Elijah: Prophet, Seer, and Mass Murderer?

KC KernBible, death, Mormon, scripture 69 Comments

Baal1 Kings Chapter 18 tells the story of Elijah and the priests of Baal. We read that Elijah and Ahab confront each other, and Elijah challenges Ahab’s new god, Baal, and his priests in showdown of divine power. After the priests are unable to summon Baal’s power to burn their scarified offering, Elijah succeeds in doing so by engaging the powers of heaven. Everyone learns a good lesson about not trusting in idols and the need to serve God, but a rather disconcerting detail about what Elijah does next is often overlooked.

After soundly defeating the priests of Baal, the Bible tells us that Elijah captures all the priests, and murders each one of them—there were four hundred and fifty of them. (See 1 Kgs. 18: 22) We read:

And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (1 Kgs. 18:40)

This is certainly uncharacteristic behavior for a prophet, and this point, a modern LDS reader will likely pull the “as far as it is translated correctly” card, allowing room for error or license to reject something in the Bible that may be jarring.

But what could possibly be mistranslated or mistranscribed into a description of a merciless prophetic massacre? I had a mission companion who offered the following plausible explanation:

One of the details in the verse is that “Elijah brought [the priests] down to the brook Kishon,” to kill them. Why would he pick a body of water to carry out a mass execution? And why would he want to execute them in the first place? Hadn’t they just witnessed and been convinced of God’s power? The Mosaic law certainly was quite liberal in its application of the death penalty, but did the crimes of the priests really warrant this?

Perhaps Elijah never killed anyone at all. Maybe he chose to take them down to the brook because that is where he was going to baptize them.

The ordinance of baptism, which LDS doctrine teaches us was around in Old Testament times, embodies in part the symbolism of death—of burial—of forsaking and slaying the old man of sin. It signifies the moment that a new creature is born in Christ, and the former creature dies. Also, baptism often follows the process of spiritual conversion—something the priests of Baal likely would have experienced after what they witnessed.

If this is true, and if the original account of 1 Kings 18 had been written in poetic, symbolic or figurative language, is it not plausible that a description of a group baptism could have been interpreted by future readers as a mass murder?

It seems it could be that after Elijah demonstrated the power of God, many people believed, were converted, and requested baptism. Elijah takes them to a body of water, and “slays the man of sin” within them through baptism. Later, some transcriber, confused about the idiom and/or unfamiliar with the ordinance of baptism, assumes it is describing Elijah actually killing everyone, and writes it as such.

So is this just an empty attempt at reinterpreting scripture into something that it’s really not? Or does a fresh perspective on the passage give us a more accurate (not to mention far less barbaric) portrayal of the prophet Elijah?

If this interpretation does have any credibility, what else does this tell us about the flexibility of scriptural interpretation?

If not, are we OK with accepting a prophet who’s hands are stained with the blood of 450 “potential converts”?

Comments 69

  1. maybe he just killed them all. I think the Bible shows a steady progress away from a sacrificial and violent culture but I feel no need to not believe Elijah murdered people anymore than the Children of Israel killing babies and children while sparing prostitutes. There are some real violent episodes going on. No wonder Christ needed to come and no wonder he was crucified. I wonder if we are any different. We don’t have the one on one killing as much but we certainly kill splendidly with war.

    So I think Elijah was a prophet and a possibly a mass murderer

  2. KC Cern,

    The NRSV of the Bible writes: “Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.” I believe that he indeed had them killed, or he himself killed them. And no, these are not “potential converts.” We’re talking about priests that led the entire people astray. We’re talking about, from God’s perspective, one of the worst things that religious leaders could do, lead God’s people on a path towards the false god Baal. I am not shocked in the least if Elijah did indeed kill them. It would send the right message, based on the time they all lived in, that God is the only true God who must be followed.

    Furthermore, I don’t think we’ve seen the entire story here. Those priests must surely have been involved in some sexual sins as well. The practices for the worship of Baal tended to include sexual depravity, which would disturb us greatly even today.

  3. Will Mormons stop at nothing in their attempts to clean up history?? Sure, this would make for a lovely, inspiring story. But as Joshua has pointed out, it doesn’t jibe with the rest of the Old Testament canon. And the victims don’t always deserve their fate, Dan. What about the genocide that took place in Genesis 34 by the revered father of the Levitical Priesthood? to cite just one example. We Mormons must simply face the fact that the OT is messy.

  4. This is certainly uncharacteristic behavior for a prophet, and this point, a modern LDS reader will likely pull the “as far as it is translated correctly” card, allowing room for error or license to reject something in the Bible that may be jarring.

    This actually is not uncharacteristic behavior for an Old Testament prophet. Haven’t you heard of Samuel? Or Joshua? Or Abraham?

    I’ll see you one Elijah mass murderer and raise you one Samuel perpetrator of genocide.

    KC, you really need to pay attention to Bored in Vernal’s comment # 4. These kind of absurd revisions of the text are very bad for the Church, both in terms of how we appear to others and in terms of what we as a Church body lose when we insist on changing what the text states happened to become a Greg Olsen painting.

    Samuel ordered outright genocide. Elijah killed 450 priests of Baal. Moses portended the death of every firstborn son in all of Egypt and God himself did the killing.

    Greg Olsen doesn’t paint this stuff — but you can find a few cherubic, blond Joseph Smiths and Jesus with a butterfly from his paint brush.

    I might add that I find your alternative explanation entirely implausible and not supported by the text in any way.

  5. As to your final question, If not, are we OK with accepting a prophet who’s hands are stained with the blood of 450 potential converts?

    The answer, I think, should be very complex for Latter-day Saints. In my post on Samuel’s genocide (linked in comment # 5), I put it this way:

    There is a very good argument that God would never order genocide as the prophet Samuel conveyed to King Saul. Luckily, Mormonism does not face this dilemma (because the historical evidence does not seem to support the idea that Brigham Young commanded the massacre or claimed that God commanded it) in a self-referential way but the Samuel episode remains in both the Jewish and Christian bibles. Because Latter-day Saints believe that the Bible is scripture, Latter-day Saints must confront this issue because the Jewish prophet Samuel — and not the Mormon prophet Brigham Young — ordered a massacre.

    Forget Golden Plates and angelic visitations — we Mormons share much more fundamental challenges to our faith with the rest of the Judeo-Christian tradition: namely, episodes such as this in the Old Testament.

  6. [quote]a modern LDS reader will likely pull the “as far as it is translated correctly” card, allowing room for error or license to reject something in the Bible that may be jarring.[/quote]

    Is this seriously something that a modern LDS reader would do? Not that we read much of the OT, but really, I’ve not been in a Sunday School where people have pulled out the ‘as far as it is translated correctly’ card when referring to the numerous events of violence and killing in the Bible. Have I been missing something? or maybe my brain naturaly refuses to hear comments of such ignorance.

