Prediction of Drought (§ 1).
Contest with Baal-Prophets (§ 2).
Flight from Jezebel (§ 3).
Varied Activities (§ 4).
Character and Miracles (§ 5).
Elijah ("My God is Yahweh") was perhaps the greatest of the prophets of the northern kingdom. He was of Tishbeh in Gilead (I Kings xvii. 1 according to the correct reading; cf. the Septuagint). The narrative concerning him (I Kings xvii. xix. 21: II Kings i., ii.) is taken from a separate source and contains the tradition of the prophetical companies. It is possible that the last sections belong to another Elisha-source.
1. Prediction of Drought. The public appearance of Elijah occurred during the reign of Ahab (now placed about 876-854) and Ahaziah (854-853). Ahab suffered himself to be unhappily influenced in his domestic life and in religious matters by his queen Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre, a priest of Astarte and a regicide (Josephus, Contra Apion, I. xviii.). Fanatical, scheming, and energetic, she procured the establishment of her native cult in Israel, and had erected in Samaria a grand temple of Baal of Tyre. When heathenish confusion had become dominant in the country and the faithful among the Yahweh-prophets were silenced by persecution, Elijah appeared and announced in the name of Yahweh a long drought, and then suddenly disappeared. He dwelt meanwhile by the brook Cherith (Wadi Kelt near Jericho, or an eastern tributary of the Jordan?), where he "was fed by the ravens"; after the brook dried up he lived at Zarephath (now Sarfend) in the territory of Zidon in the house of a widow. For two years no rain fell. Menander (Josephus, Ant. VIII., xiii. 2) knew of an extraordinary drought which lasted one year under the Tyrian king Ithobal (i.e., Ethbaal, father of Jezebel), and this accords well with the Hebrew mode of computing time. The later Jewish tradition, however, differs (Luke iv. 25 and Jas. v. 17), stating that the heaven was shut up three years and six months.
2. Contest with Baal-Prophets. At last Elijah came again before the king, who like his people had been humbled by the famine. He asked of him an ordeal to decide which God should rule the country. The outcome of this ordeal is described in full, I Kings xviii. 20 sqq. The scene of this act was most likely a place on the southeastern height of mount Carmel (now called el Mohraka, "place of fire"). In spite of all their penances and ecstatic dances "the prophets of Baal," whom we may conceive as like the modern dervishes or fakirs, were unable to elicit a sign of life from their god, whereas in answer to the simple prayer of Elijah a fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice, so that the assembled people did homage to the God of Israel. The 450 ministers of the false god received the punishment merited according to the strict principle of theocracy (cf. Ex. xx. 3; Deut. v. 7, xvii. 2-7). Having thus expiated the guilt, Elijah could promise rain and went as forerunner (I Kings xviii. 46) before the royal chariot to show that he was no rebel but was ready to render the smallest service to the king as soon as he obeyed his God.
3. Flight from Jezebel. Soon, however, Elijah had to escape from the vengeance of Jezebel. This time he went to mount Horeb (I Kings xix.). There he witnessed a grand theophany after the manner of Ex. xxxiii. 20 21, xxxiv. 5 sqq. It is significant that the zealous prophet did not find the presence of God in storm, earthquake, or fire, but in the still small voice. Those were only signs, his innermost nature is grace. In the second place it was important that God should comfort the discouraged prophet, who imagined himself the last, the only one remaining faithful, by the announcement that there were still 7,000 in the country whom God knew. Finally he received three commissions; Hazael was to become king over Syria, Jehu over Israel, and Elisha was to be Elijah's successor in the prophetical office. These three were to carry out God's judgment. But the Elijah-narrative tells only how Elijah called Elisha as his successor, while the anointing of Hazael and Jehu was brought about by Elisha. Some have seen often in this a contradiction between the Elijah- and the Elisha-source. But as the records are only fragmentary, a transference of those acts from Elijah to his disciple may have taken place, especially as it concerned political acts for which the proper time had to be awaited.
