Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Troxel, Ronald L., Joel: Scope, Genre(s), and Meaning (Critical Studies in the Hebrew Bible, 6; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2015). Pp. xii + 122. Paperback. US$29.95. ISBN: 978-1-57506-381-2.

This short monograph addresses a range of issues in the study of Joel. Troxel rightly makes a virtue out of its brevity, however, in four chapters and a conclusion he successfully offers helpful perspectives on the reading and reception of Joel. The first chapter focuses on the historical reception of Joel. Troxel goes well beyond the standard survey of previous research and devotes a significant portion of this chapter to pre-modern interpretations of the book. He justifies this level of detail by arguing that ancient readings are “neither relics of a less sophisticated age nor repositories of solutions to exegetical cruxes” (p. 1). Troxel begins with brief comments on the Old Greek of Joel before discussing its reception in the New Testament, focusing on its reception in Acts 2. Troxel starts his study of Joel's post-biblical reception with the Targum Jonathan before moving into early rabbinic literature (defined as 200–900 c.e..) and patristic commentators. In doing so he brings out voices that are rarely discussed such as Cyril (ca. 425 c.e.) and Theodoret (ca. 433 c.e.). Troxel then discusses both Christian and Jewish medieval interpreters, focusing on rabbis like Kimchi and Rashi. He suggests that their primary contribution is increased attention to philology. He detects similar notes in the comments of Luther and Calvin, though their philology is in service of reading Joel in a Christian context. The last few pages of this chapter cover standard modern interpreters, highlighting the ongoing challenges of determining Joel's date of composition and its textual development.

The second chapter addresses the issue of textual development, focusing on Joel 1–2. Troxel first engages with redactional studies and questions their results. He suggests that redaction should not be the point of departure for studying Joel. Instead, redaction “finds its footing and utility in problems raised by synchronic reading” (p. 34), which prioritizes reading the text in its final form. Notably, Troxel does not attempt to recover Joel's original situation which he deems “irretrievable” (p. x), but he does suggest that it is possible to uncover the implied rhetorical situation. Troxel is especially skeptical of whether it is possible to identify redactional layers that cover multiple books within the Minor Prophets, leading him to question the validity of Wöhrle's Gnadenschicht based on the re-use of Exod 34:6–7.[1] He rightly wonders whether an ancient audience that mostly would hear the text could be expected to pick up these cues within the broader corpus of prophetic literature. Troxel then discusses Krüger's 1991 work on Jonah,[2] suggesting that its quest to find disparate redactional layers actually overlooks its status as a composite narrative. He uses the argument here to set up the following two chapters in which he will argue that Joel is properly interpreted as a composite narrative itself.

Troxel also uses this chapter to discuss theories of Joel's interaction with other texts, classifying it as a schriftgehlehrte Prophetie. While he critiques what he considers to be intertextual excesses in other commentators, he suggests that Joel's re-use of other texts is a strategy persuading its readers to accept its authority. This is a necessary discussion given the numerous links that commentators find between Joel and other biblical literature. Although Troxel does not venture into diachronic studies here, the suggestion that Joel reuses other texts may push its putative time of composition into a later period.

In the third chapter, Troxel introduces his new reading of Joel which is based on elements of genre criticism borrowed from Todorov and others. He suggests that Joel should be understood as a narrative and that the features of that genre are useful for interpreting it. He suggests that the introductory rhetorical question and the command to recount what follows to succeeding generations (Joel 1:2–3) construct a narrative framework that signal to the text's implied audience that they are about to “hear” a narrative comprised mostly of reported prophetic speech. Troxel then drills deeper into the narrative genre and suggests this narrative employs elements of the “fantastic” (p. 62), which force their readers to grapple with phenomena that do not accord with the laws of nature. This classification helps to explain the relationship between Joel 1 and 2. Troxel suggests that the descriptions of locusts and invaders in these passages form a conceptual blend that creates an “exotic marvel” for the audience to experience (p. 67).

Identifying Joel as a narrative then explains the waw-consecutive verbs in Joel 2:18–19. Troxel suggests that this is one of the two places (cf. Joel 3:5) where the voice of Joel the narrator breaks into the book to guide the readers' experience. Otherwise, the narrator's role is covert, shaping reported speech. The audience reading Joel is then invited to participate in this fantastical world created by the narrative. They do so from the perspective of readers who know that the narrator's story “is finished before it has begun” (p. 70).

