Elijah and Elisha: Part I Moses and Joshua

By Zucker, David J. | Jewish Bible Quarterly, October-December 2012 | Go to article overview

Elijah and Elisha: Part I Moses and Joshua


Zucker, David J., Jewish Bible Quarterly


Four hundred years after the time of Moses, Elijah the Tishbite (mid-ninth-century BCE) serves as the greatest religious leader and prophet of his generation, often patterning his acts on the deeds of Moses. Moses had mentored Joshua, who then succeeded him. Joshua replicated some of Moses' miracles. Elijah mentors Elisha ben Shaphat, who then succeeds him. Elisha in turn replicates some of the acts of Elijah, and by extension, some of the acts of Moses and Joshua.

ELIJAH AND MOSES

Although Elijah in the overall scheme of things is less significant than Moses, the relevant narratives in the Book of Kings reflect events in the life of the earlier leader. (1)

"The cumulative impact of these extensive Mosaic allusions is to present Elijah as a Moses redivivus. Both appear at crucial moments in the religious and political history of the people. Through Moses, [God] rescued the Israelites from Egyptian oppression and formed [them] as his people; through Elijah, [God] preserves the faithful members of his people amid paganism and persecution. Both are significant figures in the history of prophetism as well. [The] long line of [God's] intermediaries in Israel [began with Moses]; in Elijah that line produces its quintessential hero." (2)

Elijah, as Moses, is an important leader in his day. Each is a powerful figure, commanding respect from his peers. Each hears directly from God. Each spends significant time in the wilderness. Each has a distinctive appearance (Ex. 34:2935; II Kgs. 1:8).

There are many other parallels between Elijah and Moses.

* Elijah treks forty days and forty nights to reach Mount Horeb [Sinai]; (3) Moses is atop Sinai for forty days and forty nights (I Kgs. 19:8; Ex. 24:18).

* Elijah survives on very limited rations in his escape to Horeb; Moses eats neither bread nor water on Sinai (I Kgs. 19:8; Ex. 34:28).

* Elijah rests in a cave on Horeb; Moses stands in a cleft on Mount Sinai (I Kgs 19:9 ff.; Ex. 33:22-23).

* At Horeb/Sinai each stands in the presence of God and receives a theophany (ibid). (4)

* At Horeb/Sinai "Elijah covers his own face with his mantle much as [God] places a hand over the cleft of rock so that Moses cannot see the divine face" (Ex. 33:21-23). (5)

Each prophet:

* confronts the ruler of his day (Elijah with Ahab, as earlier, Moses with Pharaoh) and demands--and provokes--the desired changes in the monarch's behavior (I Kgs. 18:19-20, 41-45 and 21:20-29; Ex. 7-12).

* asks the populace to decide between loyalty to him or to another group (the prophets of Baal, I Kgs. 18:21; the challenge from Korah, Dathan and Abiram, Num. 16).

* sets up an altar with twelve stones, corresponding to the twelve tribes (I Kgs. 18:31; Ex. 24:4)

* is informed as to the identity of his successor (I Kgs. 19:16; Num. 27:18, Deut. 31:7-8).

* is asked to appoint his successor publicly. (6)

In the lives of both Elijah and Moses, God manifests the divine presence and power through a judicious use of fire. The burning bush, Mount Sinai revelation (Ex. 19:18) and dedication of the Tabernacle (Lev. 9:24) all had the divine presence represented by fire. Elijah invokes God's fire during the contest with the prophets of Baal atop Mount Carmel (I Kgs. 18:38). Here the fire comes and consumes the offerings set up by Elijah. It serves as miraculous proof of God's presence in the world.

Sudden fire is also at the center of events when King Ahaziah sends two military delegations to capture Elijah. There, at Elijah's behest, fire consumes these warriors. The destruction of the troops by fire (II Kgs. 1:10-12) echoes the incineration of Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, where divine fire likewise consumes them (Lev. 10:2).

In Pesikta Rabbati, the editor of that Midrash collection lists many similarities between Moses and Elijah, often ingeniously citing biblical verses to support these connections. …

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