  7. Bored in Vernal and John F. may have been a little harsh, though correct. Kind of like Simon. Well, I’m going to be a Paula.

    While I don’t think the account of Elijah can possibly be interpreted to mean that he baptized the priests of Baal, I think it is an interesting application of the story to us. Instead of taking our enemies down to the brook and killing them, we should strive to take them down to the brook, dip them in the stream, and kill the natural man, so to speak.

    And one might say, “But that’s not what the scripture says! That’s not what it’s supposed to mean!” To which I would say: Nephi (to take one example) took prophecies from Isaiah that did not apply to his people, and applied them to his people. He interpreted the stories in the light of his time and circumstance. We can, and should, do the same. We can make the story of Elijah our own, and I think KC Kern raises a very interesting application of the story to us. It’s not a translation of the story, but an application of the story.

    KC Kern’s likely error was thinking that Elijah’s story might be figurative. He might be right, but there’s no good evidence of it, that I know of. But I have no problem with KC Kern applying the story to me, figuratively, as long as the literal translation isn’t glossed over.

  8. Gee, a religion that works off child sacrifice, ritual castration and some other nuances and Elijah’s response to the Children of Israel turning away from it and those at the head of it is to …

    If you had a pedophile and child murderer you were called upon to render judgment on, who was not repentant and who actively wanted to see you dead, your response would be …

    Anyway, just a thought. It is easy to forget just what the worship of Ba’l entailed, since we no longer build by including a human sacrifice in the foundation, no longer frequent temples for ritual sex with children and castrati and generally seem to live in a fairly tame environment.

  9. Adam E.–
    Very good. I like the idea of using the OT stories in a figurative way to apply to us. Let’s “get on the ark” of spiritual and temporal preparation so we will not be overwhelmed by a flood of catastrophe. Or let us figuratively strike down our spiritual enemies and not allow them to keep us from taking the scriptures with us on our journey through life. Or let us take the unbeliever to the waters of baptism to kill the “natural man.” It’s a perfect way for Latter-day Saints to put some meaning into the darker stories of the scriptures.

    And for those who can stand it, there are harder and more violent applications. The OT is a strange and wonderful country, indeed. Let’s not sanitize it.

  10. Post

    Woah, looks like we’ve got some passionate commenters already! Mind you this is an interpretation that a mission companion of mine set forth, and I by sharing it, I am not endorsing it.

    I guess the devil’s advocate signal isn’t blinking bright enough. 🙂

    Please don’t crucify me for the interpretation, let’s just have a good critical discussion of it!

    PS. And maybe I am a bit naive in my caricature of the modern LDS reader, sorry.

    1. I am A Deacon in the Catholic Church and am preaching on Elijah in August. I am wondering why – after such a massacre – he wishes for death. Is he suffering what soldier do when they experience Post-traumatic stress?

      The Old Testament is unvarnished. I appreciated your thoughts. Indeed, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter 6) is clear about the dying and rising involved in baptism. 

      Good conversation starter. 


  11. I tend to agree-Elijah’s response in killing the Ba’alites was hardly extreme. They were children sacrificers who quite likely engaged in pedophilic practices and castration of those poor innocents. Think of the worst of the modern cults (I mean the worst) and that cult is a very mild form of what happened back then.

    Think of Moloch, where they built a hot statue and laid/strapped children on the statue and essentially cooked them alive. Think of human sacrifice, where children, slaves, virgins, and pretty much anyone else not privileged enough to have protection of the priests was fair game.

    When the Lord has the Israelites destroy entire cities down to the last child and beast, the question modern readers always ask is “why?” The answer is always in the above–the people there were so corrupt and the children and such so scarred that there was no way to redeem them. They would carry that memory with them. Those old enough to engage in the practice would perpetrate it, and those old enough to remember were scarred. It was a mercy killing in most regards, especially since the Israelites certainly didn’t have pscyhiatrists to help the kids deal with the emotional scarring of losing their entire family. The animals and beasts were at that point probably thought to harbor a myriad of diseases because of improper handling, and the Lord, for all of those reasons, and more that I cannot even begin to guess at, probably decided that it was best to raze the entire city and start over. Harsh? Definitely. But not without reason.

    Trying to soften the blow without trying to first understand possible reasons for the decision is a mistake. Now, would that same response work today? If we found a similar religion doing the same things, would we be justified in razing the city? Absolutely not! But at the time, given their resources for caring for the survivors without creating potential problems down the road that they wouldn’t be able to handle, the decision was probably the only one that was viable if they were to move that direction. The only alternative would have been to give up that city or land, which may have strategically impossible as well–I don’t know. Again, from today’s perspective it is very difficult to tell.

    Elijah, on the other hand, quite likely killed the Ba’al priests, and I don’t blame him a bit. He probably didn’t lose much sleep over it later, either, other than sorrowing for their sins, and the fact that their souls were lost in the next world and it would difficult for them to repent.

  12. Romanticizing about the depravity of the priests of Baal is silly and serves only to justify Elijah’s actions to us. Its just like television shows and movies in that the villain must be seen doing terrible things to others so that we actually cheer when the hero ends his or her life. What Elijah did to those c.450 priests of Baal was a political move to show the power of the Lord, to establish the worship of the Lord as the only approved form of worship in the land, and to show the terrible consequences of choosing to follow after other so-called gods. Don’t forget that the Lord told Moses and Joshua to kill every living thing in the promised land after their sojourn in the wilderness. There is no justification for such edicts other than that God knows what He is doing, and we can have ultimate trust in His divine will. Trying to decide whether God was right or not to tell his leaders to do such a thing is futile, and deprives those victims of such slaughters of their humanity, something God Himself would never do.

  13. The Old Testament is full of genocide. In addition to Elijah, Joshua killed everyone in Jericho (save the harlot who helped his army). That’s just the way war was handled. Would such a thing happen today? One need only look at Darfur, Bosnia, or Hitler to see that it still happens.

    I have to say that since I really started studying the Bible, there are some things that really trouble me. After all, the great prophet Jonah purposely disobeyed the Lord by refusing to go to Nineveh, then went after his bout with the great fish, and was angry when the people actually repented, and God didn’t destroy the city. And we call this person a prophet??? He certainly wasn’t following Christ’s example, yet Christ invoked him with “the sign of Jonah”.

    KC is right in that most LDS are naive. I can remember talking about some of these issues to members of my family. They did not have had an answer for me, but instead of pulling out the “translated correctly” card as KC tried to imply, they relied on the “I don’t know, but I have a testimony of the Church and Bible, and I have faith that we’ll figure it out in the next life” card. I think the text is pretty clear that they were killed, not baptized.

