Sheshbazzar is but the Babylonian or Persian name by which the Jew Zerubbabel was known at court; and this view is supported by the facts that Zerubbabel was of the house of David and is called Pehah by Haggai, and by the argument that the command given by the Tirshatha to the Jews to abstain from "eating the most holy things" [Ezra 2:63] could only have been given by a native Jew. But others, arguing that Ezra 5:1, compared with Ezra 5:14 and Ezra 5:16, implies that Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar were two different persons, take the former to have been the most prominent of the Jews themselves, but the latter an official, Persian or Babylonian, appointed by Cyrus to carry out such business in connection with the Return as could only be discharged by an imperial officer. This is, on the whole, the more probable theory.

If it is right, Sheshbazzar, who superintended the Return, had disappeared from Jerusalem by 521, when Haggai commenced to prophesy, and had been succeeded as Pehah, or governor, by Zerubbabel. But in that case the Compiler has been in error in calling Sheshbazzar "a prince of Judah." [Ezra 1:8]

The next point to fix is what the Compiler considers to have been the date of the Return. He names no year, but he recounts that the same people, whom he has just described as receiving the command of Cyrus to return, did immediately leave Babylon, and he says that they arrived at Jerusalem in "the seventh month," but again without stating a year. In any case, he obviously intends to imply that the Return followed immediately on reception of the permission to return, and that this was given by Cyrus very soon after his occupation of Babylon in 539-8. We may take it that the Compiler understood the year to be that we know as 537 B.C. He adds that, on the arrival of the caravans from Babylon, the Jews set up the altar on its old site and restored the morning and evening sacrifices; that they kept also the Feast of Tabernacles, and thereafter all the rest of the feasts of Jehovah; and further, that they engaged masons and carpenters for building the Temple, and Phoenicians to bring them cedar wood from Lebanon. [Ezra 3:3-7]

Another section from the Compiler’s hand states that the returned Jews set to work upon the Temple "in the second month of the second year" of their Return, presumably 536 B.C., laying the foundation-stone with due pomp, and amid the excitement of the whole people. Whereupon certain "adversaries," by whom the Compiler means Samaritans, demanded a share in the building of the Temple, and when Joshua and Zerubbabel refused this, "the people of the land" frustrated the building of the Temple even until the reign of Darius, 521 ff.

This-the second year of Darius-is the point to which contemporary documents, the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, assign the beginning of new measures to build the Temple. Of these the Compiler of the Book of Ezra says in the meantime nothing, but after barely mentioning the reign of Darius leaps at once [Ezra 4:7] to further Samaritan obstructions- though not of the building of the Temple (be it noted), but of the building of the city walls-in the reigns of Ahasuerus, that is Xerxes, presumably Xerxes I, the successor of Darius, 485-464, and of his successor Artaxerxes I, 464-424; the account of the latter of which he gives not in his own language, but in that of an Aramaic document, Ezra 4:8 ff. And this document, after recounting how Artaxerxes empowered the Samaritans to stop the building of the walls of Jerusalem, records (Ezra 4:24) that the building ceased "till the second year of the reign of Darius," when the prophets Haggai and Zechariah stirred up Zerubbabel and Joshua to rebuild, not the city walls, be it observed, but the Temple, and with the permission of Darius this building was at last completed in his sixth year. [Ezra 4:24 - Ezra 6:15] That is to say, this Aramaic document brings us back, with the frustrated building of the walls under Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I (485-424), to the same date under their predecessor Darius I, viz. 520, to which the Compiler had brought down the frustrated building of the Templet The most reasonable explanation of this confusion, not only of chronology, but of two distinct processes-the erection of the Temple and the fortification of the city-is that the Compiler was misled by his desire to give as strong an impression as possible of the Samaritan obstructions by placing them all together. Attempts to harmonize the order of his narrative with the ascertained sequence of the Persian reigns have failed.

Such then is the character of the compilation known to us as the Book of Ezra. If we add that in its present form it cannot be of earlier date than 300 B.C., or two hundred and thirty-six years after the Return, and that the Aramaic document which it incorporates is probably not earlier than 430, or one hundred years after the Return, while the List of Exiles which it gives (in chapter 2.) also contains elements that cannot be earlier than 430, we shall not wonder that grave doubts should have been raised concerning its trustworthiness as a narrative.

These doubts affect, with one exception, all the great facts which it professes to record. The exception is the building of the Temple between the second and sixth years of Darius I, 520-516, which we have already seen to be past doubt. But all that the Book of Ezra relates before this has been called in question, and it has been successively alleged:

(1) that there was no such attempt as the book describes to build the Temple before 520,

(2) that there was no Return of Exiles at all under Cyrus, and that the Temple was not built by Jews who had come from Babylon, but by Jews who had never left Judah.

These conclusions, if justified, would have the most important bearing upon our interpretation of Haggai and Zechariah. It is therefore necessary to examine them with care. They were reached by critics in the order just stated, but as the second is the more sweeping and to some extent involves the other, we may take it first.

1. Is the Book of Ezra, then, right or wrong in asserting that there was a great return of Jews, headed by Zerubbabel and Jeshua, about the year 536, and that it was they who in 520-516 rebuilt the Temple?

The argument that in recounting these events the Book of Ezra is unhistorical has been fully stated by Professor Kosters of Leiden. He reaches his conclusion along three lines of evidence: the Books of Haggai and Zechariah, the sources from which he believes the Aramaic narrative Ezra 5:1-17; Ezra 6:1-18 to have been compiled, and the list of names in Ezra 2:1-70. In the Books of Haggai and Zechariah, he points out that the inhabitants of Jerusalem whom the prophets summon to build the Temple are not called by any name which implies that they are returned exiles; that nothing in the description of them would lead us to suppose this; that God’s anger against Israel is represented as still unbroken; that neither prophet speaks of a Return as past, but that Zechariah seems to look for it as still to come. The second line of evidence is an analysis of the Aramaic document, Ezra 5:6 ff., into two sources, neither of which implies a Return under Cyrus. But these two lines of proof cannot avail against the List of Returned Exiles offered us in Ezra 2:1-70 and Nehemiah 7:1-73, if the latter be genuine. On his third line of evidence, Dr. Kosters, therefore, disputes the genuineness of this List, and further denies that it even gives itself out as a List of Exiles returned under Cyrus. So he arrives at the conclusion that there was no Return from Babylon under Cyrus, nor any before the Temple was built in 520 ff., but that the builders were "people of the land," Jews who had never gone into exile.

