James D. Nogalski, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah (NICOT)

Nogalski, James D. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2023. xxxv+434 pp. Hb; $54.00   Link to Eerdmans

This new volume of the NICOT series on Joel, Obadiah, and Jonah replaces Leslie Allen’s 1976 volume in the NICOT series (now an Eerdmans Classic Commentary). Nogalski is writing a separate commentary on Micah (scheduled for April 2024). James Nogalski is the W. Marshall & Lulie Craig Professor of Old Testament at Baylor University. He has written extensively on the Minor Prophets, including two Smyth & Helwys Commentaries on the Minor Prophets and two important monographs on the formation of the Book of the Twelve, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 217), Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve (BZAW 218), both De Gruyter, 1993. In 2017, SBL Press published The Book of the Twelve and Beyond:  Collected Essays of James D. Nogalski.

Joel, Obadiah, Jonah

Nogalski begins his commentary by briefly introducing his views on how the Book of the Twelve was formed (p. 1-13). “The twelve writings have been edited in various ways in the light of their position and literary function within this larger corpus” (3). You’re used throughout the commentary that the Book of the Twelve was deliberately edited and arranged to be a “canonical entity.” Much of this evidence will appear in the introductions to each of the three Minor Prophets he discusses in this commentary. In this brief introduction, he surveys the scholarship on the Twelve, including his own 1993 monographs in the BZAW series, and responds to some skepticism to his views. He argues that there are important theological implications of the formation of the Book of the Twelve. The sum of the whole is greater than the parts (9). The structure of the Book of the Twelve moves the reader from the eighth century BCE to the Persian period (when the Book of the Twelve reached its final form). Michael Shepherd uses Nogalski’s work for his commentary on the Book of the Twelve in the KEL series (Kregel 2018). See my review here.

This commentary focuses on the final form of each book and how they reached that final form. However, there is no reception history. The commentary focuses on what the speech looked like when it was initially delivered. Was it delivered orally, or was it a written composition? Several times in the body of the commentary, Nogalski refers to the author as a “scribal prophet,” implying that the author gathered material from existing sources and edited them into the book as we have it today. For example, Jonah is set in the eighth century BCE but concerns the post-exilic community.

In the introduction to Joel, Nogalski observes that the background of this book is notoriously difficult to pin down because of the lack of historical context, the lack of specific kings in the first verses, and an awareness of other prophets. He suggests a date in the Persian period, written by a prophet working out of the temple. He surveys models of unity and diversity and observes a strong sense of cohesion even with significant disjunctures (27). Joel was compiled by a “scribal prophet.” Its position in the Book of the Twelve causes it to function as an early voice for understanding the whole scroll. The occasion for Joel is the economic struggles caused by harsh weather conditions in the Persian period. Nothing can be tied to a specific known event.

Joel has a “cause-and-effect” theology of judgment and mercy. Graphic images of locust plagues, drought, and military attacks are drawn from the curse language found in Deuteronomy, especially in Joel 2:1-11. Yet Yahweh promises to remove the curse, the enemy from the north, and the economic devastation. Once again, there will be bountiful harvests (38). By Joel 3, grander changes will occur “in the latter days” when God will pour out his spirit on all flesh. All people will act as prophets, and there will be a complete restoration of Judah and a judgment on the nations.

The day of the Lord can have three senses in the Book of the Twelve. First, it sometimes refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC. Second, it may refer to Yahweh’s punishment of the nations who have harmed Judah. And third, it may refer to a distant future when Jerusalem will serve as a place of refuge “on that day.”

A significant issue in any commentary on Joel is the writer’s use of other biblical texts. Nogalski offers a short overview of exodus typology, wilderness allusions, and his use of Amos, Zephaniah, Malachi, Obadiah, Hosea, and Isaiah. He argues that a scribal prophet combined speeches into an extended treatise on the day of Yahweh so that the book of Joel dovetails with the Book of the Twelve. He traces connections between Joel and Hosea, Joel and Amos, and other Day of the Lord texts in the Book of the Twelve. Joel, therefore, invites contemplation on God’s character, the nature of judgment and hope, and God’s relationship with his people.

Nogalski’s introduction to Obadiah begins with a sketch of Edom’s history and its role in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction. Despite its brevity, Obadiah may be a collection of prophetic sayings. The book includes verses from Jeremiah 49, and Nogalski examines the structural and rhetorical markers connecting Obadiah 1-5 with Amos 9:1-4. The commentary takes seriously the final form of the text. Although the book may contain material from more than one hand, a scribal prophet combined and edited this material into a unit that thematically parallels Amos 9 (204).

The identity of this scribal prophet is unknown, and the book does not include a king or hometown in verse one. Concerning date, the book could be written as early as the 6th century. Obadiah is an eyewitness of the fall of Edom, so this could extend into the Hellenistic. He argues for a fifth-century BCE date based on the use of Jeremiah. He detects evidence of an advanced stage of Jeremiah’s composition in the sixth century (211). Over there is a prophetic and theological reflection on the fate of Edom 215. By placing Obadiah next to Amos 9, the editor of Book of the Twelve invites attention to the similarities between Israel’s fate and Edom’s.

“The message of Obadiah is not for the faint of heart” (286). The book discusses the judgment of Edom and the violent character of God in the Old Testament. In this, it is much like an imprecatory Psalm. But God’s judgment is followed by restoration. Israel, Edom, and the nations will be restored. But Obadiah’s vision does not come to pass in a literal sense (286). Persia, Greece, and then Rome controlled the region. Although Jerusalem grew during those years, its territory never reached the size described in Obadiah 19-21.

Nogalski begins his introduction to Jonah by observing that this book is much different because it tells a story rather than collects and edits speeches and sayings. The prophet Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, but most consider the story a fiction using the prophet to represent a theological position from the writer’s time. “The story is told with humor and panache,” and the “audience who heard or read this tale would have chuckled” (291). Throughout his commentary, he argues the story has a satirical edge.

For Nogalski, the author lived in the Persian or Hellenistic period and was answering (or ridiculing) theological exclusivity. Could a foreign nation repent? At the time the book was written, foreign nations ruled over Judah. How could Judah’s leaders work under foreign rule? The writer is poking fun at religious leaders who cannot accept divine grace for others even while demanding it for themselves” (293).

A major problem most commentaries on Jonah address is the genre of the book. He surveys several suggestions and points out these suggested genres usually miss the book’s humor (301). If one fails to reckon with the humorous elements of Jonah, then one sees disjunctions as signs of sloppy editing rather than the core elements of the comedic presentation of an author with a keen sense of humor (298).

As with the other prophets in this commentary, Nogalski argues Jonah has been placed in the Book of the Twelve intentionally. Jonah 4:2 is the key verse of the book. He argues that this verse takes up Joel’s citation of Exodus 34:6 (380). He argues the details in an excursus (382-85).

As with other NICOT volumes, Nogalski works through the text of each prophet based on the Hebrew test, although all Hebrew is transliterated, so readers without Hebrew can follow the commentary. His comments are generally on the English text with details in the footnotes. Each unit begins with a new translation with textual notes coveting syntactical elements and textual problems. He then works through a section verse-by-verse. Footnotes interact with secondary literature.

Conclusion. Like other recent new volumes in the NICOT series, Nogalski’s commentary on these three books is a worthy successor to Leslie Allen’s earlier volume. Although thoroughly researched and full of the details one expects in a major commentary, the prose is enjoyable to read and will serve students and scholars well as they study these three Minor Prophets. Whether one is convinced of Nogalski’s view on the overall formation of the Book of the Twelve, this commentary is well worth consulting.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Other Commentaries in the NICOT Series: