Elijah & Elisha

Two popular and enigmatic prophets

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Elijah's Dramatic Exit: The Windstorm

The final episode of Elijah's career includes the powerful image of the prophet conveyed heavenward in a windstorm, apparently accompanied by a fiery chariot.   Before Elijah departs, Elisha, who had refused to leave his side, requests a double portion of his spirit.  Elijah promises it will be so if Elisha sees him as he is taken up.  Elisha watches him until he disappears, and then tears his clothes in two and takes up Elijah's mantle.

Enter Elisha

Elisha's activities characterize him as a holy man and wonderworker. "Bad" water is cured with salt, and poisoned food is made fit to eat by adding meal. An axehead lost in the Jordan River is made to float while twenty loaves of barley feed a hundred men with food left over.

A penniless widow desperate to satisfy her creditors without selling her sons into slavery has only one vessel with a little oil left. Following Elisha's directions she is able to pour enough oil from this vessel to fill very vessel she possesses and pay her debts.  A less sympathetic picture of Elisha emerges from his dealings with the boys who call him Baldy – in his anger he summons a she-bear to devour them.

Elisha follows through with both of the unfulfilled commissions that Elijah was given on Horeb. He travels to Damascus to tell Hazael that the ailing king of Aram will die and that he, Hazael, will become king of Aram and troubler of Israel. Elisha also sends his servant to anoint Jehu king over Israel, unleashing a killing spree in which Elijah's prophecies concerning the end of the Omride dynasty are fulfilled.

Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah go out to battle Jehu, but Jehu shoots Jehoram with an arrow and throws him into the vineyard of Naboth. He has Jezebel thrown from her window and she is trampled by horses and eaten by dogs.  He then wipes out Ahab's remaining sons and associates and all the prophets, servants and priests of Baal.

Parallels:  Elijah and Elisha

The relationship between the stories of Elijah and Elisha is quite complex. There are obvious duplications in some of the miracle stories, although more "small wonders" are performed by Elisha. The theme of confrontation with the monarchy is present in both, but is much more dominant in the case of Elijah. The Elijah stories are also dominated by his battle against the Baalim, which is not the case in the Elisha cycle.

Allusions to Moses and Joshua

The relationship between Elijah and Elisha also needs to be viewed in the context of the clear allusions to the figure of Moses and the wilderness wanderings. Elijah is miraculously sustained with bread and water just as the Israelites were. Like Moses, Elijah encounters God on Horeb.

Before being taken up to heaven Elijah crosses the Jordan, parting it by striking it with his mantle. On his way back across the Jordan, Elisha does the same thing--surely mirroring the actions of Joshua bin Nun. Joshua having been commissioned by Moses as his successor then goes on to complete the task of settling the tribes in Canaan--much as Elisha must complete the tasks that were set for Elijah.

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Anne-Marie Belinfante is a specialist in Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.