The evidence which Dr. Kosters draws from the Book of Ezra least concerns us. Both because of this and because it is the weakest part of his case, we may take it first.

Dr. Kosters analyses the bulk of the Aramaic document, Ezra 5:1-17 - Ezra 6:18, into two constituents. His arguments for this are very precarious. The first document, which he takes to consist of Ezra 5:1-5; Ezra 5:10, with perhaps Ezra 6:6-15 (except a few phrases), relates that Thathnai, Satrap of the West of the Euphrates, asked Darius whether he might allow the Jews to proceed with the building of the Temple, and received command not only to allow, but to help them, on the ground that Cyrus had already given them permission. The second, Ezra 5:11-17; Ezra 6:1-3, affirms that the building had actually begun under Cyrus, who had sent Sheshbazzar, the Satrap, to see it carried out. Neither of these documents says a word about any order from Cyrus to the Jews to return: and the implication of the second, that the building had gone on uninterruptedly from the time of Cyrus’ order to the second year of Darius, [Ezra 5:16] is not in harmony with the evidence of the Compiler of the Book of Ezra, who, as we have seen, states that Samaritan obstruction stayed the building till the second year of Darius.

But suppose we accept Koster’s premises and agree that these two documents really exist within Ezra 5:1-17 - Ezra 6:18. Their evidence is not irreconcilable. Both imply that Cyrus gave command to rebuild the Temple; if they were originally independent that would but strengthen the tradition of such a command, and render a little weaker Dr. Kosters’ contention that the tradition arose merely from a desire to find a fulfillment of the Second Isaiah’s predictions that Cyrus would be the Temple’s builder. That neither of the supposed documents mentions the Return itself is very natural, because both are concerned with the building of the Temple. For the Compiler of the Book of Ezra, who on Kosters’ argument put them together, the interest of the Return is over; he has already sufficiently dealt with it. But more-Kosters’ second document, which ascribes the building of the Temple to Cyrus, surely by that very statement implies a Return of Exiles during his reign. For is it at all probable that Cyrus would have committed the rebuilding of the Temple to a Persian magnate like Sheshbazzar, without sending with him a large number of those Babylonian Jews who must have instigated the king to give his order for rebuilding? We may conclude then that Ezra 5:1-17 - Ezra 6:18, whatever be its value and its date, contains no evidence, positive or negative, against a Return of the Jews under Cyrus, but, on the contrary, takes this for granted.

We turn now to Dr. Kosters’ treatment of the so-called List of the Returned Exiles. He holds this List to have been, not only borrowed for its place in Ezra 2:1-70 from Nehemiah 7:1-73, but even interpolated in the latter. His reasons for this latter conclusion are very improbable, as will be seen from the appended note, and really weaken his otherwise strong case.

As to the contents of the List, there are, it is true, many elements which date from Nehemiah’s own time and even later. But these are not sufficient to prove that the List was not originally a List of Exiles returned, under Cyrus. The verses in which this is asserted- Ezra 2:1-2, Nehemiah 7:6-7 -plainly intimate that those Jews who came up out of the Exile were the same who built the Temple under Darius. Dr. Kosters endeavors to destroy the force of this statement (if true so destructive of his theory) by pointing to the number of the leaders which the List assigns to the returning exiles. In fixing this number as twelve, the author, Kosters maintains, intended to make the leaders representative of the twelve tribes and the body of returned exiles as equivalent to All-Israel. But, he argues, neither Haggai nor Zechariah considers the builders of the Temple to be equivalent to All-Israel, nor was this conception realized in Judah till after the arrival of Ezra with his bands. The force of this argument is greatly weakened by remembering how natural it would have been for men, who felt the Return under Cyrus, however small, to be the fulfillment of the Second Isaiah’s glorious predictions of the restoration of All-Israel, to appoint twelve leaders, and to make them representative of the nation as a whole. Kosters’ argument against the naturalness of such an appointment in 537, and therefore against the truth of the statement of the List about it, falls to the ground.

But in the Books of Haggai and Zechariah Dr. Kosters finds much more formidable witnesses for his thesis that there was no Return of Exiles from Babylon before the building of the Temple under Darius. These books nowhere speak of a Return under Cyrus, nor do they call the community who built the Temple by the names of Golah or B’ne ha-Golah, "Captivity" or "Sons of the Captivity," which are given after the Return of Ezra’s bands; but they simply name them "this people" [Haggai 1:2; Haggai 2:14] or "remnant of the people," [Haggai 1:12; Haggai 2:2, Zechariah 9:6; Zechariah 9:11-12] "people of the land," [Haggai 2:4, Zechariah 7:5] "Judah" or "House of Judah," [Zechariah 8:13] names perfectly suitable to Jews who had never left the neighborhood of Jerusalem. Even if we except from this list the phrase "the remnant of the people," as intended by Haggai and Zechariah in the numerical sense of "the rest" or "all the others," we have still to deal with the other titles, with the absence from them of any symptom descriptive of return from exile, and with the whole silence of our two prophets concerning such a return. These are very striking phenomena, and they undoubtedly afford considerable evidence for Dr. Kosters’ thesis. But it cannot escape notice that the evidence they afford is mainly negative, and this raises two questions:

(1) Can the phenomena in Haggai and Zechariah be accounted for? and

(2) whether accounted for or not, can they be held to prevail against the mass of positive evidence in favor of a Return under Cyrus?

An explanation of the absence of all allusion in Haggai and Zechariah to the Return is certainly possible.

No one can fail to be struck with the spirituality of the teaching of Haggai and Zechariah.

Their one ambition is to put courage from God into the poor hearts before them, that these out of their own resources may rebuild their Temple. As Zechariah puts it, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith Jehovah of Hosts." [Zechariah 4:4] It is obvious why men of this temper should refrain from appealing to the Return, or to the royal power of Persia by which it had been achieved. We can understand why, while the annals employed in the Book of Ezra record the appeal of the political leaders Of the Jews to Darius upon the strength of the edict of Cyrus, the prophets, in their effort to encourage the people to make the most of what they themselves were and to enforce the omnipotence of God’s Spirit apart from all human aids, should be silent about the latter. We must also remember that Haggai and Zechariah were addressing a people to whom (whatever view we take of the transactions under Cyrus) the favor of Cyrus had been one vast disillusion in the light of the predictions of Second Isaiah. The Persian magnate Sheshbazzar himself, invested with full power, had been unable to build the Temple for them, and had apparently disappeared from Judah, leaving his powers as Pehah, or governor, to Zerubbabel. Was it not, then, as suitable to these circumstances, as it was essential to the prophets’ own religious temper, that Haggai and Zechariah should refrain from alluding to any of the political advantages to which their countrymen had hitherto trusted in vain?

