Review of Joel (The International Theological Commentary) by Christopher R. Seitz

June 6, 2017

Seitz, Christopher R. Joel. The International Theological Commentary. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016, xii + 239 pp., $94.00, hardback.


Joel is the third publication in T&T Clark’s new International Theological Commentary series. The series evidences the concerns and hermeneutical methods of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture “movement” (pp. ix–x). Christopher Seitz has written extensively on the topic of theological hermeneutics and the Old Testament prophets, most relatedly, his Prophecy and Hermeneutics. This commentary on Joel affords him the opportunity to apply his methodology to an entire biblical book. Seitz is a senior research professor at Wycliffe College, Toronto and currently serves as the editor of Studies in Theological Interpretation, Baker Academic.

Joel is comprised of two equal-length parts. The first contains several chapters discussing introductory issues. With newer redaction theories of the minor prophets in view, Seitz argues for the literary integrity of the final form of Joel (p. 6, see p. 62 for arguments against the older redaction theories of Duhm). He favors a canonical reading of Joel which spots intertextuality throughout the book of the Twelve, that is, how Joel has been influenced and how Joel influences a reading of the other minor prophets (p. 23). Seitz, however, does not overlook diachronic issues, and understands Joel to be a late work drawing upon earlier prophetic themes (p. 28). Thus, the post-exilic composition of Joel not only re-signifies earlier Scripture but, by virtue of the canonical order, it becomes the lens through which the following (historically earlier) books of the Twelve are to be read (p. 21). Specifically, Joel “has been composed to respond to the scenario set out at Hosea’s conclusion” (p. 55). Additionally, it is also an historical phenomenon that the final literary product of Joel is intentionally de-historicized and anonymous. Seitz argues that this is intentional so that Joel’s message can move “through time” (pp. 51, 114) with ongoing significance.

The second section of the book is the commentary proper. It begins with providing the New Revised Standard Version translation of Joel for reference. Seitz divides up his commentary into (i) Solemn Opening: 1.1–4, (ii) Part One- The Day of the LORD Upon Israel: 1.5–20, (iii) Part Two- The Unfolding Day of the LORD: 2.1–27, (iv) Part Three- Finale: 2:28–3:21.

By inductive study of Joel, Seitz redefines prophecy in a way that might not at first be expected. He argues that the author of Joel is a literary artist drawing upon earlier Scripture more than a prophetic preacher like, say, Amos might have been. This is a one of the highlights of the commentary, namely the intertextual connections made by Joel noted by Seitz. These include the reference to the Exodus through a locust plague (p. 125), the description of the day of the Lord is viewed as “un-creation” (p. 151), the evocation of Deuteronomy in the call to return to the Lord with all your heart (p. 162), the pouring out of the Spirit hearkening back to Numbers 11 (p. 197) and the fountains flowing out of the restored Zion suggest the rivers flowing from Eden (p. 221). Seitz, therefore, understands Joel the “prophet” as an interpreter of Israel’s Scripture rather than one receiving direct revelation from God.

It is important for Seitz to view Joel as a post-exilic book to establish authorial intentionality in Joel’s allusions to earlier Scripture. For example, in 2:32, Joel is understood to be citing Obadiah 17 (p. 192). However, when Seitz discusses the relationship between Jonah—understood also to be a late post-exilic work—and Joel he concludes that determining the “absolute sequence of dependence” has “limited value” (p. 175). Seitz throughout seems to advocate a canonical intertextual reading based on authorial intention. Thus, it is unclear why he states establishing the direction of dependence between Jonah and Joel, albeit difficult, has limited value given two almost certain instances of literary dependence (2:13 and 2:14 with Jonah 4:2 and 3:9).

While Seitz does not overlook the effect of the canonical position of Joel on reading the minor prophets, he prefers to understand Joel as an “organic conception” without secondary editors (p. 185). Thus, in his view, there would be no place for a canonical redactor or final editor of a “Book of the Twelve” who, for example, might have used Stichwort to link the books together. And so, for example he disagrees with Nolgaski who reads “this” in Joel 1:2 an anaphoric, referring to the end of Hosea (pp. 46, 116). Moreover, he argues that the “individuality” of the books of the Twelve should be maintained, and so Amos 9:13 and Joel 3:18 should not be read together within the Twelve, but within their respective books (p. 213, fn. 40). This outlook is refreshing in the current milieu of scholarship which largely view the minor prophets to have been redacted as one book—The Book of the Twelve. Interpreters, naturally thus, look for “redactorial” intention across the one Book of the Twelve which results in flattening out the unique contribution of each minor prophet—something Seitz avoided in this commentary.

Sadly, the book seems poorly edited with several errors. For example, “2011” should read 2009 (p. 5, fn. 4), “Joel” should read Amos (p. 10), “Micah” should read Jonah (p. 15), and “Zephaniah” should read Joel (p. 201). The Hebrew font used appears to be SBL, but on occasion an irregular font is used (pp. 164, 166 etc.) and at times the spacing between Hebrew words is not kept (pp. 148, 226). Moreover, English versification of Joel is used, but at times, without explanation or any self-evident reason, the Hebrew versification is used, and at times both are used confusingly on the same page (pp. 130, 201).

The best example of theological interpretation comes at the close of the book. Throughout, Seitz does not understand the presence of “eschatology” to be a late addition, but rather it is the theological accomplishment of Joel to display eschatology at work in the present time. This phenomenon could be described as “already-not-yet” within the Old Testament itself. Though he does not use this term, Seitz notes the similarity between Joel and the Gospel’s presentation of eschatology:

In something of the same manner, the synoptic Gospels all describe the final day of the LORD, not as the last word of their respective literary witnesses, but prior to the passion narratives which take up where they leave off (Matt. 24; Mk. 13; Lk. 21). Abandonment, betrayal, tribulation, the wracking of creation, national enmity – all these mark the end times. But, equally, they constitute the conditions that One Cross and One Lord embody at the middle of time. Inside an act in the middle of time, the end times are played out in judgement by the Lord of time and life upon the Lord of life and time. (p. 226)

Joel is a welcomed addition to the commentaries on Joel. It is unique in that, though a commentary proper, it is also integrated with extensive engagement with modern scholarship of the minor prophets. Given the importance and debate over of the book of Joel in modern redaction theories, it would have appeared a grand omission had Seitz not engaged in the discussion in this commentary. However, given the preface to the series that the commentaries will glean from “classical and modern commentary” showing “doctrinal development”, will be “(a)lert to tendencies toward atomism, historicism and scepticism” and will also address “contemporary questions” (ix–x), the commentary falls short. There is not the level of engagement with classical commentaries, ecclesial tradition, doctrinal developments and contemporary applicability one would expect from a title in this series. This is not a critique of the content of the commentary, but rather a misleading title. That minor critique notwithstanding, serious students of Joel cannot afford to overlook this valuable new resource.

Jonathan Atkinson

Union School of Theology, Wales

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