4. Varied Activities. Elijah, whose residence was then in the wilderness of Damascus (I Kings xix. 15), appeared only at intervals in the land of Israel, as avenger of a misdeed of Jezebel and her husband (I Kings xxi.), again as bearer of ill tidings to their son Ahaziah (II Kings i.). Finally II Kings ii. tells of his translation, on which occasion he left his prophet's mantle to his companion Elisha. The Chronicler, who otherwise passes over the stories of Elijah and Elisha, mentions (II Chron. xxi. 12 sqq.) a threatening letter written by Elijah to King Jehoram of Judah, the son-in-law of Jezebel. But Elijah hardly lived to see the rule of this king. It is possible that a disciple of the prophet composed the letter with reference to analogous sayings of Elijah against the king.
5. Character and Miracles. Elijah appears as the most heroic form among the prophets. Each of his brief words is an effective deed. The awful apostasy of his people forced him to appear as an avenger. His elements were fire and storm. But though he was obliged to oppose the seducers, kind traits are not wanting in his history (see I Kings xvii. 20 and II Kings ii. 12). By his faithful zeal for God's law he saved the people and reconciled the rising generation with the fathers (cf. Mal. iv. 6). From the theological point of view, very noticeable is the conscious monotheism contained in his mockery (I Kings xviii. 27) which, however, is not a new trait in him. That Elijah and Elisha took no offense at Israel's calf-worship, as some modern writers assert, can not be inferred from their silence about it. Neither Elijah nor Elisha had any connection with the sanctuary at Bethel; they assembled the people at some other place for worship, and the manner in which Elijah on Carmel ignored the royal clergy at Bethel, and on Horeb represents himself as the only one remaining faithful is sufficiently eloquent. The story of Elijah is rich in the miraculous and has on this account often been called legend. It can not be denied that the miraculous is intentionally emphasized and colored by the narrator. It is also possible that, through oral transmission in prophetical circles, the account of the deeds of the great master laid undue stress upon externals. Yet by his extraordinary powers he wrought great changes in the land. The principal miracles which he wrought before the people (the announcement of the drought and the ordeal on Carmel) admit no rationalistic explanation. The person and history of the prophet stand or fall with them. Elijah produced an indelible impression upon his contemporaries and upon posterity. On the basis of Mal. iv. 5 the Jews in the time of Jesus expected his return before the Messiah (Matt. xvii. 10, xi. 14, cf. J. Lightfoot, Horæ Hebraicæ on Matt. xvii. 10; C. Schoettgen, Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudic , Dresden, 1742, ii. 533 sqq.). On the legendary appearances of Elijah in the Talmud cf. J. A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judentum, 12 parts, Dresden, 1892-93, i. 11, ii. 212, 402-404. There also existed apocryphal writings under his name; the oldest, the "Apocalypse of Elijah," is first mentioned by Origen (on Matt. xxvii. 9), and from it according to him the quotation in I Cor. ii. 9 is said to have been taken. Among the Mohammedans Elijah became the hero of many legends; he was blended among them with the heathenish mythical form El-khidr.
Elijah appears as the name of other Israelites, I Chron. viii. 27; Ezra x. 21, 26.
(C. VON ORELLI.)
Bibliography: Besides the literature on the History of Israel cited under AHAB, consult: T. K. Cheyne, Hallowing of Criticism, London, 1888; E. Renan, History of the People of Israel, ii. 229-42, ib. 1888; R. Kittel, Geschichte der Hebräer, ii., Gotha, 1892, Eng. transl., London, 1895; C. H. Cornill, Prophets of Israel, Chicago, 1897; H. Gunkel, in Preussische Jahrbücher, 1898, pp. 18 51; idem, Elias, Jahve und Baal, Tübingen, 1906 (critical reconstruction); W. Erbt, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Hebräer, part i., Elia, Elisa, Jona, Leipsic, 1907; Clermont-Ganneau, in Revue archéologique, xxxii. 388 sua.; Schürer, Geschichte, ii. 35, 267-271, 344, 351-352, 524-525, Eng. transl., II. ii. 156-157, iii. 129 sqq.; Smith, OTJC, pp. 236-237; idem, Prophets, pp. 76 sqq., 116 sqq.; DB, i. 687-692; EB, ii. 1270-74; JE, v. 121-128 (gives literature on Mohammedan and medieval legend). A homiletical classic is F. W. Krummacher, Elias der Thisbiter, Elberfeld, 1828 and often, Eng. transl. Cheltenham, 1838 and often.