Another fact should be marked. If Haggai is silent about any return from exile in the past, he is equally silent about any in the future. If for him no return had yet taken place, would he not have been likely to predict it as certain to happen? At least his silence on the subject proves how absolutely he confined his thoughts to the circumstances before him, and to the needs of his people at the moment he addressed them. Kosters, indeed, alleges that Zechariah describes the Return from Exile as still future-viz., in the lyric piece appended to his Third Vision. But, as we shall see when we come to it, this lyric piece is most probably an intrusion among the Visions, and is not to be assigned to Zechariah himself. Even, however, if it were from the same date and author as the Visions, it would not prove that no return from Babylon had taken place, but only that numbers of Jews still remained in Babylon.

But we may now take a further step. If there were these natural reasons for the silence of Haggai and Zechariah about a return of exiles under Cyrus, can that silence be allowed to prevail against the mass of testimony which we have that such a return took place? It is true that, while the Books of Haggai and Zechariah are contemporary with the period in question, some of the evidence for the Return, Ezra 1:1; Ezra 3:1-13 - Ezra 4:7, is at least two centuries later, and upon the date of the rest, the List in Ezra and the Aramaic document in Ezra 4:8 ff., we have no certain information. But that the List is from a date very soon after Cyrus is allowed by a large number of the most advanced critics, and even if we ignore it, we still have the Aramaic document, which agrees with Haggai and Zechariah in assigning the real, effectual beginning of the Temple-building to the second year of Darius and to the leadership of Zerubbabel and Jeshua at the instigation of the two prophets. May we not trust the same document in its relation of the main facts concerning Cyrus? Again, in his memoirs Ezra [Ezra 9:4. Ezra 10:6-7] speaks of the transgressions of the Golah or B’ne ha-Golah in effecting marriages with the mixed people of the land, in a way which shows that he means by the name, not the Jews who had just come up with himself from Babylon, but the older community whom he found in Judah, and who had had time, as his own bands had not, to scatter over the land and enter into social relations with the heathen.

But, as Kuenen points out, we have yet further evidence for the probability of a Return under Cyrus in the explicit predictions of the Second Isaiah that Cyrus would be the builder of Jerusalem and the Temple. "If they express the expectation, nourished by the prophet and his contemporaries, then it is clear from their preservation for future generations that Cyrus did not disappoint the hope of the exiles, from whose midst this voice pealed forth to him." And this leads to other considerations. Whether was it more probable for the poverty-stricken "people of the land," the dregs which Nebuchadrezzar had left behind, or for the body and flower of Israel in Babylon to rebuild the Temple? Surely for the latter. Among them had risen, as Cyrus drew near to Babylon, the hopes and the motives, nay, the glorious assurance of the Return and the Rebuilding; and with them was all the material for the latter. Is it credible that they took no advantage of their opportunity under Cyrus? Is it credible that they waited nearly a century before seeking to return to Jerusalem, and that the building of the Temple was left to people who were half-heathen, and, in the eyes of the exiles, despicable and unholy? This would be credible only upon one condition, that Cyrus and his immediate successors disappointed the predictions of the Second Isaiah and refused to allow the exiles to leave Babylon. But the little we know of these Persian monarchs points all the other way: nothing is more probable, for nothing is more in harmony with Persian policy, than that Cyrus should permit the captives of the Babylon which he conquered to return to their own lands.

Moreover, we have another, and to the mind of the present writer an almost conclusive argument, that the Jews addressed by Haggai and Zechariah were Jews returned from Babylon. Neither prophet ever charges his people with idolatry; neither prophet so much as mentions idols. This is natural if the congregation addressed was composed of such pious and ardent adherents of Jehovah as His word had brought back to Judah, when His servant Cyrus opened the way. But had Haggai and Zechariah been addressing "the people of the land," who had never left the land, they could not have helped speaking of idolatry.

Such considerations may very justly be used against an argument which seeks to prove that the narratives of a Return under Cyrus were due to the pious invention of a Jewish writer who wished to record that the predictions of the Second Isaiah were fulfilled by Cyrus, their designated trustee. They certainly possess a far higher degree of probability than that argument does.

Finally there is this consideration. If there was no return from Babylon under Cyrus, and the Temple, as Dr. Kosters alleges, was built by the poor people of the land, is it likely that the latter should have been regarded with such contempt as they were by the exiles who returned under Ezra and Nehemiah? Theirs would have been the glory of reconstituting Israel, and their position very different from what we find it.

On all these grounds, therefore, we must hold that the attempt to discredit the tradition of an important return of exiles under Cyrus has not been successful; that such a return remains the more probable solution of an obscure and difficult problem; and that therefore-the Jews who with Zerubbabel and Jeshua are represented in Haggai and Zechariah as building the Temple in the second year of Darius, 520, had come up from Babylon about 537. Such a conclusion, of course, need not commit us to the various data offered by the Chronicler in his story of the Return, such as the Edict of Cyrus, nor to all of his details.

2. Many, however, who grant the correctness of the tradition that a large number of Jewish exiles returned under Cyrus to Jerusalem, deny the statement of the Compiler of the Book of Ezra that the returned exiles immediately prepared to build the Temple and laid the foundation-stone with solemn festival, but were hindered from proceeding with the building till the second year of Darius. [Ezra 3:8-13] They maintain that this late narrative is contradicted by the contemporary statements of. Haggai and Zechariah, who, according to them, imply that no foundation-stone was laid till 520 B.C. For the interpretation of our prophets this is not a question of cardinal importance. But for clearness’ sake we do well to lay it open.