    I could tell that these types of issues were uncomfortable for my family to discuss. I wasn’t out to destroy their testimony, so I have learned to keep my mouth shut, and turned to the bloggernacle to more openly address these issues. As for the question, “How do I reconcile Elijah was a prophet and mass murderer?” Well, I think both are true. Nobody is perfect. The mass murderer part greatly disturbs me, so I try to look for the good things he taught, while still feeling that it is ok to reject the bad things he did as well.

  14. Post

    One point I feel it would be worthwhile to make is about the perception of more recent prophets.

    Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are sometimes vilainized when they are viewed through 21st century lenses.

    But if we look at them through Old Testament lenses, their indiscretions actually seem quite mild.

  15. C’mon KC — don’t cop out by saying this was your mission companion’s idea. You didn’t say that in the original post — did you? (I might have missed it.)

    My trainer on my mission used to teach investigators that Jesus said “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” He was shocked when I told him after another discussion in which I had to listen to him teach this banality that Jesus simply never said or taught this. Then he was really pissed off.

    The answer to your question about whether we should be OK with accepting a prophet who’s hands are stained with the blood of 450 “potential converts” is simply “NO”, if we are talking about 2008. Killing potential converts hasn’t really been a viable option since at least the 1800s (see creedal Christians’ treatment of aboriginal inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere).

  16. re # 15, Mormon Heretic, if that troubles you, just imagine how troubling it is to think that perhaps killing those 450 priests wasn’t actually “bad” at all (your # 15 seems to rely on the premise that a prophet of God killing the wicked is bad in the first place — which, granted, I think almost everyone would agree that killing other people is, indeed, “bad”). What if God really does kill wicked people when he sees fit? Ouch. That is really troubling to think about.

  17. Post

    No john f., it was there from the beginning, honest. I could even give you his name and the date he proposed it (I’ve got it recorded in my journal), but for the sake of his privacy, I’ll refrain. Email me if you really really want it. I will admit I was initially intrigued by the proposition especially in light of the fact that baptism could be legitimately described with allusions to death (and the part of me that doesn’t want to believe in a barbaric prophet warlord), but even so, I realized it was quite a stretch.

  18. #12 Bored in Vernal

    By referring to Simon and Paula, I was alluding to American Idol, which I somehow got sucked into this season. Simon always says exactly what he thinks, and provides clear feedback to the singers. Paula is more equivocal, complimenting their clothes when their singing stinks. While I didn’t support KC Kern’s position, I did see value in the figurative application of Elijah to me.

    While I often support seeing events and leaders through the eyes of that time period, I can’t swallow it 100%. When Moses, Joshua, and Samuel commanded armies to kill whole populations, someone actually speared crying and helpless women and children. It may have been a harsh world, but I have a hard time accepting this behavior, even in a harsh world.

  19. Fwiw, “prophet” is a badly misunderstood word – both inside and outside the Mormon Church. If we realized how badly our current, common perceptions have been bastardized over the centuries, many of these questions simply would disappear.

    I also second the reference to Nephi killing Laban. I have heard quite a few people have fits over that, and yet they accept Christianity, in general, and justify the OT killings by pointing out that such was SOP during the OT. News flash: Nephi’s record is an OT record, so killing one man to preserve the nation he would establish was MILD in the context of his time.

  20. Adam E. (#20).

    And that’s exactly what I was talking about in my previous post. Yes these whole populations were put to the sword. That meant that the Israelites actually went out and put a sword or spear through a crying and helpless woman or child. When you think about it like that it sounds pretty damnable, and nothing changes the fact that those people have value. Their lives have value, and I believe that God will give them value in the next life. (More likely He already has).

    But that does nothing to change the fact that there may be perfectly understandable and deduceable reasons for the Lord to command such an act! Understanding some of the reasons the Lord may have commanded the act, such as the religion in the area, the atrocities ocurring in those cities, diseases prevalent at the time, and other related logical ideas, does nothing to justify the perpetration of such an act by a mortal man. Such an act could only be justified by divine command, and even then you had better be very certain of your source. This is one of those times where it absolutely MUST be “Thus saith the Lord”. Otherwise you are screwed when it comes to judgement day. Frankly if I were a soldier ordered to do this, and told that the command was of that nature, you’d better believe there would be some serious prayer before I even considered compliance. But I would take the time to find out if the prophet was really there, just because it was the prophet. The president of a nation? No way.

    In the case of Elijah, I’m pretty sure, once again, that he sorrowed for their sins, but not for what he had done–it was the will of the Lord. That said, it was a very different time, so who knows?

  21. Ben O,

    I agree 100%.

    I don’t understand the reasons God (apparently) commanded Israelites to massacre innocents, there may be reasons. God knows more than I do, period. So when approaching any of these stories, I take from them whatever lessons I can, and as for the rest, shrug my shoulders and proclaim: only God knows. It’s not a way to end discussion, by the way (which annoys me to no end), rather to acknowledge that I don’t know everything, and the Bible doesn’t tell us everything.

    Perhaps leaders and soldiers will be damned. Perhaps they did precisely what God asked of them. Perhaps the text was modified later to justify violence/war/sins/etc. I don’t know. Until I know, I assume the best for their souls-that they did precisely what God asked for reasons that were justified to God.

  22. Perhaps the old testament is a collection of out-dated jewish myths and stories and should not be used as moral guidance today.

    Why argue about what Elijah did? We know killing is wrong and we don’t need God to tell us that.

  23. I’m with #3. It really is in there, it really is translated correctly. We can argue about the historicity of the episode (as part of a general discussion of the historicity of many episodes in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament), but we cannot ignore it. Even if it operates only as a myth or legend of ancient Israelites, then you are faced with the fact that he is made out by the narrator to be a hero for doing this. In my opinion, after having done a more in-depth (and secular-oriented) study of the HB/OT over the past couple of months, we have to recognize that the OT is just not for us, or at least some parts of it. It is nice that we have some stories that we can derive nice principles from; however, we can’t parse out every story in the OT looking for the moral that is applicable in our day. For a great many stories, it just won’t be there.

  24. “Killing potential converts hasn’t really been a viable option since at least the 1800s” … which part? After all, consider the suppression of Thuggee, an acknowledge religion in that time span. I would not fancy an active devotee of Kali Durga as a next door neighbor these days. 😉

    Would you have suppressed Thuggee or allowed it to continue?

  25. “What if God really does kill wicked people when he sees fit? Ouch. That is really troubling to think about.” Worse yet, what about allowing lots of innocents to be killed to further His purposes?

    This links up nicely with a future post I have coming up on Laban’s death. I won’t spoil it.

