Friday, February 13, 2009

ELISHA: Miracle-Maker, or Mass-Murderer? -- by Richard C. Speaks

Let's begin with a rhetorical question: Two guys go off into the desert together. Only one of them returns with torn clothes, the other guy's wallet, and a wild story about alien abduction. Would you believe him? I bet you wouldn't.

Then why should we believe this same scenario just because it's in the Bible? Yet the faithful never question the tale of Elijah's ascention into Heaven upon a flaming chariot for that reason alone. If it's in the Bible, it must be true. Right? Not necessarily, folks. What really happened to Elijah? God only knows. We can only speculate. Foul play cannot be ruled out.

The begining of the end for Elijah came while the old guy was hiding from Jezebel's assassins upon Mount Horab; the mountain of God, where Moses received the Commandments. God had a commandment for Elijah that day. Here is what He had to say:

"Go," Yahweh said, "Go back by the same way to the desert of Damascus. You must go and anoint Hazael as king of Aram. You must anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Eilsha, son of Shaphat, of Abel-Meholah, as prophet to succeed you. Anyone who escapes the sword of Hazael will be put to death by Jehu; and anyone who escapes the sword of Jehu will be put to death by Elisha. But I shall spare 7000 in Israel; all the knees that have not bent before Baal, all the mouths that have not kissed him."
1 KINGS 19:15-18

I wonder how Elijah received this bit of news from on high. I have my suspicions. The Bible text is vague, but there are clues that suggest disharmony between master and disciple.

Leaving there, he came on Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was ploughing behind 12 yoke of oxen, he himself being with the 12th. Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you," he said. 
Elijah answered, "Go, go back; for have I done anything to you?" 

Elisha turned away, took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the oxen's tackle for cooking the meat, which he gave the people to eat. He then rose and, following Elijah, became his servant.
1 KINGS 19:19-21

I find it interesting that Elisha was introduced with a scene involving slaughter. After all Elisha was supposed to take part in reducing the surplus population of Israel down to a pious 7000 living souls, according to God. Elisha fit the bill. He was young and strong, and completely unbothered by bloodshed. 

Elijah sounded less than enthused at first, but Elisha's casual brutality must have won him over for a while. I wonder if he scared Elijah.

Oddly enough Elisha isn't mentioned again in I Kings. Perhaps he was temporarily entrusted to some subordinate from the Brotherhood of Prophets for training, while Elijah was busy placing a death curse upon Ahab and Jezebel following the murder of Naboth and the theft of his vineyard.

Perhaps he just didn't get mentioned because he had nothing to say at the time. I'm actually surprised that some ancient scribe didn't just insert Elisha into the text somewhere, in much the same way Raymond Burr was inserted into the original Godzilla, or the way the ancient scribes added Aaron into most of Moses' action. They could have given Elisha some quote-worthy thing to say, that could be squeezed into the narrative somewhere, as they often did in the Bible, but they didn't think of it this time, and so Elisha got left out of the action until the second chapter of II Kings. Which was Elijah's swan song. Luke Skywalker had a longer internship!

The next time we read about Elisha he seemed to be little more than a tag-along. Elijah seemed eager to ditch him at each town they came to. I assume that must have been the routine between these two all along. Was Elijah displeased with his disciple? Was Elisha fearful that his master might be thinking about replacing him? Am I just reading too much into it? You be the judge.

This is what happened when Yahweh took Elijah up to heaven in the whirlwind: Elijah and Elisha set out from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, "You stay here, for Yahweh is only sending me to Bethel. But Elisha replied, "As Yahweh lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you!" and they went down to Bethel. 

The brotherhood of prophets living at Bethel came out to meet Elisha and said, "Do you know that Yahweh will carry your lord and master away today?"

"Yes, I know," he said, "Be quiet."
II KINGS 2:1-3

Elijah tried to shake Elisha at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho before his disappearance on the far side of the Jordan. All in the same day we are told. Could this be a motive for murder? Or was it a Close Encounter of the weird kind?

Elijah said, "Elisha, you stay here, Yahweh is only sending me to Jericho. But Elisha replied, "As Yahweh lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you!" and they went on to Jericho.

