Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 39

XXXIX.

ELIJAH.

WHEN the prophet Elijah appeared, idolatry was general. God sent him to Balbek (Heliopolis), to persuade the inhabitants to renounce the worship of Baal, from whom the city took its name. Some say that Baal was the name of a woman, beautiful of countenance. The Israelites also adored Baal; Elijah preached against idolatry; and Ahab at first believed in him, and rejected Baal, but after a while relapsed. Then Elijah prayed, and God sent a famine on the land for three years, and many men died. None had bread save Elijah, and when any smelt the odour of bread, they said, "Elijah hath passed this way!"

One day Elijah came to the house of an old woman who had a son named Elisha. Both complained of hunger. Elijah gave them bread. It is said, likewise, that Elisha was paralytic, and that at the prayer of Elijah he was healed.

When the famine had lasted three years, Elijah went, accompanied by Elisha, before King Ahab, and he said:—"For three years you have been without bread; let your god Baal, if he can, satisfy your hunger. If he cannot, I will pray to Jehovah, and He will deliver you out of your distress, if you will consent to worship Him."

Ahab consented. Then Elijah ordered the idol of Baal to be taken out of the city, and the worshippers of Baal invoked the god, but their prayers remained unanswered. Then Elijah prayed, and immediately rain fell, and the earth brought forth green herb and corn.

Nevertheless, shortly after, the people returned to idolatry, and Elijah was weary of his life; he consecrated Elisha to succeed him, and he prayed to God, "O Lord! save me from this untoward generation." And God heard his cry, and He carried him away and gave him life till the day when Israfiel shall sound the trump of judgment.[1]

Both Jews and Mussulmans believe that Elijah is not dead, but that he lives, and appears at intervals. The Mussulmans have confused him with El Khoudr, and relate many wonderful stories of him. He is unquestionably the origin of the Wandering Jew. His reappearances are mentioned in the Talmud, and in later Jewish legends, as, for instance, in a story told by Abraham Tendlau.[2] A poor Jew and his wife were reduced to great necessity; the man had not clothes in which to go forth and ask for work. Then his wife borrowed for him clothes, and he entered the street seeking work. He met a venerable man, who bade him use him as a slave. The Jew engaged to build a palace for a prince with the assistance of his slave, for ten thousand thalers. The mysterious stranger laboured hard, and angels assisted him, so that the mansion was completed with astonishing rapidity. When the Jew had received the money, the old man announced that he was Elijah, who had come to assist him, and vanished.

After the Arabs had captured the city of Elvan, Fadhilah, at the head of three hundred horsemen, pitched his tents, late in the evening, between two mountains. Fadhilah having begun his evening prayer with a loud voice, heard the words "Allah akbar!" (God is great!) repeated distinctly, and each word of his prayer was followed in a similar manner. Fadhilah, not believing this to be an echo, was much astonished, and cried out, "O thou! whether thou art of the angel ranks, or whether thou art of some other order of spirits, it is well, the power of God be with thee; but if thou art a man, then let mine eyes light upon thee, that I may rejoice in thy presence and society."

Scarcely had he spoken these words, before an aged man with bald head stood before him, holding a staff in his hand, and much resembling a dervish in appearance. After having courteously saluted him, Fadhilah asked the old man who he was. Thereupon the stranger answered, "Bassi Hadut Issa, I am here by command of the Lord Jesus, who has left me in this world, that I may live therein until He comes a second time to earth. I wait for the Lord, who is the Fountain of Happiness, and in obedience to his command I dwell beyond the mountain."

When Fadhilah heard these words, he asked when the Lord Jesus would appear; and the old man replied that his appearing would be at the end of the world.

But this only increased Fadhilah's curiosity, so that he inquired the signs of the approach of the end of all things; whereupon Zerib bar Elia gave him an account of the general social and moral dissolution which would be the climax of this world's history.[3]

"In the second year of Hezekiah," says the Rabbinic Sether Olam Rabba (c. 17), "Elijah disappeared, and he will not appear again till the Messiah come; then he will show himself once more; and he will again disappear till Gog and Magog show themselves. And all this time he writes the events and transactions that happen in each century.... Letters from Elijah were brought to King Joram seven years after Elijah had disappeared."

A prophecy ascribed to Elijah is preserved in the Gemara:[4] "The world will last six thousand years; it will lie desert for two thousand years; the Messiah will reign two thousand years; but, because of our iniquities which have superabounded, the years of the Messiah have passed away."

  1. Tabari, i. c. 84.
  2. Das Buch der Sagen und Legenden jüdischer Vorzeit, p. 45; Stuttgart, 1845.
  3. Herbelot, Bibl. Orient., s. v. Zerib, iii. p. 607.
  4. Gemara, Avoda Sara, c. i. fol. 65.