    On a more related note to the Ba’al worshipers, I visited a graveyard in Tunisia of children who were sacrificed to Ba’al, dating to 2500 BC. It is a very strange site. The tour guide explained that some of the markers from later times were for pets, not children. Eventually, they were tired of killing off their kids and started to kill off Fido and Fifi. The weird thing is that the people on our tour were more upset that dogs were killed than they were that kids were.

  26. I think the violence in the OT is there for a reason and part of that reason is to show us just how ugly it is.

    God chose a people and moved them out of the violence and child sacrifice of their day. I think the Abraham story is partially about this move from human to animal sacrifice. This movement away from violence continues as we reach later prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah who condemn even animal sacrifice. We of course have our ultimate movement away from violence in Christ. We no longer take people down to the brook to kill them but baptize them. We no longer stone people to death but form prayer circles around the victims and bless them. Is it any wonder the comforter Christ speaks about is the parakletos (the defense attorney, defender of victims).

    For me, I see the entire OT as a movement towards Christ. I dont see any need to justify any of their violence. David shows us how righteous he is by cutting off men’s phallus. We have the priests of Levi becoming priesthood holders through human sacrifice (they kill people form their own family to become consecrated), we have the slaughter of innocent people by Joshua and the Israelites. We should also not forget that the accusations against the religions of their day are political at times. The use of Kedesha to describe temple prostitutes has been shown to not be as true as the Israelites want us to believe. These are violent people. Christ was right in calling them murderers. To the extent we justify and dont follow the sermon on the mount I think we fall in the same trap. Isn’t this partially why they crucified Christ, because he would not accept their national narrative, justify their violence, and renounced the way they practiced their religion.

  27. These are exactly the type of literal interpretation questions that plague me. I’m not really concerned about whether the earth was created in six 24-hour days or if Eve really came from Adam’s rib or if a snake really talked to Eve in the Garden of Eden, or if Jonah was really in the whale’s belly for three days. Those questions of literalism don’t concern me much because they have nothing to do with God’s character.

    I AM very concerned, however, with questions of literalism where the answer tells us something important about God’s character. I want to know whether God is the type of person that orders Sabbath-breakers to be stoned, or orders the Israelites to kill women, children, and the elderly, or curses people with dark skin.

    Joseph Smith said that faith begins with a correct understanding of God’s character. So I see this as a very important question.

  28. When modern prophets and apostles have stated things that we no longer believe, we often state that they were acting as “men”, not as prophets.
    Could it be that perhaps Elijah, Samuel, Moses, etc., were of a time when killing as punishment was more kosher than it is today? Could it be that they, like Brigham Young or Mark E. Petersen, were “products of their time”? Is it possible that they were simply acting or speaking as men, and that over the years, their followers and chroniclers gave their acts the imprimatur of being of God’s command?
    I’m much more comfortable with that notion than I am with the alternatives – that is, KC’s proposed one above (too big of a stretch), or that God really did command genocide, murder, etc. That said, I am also more comfortable thinking of prophets, both ancient and modern, as men who happen to be mouthpieces of God, rather than mouthpieces of God who happen to be men. Christian (including LDS) and Jewish tradition have kind of turned these men into demi-gods, as though they were incapable of committing terrible acts.

  29. Andrew–well said. I agree, but I think your comments are much harder for mainstream mormons (like my family) to come to grips with. They will defend Elijah and Joshua’s actions as righteous, when I just do not see it that way. Of course, I’m looking at it through a 21st century lens….

  30. Thanks for the comments on this particular subject as this is one of the main issues that first got me questioning my blind faith in the church and its teaching.

    Growing up in a very orthodox Mormon home I was always taught to believe that Jesus Christ is the God of the Old Testament. The first time I actually read the Old Testament, I was shocked and horrified by the things done in the name of God (Christ). I couldn’t make myself believe the kind loving man that spent His entire life ministering to the Jews with great wisdom and forgiveness would be part of such atrocities.

    Understanding the character of God is a very real problem as each of us strives to be like him. I find it extremely disturbing that men are willing to put aside morals and ethics in the name of God (I.e. murder, adultery, mutilation, lying, etc.). It seems that men have been justifying horrendous deeds for centuries in the name of God and probably why the Savior said not everyone who saith Lord, Lord is getting into heaven.

    For what it’s worth, to me the Old Testament is a somewhat fictional history of the Jews written by the winners. If Hitler had developed the atom bomb before the end of WWII, history would read very differently from what it does now and racism would be an everyday part of all our lives. In that environment, I sincerely doubt black people would have the priesthood today and most of us would be fine with it.

  31. 32, I agree. We are told that God will use the weak things of the world to do mighty works. We often assume this means meek etc. Perhaps he means weak in terms of failings, faults, sins, etc. They have weaknesses. Some of them really bad, but God still works through them. Christ’s genealogy itself is a who’s who of people with faults.

  32. While I agree with the comments that explain this story by emphasizing how prophets can be a product of their culture, it seems such comments presume that the Biblical text at issue here accurately reflects an event that actually occurred thousands of years ago.

    Personally, I’m not so sure about that. My mind is open to the possibility that this story is not just a mistranslation, but that it never actually occurred, at least not in the way it was originally penned.

  33. I think when one studies the rigorous oral tradition behind how we got the Bible that “mistranslation” is probably one of the most inaccurate and least helpful terms to classify and deal with explaining how much literal reality or how precise the facts are behind Tanakh/Old Testament stories– especially ones that seem messy compared with the predominant ethics of our society today.

  34. Ansrew, #37

    I am certainly open to that option. I think there is a certain amount of history being written by the victor and revisionist nationalistic history going on as well.

  35. 38 Quix – I agree that the mistranslation explanation is overused. I often wonder how many of these stories were originally meant to be literal (as we expect them to be coming from our contemporary viewpoint) vs. morality tales, religious or political propoganda or something else entirely. In our day, we so firmly believe that history and news should be an accurate portrayal of events that we spend a lot of time parsing to determine accuracy. I think that’s a pretty modern concept.

    On the other hand, the OT has a wealth of very morally gray “heroes,” unlike the BOM. Which is why I kind of like the OT people. They have feet of clay and are presented in all their humanity. I wonder what Nephi, Alma, Ammon and Captain Moroni would have looked like with more shadows. They come off like George Washington – emerging perfect from the womb and never making a mistake (except Alma, but even he seems less fallible than Rachel or Jonah or Isaac).

  36. hawkgrrrl, are we reading the same BoM? Ammon perhaps comes across this way, but Nephi and Alma and Captain Moroni have obvious issues that are presented upfront and directly.

  37. Ray – That’s a good question. I don’t read them at all that way. What moral grayness do you see in Nephi and Captain Moroni that I am missing? Nephi killing Laban is presented as being totally justified and a direct commandment to boot. The so-called Psalms of Nephi don’t delineate any major shortcomings, and he’s in a state of penitence over these minor infractions that far outweighs their seriousness. Captain Moroni writes one rash letter (again, totally justified) to the government. Am I forgetting another of his transgressions? Alma’s sins are not presented in a very personal way, and it is all to illustrate his repentence in the chiastic poem of Alma 36. If those are the shades of gray you mean, I don’t see anything there on par with the OT grayness.