We may at once concede that in Haggai and Zechariah there is nothing which necessarily implies that the Jews had made any beginning to build the Temple before the start recorded by Haggai in the year 520. The one passage, Haggai 2:18, which is cited to prove this is at the best ambiguous, and many scholars claim it as a fixture of that date for the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month of 520. At the same time, and even granting that the latter interpretation of Haggai 2:18 is correct, there is nothing in either Haggai or Zechariah to make it impossible that a foundation-stone had been laid some years before, but abandoned in consequence of the Samaritan obstruction, as alleged in Ezra 3:8-11. If we keep in mind Haggai’s and Zechariah’s silence about the Return from Babylon, and their very natural concentration upon their own circumstances, we shall not be able to reckon their silence about previous attempts to build the Temple as a conclusive proof that these attempts never took place. Moreover, the Aramaic document, which agrees with our two prophets in assigning the only effective start of the work on the Temple to 520 [Ezra 4:24;, Ezra 5:1] does not deem it inconsistent with this to record that the Persian Satrap of the West of the Euphrates [Ezra 5:6] reported to Darius that, when he asked the Jews why they were rebuilding the Temple, they replied not only that a decree of Cyrus had granted them permission, but that his legate Sheshbazzar had actually laid the foundation-stone upon his arrival at Jerusalem, and that the building had gone on without interruption from that time to 520. This last assertion, which of course was false, may have been due either to a misunderstanding of the Jewish elders by the reporting Satrap, or else to the Jews themselves, anxious to make their case as strong as possible. The latter is the more probable alternative. As even Stade admits, it was a very natural assertion for the Jews to make, and so conceal that their effort of 520 was due to the instigation of their own prophets. But in any case the Aramaic document corroborates the statement of the Compiler that there was a foundation-stone laid in the early years of Cyrus, and does not conceive this to be inconsistent with its own narrative of a stone being laid in 520, and an effective start at last made upon the Temple works. So much does Stade feel the force of this that he concedes not only that Sheshbazzar may have started some preparation for building the Temple, but that he may even have laid the stone with ceremony.

And indeed, is it not in itself very probable that some early attempt was made by the exiles returned under Cyrus to rebuild the house of Jehovah? Cyrus had been predicted by the Second Isaiah not only as the redeemer of God’s people, but with equal explicitness as the builder of the Temple; and all the argument which Kuenen draws from the Second Isaiah for the fact of the Return from Babylon tells with almost equal force for the fact of some efforts to raise the fallen sanctuary of Israel immediately after the Return. Among the returned were many priests, and many no doubt of the most sanguine spirits in Israel. They came straight from the heart of Jewry, though that heart was in Babylon; they came with the impetus and obligation of the great Deliverance upon them; they were the representatives of a community which we know to have been comparatively wealthy. Is it credible that they should not have begun the Temple at the earliest possible moment?

Nor is the story of their frustration by the Samaritans any less natural. It is true that there were not any adversaries likely to dispute with the colonists the land in the immediate neighborhood of Jerusalem. The Edomites had overrun the fruitful country about Hebron, and part of the Shephelah. The Samaritans held the rich valleys of Ephraim, and probably the plain of Ajalon. But if any peasants struggled with the stony plateaus of Benjamin and Northern Judah, such must have been of the remnants of the Jewish population who were left behind by Nebuchadrezzar, and who clung to the sacred soil from habit or from motives of religion. Jerusalem was never a site to attract men, either for agriculture, or, now that its shrine was desolate and its population scattered, for the command of trade. The returned exiles must have been at first undisturbed by the envy of their neighbors. The tale is, therefore, probable which attributes the hostility of the latter to purely religious causes-the refusal of the Jews to allow the half-heathen Samaritans to share in the construction of the Temple. [Ezra 4:1-24] Now the Samaritans could prevent the building. While stones were to be had by the builders in profusion from the ruins of the city and the great quarry to the north of it, ordinary timber did not grow in their neighborhood, and though the story be true that a contract was already made with Phoenicians to bring cedar to Joppa, it had to be carried thence for thirty-six miles. Here, then, was the opportunity of the Samaritans. They could obstruct the carriage both of the ordinary timber and of the cedar. To this state of affairs the present writer found an analogy in 1891 among the Circassian colonies settled by the Turkish Government a few years earlier in the vicinity of Gerasa and Rabbath-Ammon. The colonists had built their houses from the numerous ruins of these cities, but at Rabbath-Ammon they said their great difficulty had been about timber. And we could well understand how the Beduin, who resented the settlement of Circassians on lands they had used for ages, and with whom the Circassians were nearly always at variance, did what they could to make the carriage of timber impossible. Similarly with the Jews and their Samaritan adversaries. The site might be cleared arid the stone of the Temple laid, but if the timber was stopped there was little use in raising the walls, and the Jews, further discouraged by the failure of their impetuous hopes of what the Return would bring them, found cause for desisting from their efforts. Bad seasons followed, the labors for their own sustenance exhausted their strength, and in the sordid toil their hearts grew hard to higher interests. Cyrus died in 529, and his legate Sheshbazzar, having done nothing but lay the stone, appears to have left Judea. Cambyses marched more than once through Palestine, and his army garrisoned Gaza, but he was not a monarch to have any consideration for Jewish ambitions. Therefore-although Samaritan opposition ceased on the stoppage of the Temple works and the Jews procured timber enough for their private dwellings, -is it wonderful that the site of the Temple should be neglected and the stone laid by Sheshbazzar forgotten, or that the disappointed Jews should seek to explain the disillusions of the Return by arguing that God’s time for the restoration of His house bad not yet come?

The death of a cruel monarch is always in the East an occasion for the revival of shattered hopes, and the events which accompanied the suicide of Cambyses in 522 were particularly fraught with the possibilities of political change. Cambyses’ throne had been usurped by one Gaumata, who pretended to be Smerdis or Barada, a son of Cyrus. In a few months Gaumata was slain by a conspiracy of seven Persian nobles, of whom Darius, the son of Hystaspes both by virtue of his royal descent and his own great ability, was raised to the throne in 521. The empire had been too profoundly shocked by the revolt of Gaumata to settle at once under the new king, and Darius found himself engaged by insurrections in all his provinces except Syria and Asia Minor. The colonists in Jerusalem, like all their Syrian neighbors, remained loyal to the new king; so loyal that their Pehah or Satrap was allowed to be one of themselves-Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, a son of their royal house. Yet though they were quiet, the nations were rising against each other and the world was shaken. It was just such a crisis as had often before in Israel reawakened prophecy. Nor did it fail now; and when prophecy was roused what duty lay more clamant for its inspiration than the duty of building the Temple?

We are in touch with the first of our post-exilic prophets, Haggai and Zechariah.


"The Day of Jehovah is great and very awful, and who may abide it?"

"But now the oracle of Jehovah-Turn ye to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping and with mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to Jehovah your God, for gracious and merciful is He, long-suffering and abounding in love."


IN the criticism of the Book of Joel there exist differences of opinion-upon its date, the exact reference of its statements and its relation to parallel passages in other prophets-as wide as even those by which the Book of Obadiah has been assigned to every century between the tenth and the fourth before Christ. As in the case of Obadiah, the problem is not entangled with any doctrinal issue or question of accuracy; but while we saw that Obadiah was not involved in the central controversy of the Old Testament, the date of the Law, not a little in Joel turns upon the latter. And besides, certain descriptions raise the large question between a literal and an allegorical interpretation. Thus the Book of Joel carries the student further into the problems of Old Testament Criticism, and forms an even more excellent introduction to the latter, than does the Book of Obadiah.