In the fourth chapter, Troxel identifies Joel 3:1–5 [Eng. 2:28–32] as the response to the narrative of Joel 1–2. He first argues for the unity of 3:1–5 on the basis of discourse grammar, suggesting that v. 5 draws inferences from what precedes it. Specifically, Troxel argues that the “all flesh” of Joel 3:1 provides the referent for the claim in Joel 3:5 that “everyone who calls on the name of YHWH” will receive salvation. This argues against those who suggest a division in the audience between those who call on YHWH's name and those who do not. Troxel further restricts the meaning of “all flesh” to Judeans on the basis of merisms (“your sons, your daughters,” etc). Troxel claims that Joel 3 represents the place where the implied audience can respond to the narrative. They have heard the reported speech of Joel 1–2, and now are urged to learn the lessons of that fantastical narrative and call on the name of YHWH so that they too can face the day of YHWH.

The latter half of this chapter uses these insights to comment on Joel's contributions to eschatology. Troxel works off Sæbø's definition that eschatology should be understood as “a fissure beyond which lies a radically altered world” (p. 93). Throughout Joel, the Day of the Lord marks this fissure. Already in Joel 2, the promises of restoration in 2:18–27 mark a radically altered world. Joel 3:1–5 appropriates this understanding of the Day of Lord for the implied audience to remind them that they too can call on the name of YHWH when they face crisis. They may not face a blend of locust plagues and military invasions, but the narrative of YHWH's response in Joel 1–2 offers a template for how to respond to future crises.

In the final chapter Troxel summarizes his argument, which is that

Joel is a prophetic didactic narrative focused on the Day of the Lord anticipated as both a day of deliverance and a day of woe. It makes use of a variety of subordinate genres and resonances with other texts to provide reassurance for an unidentifiable primary audience that salvation awaits those in Jerusalem, as the Lord has promised. (p. 98)

He provides a way of reading Joel that neatly side-steps the challenge of finding an historical location for the original author and audience, while providing a coherent reading of Joel 1–3.

The strengths of this book are numerous. Troxel's detailed recounting of the history of research is exemplary. He also trenchantly critiques modern interpretations that atomize the text, while highlighting the essential coherence of Joel 1–3. He pushes beyond readings that try to find different backdrops for the crises of Joel 1–2, demonstrating how they build upon each other to heighten the drama of the text. He skillfully employs a variety of interpretive methodologies, most notably in his use of conceptual blending in Joel 1–2 and discourse analysis in arguing for the coherence of Joel 3:1–5.

The absence of Joel 4 [Eng. 3] in this study is noteworthy. In the preface, Troxel states that he agrees that Joel 4 is a set of secondary additions, which means that it stands outside of the coherent narrative of Joel 1–3 (p. x). It would be helpful to see the grounds for this assumption and what Troxel would do with the points of contact between Joel 4 and previous parts of the book. Troxel also is open to a critique that he uses on others: specifically, the question of whether an ancient audience would perceive the proper cues to read the text as he suggests it should be read (cf. p. 34). Is it possible to argue that an audience would recognize that they should stand in between the time Joel 1–2, experiencing it as a fantastical story, and the time of Joel 3 which provides the route of response for other crises? Moreover, if the primary audience is undefinable and we are only dealing with an implied audience, then this analysis does not address the reason why there is a work of literature called Joel. Troxel's reading may be coherent in the “world of the text,” but it remains indemonstrable that the genre cues that he identifies have actually shaped the reading of the text.

Overall, this short volume makes a worthwhile contribution to Joel studies. Troxel's analysis of previous research is incisive and his application of new genre categories to Joel 1–3 merits further consideration.

Joel Barker, Heritage College and Seminary

[1] Jakob Wöhrle, “A Prophetic Reflection on Divine Forgiveness: The Integration of the Book of Jonah into the Book of the Twelve,” JHS 9 (2009), Article 7. reference

[2] Thomas Krüger, “Literarisches Wachstum und theologische Diskussion im Jona-Buch,” BN 59 (1991), 57–88. reference