    Rachel steals her father’s idols, sits on them and then lies that she has her period so he won’t search her. Dinah’s brothers (who fathered the twelve tribes) lie about their intentions and then massacre her boyfriend and his people. Jonah hates the Ninevites so much that he would rather have a pity party than be glad when they are converted by his preaching. Isaac and Rebekah clearly choose favorite sons and Rebekah and Jacob conspire to deceive Isaac, robbing Esau of his inheritance. Joseph, who is morally very commendable, boasts and is kind of a twit to his entire family.

    Perhaps it is the style in the OT that I find more unapologetic, their shortcomings less rationalized. They are not redeemed in the text by their penitence or self-awareness. They continue to stumble their way through.

  38. #41, hawkgrrrl

    I agree with Ray.

    Perhaps the individuals come off like George Washington only in our collective minds and culturally. I think the scriptures at least give us more shadows. I find it interesting that we rarely approach BoM characters with the same suspicion as we do those in the OT. I think its pretty clear that Nephi had issues with his brothers and that much of his history was arguing for a Nephite political agenda. One of my favorite parts in the BoM is where we read that the Lamanites were savages and only a few verses later are told the Nephites slaughtered so many Lamanites they couldnt even number them.

    Samuel the Lamanite, whose words are endorsed by Christ, gives us a much more negative view of the characters in the BoM accusing them of killing prophets and deconstructing much of their national narrative including their status as chosen much in the same way John the Baptist challenged the regime of his day as a precursor to the savior.

    I think we also miss that the reason given for the destruction of the Nephites and Lamanites prior to Christ’s descent is specifically murdering prophets and saints. This applied equally to the Nephite culture.

  39. I still see a marked contrast between the quirky, flawed characters in the OT and the black and white presentation of characters in the BOM. Samuel the Lamanite is giving a speech about the wickedness of “the people.” We don’t get any flavor for Samuel the Lamanite’s flaws, moral grayness or personality traits (he is a somewhat fleeting character anyway). I’m not saying that there was less wickedness in the BOM, just that the “heroes” are presented as justified, righteous, and ultimately redeemed by their behavior. I will exclude Ether in my statement – I see that as more like the OT in terms of how the characters are represented.

    Perhaps the difference is due to authorship. The BOM was largely written by BOM prophets for a righteous purpose (to edify future generations). The authorship of the OT is muddier and the motives seem to differ more dramatically from book to book.

  40. I entirely agree with Hawkgrrrl here. There is no Jonah in the Book of Mormon. Alma goes from all devil to all angel, much like societies move from all bad to all good. There is no nuance or complexity to the Book of Mormon’s presentation. It is this very factor that leads me to believe the inspiration for the Book of Mormon was creative inspiration of Joseph Smith to project a revivalist Christianity (properly restored)by creating a precedent for society to follow.

  41. re # 43:

    Nephi wrote his own story near the end of his life looking back. That comprises what is now 1 and 2 Nephi. I doubt that Nephi would be outlining his weaknesses in such an effort.

    Most of the rest of the Book of Mormon is a compilation made an editor (Mormon and then Moroni), and much of that is direct editorial summary of large swaths of history and time. Again, it is unlikely that such an editorial work would be focused on capturing the nuances of character of the prophets involved, especially to the satisfaction of twentieth or twenty-first century sensibilities.

  42. I agree with the assessment of Ricercar (46) and Hawkgrrrl (45). To add to their points:

    The Hebrews favored spiritual teaching transmission strongly with a rigorous oral tradition; we owe the benefit of our primary written evidence largely to the process of the Greek cultural influx to Alexandrian Jews (the Septuagint). And even when the Tanakh was written before and after this time, it was the oral transmission of the vowel “decryption key” that brought God’s breath to Man to life. This strong tradition effectively rendered scripture, as Hawkgrrrl has stated, a compilation of moral and spiritual teachings liberally intermixed with propaganda. Therefore we miss the mark when we read modern literalist sensibilities for historical transmission into Hebrew culture. Nonetheless it isn’t entirely complete to merely dismiss the writings (even respectfully) as imaginative myths because of the oral discipline behind the memorization and transmission of the law, the nation and the prophets (Tanakh). Yes, it’s mythical, but much more than that, which gives us a “history” both extremely colorful and shaded.

    We have to remember that even Paul, even more heavily influenced by this time by Hellenized culture than those contributers to the creation of the Septuagint, only favored the composition and distribution of written records, epistles (which he wouldn’t even have considered scripture at that time), when it was not possible to deliver such teachings orally.

    This is one thing that rubs me when some LDS apologists go on and on about Hebrew influence in the Book of Mormon, citing brief poetic passages, irregular chiastic structures, etc., when the record really is silent, in my opinion, of louder, clearer, overt and tell-tale signs of Hebrew practices, observations and necessary oral transmission of the Law. The absence of such obvious evidence is summarily side-stepped by the mysterious and nondescript influence of “Egyptian” “Assyrian” or other gentile cultural influences that favored the creation of “reformed Egyptian”. Furthermore, in my opinion, Nephi’s unique contribution is lifeless and polar compared to the more vibrant, mythic, messianic writings of Hebrew spiritual contemporaries of their day.

    Secondly, a related and major anachronism for me is the pre-Jeshua high Christology, rather than messianic evolution, evident throughout the BoM– but that’s another topic not primary to the discussion at hand.

  43. Quix – “Secondly, a related and major anachronism for me is the pre-Jeshua high Christology, rather than messianic evolution, evident throughout the BoM– but that’s another topic not primary to the discussion at hand.” That is interesting. I don’t see messianic evolution in the Bible, nor would the Jews (of course). There is such a break between the OT and the NT, that without the “high Christology” of the BoM, I think there’s a valid cause to question Christianity entirely. Christian attempts to create those links seem like wishful thinking, since there is so little to work with.

  44. “The Princess Bride” is presented by Goldman as an abridgment of a historical record. His subtitle is, “The Good Parts Version”. One chapter is one page long, saying at the end, essentially, “What with one thing and another, five years passed.”

    My point? The Book of Mormon was written blatantly and openly and directly as “The Good Parts Version” – ignoring years (many years in some cases), fairly important historical characters (Sam, every holder of the records between Enos and Mosiah, Lehi – the brother of Nephi, etc.) and much individual analysis in favor of sweeping spiritual narrative. Within that narrative, there is evidence of the weaknesses and imperfections and humanity of the prophets, but they take more careful reading than in the OT. The *relative* lack of such detail, imo, makes those that come through even more intriguing – proof that these characteristics and weaknesses can’t be covered completely even in “The Good Parts Version”.