In the history of prophecy the Book of Joel must be either very early or very late, and with few exceptions the leading critics place it either before 800 B.C. or after 500. So great a difference is due to most substantial reasons. Unlike every other prophet, except Haggai, "Malachi" and "Zechariah" 9-14, Joel mentions neither Assyria, which emerged upon the prophetic horizon about 760, nor the Babylonian Empire, which had fallen by 537. The presumption is that he wrote before 760 or after 537. Unlike all the prophets, too, Joel does not charge his people with civic or national sins; nor does his book bear any trace of the struggle between the righteous and unrighteous in Israel nor of that between the spiritual worshippers of Jehovah and the idolaters. The book addresses an undivided nation, who know no God but Jehovah; and again the presumption is that Joel wrote before Amos and his successors had started the spiritual antagonisms which rent Israel in twain, or after the Law had been accepted by the whole people under Nehemiah. The same wide alternative is suggested by the style and phraseology. Joel s Hebrew is simple and direct. Either he is an early writer, or imitates early writers. His book contains a number of phrases and verses identical, or nearly identical, with those of prophets from Amos to "Malachi." Either they all borrowed from Joel, or he borrowed from them.

Of this alternative modern criticism at first preferred the earlier solution, and dated Joel before Amos. So Credner in his Commentary in 1831, and following him Hitzig, Bleek, Ewald, Delitzsch, Keil, Kuenen (up to 1864), Pusey and others. So, too, at first some living critics of the first rank, who, like Kuenen, have since changed their opinion. And so, even still, Kirkpatrick (on the whole), Von Orelli, Robertson, Stanley Leathes and Sinker. The reasons which these scholars have given for the early date of Joel are roughly as follows. His book occurs among the earliest of the Twelve: while it is recognized that the order of these is not strictly chronological, it is alleged that there is a division between the pre-exilic and post-exilic prophets, and that Joel is found among the former. The vagueness of his representations in general, and of his pictures of the Day of Jehovah in particular, is attributed to the simplicity of the earlier religion of Israel, and to the want of that analysis of its leading conceptions which was the work of later prophets. His horror of the interruption of the daily offerings in the Temple, caused by the plague of locusts, [Joel 1:9; Joel 1:13-16; Joel 2:14] is ascribed to a fear which pervaded the primitive ages of all peoples. In Joel’s attitude towards other nations, whom he condemns to judgment, Ewald saw the old unsubdued warlike spirit of the times of Deborah and David. The prophet’s absorption in the ravages of the locusts is held to reflect the feeling of a purely agricultural community, such as Israel was before the eighth century. The absence of the name of Assyria from the book is assigned to the same unwillingness to give the name as we see in Amos and the earlier prophecies of Isaiah, and it is thought by some that, though not named, the Assyrians are symbolized by the locusts. The absence of all mention of the Law is also held by some to prove an early date: though other critics, who believe that the Levitical legislation was extant in Israel from the earliest times, find proof of this in Joel’s insistence upon the daily offering. The absence of all mention of a king and the prominence given to the priests are explained by assigning the prophecy to the minority of King Joash of Judah, when Jehoyada the priest was regent; [2 Kings 11:4-21] the charge against Egypt and Edom of spilling innocent blood by Shishak’s invasion of Judah, [1 Kings 14:25, f.; cf. Joel 3:17; Joel 3:19] and by the revolt of the Edomites under Jehoram; [2 Kings 8:20-22; cf. Joel 3:19] the charge against the Philistines and Phoenicians by the Chronicler’s account of Philistine raids [2 Chronicles 21:16-17; 2 Chronicles 22:1; cf. Joel 3:4-6] in the reign of Jehoram of Judah, and by the oracles of Amos against both nations; [Amos 1:1-15 cf.; Joel 3:4-6] and the mention of the Vale of Jehoshaphat by that king’s defeat of Moab, Ammon, and Edom in the Vale of Berakhah. These allusions being recognized, it was deduced from them that the parallels between Joel and Amos were due to Amos having quoted from Joel.

These reasons are not all equally cogent, and even the strongest of them do not prove more than the possibility of an early date for Joel. Nor do they meet every historical difficulty. The minority of Joash, upon which they converge, fell at a time when Aram was not only prominent to the thoughts of Israel, but had already been felt to be an enemy as powerful as the Philistines or Edomites. But the Book of Joel does not mention Aram. It mentions the Greeks (Joel 3:6), and, although we have no right to say that such a notice was impossible in Israel in the ninth century, it was not only improbable, but no other Hebrew document from before the Exile speaks of Greece, and in particular Amos does not when describing the Phoenicians as slave-traders. [Amos 1:9] The argument that the Book of Joel must be early because it was placed among the first six of the Twelve Prophets by the arrangers of the Prophetic Canon, who could not have forgotten Joel’s date had he lived after 450, loses all force from the fact that in the same group of pre-exilic prophets we find the exilic Obadiah and the post-exilic Jonah, both of them in precedence to Micah.

The argument for the early date of Joel is, therefore, not conclusive. But there are besides serious objections to it, which make for the other solution of the alternative we started from, and lead us to place Joel after the establishment of the Law by Ezra and Nehemiah in 444 B.C.

A post-exilic date was first proposed by Vatke, and then defended by Hilgenfeld, and by Duhm in 1875. From this time the theory made rapid way, winning over many who had previously held the early date of Joel, like Oort, Kuenen, A. B. Davidson, Driver and Cheyne, perhaps also Wellhausen, and finding acceptance and new proofs from a gradually increasing majority of younger critics, Merx, Robertson Smith, Stade, Matthes and Scholz, Holzinger, Farrar, Kautzseh, Corhill, Wildeboer, G.B. Gray and Nowack. The reasons which have led to this formidable change of opinion in favor of the late date of the Book of Joel are as follows.