The brotherhood of prophets living at Jericho came out to meet Elisha and said, "Do you know that Yahweh will carry your lord and master away today?"

"Yes, I know," he said, "Be quiet."
II KINGS 2:4,5

And again:

Elijah said, "Elisha, you stay here, Yahweh is only sending me to the Jordan." But Elisha replied, "As Yahweh lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you!" And they went on together. Fifty of the brotherhood of prophets followed them, halting some distance away as the two of them stood beside the Jordan.
II KINGS 2:6-7

This time the Bible tells us that the Brotherhood of Prophets sent 50 followers to follow Elijah and Elisha all the way to the bank of the Jordan River in an attempt to witnesses Elijah's mysterious departure. Too bad they failed. I wonder why the Brotherhood approached Elisha with the news at each town and not his master? I guess because Elijah already knew everything, being a prophet and all.

Here is where we enter the Twilight Zone, dear readers:

Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water; and the water dividedto left and right, and the two of them crossed over dry-shod. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Make your request. What can I do for you before I am snatched away from you?"

"Elisha answered, "Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.

"Your request is difficult," Elijah said. "If you see me while I am being snatched away from you, it will be as you ask; if not, it will not be so."
II KINGS 2:8,10

There were no witnesses at this point. The gap in the Jordan had closed up. The followers from the Brotherhood could no longer follow the two of them. From here on out we're just expected to take Elisha's word on what really went down.

Now as they walked on, talking as they went, a chariot of fire appeared and horses of fire coming between the 2 of them; and Elijah went up to heaven in the whirlwind.

Elisha saw it, and shouted, "My father! My father! Chariot of Israel and its chargers!" Then he lost sightof him, and taking hold of his own clothes he tore them in half.
II KINGS 2:11,12

If Elisha was telling the truth then this was an early X File, predating Ezekiel by centuries. If he was lying then this would be a job for CSI. What do you think? The X Files, or CSI?

He picked up Elijah's cloak which had fallen, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took Elijah's cloak and he struck the water. "Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?" he cried. As he struck the water it divided to right and left, and Elisha crossed over.
II KINGS 2:13,14

All Elisha had to do now was sell his wild tale of alien abduction to the Brotherhood.

The brotherhood of prophets saw him in the distance, and said, "The spirit of Elijah has come to rest on Elisha"; they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Elisha was now the top dog, yet the followers from the Brotherhood still insisted upon conducting a search for Elijah, and they don't sound as if the expected to find him alive. Why look on the ground and under rocks for a man who was alive and well in Heaven above? They weren't buying it. Who would?

"Look," they said, "your servants have fifty strong men with them, let them go and look for your master; the Spirit of Yahweh may have taken him up and thrown him down on a mountain or into a valley."

"Send no one," he replied. But they so shamed him with their insistence that he consented. So they sent fifty men who searched for three days without finding him. They then came back to Elisha who had stayed in Jericho; he said, "Didn't I tell you not to go?"
II KINGS 2:16-18

Elisha didn't take part in the search, but remained in Jericho. 

The Brotherhood spent 3 days searching for Elijah's corpse, but couldn't find where Elisha had hidden it. They couldn't prove foul play without Elijah's corpse. They had little choice but to accept Elisha's specious extraterrestrial encounter into the official record without so much as a crop circle to back it up. That's where faith comes into the picture. Believe it or not.

Elisha was free to go on his way. And along the way he found an opportunity to test out his newly won powers.

From there he went up to Bethel, and while he was on the road, some small boys came out of the town and jeered at him. "Hurry up, baldy!" they shouted. "Come on up, baldy!" He turned round and looked at them; and he cursed them in the name of Yahweh. And two bears came out of the forest and savaged forty-two of the boys.
II KINGS 2:23,24

It's too bad he couldn't have just used his miraculous powers to grow more hair instead of putting a death curse on a group of children with poor manners. Let that be a lesson to all of you. Never tease a bald man. He might be a pissed-off prophet!

Extreme Bible Stories - Don't Dis Elisha!


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