  45. Ray – I agree that abridgment is clearly a factor in how the people in the BOM are presented. Although, one could also say that that the OT was abridged substantially. A key difference is probably the number of cooks in the kitchen (many with OT, few with BOM) and their various perceptions of what exactly they were cooking.

    On the other hand, this is similar to the discussion about white-washing one’s journal. Is it best to only present the “good parts” or better to portray yourself as a human being with a full range of experience, mistakes and learning, warts and all?

  46. Depends, hawkgrrrl, on how much space you have and what you are trying to achieve. For example, I would argue that the small plates of Nephi, the more historical record of the Nephites and the Jaredite record vary significantly with regard to this discussion – simply because the purpose of each record differed, and Mormon couldn’t airbrush general content and thematic focus in the latter two.

  47. Hawkgrrl #50-

    “Messianic evolution” may not be the best term. What I mean is this: I agree there is a complete break between the Tanakh and the New Testament for setting Messiahship–and valid for debate on that issue. But you have Nephi quoting Isaiah in a (Jesus) Christological sense, when Isaiah wasn’t even widely studied, not even a codified part of the Tanakh until ~150 years later than Nephi. As Isaiah was known, it was largely considered as fulfilled condemnation of Judah or soon-to-be-fulfilled prophecy. The Suffering Servant comes to be seen as a metaphor for Judah itself, collectively, not an individual figure. Later on as the Songs of Isaiah came to be accepted by Messianic Jews as predictive, it was still considered, including by the Savior’s own disciples, that such is a predictor of a political Messiah. It took the oral tradition following Jesus’ death for the seeds of Christology to really take root soon becoming the Gospel of Mark. It takes Paul, as the major influencer, to take Christianity into high Christology. While the earliest epistles are dated within two decades after Christ’s death certainly the oral tradition, particularly using the Tanakh to interpret Jesus as the Messiah, sprung up right away. And even then you _still_ had the whole division on whether Jesus’ mission was to essentially “reform” Judaism or whether it could be taken to the gentiles.

    Now that’s not proof, for certain, for Jesus’ Messiahship. And I allow your contention that on that basis there is “valid cause to question Christianity entirely”. But really, it’s quite compelling evidence I think that we have that Jesus is divine and was raised from the dead is the oral tradition –rigorous, imaginative, mystical, cultural– Jewish Christian oral tradition that sprung up immediately after his death. Now virginal birth, priestly lineage, some of the other stuff took time to mature. But the Passion belief is an early, foundational historical constant. Even if Jesus really didn’t rise form the dead, believers believed He did enough to revolutionize a sect of Judaism into a new branch of religion. Pretty compelling to me. But I agree, not historical proof.

    The Book of Mormon assertion is that we have Nephi cherry-picking Isaiah to establish a Christology ahistorical to Jewish understanding of a Messiah, while we completely miss significant contributions from the the other greater prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah. (And for that matter duplicating Isaiah errors of the KJV.) To me, the Book of Mormon just doesn’t answer any questions that it doesn’t confound to a greater degree, settle any debate, on whether Jesus is Messiah. That it presumes to settle the score more clearly than God did through the Prophets of the Tanakh, centuries before God could manifest Himself in Jesus to reveal His intent to His people, and later for humankind, is a big red flag to me for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

  48. JfQ, I am a hardcore parser, so I have to make one point about your last comment – with which I generally agree.

    You said, “That it presumes to settle the score more clearly than God did through the Prophets of the Tanakh . . .” It doesn’t presume that; many of the early leaders presumed it, and the majority of members still presume it. Imho, it is presumption.

    Mormon was very clear in his statements that he edited the records in his possession to do two main things: 1) bring people to Christ; and 2) convince people of the truthfulness of the Bible (the record of the Jews). When I read his own words, especially in the last chapters of his own “book”, I simply can’t see Mormon “presuming to settle the score more clearly than God did through the Prophets of the (Bible).” Rather, I see him begging people to take it seriously and accept it as a testament of Christ’s divine mission.

    Moroni continued this supplication. In probably the most under-analyzed verse in the entire BoM, he sets the stage for his final invitation to pray by saying:

    “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3)

    Think about it: He “exhorts” people to “remember” things that are not included in the record he is compiling – or, at least, included only tangentially by reference. He is asking people to use a desire to know of the validity of the BoM to base their “pondering” on a remembrance of the mercy of God as recorded in the Bible. Without the foundation “score” that is “settled” in the Bible, Moroni’s entire invitation lacks foundation – and the spiritual condition he fills is necessary for an answer to the subsequent prayer is not fulfilled.

    That is a subject for a whole different post, but the point for this discussion is that I just can’t see Mormon or Moroni “presuming” ascendancy of the BoM over the Bible.

  49. Btw, I should have clarified the following sentence, edited here:

    “Rather, I see him begging people to take (the Bible) seriously and accept it as a testament of Christ’s divine mission.”

  50. JFQ,

    have you read Ostler’s expansion theory? It addresses some of the problems you see with the BoM. I personally think that anytime a translator is involved there is a part of who they are and how they see the world that affects the translation. Such may have occurred in the BoM. Joseph never claimed it was a translation in the sense that we use the word today.

  51. JFQ – I’m with Ray on the parsing, but I want to address the preceding sentence, too. “To me, the Book of Mormon just doesn’t answer any questions that it doesn’t confound to a greater degree, settle any debate, on whether Jesus is Messiah. That it presumes to settle the score more clearly” This is one thing I like about all scripture – that it opens more questions than it answers. That there is more to chew on. I have to agree with Ray that I don’t see that the BoM presumes to settle the score more clearly, unless your statement is made very narrowly about the BoM being called “Another Testament”; another way to view that subtitle is that the more “testaments,” the more room for contradiction as well as corroboration. Just saying “another” doesn’t mean everything’s wrapped up in a neat package.

  52. Joshua (#57),

    There are a couple of reasons I don’t like Ostler’s theory:

    1. Joseph was not translating according to the meaning of the word in 1830.

    2. Ostler’s definition requires discounting the actual text of the Book.

    3. Moreover, the words, testimony and belief of the ‘translator’ must be also discounted.

    I believe that given Joseph Smith’s fascination (obsession) with word derivation and translation in his speeches that it is a safe assumption that he represented his undertaking as divinely assisted translation.