In the first place, the Exile of Judah appears in it as already past. This is proved, not by the ambiguous phrase, "when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem," but by the plain statement that "the heathen have scattered Israel among the nations and divided their land." The plunder of the Temple seems also to be implied. Moreover, no great world-power is pictured as either threatening or actually persecuting God’s people; but Israel’s active enemies and enslavers are represented as her own neighbors, Edomites, Philistines and Phoenicians, and the last are represented as selling Jewish captives to the Greeks. All this suits, if it does not absolutely prove, the Persian age, before the reign of Artaxerxes Ochus, who was the first Persian king to treat the Jews with cruelty. The Greeks, Javan, do not appear in any Hebrew writer before the Exile; the form in which their name is given by Joel, B’ne ha-Jevanim, has admittedly a late sound about it, and we know from other sources that it was in the fifth and fourth centuries that Syrian slaves were in demand in Greece. Similarly with the internal condition of the Jews as reflected in Joel. No king is mentioned; but the priests are prominent, and the elders are introduced at least once. It is an agricultural calamity, and that alone, unmixed with any political alarm, which is the omen of the coming Day of the Lord. All this suits the state of Jerusalem under the Persians. Take again the religious temper and emphasis of the book. The latter is laid, as we have seen, very remarkably upon the horror of the interruption by the plague of locusts of the daily meal and drink offerings, and in the later history of Israel the proofs are many of the exceeding importance with which the regularity of this was regarded. This, says Professor A. B. Davidson, "is very unlike the way in which all other prophets down to Jeremiah speak of the sacrificial service." The priests, too, are called to take the initiative; and the summons to a solemn and formal fast, without any notice of the particular sins of the people or exhortations to distinct virtues, contrasts with the attitude to fasts of the earlier prophets, and with their insistence upon a change of life as the only acceptable form of penitence. And another contrast with the earliest prophets is seen in the general apocalyptic atmosphere and coloring of the Book of Joel, as well as in some of the particular figures in which this is expressed, and which are derived from later prophets like Zephaniah and Ezekiel.

These evidences for a late date are supported, on the whole, by the language of the book. Of this Merx furnishes many details, and by a careful examination, which makes due allowance for the poetic form of the book and for possible glosses, Holzinger has shown that there are symptoms in vocabulary, grammar, and syntax which at least are more reconcilable with a late than with an early date. There are a number of Aramaic words, of Hebrew words used in the sense in which they are used by Aramaic, but by no other Hebrew, writers, and several terms and constructions which appear only in the later books of the Old Testament or very seldom in the early ones. It is true that these do not stand in a large proportion to the rest of Joel’s vocabulary and grammar, which is classic and suitable to an early period of the literature; but this may be accounted for by the large use which the prophet makes of the very words of earlier writers. Take this large use into account, and the unmistakable Aramaisms of the book become even more emphatic in their proof of a late date.

The literary parallels between Joel and other writers are unusually many for so small a book. They number at least twenty in seventy-two verses. The other books of the Old Testament in which they occur are about twelve. Where one writer has parallels with many, we do not necessarily conclude that he is the borrower, unless we find that some of the phrases common to both are characteristic of the other writers, or that, in his text of them, there are differences from theirs which may reasonably be reckoned to be of a later origin. But that both of these conditions are found in the parallels between Joel and other prophets has been shown by Prof. Driver and Mr. G.B. Gray. "Several of the parallels-either in their entirety or by virtue of certain words which they contain-have their affinities solely or chiefly in the later writings. But the significance [of this] is increased when the very difference between a passage in Joel and its parallel in another book consists in a word or phrase characteristic of the later centuries. That a passage in a writer of the ninth century should differ from its parallel in a subsequent writer by the presence of a word elsewhere confined to the later literature would be strange; a single instance would not, indeed, be inexplicable in view of the scantiness of extant writings; but every additional instance-though itself not very convincing-renders the strangeness greater." And again, "the variations in some of the parallels as found in Joel have other common peculiarities. This also finds its natural explanation in the fact that Joel quotes: for that the same author even when quoting from different sources should quote with variations of the same character is natural, but that different authors quoting from a common source should follow the same method of quotation is improbable." "While in some of the parallels a comparison discloses indications that the phrase in Joel is probably the later, in other cases, even though the expression may in itself be met with earlier, it becomes frequent only in a later age, and the use of it by Joel increases the presumption that he stands by the side of the later writers."

In face of so many converging lines of evidence, we shall not wonder that there should have come about so great a change in the opinion of the majority of critics on the date of Joel, and that it should now be assigned by them to a post-exilic date. Some place it in the sixth century before Christ, some in the first half of the fifth before "Malachi" and Nehemiah, but the most after the full establishment of the Law by Ezra and Nehemiah in 444 B.C. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to decide. Nothing certain can be deduced from the mention of the "city wall" in Joel 2:9, from which Robertson Smith and Cornhill infer that Nehemiah’s walls were already built. Nor can we be sure that Joel quotes the phrase, "before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come," from "Malachi," although this is rendered probable by the character of Joel’s other parallels. But the absence of all reference to the prophets as a class, the promise of the rigorous exclusion of foreigners from Jerusalem, the condemnation to judgment of all the heathen, and the strong apocalyptic character of the book, would incline us to place it after Ezra rather than before. How far after, it is impossible to say, but the absence of feeling against Persia requires a date before the cruelties inflicted by Artaxerxes about 360.

One solution, which has lately been offered for the problems of date presented by the Book of Joel, deserves some notice. In his German translation of Driver’s "Introduction to the Old Testament," Rothstein questions the integrity of the prophecy, and alleges reasons for dividing it into two sections. Chapters 1 and 2 he assigns to an early author, writing in the minority of King Joash, but chapters 3 and 4 to a date after the Exile, while Joel 2:20, which, it will be remembered, Robertson Smith takes as a gloss, he attributes to the editor who has joined the two sections together. His reasons are that chapters 1 and 2 are entirely taken up with the physical plague of locusts, and no troubles from heathen are mentioned; while chapters 3 and 4 say nothing of a physical plague, but the evils they deplore for Israel are entirely political, the assaults of enemies. Now it is quite within the bounds of possibility that chapters 3 and 4 are from another hand than chapters 1 and 2: we have nothing to disprove that. But, on the other hand, there is nothing to prove it. On the contrary, the possibility of all four chapters being from the same hand is very obvious. Joel mentions no heathen in the first chapter, because he is engrossed with the plague of locusts. But when this has passed, it is quite natural that he should take up the standing problem of Israel’s history-their relation to heathen peoples. There is no discrepancy between the two different subjects, nor between the styles in which they are respectively treated. Rothstein’s arguments for an early date for chapters 1 and 2 have been already answered, and when we come to the exposition of them we shall find still stronger reasons for assigning them to the end of the fifth century before Christ. The assault on the integrity of the prophecy may therefore be said to have failed, though no one who remembers the composite character of the prophetical books can deny that the question is still open.


