Elijah as a Divine Mediator


by Christopher Maxwell csm1@st-andrews.ac.uk

[Chris Maxwell is a fourth year undergraduate student at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews. He also took the otpseud course last year.–JRD]

Elijah is one of the few, Divine Mediator Figures, who fits into all three of the mediation categories in our methodology. He is evidently an Exalted Patriarch in the strong sense within the Legacy Pattern from his superhuman activities in I and II Kings, and his ascension to Heaven. However, he is also in the Intervention Pattern, which we can see from gospel accounts and later Rabbinic Judaism, especially in the response to Jesus’s cry from the cross, when those watching thought that Elijah might rescue Him. Thirdly, he is also in the Consummation Pattern due to his implied return in Revelation and the explicit references to him in the Apocalypse of Elijah.

I also considered the question of John the Baptist as Elijah, and whether the people of Jesus’s time seriously believed that either John or Jesus could be the reincarnation of Elijah. In a like manner, the number of similarities between Moses and Elijah also suggested that Elijah may have understood himself, or have been understood to be Moses’ reincarnated. From there I moved onto the question of shamanism and spirit possession which was introduced by Andrew in his paper last week, and came up with four possible scenarios.

1. Elijah was taken to be Moses reincarnated and John and Jesus were taken as being reincarnations of Elijah.

2. Elijah was taken to have been possessed by the spirit of Moses, and Jesus and John with the spirit of Elijah.

3. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and John were taken to be possessed, or semi-possessed by theSpirit of YHWH.

4. Elijah behaved similarly to Moses: Jesus, and especially John, behaved similarly to Elijah.

A fifth possibility is that all the similarities are coincidental. My tentative conclusion is that there may have been different groups believing in different scenarios, but I would like to look into it further. If one reads through the gospel accounts though, there does seem to be a case for a certain belief in reincarnation, particularly in the case of Herod (Mk 6:14-16). Jesus and John probably accepted the third scenario though. I would also hesitantly suggest that the author of the Apocalypse of Elijah favoured one of the first two scenarios, partially based on the identity of the two witnesses. In Revelation the second witness appears to be Moses, whereas in ApocEl he is Enoch. Possibly the author realised that Moses could not appear with Elijah if he was reincarnated as him or possessing him.

Concerning whether the status of Elijah had any influence on the origins of the worship of Jesus, I believe that they probably did. Almost every miracle performed by Elijah was also performed by Jesus, or a variation was performed by Him, except on a grander scale. I think that we also need to accept that much of the later Rabbinic veneration of Elijah was probably evident at the time of Jesus.

(c) 1998
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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