1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eli
ELI (Hebrew for “high”? 1 Sam. chaps. i.-iv.), a member of the ancient priesthood founded in Egypt (1 Sam. ii. 27), priest of the temple of Shiloh, the sanctuary of the ark, and also “judge” over Israel. This was an unusual combination of offices, when it is considered that in the history preserved to us he appears in the weakness of extreme old age, unable to control the petulance and rapacity of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who disgraced the sanctuary and disgusted the people. While the central authority was thus weakened, the Philistines advanced against Israel, and gained a complete victory in the great battle of Ebenezer, where the ark was taken, and Hophni and Phinehas slain. On hearing the news Eli fell from his seat and died. In a passage not unlike the account of the birth of Benjamin (Gen. xxxv. 16 sqq.), it is added that the wife of Phinehas, overwhelmed at the loss of the ark and of her husband, died in child-birth, naming the babe Ichabod (1 Sam. iv. 19 sqq.). This name, which popular etymology explained by the words “the glory is removed (or, stronger, ‘banished’) from Israel” (cf. Hos. x. 5), should perhaps be altered from I-kābōd (as though “not glory”) to Jōchebed (Yōkebed, a slight change in the original), the name which tradition also gave to the mother of Moses (q.v.). After these events the sanctuary of Shiloh appears to have been destroyed (cf. Jer. vii. 12, xxvi. 6, 9), and the descendants of Eli with the whole of their clan or “father’s house” subsequently appear as settled at Nob (1 Sam. xxi. 1, xxii. 11 sqq., cp. xiv. 3), perhaps in the immediate neighbourhood of Jerusalem (Is. x. 32). In the massacre of the clan by Saul, and the subsequent substitution of the survivor Abiathar by Zadok (1 Kings ii. 27, 35), later writers saw the fulfilment of the prophecies of judgment which was said to have been uttered in the days of Eli against his corrupt house (1 Sam. ii. 27 sqq., iii. 11 sqq.).
- On the old views relating to the succession of the priests, according to which the high-priesthood was diverted from the line of Eleazar and Phinehas into that of Ithamar, see Robertson Smith, Old Test. in Jewish Church, 2nd ed., p. 266.