Another question to which we must address ourselves before we can pass to the exposition of Joel’s prophecies is of the attitude and intention of the prophet. Does he describe or predict? Does he give history or allegory?

Joel starts from a great plague of locusts, which he describes not only in the ravages they commit upon the land, but in their ominous foreshadowing of the Day of the Lord. They are the heralds of God’s near judgment upon the nation. Let the latter repent instantly with a day of fasting and prayer. Peradventure Jehovah will relent, and spare His people. So far Joel 1:2-20; Joel 2:1-17. Then comes a break. An uncertain interval appears to elapse; and in Joel 2:18 we are told that Jehovah’s zeal for Israel has been stirred, and He has had pity on His folk. Promises follow, first, of deliverance from the plague and of restoration of the harvests it has consumed, and second, of the outpouring of the Spirit on all classes of the community: Joel 2:17-32. Chapter 3 gives another picture of the Day of Jehovah, this time described as a judgment upon the heathen enemies of Israel. They shall be brought together, condemned judicially by Him, and slain by His hosts, His "supernatural" hosts. Jerusalem shall be freed from the feet of strangers, and the fertility of the land restored.

These are the contents of the book. Do they describe an actual plague of locusts, already experienced by the people? Or do they predict this as still to come? And again, are the locusts which they describe real locusts, or a symbol and allegory of the human foes of Israel? To these two questions, which in a measure cross and involve each other, three kinds of answer have been given.

A large and growing majority of critics of all schools hold that Joel starts, like other prophets, from the facts of experience. His locusts, though described with poetic hyperbole-for are they not the vanguard of the awful Day of God’s judgment?-are real locusts; their plague has just been felt by his contemporaries, whom he summons to repent, and to whom, when they have repented, he brings promises of the restoration of their ruined harvests, the outpouring of the Spirit, and judgment upon their foes. Prediction is therefore found only in the second half of the book: {Joel 2:18 onwards} it rests upon a basis of narrative and exhortation which fills the first half.

But a number of other critics have argued (and with great force) that the prophet’s language about the locusts is too aggravated and too ominous to be limited to the natural plague which these insects periodically inflicted upon Palestine. Joel (they reason) would hardly have connected so common an adversity with so singular and ultimate a crisis as the Day of the Lord. Under the figure of locusts he must be describing some more fateful agency of God’s wrath upon Israel. More than one trait of his description appears to imply a human army. It can only be one or other, or all, of those heathen powers whom at different periods God raised up to chastise His delinquent people; and this opinion is held to be supported by the facts that Joel 2:20 speaks of them as the Northern and chapter 3 deals with the heathen. The locusts of chapters 1 and 2 are the same as the heathen of chapter 3. In chapters 1 and 2 they are described as threatening Israel, but on condition of Israel repenting {Joel 2:18 ff.} the Day of the Lord which they herald shall be their destruction and not Israel’s (chapter 3).

The supporters of this allegorical interpretation of Joel are, however, divided among themselves as to whether the heathen-powers symbolized by the locusts are described as having already afflicted Israel or are predicted as still to come. Hilgenfeld, for instance, says that the prophet in chapters 1 and 2 speaks of their ravages as already past. To him their fourfold plague described in Joel 1:4 symbolizes four Persian assaults upon Palestine, after the last of which in 358 the prophecy must therefore have been written. Others read them as still to come. In our own country Pusey has been the strongest supporter of this theory. To him the whole book, written before Amos, is prediction. "It extends from the prophet’s own day to the end of time." Joel calls the scourge the Northern: he directs the priests to pray for its removal, that "the heathen may not rule over" God’s heritage; [Joel 2:17] he describes the agent as a responsible one; [Joel 2:20] his imagery goes far beyond the effects of locusts, and threatens drought, fire, and plague; [Joel 1:19-20] the assault of cities and the terrifying of peoples. The scourge is to be destroyed in a way physically inapplicable to locusts; [Joel 2:20] and the promises of its removal include the remedy of ravages which mere locusts could not inflict: the captivity of Judah is to be turned, and the land recovered from foreigners who are to be banished from it. [Joel 3:1-21 f.; Joel 3:17] Pusey thus reckons as future the relenting of God, consequent upon the people’s penitence: Joel 2:18. The past tenses in which it is related, he takes as instances of the well-known prophetic perfect, according to which the prophets express their assurance of things to come by describing them as if they had already happened.

This is undoubtedly a strong case for the predictive and allegorical character of the Book of Joel; but a little consideration will show us that the facts on which it is grounded are capable of a different explanation than that which it assumes, and that Pusey has overlooked a number of other facts which force us to a literal interpretation of the locusts as a plague already past, even though we feel they are described in the language of poetical hyperbole.

For, in the first place, Pusey’s theory implies that the prophecy is addressed to a future generation, who shall be alive when the predicted invasions of heathen come upon the land. Whereas Joel obviously addresses his own contemporaries. The prophet and his hearers are one. "Before our eyes," he says, "the food has been cut off." [Joel 1:16] As obviously, he speaks of the plague of locusts as of something that has just happened. His hearers can compare its effects with past disasters, which it has far exceeded; [Joel 1:2 f.} and it is their duty to hand down the story of it to future generations; {Joel 1:3] Again, his description is that of a physical, not of a political, plague. Fields and gardens, vines and figs, are devastated by being stripped and gnawed. Drought accompanies the locusts, the seed shrivels beneath the clods, the trees languish, the cattle pant for want of water. [Joel 1:17] These are not the trail which an invading army leave behind them. In support of his theory that human hosts are meant, Pusey points to the verses which bid the people pray "that the heathen rule not over them" and which describe the invaders as attacking cities. {Joel 2:17;, Joel 2:9 ff.} But the former phrase may be rendered with equal propriety, "that the heathen make rot satirical songs about them"; and as to the latter, not only do locusts invade towns exactly as Joel describes, but his words that the invader steals into houses like "a thief" are far more applicable to the insidious entrance of locusts than to the bold and noisy assault of a storming party. Moreover Pusey and the other allegorical interpreters of the book overlook the fact that Joel never so much as hints at the invariable effects of a human invasion, massacre, and plunder. He describes no slaying and no looting; but when he comes to the promise that Jehovah will restore the losses which have been sustained by His people, he defines them as the years which His army has eaten. But all this proof is clenched by the fact that Joel compares the locusts to actual soldiers. {Joel 2:5 ff.} They are like horsemen, the sound of them is like chariots, they run like horses, and like men of war they leap upon the wall. Joel could never have compared a real army to itself!

