This illumination is from one of the finest extant eleventh-century Catalan manuscripts: a Bible made for the monastery library at Sant Pere de Rodes (known as the Roda Bible). Including extensive Old Testament pictorial cycles, it is especially rare because of the rich illustrations of the Prophets.
In this example, salient events from Joel 1 have been represented as a series of literal events: his reception of the word (v.1) and preaching (vv.2–3) in the top register; the plague of locusts (v.4) at the centre; and the priests kneeling before the altar in the temple (vv.9, 13) in the lowest register. At the upper left, Joel stands within a delicate architectural framework, receiving the word of the Lord through divine means (represented by a disembodied hand, a motif often used by artists to represent Moses’s reception of the Law). Joel reappears in the scene at the right, his raised left hand and open palm indicate that he is preaching to the group of men, young and old, before him. Raised and seemingly floating above the ground, Joel is given special prominence over his attentive audience. The Prophet is also distinguished by his halo and bare feet, the latter calling to mind Moses’s humble removal of his sandals before the burning bush (Exodus 3:5). The assembled group must represent the elders and their children to whom Joel preached about the locust plagues, the large winged insects occupying the centre of the page. The locusts devour the remaining vegetation in an otherwise barren landscape, suggested by the curious undulating surface represented beneath them.
The lowermost scene likely represents the priests ministering before the altar during this plague, but neither their expressions nor their dress particularly suggest the state of mourning Joel describes. Further, while their toga-like robes imply an event in the distant past, the design of the temple recalls Catalan Romanesque architecture. These details give the events described in Joel a contemporary resonance, suggesting that the priests and monks of Sant Pere de Rodes were meant to recognise themselves in these biblical figures.
1 The word of the Lord that came to Joel, the son of Pethuʹel:
2Hear this, you aged men,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
3Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
4What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
5Awake, you drunkards, and weep;
and wail, all you drinkers of wine,
because of the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth.
6For a nation has come up against my land,
powerful and without number;
its teeth are lions’ teeth,
and it has the fangs of a lioness.
7It has laid waste my vines,
and splintered my fig trees;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white.
8Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth
for the bridegroom of her youth.
9The cereal offering and the drink offering are cut off
from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn,
the ministers of the Lord.
10The fields are laid waste,
the ground mourns;
because the grain is destroyed,
the wine fails,
the oil languishes.
11Be confounded, O tillers of the soil,
wail, O vinedressers,
for the wheat and the barley;
because the harvest of the field has perished.
12The vine withers,
the fig tree languishes.
Pomegranate, palm, and apple,
all the trees of the field are withered;
and gladness fails
from the sons of men.
13Gird on sackcloth and lament, O priests,
wail, O ministers of the altar.
Go in, pass the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
Because cereal offering and drink offering
are withheld from the house of your God.
14Sanctify a fast,
call a solemn assembly.
Gather the elders
and all the inhabitants of the land
to the house of the Lord your God;
and cry to the Lord.
15Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
16Is not the food cut off
before our eyes,
joy and gladness
from the house of our God?
17The seed shrivels under the clods,
the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are ruined
because the grain has failed.
18How the beasts groan!
The herds of cattle are perplexed
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep are dismayed.
19Unto thee, O Lord, I cry.
For fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness,
and flame has burned
all the trees of the field.
20Even the wild beasts cry to thee
because the water brooks are dried up,
and fire has devoured
the pastures of the wilderness.