Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joel, Jonah, and the YHWH Creed: Determining the Trajectory of the Literary Influence

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Joel, Jonah, and the YHWH Creed: Determining the Trajectory of the Literary Influence

Article excerpt

The ancient Israelite confession most fully articulated in Exod 34:6-7, the Yhwh creed, recurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. Both Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2 allude to this creed, and their unique text form suggests a shared literary relationship. There are significant difficulties involved in determining the trajectory of the literary influence that exists between these two texts. While some scholars opt to remain neutral on the matter, the weight of scholarly opinion favors the priority of the book of Joel. This article challenges the popular opinion, arguing that the YHWH creed in the book of Joel is influenced by the form of the creed in the book of Jonah. To establish the priority of the book of Jonah, this article evaluates the rationales that scholars have used to establish the majority opinion. These principles are measured against criteria proposed in the secondary literature for identifying literary influence and tracing its trajectory. The principles determined to be legitimate are then reapplied to the books of Joel and Jonah to demonstrate that these principles, when properly applied, favor and ultimately determine the priority of the book of Jonah.

Both Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2 allude to a relatively stable formula that occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18; Nah 1:3; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Neh 9:17, 31).1 The contents of this formula are revealed to Moses by Yhwh in Exod 34:6-7, establishing what functions in the unfolding of the biblical narrative and subsequent texts of the canon as an ancient Israelite creed:2 "Yhwh, Yhwh, a deity who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and exceedingly kind and faithful, guarding kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin, but who will not surely acquit, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the sons and on the grandsons to the third and fourth generations."3 The Joel/Jonah text form of the Yhwh creed involves many additions to, subtractions from, and emendations of the fuller expression of the Yhwh creed in Exod 34:6-7; it is a unique occurrence among the many iterations of the creed scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible. This unique correspondence between the books of Joel and Jonah is too precise to be incidental or independently derived. (For the following discussion, see figs. 1 and 2 below). Compared to Exod 34:6-7, they both reverse the order of the first two adjectives (this occurs also in Ps 145:8 and Neh 9:17, 31), drop the noun "faithfulness" (nDN), insert the phrase "(one) who relents from disaster" (njnrrbj? Dm), and completely omit all subsequent material found in Exod 34:6-7 (omission of subsequent material occurs in all iterations of the creed except Num 14:18 and Nah 1:3). In addition to the Yhwh creed, the books of Joel and Jonah share one other significant text, "Who knows? He [the deity] might turn and relent..." ([D'iÙKn] DfUl nitth jrrr'Q; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9). Furthermore, there exist a number of verbal or thematic links between the two books (see fig. 3 below). Both books contain prophets who are commissioned to deliver an oracle of judgment, an emphasis on human repentance (D1W), people wearing sackcloth and fasting (with animals caught up in one or both activities!), and an additional divine attribute not found in the Yhwh creed, "compassion" (Din), which ultimately has implications for the interrelationship of Israel, Yhwh, and the nations. It strains the imagination to posit that such correspondences occur as mere happenstance.4

MWhile there exists a broad consensus that a relationship of dependence exists between the books of Joel and Jonah, the trajectory of this dependence is contested, due in part to the difficulty of dating each book. Both are generally regarded as having been composed in the exilic or postexilic periods (sixth to fourth centuries) ,5 but the historical factors involved are complicated and greater specificity is currently

unattainable. …

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