The allegorical interpretation is therefore untenable. But some critics, while admitting this, are yet not disposed to take the first part of the book for narrative. They admit that the prophet means a plague of locusts, but they deny that he is speaking of a plague already past, and hold that his locusts are still to come, that they are as much a part of the future as the pouring out of the Spirit and the judgment of the heathen in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. All alike, they are signs or accompaniments of the Day of Jehovah, and that Day has still to break. The prophet’s scenery is apocalyptic the locusts are "eschatological locusts," not historical ones. This interpretation of Joel has been elaborated by Dr. Adalbert Merx, and the following is a summary of his opinions.

After examining the book along all the lines of exposition which have been proposed, Merx finds himself unable to trace any plan or even sign of a plan; and his only escape from perplexity is the belief that no plan can ever have been meant by the author. Joel weaves in one past, present, and future, paints situations only to blot them out and put others in their place, starts many processes but develops none. His book shows no insight into God’s plan with Israel, but is purely external; the bearing and the end of it is the material prosperity of the little land of Judah. From this Merx concludes that the book is not an original work, but a mere summary of passages from previous prophets, that with a few reflections of the life of the Jews after the Return lead us to assign it to that period of literary culture which Nehemiah inaugurated by the collection of national writings and which was favored by the cessation of all political disturbance. Joel gathered up the pictures of the Messianic age in the older prophets, and welded them together in one long prayer by the fervid belief that that age was near. But while the older prophets spoke upon the ground of actual fact and rose from this to a majestic picture of the last punishment, the still life of Joel’s time had nothing such to offer him and he had to seek another basis for his prophetic flight. It is probable that he sought this in the relation of Type and Antitype. The Antitype he found in the liberation from Egypt, the darkness and the locusts of which he transferred to his canvas Exodus 10:4-6. The locusts, therefore, are neither real nor symbolic, but ideal. This is the method of the Midrash and Haggada in Jewish literature, which constantly placed over against each other the deliverance from Egypt and the last judgment. It is a method that is already found in such portions of the Old Testament as Ezekiel 37:1-28, and Psalms 78:1-72. Joel’s locusts are borrowed from the Egyptian plagues, but are presented as the signs of the Last Day. They will bring it near to Israel by famine, drought, and the interruption of worship described in chapter 1. Chapter 2, which Merx keeps distinct from chapter 1, is based on a study of Ezekiel, from whom Joel has borrowed, among other things, the expressions "the garden of Eden" and "the Northerner." The two verses generally held to be historic, Joel 2:18 and Joel 2:19, Merx takes to be the continuation of the prayer of the priests, pointing the verbs so as to turn them from perfects into futures. The rest of the book, Merx strives to show, is pieced together from many prophets, chiefly Isaiah and Ezekiel, but without the tender spiritual feeling of the one, or the colossal magnificence of the other. Special nations are mentioned, but in this portion of the work we have to do not with events already past, but with general views, and these not original, but conditioned by the expressions of earlier writers. There is no historic in the book: it is all ideal, mystical, apocalyptic. That is to say, according to Merx, there is no real prophet or prophetic fire, only an old man warming his feeble hands over a few embers that he has scraped together from the ashes of ancient fires, now nearly wholly dead.

Merx has traced Joel’s relations to other prophets, and reflection of a late date in Israel’s history, with care and ingenuity; but his treatment of the text and exegesis of the prophet’s meaning are alike forced and fanciful. In face of the support which the Massoretic reading of the hinge of the book, Joel 2:18 ff., receives from the ancient versions, and of its inherent probability and harmony with the context, Merx’s textual emendation is unnecessary, besides being in itself unnatural. While the very same objections which we have already found valid against the allegorical interpretation equally dispose of this mystical one. Merx outrages the evident features of the book almost as much as Hengstenberg and Pusey have done. He has lifted out of time altogether that which plainly purports to be historical. His literary criticism is as unsound as his textual. It is only by ignoring the beautiful poetry of chapter 1 that he transplants it to the future. Joel’s figures are too vivid, too actual, to be predictive or mystical. And the whole interpretation wrecks itself in the same verse as the allegorical, the verse, viz., in which Joel plainly speaks of himself as having suffered with his hearers the plague he describes. [Joel 1:16]

We may, therefore, with confidence conclude that the allegorical and mystical interpretations of Joel are impossible; and that the only reasonable view of our prophet is that which regards him as calling, in Joel 1:2-20; Joel 2:1-17, upon his contemporaries to repent in face of a plague of locusts, so unusually severe that he has felt it to be ominous of even the Day of the Lord; and in the rest of his book, as promising material, political and spiritual triumphs to Israel in consequence of their repentance, either already consummated, or anticipated by the prophet as certain.

It is true that the account of the locusts appears to bear features which conflict with the literal interpretation. Some of these, however, vanish upon a fuller knowledge of the awful degree which such a plague has been testified to reach by competent observers within our own era. Those that remain may be attributed partly to the poetic hyperbole of Joel’s style, and partly to the fact that he sees in the plague far more than itself. The locusts are signs of the Day of Jehovah. Joel treats them as we found Zephaniah treating the Scythian hordes of his day. They are as real as the latter, but on them as on the latter the lurid glare of Apocalypse has fallen, magnifying them and investing them with that air of ominousness which is the sole justification of the allegorical and mystic interpretation of their appearance.

To the same sense of their office as heralds of the last day, we owe the description of the locusts as "the Northerner." [Joel 2:20] The North is not the quarter from which locusts usually reach Palestine, nor is there any reason to suppose that by naming the North Joel meant only to emphasize the unusual character of these swarms. Rather he takes a name employed in Israel since Jeremiah’s time to express the instruments of Jehovah’s wrath in the day of His judgment of Israel. The name is typical of Doom, and therefore Joel applies it to his fateful locusts.


Joel’s style is fluent and clear, both when he is describing the locusts, in which part of his book he is most original, and when he is predicting, in apocalyptic language largely borrowed from earlier prophets, the Day of Jehovah. To the ease of understanding him we may attribute the sound state of the text and its freedom from glosses. In this, like most of the books of the post-exilic prophets, especially the Books of Haggai, "Malachi" and Jonah, Joel’s book contrasts very favorably with those of the older prophets; and that also, to some degree, is proof of the lateness of his date. The Greek translators have, on the whole, understood Joel easily and with little error. In their version there are the usual differences of grammatical construction, especially in the pronominal suffixes and verbs, and of punctuation; but very few bits of expansion and no real additions. These are all noted in the translation below.