“And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.’”
The above quoted lines from the “First Kings 18:21-22” clearly give an outline of the role which Elijah played in the society of the ancient world. It is significant to note that the machinery of religion has been subjected to change ever since its initiation in the pre-historic times. More important different sections of the society at the same period of time followed the precepts of different religions. Therefore, if it often seen that the same incident is repeated in different versions or is interpreted in diverse manners in the different religions of the world. A pertinent example of this is the historical, religious and the theological interpretation or the representation of Elijah. This essay will discuss about the character of Elijah and his historical, religious as well as theological interpretation.
As per the “Books of Kings” of the “Hebrew Bible”, Elijah was a “prophet and a miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab in the 9th century BC”. It is significant to note that the different religious texts give interpretations of the character of Elijah but all of them agree on the point that he was a renowned prophet and worked miracles. For example, in the “1 Kings 18” “Elijah defended the worship of the Jewish God over that of the Canaanite deity Baal. God also performed many miracles through Elijah, including resurrection (raising the dead), bringing fire down from the sky, and entering Heaven alive by fire”. In other Jewish religious texts he is also shown as leading a group of other prophets like himself and they were called by the name of “the sons of the prophets”. He is also famous for his opposition to Baal. However, the “Book of Malachi”, on the other hand, “prophesies Elijah's return "before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD", making him a harbinger of the Messiah and of the eschaton in various faiths that revere the Hebrew Bible”. It is significant to note that Elijah is one of the most popular religious figures of the ancient world and does he finds representation in most of the religious texts of the ancient like “Ecclesiasticus, the New Testament, the Mishnah and Talmud, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Bah?'? writings”.
In the present times the very existence of the character Elijah has become a topic of much critical debate among the various people. For example, in the Judaism the name of Elijah is a very revered one and he is given his due at the “weekly Havdalah ritual that marks the end of Shabbat”. Furthermore, he is also worshipped during the other rituals related to Judaism like the “Passover Seder and the brit milah (ritual circumcision)”. In addition to these, he also finds representation in the various other literary as well as the religious texts of the period like “Haggadah and rabbinic literature, including the Babylonian Talmud”. The actual identity of Elijah has been a topic of much debate in the religious cannon of Christianity. In the opinion of many people, Jesus Christ himself was the real Elijah. However, this particular opinion is repudiated by the other on the score that Jesus himself “makes it clear that John the Baptist is "the Elijah" who was promised to come in Malachi 3:23 in the Septuagint”. It is a reflection of this that “Elijah appears with Moses during the Transfiguration of Jesus”. However, the character of Elijah also appears in many of the folk tales and literary texts belonging to this particular period and in the opinion of the other people he can also be associated with the various pagan Gods like thunder, lightening, rain and others and that he even rode with them. It is significant to note that this particular view is repudiated by the majority of the theologians in the present day. The character of Elijah appears in the religious text of Islam, namely the “Quran” where he is portrayed as the “prophet and messenger of God and his biblical narrative of preaching against the worshipers of Baal is recounted in a concise form”. It is a reflection of the role which the character of Elijah plays not only in the Christian religion, Muslim religion and other pagan religions of the world that since the year 1972 he is revered as the “patron saint of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
The character of Elijah is famous not only on the score of the various miracles which he worked but also for the opposition which he provided to Baal and other pagan Gods who demanded unjustified sacrifices from there devotees. The “1 Kings 17:1”, therefore, introduces Elijah as the “Tishbite”. Thus, in the opinion of many people, “No background for the person of Elijah is given except for his brief description as being a ‘Tishbite’. His name in Hebrew means ‘My God is Yahweh’, and may be a title applied to him because of his challenge to worship of Baal”. Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible say that “Elijah's challenge is bold and direct. Baal was the Canaanite god responsible for rain, thunder, lightning, and dew. Elijah not only challenges Baal on behalf of God himself, but he also challenges Jezebel, her priests, Ahab and the people of Israel”. One of the most significant miracles performed by Elijah was the “raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath”. It is significant to note that this particular incident was a turning point for his as it not only earned him the admiration of the people but also helped him to understand his own capabilities. The “1 Kings 17:22” gives an interesting account of this particular revival with the words “God listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived”. It is significant to note that this particular incident has a special importance in the cannon of religion as this was the first instance of revival in the Scriptures.
The origin as well as the end of the life of Elijah is a matter of much critical debate among the various people. For example, in the opinion of many of the priests related to the Christian Churches “Elijah was a priest. Some Rabbis have speculated that he should be identified with Phinehas”. On the other hand, there are other sources like the “Kabbalistic literature” which states that “Elijah was really an angel in human form, so that he had neither parents nor offspring”. The “Midrash Rabbah Exodus 4:2”, on the other hand argues that “Elijah should have revived his parents as he had revived the son of the Zarephathite indicating he surely had parents”. The end of the life of Elijah is also a matter of dispute as some religious texts states that he has died whereas others states that he was summoned up to Heaven. For example, “2 Kings 2:3–9” states that he walked over the Jordon and at the other side the chariot of God was awaiting for him.
To conclude, the character of Elijah has been a topic of much critical debate in the recent times. This can be seen as a reflection of the conflicting accounts of the same character in the different religious texts as well as the religions of the world. However, almost all of these texts agree that he was a prophet and worked much for the cause of the poor as well as the suffering people. Almost all of the religious texts agree on the point that he was a blessed soul and that God worked his own miracles through Elijah.
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