Born: 900 BC
Born In: Tishbe
Born: 900 BC
Born In: Tishbe
Elijah is a key biblical figure. He was a Hebrew prophet, who existed in around 900 B.C., during the reign of Israel’s King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Elijah is mentioned in the Book of Kings of the Hebrew Bible, apart from many portions of the New Testament, such as Luke, Romans, Hebrews, and James. Elijah proved the might of the God of Israel, in a contest with the Pagan deity Baal, on Mount Carmel. Elijah has immense significance not just in Christianity, but also in Judaism and Islam. “Elijah’s Cup” and “Elijah’s Chair” are two of the most significant religious motifs in Judaism that mention Elijah. In Islam, he is hailed as a prophet and has often been identified with Idris and Khidr. The Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Byzantine churches celebrate his feast day on July 20. He is also the patron saint of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Born: 900 BC
Born In: Tishbe
Nick Name: The Troubler of Israel
Also Known As: Elias (Latin), Elia, Elis (medieval England), or Eliyyahu
Died At Age: 51
Born Country: Jordan
Died on: 849 BC
Elijah, also known as Elias (Latin), Elia, Elis (medieval England), or Eliyyahu, was a Hebrew prophet of the same significance as Moses in the Bible. He prevented the religion of Yahweh from being defiled by the Pagan worship of Baal. Though he was known by multiple names, Elijah came to be mentioned as “Elijah” more frequently after the Protestant Reformation.
Elijah’s name translates to “Yahweh is my God.” He existed in the northern kingdom of Israel, during the rule of Ahab and Ahaziah (1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2).
Elijah hailed from Tishbe in Gilead and was probably born in around 900 B.C. The story of 1 Kings explains how he appeared in King Ahab’s reign to declare a drought in the kingdom, as a punishment for Canaanite deity Baal’s worship that Queen Jezebel had been supporting in Israel.
Elijah then met 450 prophets of Baal to test who was fit to be the true God of Israel. Thus, they offered sacrifices on Mount Carmel, to both Baal and Yahweh. The Pagan prophets urged Baal to start a fire on his altar, but that did not happen.
However, Elijah’s prayers to Yahweh were fruitful when his altar lit up with fire. The Israelites were thus convinced about there being just one God (monotheism), as opposed to the Pagan nature gods and idolatry. They killed the priests and prophets of Baal, as instructed by Elijah. The drought thus ended with rainfall. Elijah then escaped Jezebel’s anger by traveling to Mount Horeb (Sinai).
Another story states that King Ahab had condemned a man named Naboth to death so that he could take over his vineyard. Elijah felt it was his moral responsibility to counter this sin, as by then, he was already known as a champion for monotheism.
Elijah thus let Ahab know that all men were equal in the eyes of God, and each person was answerable to the law of God. Ahab’s son, King Ahaziah, later requested Baal to cure him of an injury, and Elijah again proved the supreme faith of Yahweh by bringing down “fire from heaven.” Elijah then went to heaven in a fire chariot (849 B.C.), after handing over his powers to his successor, Elisha.
Elijah is identified with John the Baptist in the New Testament. John the Baptist preached using imagery that was quite similar to that of Malachi. He also declared the arrival of the Messiah, in a manner that was similar to how Elijah had declared that there was just one God.
The Gospel of John states that when John the Baptist was asked whether he was Elias, he said he was not (John 1:21). In Matthew 11:14 and Matthew 17:10–13, however, John is said to be the spiritual successor of Elijah.
In Luke, Gabriel appears to John's father, Zechariah, and tells him that John "will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God." (Luke 1:16–17).
Luke also states how Herod Antipas hears about Jesus Christ. Some people tell Herod that Jesus is actually John the Baptist who has come alive. Herod had executed John. Many people, however, tell him that Jesus is actually Elijah. Later in Luke, Jesus asks his disciples who the people think he is. To this, the apostles name Elijah among others.
Elijah was associated with many miracles, too, such as making the dead come alive, which even Jesus had performed. However, Jesus and Elijah had some dissimilarities. While Jesus forgave his enemies, Elijah killed his. Jesus also once scolded James and John for wishing to destroy a Samaritan village by fire.
Elijah’s most important association with Christianity was his appearance at the Transfiguration of Jesus. It is believed Jesus's face had started to shine at the top of a mountain. His disciples then heard God announce that Jesus was "My beloved Son." The disciples also saw Moses and Elijah appear and converse with Jesus. This explained how Elijah and Moses were both called to heaven instead of dying.
Luke 4:24–27 shows Jesus referring to Elijah to describe rejected prophets. Romans 11:1–6 shows Paul mentioning Elijah as an example of how God never abandoned his people (the Israelites). Hebrews 11:35 mentions Elijah reviving a widow’s son from death. James 5:16–18 mentions Elijah's prayers in Israel as an example of how righteous men pray.
“Elijah’s Chair” is used in the “brit milah” (circumcision) ceremony in Judaism. Apparently, in such ceremonies, a chair is reserved for Elijah, who serves as a witness. This ritual has its roots in the happenings at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). Apparently, when Elijah went to Mount Horeb after proving the might of God’s power on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), God asked Elijah to explain why he had arrived there. Elijah accused the whole of Israel of failing to live by the covenant. Thus, God asked him to be present at every circumcision event.
Elijah also often visited rabbis to help them resolve difficult legal issues. Once, the rabbis were supposed to decide whether the Passover Seder needed four or five cups of wine. While four servings represented the "four expressions of redemption" mentioned in the Book of Exodus, the rabbis could not decide whether a particular verse and a fifth serving of wine should have been included. Thus, it was kept aside for Elijah.
The fifth cup, now known as “Elijah’s Cup,” is symbolic of future redemption. Thus, Jews place a seder table and a cup of wine specifically for Elijah. During the Passover seder, the gates of the house are kept open for Elijah to come in.
Similarly, Elijah is referred to during Havdalah, which ends the Sabbath Day (Saturday evening).
Elijah is also known as Ilyas or Ilya (Arabic) in Islam and is hailed as a prophet in the Holy Qur'an. Muslims view him as Elisha’s predecessor. Though Islam does not call him the Messiah, in Islamic texts, Elijah has been identified Islamic prophets such as Idris and Khidr. Elijah is also mentioned in Islamic literary works, such as the Hamzanama.
Western Christianity celebrates Elijah’s feast day on July 20 (Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church). Catholics state he was single and celibate.
The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine churches, too, celebrate his feast day on the same day (July 20 according to the Julian Calendar is the same as August 2 in the Gregorian Calendar). The Orthodox liturgical calendar commemorates him on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers.
On August 26, 1752, Elijah was declared the patron saint of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Elijah was selected primarily because of his significance among the three major religious identities in the region: the Catholics, the Orthodox Christians, and the Muslims.
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