  53. Ray (55): Thanks for a thoughtful post. I still see issues with Nephi’s christological development, but one could argue that Mormon may have totally rewritten the Alma account, for one example, to represent a christology more developed than what was actually likely to be believed in that time about a Messiah. At any rate, I think your criticism about any presumption I was reading into Mormon’s intent is fair. I need to focus on parsing my words accurately: it is a big problem for me that the Book of Mormon doesn’t demonstrate a historically compatible story, to my mind, of Hebrew observance nor of sensible christological development. The book seems to stand stronger accepting it as a modern day invention or interpretation because of this mature christology, and particularly that is so closely reflects issues facing the American church and new England culture in the nineteenth century. Even allowing the remote chance that it may have been based on an actual record– I’m inclined to think it more like the Book of Abraham. If we could examine the ancient record, if it even existed, we’d find it only provided a leaping point for Joseph to create a distinct and original modern revelation.

    Joshua (57): Do you mean Blake Ostler? I haven’t read anything from him, at least anything I can remember, in this context. I’d approach it pretty skeptically based on other things of his I’ve read. Still, in the interest of learning, thanks for the recommendation.

    Hawkgrrl (58): Yeah, my contention is about what “another testament” means to me if I am to be more persuaded of the Book’s authenticity, and particularly its place within Messianic belief, particularly Jesus as Christ. It doesn’t feel very ancient nor grounded, based on my studies. But I grant as a modern piece of literature that many inclined toward belief in Jesus as Christ may find that it reinforces a lot of what they already believe about Jesus, hence functioning as “another testament”. I really appreciate your thoughtful critique of my position, though. I stumble fitting the Book of Mormon into what little I know of Mesoamerica, but even moreso for what I’ve learned about Hebrew scripture and early Christian history, which is more an area of deep interest to me.

  54. Yes,

    I meant Blake Ostler. But his theory aside, I have translated things and there is always a very real question about what is meant by translation. My views and interpretations invariably affect the translation. Even in the act of reading we create a new book as Derrida would argue, but the process of translation lends itself to all sorts of mischief or insight. For example, in the same regard that NT followers of Jesus read Christology into the OT, I see no reason why this would not occur with Mormon/Moroni and/or Joseph Smith.

  55. The reason that all of those prophets of Baal where slain, was that the were false prophets. According to the OT any false prophet was to be killed. And according to the Bible a false prophet is any one who is not 100% correct 100% of the time when they say that something will come to pass or that they are speaking for the Lord. I geuss that it is a good thing that Jesus came and fufilled the law. Takes some of the pressure off of modern prophets, right?

  56. “And according to the Bible a false prophet is any one who is not 100% correct 100% of the time when they say that something will come to pass or that they are speaking for the Lord.”

    I think Samson, Jonah, Moses, etc. would argue a bit with this statement. Too many people hold modern prophets to a standard the Lord has never used in choosing His prophets. We get the disinfected version, even with the mess that remains. Imagine how the Bible would read if it was written by those who disagreed with the prophets.


    Sword & Fire, Spirit & Silence:
    Reflections on the Prophetic Line from Elijah to Jesus

    Prof. Theophus “Thee” Smith,
    Emory Univ. Dept. of Religion Faculty profile: http://www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/RELIGION/faculty/smith.html
    Atlanta, GA.USA • June 8, 2008

    “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” (Lk. 9.55)

    That declaration from the gospel of Luke in the Christian scriptures climaxes the story of the disciples James and John becoming angry on Jesus’ behalf, so angry they wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village that rejected Jesus—“the way Elijah did,” adds the old King James Version of the Bible. Then Jesus “turned and rebuked them,” the text says. But also consider this paraphrase:

    ‘Call down fire from heaven? No! For I have come to save human lives, not destroy them.’ That’s Jesus’ punch line in the Samaritan village story. And
    like James and John, contemporary disciples of Jesus don’t always incarnate God’s spirit. We constantly forget whose Spirit we are. Again and again we want to call down fire from heaven on behalf of God, don’t we?

    Now here’s my question: how do we tell the difference between the holy fire of God and ‘unholy fire’ (cf. Num. 3.4, 26.61; Lev. 10.1): that is, the fire of our own human anger, the consuming fire of our own resentments, and the destroying fire of our uncontrolled desires?

    It is those desires, St. Paul told the Galatians that cause us in the church to “bite and devour one another.” “Take care,” said Paul, “that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5.15-17). Instead of ‘consuming’ one another, Paul claimed, the church has access to the Spirit of God—the Spirit that brings forth this nine-fold fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5.22-23.)

    Admittedly some scriptures are confusing about this difference between the consuming fire of God and the consuming fire of our human desires. As René Girard has observed, the Bible is a ‘text in travail between myth and gospel’ [source?] On the one hand we have St. Paul’s exhortation about the fruit of the Spirit in the passage just quoted above. On the other hand we have disturbing passages such as this one in the book of Hebrews about God being “a consuming fire.”

    See that you do not refuse him who is speaking [it says]. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven . . . for our God is a consuming fire. Heb. 12.25, 29

    What! Is this consuming fire also the God who speaks “graciously” to us in the ‘good news’ of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?


    Consider in this connection the spectacular events surrounding the life of the prophet Elijah. Elijah was the prophet of sword and fire, you remember, who actually did call down fire from heaven in that contest of power with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Recall how he challenged them: ‘Let’s see if you can call down fire from Baal to ignite your sacrifice.’ From morning to noon they ‘raved and limped’ around their altar, the scripture says, but no fire came down to consume their sacrifice. So Elijah mocked them to their faces, ‘Maybe your god has gone on holiday, or has fallen asleep and can’t wake up.’

    Then he turned to his own sacrifice, and drenched it on the altar with gallons of water. Finally when he called on the name of the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” fire fell down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the altar, and the trench full of water around the altar. When the people saw it they fell down and worshipped the Lord as the one, true God. Then Elijah commanded that the prophets of Baal be killed by the sword; all 450 of them, the scripture says. (1 Kings 18.20-40.)

    Yes, Elijah was the prophet of sword and ‘fire from heaven’ whose zeal wrought the destruction of human life. But precisely here I like to imagine that in his afterlife the prophet Elijah learned that the wrath that led him to destroy the prophets of Baal was not the fire of a holy God; that it was the all-too-human fire of unholy desires—the kind of desires that lead us also today to consume one another.

    I like to imagine that Elijah began the long process of learning the difference between these two fires on that day on Mt. Horeb when God caught up with him—40 days after he began running for his life from Queen Jezebel. This was the second time, according to Ecclesiasticus, that Elijah brought down fire.

    You remember the story: At first he experienced a great wind, then an earthquake, then fire, and “after the fire,” the scripture says, “a sound of sheer silence.” Now God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, it also says emphatically, but only spoke to him out of the silence. (1 Kg. 19.11-12). On that day Elijah encountered not the God of consuming fire, but the God who speaks out of holy silence.


