Book Review of Brevard S. Childs’, “Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture”

Posted: March 6, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Biblical Studies, Book Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

brevard-childs.jpg

Childs, B.S. (1979). Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress

Childs (http://www.yale.edu/divinity/news/070625_news_childs.shtml) is about as well read of any scholar that I have read. He not only concisely summarizes historical academics and positions of various scholars on pertinent issues, but will conclude with his own position. It is not enough to know everything and think nothing of it…one must engage and critique, which Childs competently accomplishes.

Literary Integrity of Joel

Childs confronts some of the literary issues surrounding the book of Joel, summarizing rather concisely a variety of positions. He summarizes the historical academic approach to Joel and the defense for its unity in the late nineteenth century. Chps. 1-2 were seen as a prophetic word about a future event, as opposed to an actual historical event. This view eventually evolved and the locust plague began to be understood as an actual historical event that occurred in the past. With this transition, the unity of the book was questioned because of the clearly eschatological themes surrounding chps. 3-4.

Others have even postulated that a single author penned Joel in two stages. Kapelrud suggested that Joel was unified in its use as liturgy. H.W. Wolff concluded Joel’s unity in its literary and form-critical resemblances throughout.

Major Purpose of the Book of Joel

Childs notes that the literary criticism of the likes of Wellhausen were basically negative in their treatment of Joel. Joel was viewed as a “nationalistic cult prophet devoid of any ethical criticism of Israel” (Childs 1979:388).

Eissfeldt instead viewed Joel’s primary concern being the problems of everyday life, “…such as the economic problems resulting from the locust plague, and that the eschatological elements were only a type of literary device to highlight the present distress of the community” (1979:388).

Ploger offers a very interesting take, suggesting that cult rivals are to explain for the eschatological emphasis in the book …as one group inserted chapters 3 & 4 to reaffirm eschatological realities in opposition to another group that sought to de-eschatologize the “Day of Yahweh”. His thesis is rather complex and difficult to substantiate.

The Canonical Shape of Joel

Childs commends H.W. Wolff’s attempts at showing literary unity in the book of Joel, which I happen to concur with myself. Larry McQueen’s work on Joel, “Joel and the Spirit” is quite convincing in viewing Joel as a unified piece that weaves together beautifully around themes of lament, restoration, and promise.

I can go one writing all night and end up with a book all on my own, but I will instead pull out some of the more insightful comments made by Childs and offer brief comments on such.

Joel’s original prophecy arose out of the crisis wrought by the locust and was addressed to the generation who immediately experienced the harsh event. However, the crucial canonical shaping occurred when an editor took up this prophecy and fashioned it into a message for future generations according to the canonical intent explicitly stated in 1.3….Although the Day of Yahweh had been prefigured in the sign of the locust, judgment lay still in the future” (pgs. 391-391).

While I may not necessarily wholeheartedly agree that Joel was structured by an “editor”, I nonetheless think that the eschatological themes of Joel 3-4 play off truly historical events of God’s judgment previous to such announcements. The locusts prefigure God’s eschatological judgment and leads people to repentance, lament, fasting; and eventual restoration for the culminating Day of Yahweh, when all nations shall be judged.

Joel’s original prophecy had been aimed solely at Israel, but in its new canonical form the judgment was now explained to include all the nations. The cosmological dimension of the final judgment had been briefly touched upon in ch. 2, but these features were now fully extended. Likewise, the earlier restoration of the land now became only a prefiguration of the eschatological return of the paradisal promise” (p. 392).

Childs is again assuming redaction from an editor, but it is wholly possible that the very real threat of judgment upon Israel was a beckoning of sorts for Israel to get right with God before an even bigger judgment comes upon all nations. The promise of agricultural blessing and restoration from the initial judgment also points forward to an even greater restoration that will affect the whole globe.

Joel’s original prophecy had been aimed solely at Israel, but in its new canonical form the judgment was now expanded to include all the nations” (p. 392).

God pours out His Spirit on “all” flesh and promises salvation for “all” who call on the name of the Lord in Joel, which promises the NT applies to gentiles. Gentiles are now recipients of this great eschatological restoration. Gentiles are “grafted” into one inclusive true and spiritual Israel.

The theological dimensions of the book of Joel are misunderstood when they are grounded upon a historical critical attempt to date the book according to absolute chronology….The true historical dimension of the book lies in the history of God’s people who wrestled with the hard realities of their life in the light of the renewed prophetic promise of a coming new divine order” (pgs. 392-393).

“It is characteristic of the canonical process that original sociological groupings have been subordinated to a theological definition of what constitutes the people of God. This observation does not imply that the historical enterprise is illegitimate, but it does call into question an exegetical method which feels itself so dependant on historical research as to overlook the explicit testimony of the literature itself in its canonical form” (p. 393).

Childs basically concludes that all of the dizzying scholarship offered on Joel may be missing the main point. The main point is essentially that Joel was written for and read by people who would find valuable for one’s faith in Yahweh. It gets pretty intimidating when delving into biblical studies because scholars who are smarter than the average Joe seem to be saying things about the text of Scripture which removes from it any relevance for the average Joe. One needs to be reminded that Scripture was written for the common person, intended to reveal God to the common person; as well as exhort, encourage, and reprove the common person. In fact, I will close by simply offering the introductory words of Joel as a reminder that God intended for even children to hear this message. While scholarly dissection may prove helpful, if the end result is a dizzying array of suggestions and hypothesis, then God’s intent to inform even children is long lost.

Joe 1:1-3

(1)  The word of the LORD that came to Joel, the son of Pethuel:

(2)  Hear this, you elders; give ear, all inhabitants of the land! Has such a thing happened in your days, or in the days of your fathers?

(3)  Tell your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children to another generation.

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