    Excursus on Elijah as John the Baptist:
    Reincarnation and Karma

    However to tell the full story we must also reflect on Elijah as the prophet of sword and karmic retribution. And here we can do no better than quote from a contemporary online discussion of these matters:

    A Case Study Of Elijah’s Karma

    Outline of the case:

    1. Elijah kills the prophets of Baal by the sword
    [1Kings 18:20-39; 19.1-2]

    2. The repeated prophecies of Elijah’s return (reincarnation)
    [Malachi 3.1, 4.5]

    3. The announcement of Elijah’s return (reincarnation)
    [Luke 1.10-17]

    4. The arrival of the prophesied messenger as John the Baptist [Matthew 3.1-3]

    5. Jesus’ confirmations of Elijah’s return as John the Baptist [Matthew 11.1-15; 17.1-13]

    6. Elijah reaps what he sowed: John is beheaded.
    [Matthew 14.1-12]
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    VI. Elijah reaps what he sowed and is beheaded by Herod

    Matthew 14:1-12 tells the story of John the Baptist’s death. Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother, wanted John imprisoned and Herod did just that. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’ daughter beckoned Herod for the head of John the Baptist to be delivered to her on a platter. It was done.

    (I wonder if Herod’s niece who wanted John beheaded wasn’t the reincarnation of the vengeful Jezebel, fulfilling [her] vow almost a thousand years later for Elijah’s killing of the Baal prophets by the sword. The concept of karma does not justify vengeful behavior. As the concept of Grace indicates, we must rise above and eradicate karmic debt through forgiveness. We are, in fact, bound to karma until we do this very thing.)

    So there you have the law of karma in operation in the life of the soul who lived as Elijah and John the Baptist as told in the Bible. The measure you give is the measure you get. As you sow, so shall you reap. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. How did Elijah kill those prophets of Baal in1Kings? By the sword. This obviously [is] not in harmony with the Law of Love. Elijah, zealous as he was in his beliefs, came back as John the Baptist, and in the end reaped what he had sown. How was John killed? His head was cut off! He who kills with the blade dies by the blade. Coincidence—or the law at work?

    What Herod and Herodias did to John wasn’t right, but neither was John an innocent victim. As great as Elijah/John may have been, he wasn’t perfect and was as bound to the law as anyone else. Additionally, Elijah mocked the Baal prophets at Mt. Carmel and was in turn mocked in the courts of Herod. Jesus knew this law well [and] spoke strongly about it.

    [Source: Ken “Funraker,” at: http://members.nuvox.net/~on.funraker/reincarnation.htm#A%20Case%20Study%20Of%20Reincarnation%20In%20The%20Bible. Cf. the author’s additional references to John 1:19-22, 24-25; Luke 9:7-8; and Matthew 16:13-14. See a related discussion of Elijah’s reincarnation and “karma” as part of a larger treatment of “Reincarnation and the Bible” at: http://www.near-death.com/experiences/origen03.html; both sites accessed online by this author on 6/8/08.]


    Now learning the difference between the authentic voice of God and counterfeit voices is a very ‘long lesson’ to learn. It can take millennia to learn how to hear the voice of God in the silence and not to prefer finding God in ‘fire.’ (In that connection see the “Two Voices of God in Torah” in Michael Lerner’s Jewish Renewal.) Some of us may not learn it until we reach our own afterlife. Even holy scripture itself is not always clear about the difference between finding God in fire and listening for God in the silence.

    In particular there’s the stunning passage from the Apocrypha that celebrates the life of Elijah as the prophet of fire. It’s found in the book of Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, known to most of us by that familiar preface: “Now let us sing the praises of famous men” (Sirach 44.1). Consider this excerpt from Sirach 48:

    1: Then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch.
    2: He brought a famine upon them, and by his zeal he made them few in number.
    3: By the word of the Lord he shut up the heavens, and also three times brought down fire.
    4: How glorious you were, O Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! And who has the right to boast which you have? . . .
    8: who anointed kings to inflict retribution, and prophets to succeed you.
    9: You who were taken up by a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with horses of fire . . .

    11: Blessed are those who saw you, and those who have been adorned in love; for we also shall surely live.
    12: It was Elijah who was covered by the whirlwind, and Elisha was filled with his spirit; in all his days he did not tremble before any ruler, and no one brought him into subjection.
    13: Nothing was too hard for him, and when he was dead his body prophesied.
    14: As in his life he did wonders, so in death his deeds were marvelous. (Sirach 48.1-4, 8-9, 11-14)

    Well even in his death Elijah still prophesies to us. And I imagine him saying to us today, after hearing this scripture from Ecclesiasticus,

    ‘In all my days I did not tremble before any ruler?’ Don’t believe it! I fled from Jezebel like a rabbit from a fox. Likewise be careful when you read scriptures about me being a prophet of fire. It was on Mt. Horeb that I learned my lesson about fire. Ever since then I have preferred the voice of God that speaks out of the silence.

    ‘And yes, as the scripture says, ‘Blessed are those who saw me then, but more blessed are you who have been adorned in love; for in that love we also shall surely live.’’ (paraphrase: Sirach. 48.11)

    Yes, the dead Elijah prophesies to us still even in the afterlife. And from that mystic realm his spirit testifies to the spirit of Jesus himself as the archetype of unconditional love. In this connection, finally, consider that the third time that Elijah is associated with fire is in the reading where the chariot and horses of fire separate him from his disciple Elisha, and take him away to heaven after his disciple asked to receive a “double portion” of his master’s spirit.

    As a Christian theologian I like to imagine that this request to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit was prophetically fulfilled in the life of Jesus centuries later when, on that day on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus was transfigured as a being of majesty and light and accompanied by the premier prophets—Elijah and Moses—appearing on opposite sides as if to acknowledge the greater majesty and holiness of the one who declared:

    “You do not know what spirit you are of, for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” (Lk. 9.55)


    Sword & Fire, Spirit & Silence:
    Reflections on the Prophetic Line from Elijah to Jesus

    Prof. Theophus “Thee” Smith,
    Emory Univ. Dept. of Religion Faculty profile: http://www.emory.edu/COLLEGE/RELIGION/faculty/smith.html
    Atlanta, GA.USA • June 8, 2008


  58. I find it suspicious that the Baal prophets were murdered. Why kill them if they indeed see the “true” G-ds power. So what if they worshipped a so-called “idol”? I think he had them killed becaus Baal actually won but Elijah didn’t want to leave behind any witnesses.

  59. I have always challenged any member of any Christian religion for a re- match on this kind of competition. Baal was kind of under the weather and that is why he didn’t send the fire on that occasion. Any one that wants a re-match they all tell me that Jehovah, God and Jesus will send powerful fire from heaven. Yet they don’t want to do the re-match. Of course this time They will go first and only I (not 450)as priest of Baal will go second. Who wants to try and see who is more powerful: Baal or Jehovah.

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