Damien F. Mackey
“… what about Elisha, who was commissioned to “kill” … those who would manage to escape the carnage wrought by Hazael and Jehu?”
Whilst endeavouring to ‘fill out’ the prophet Elisha in my university thesis:
A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah
and its Background
and faced with this uncompromising statement of the ‘Sinai Commission’ (to Elijah) about the seemingly placid, Elisha (I Kings 19:17): “Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill …”, I had to wonder, as I wrote in Volume One, p. 116: “Finally, what about Elisha, who was commissioned to “kill” (יָמִית) those who would manage to escape the carnage wrought by Hazael and Jehu?
We well know from the biblical records of the hideous carnage wrought by Hazael and Jehu, about which Elisha, foreseeing it in the case of Hazael, had wept (2 Kings 8:11-12). But we read nothing whatsoever about any bloody rampage on the part of Elisha (qua Elisha). It seemed to me, therefore, that Elisha had to have had - like other of his contemporaries (as according to my thesis, a classic one being Velikovsky’s Hazael = Aziru of El Amarna) some biblical alter ego which involved Elisha’s (overseeing of) killing of (presumably) Baalists. And so I continued in my thesis, previewing this new idea:
Actually Elisha, as I believe, will also have a huge part to play, though generally later chronologically. In Chapter 10 (and beginning on p. 237) I shall be identifying the famous prophet in quite a new guise, as a law-enforcing (shaphat) reformer-priest. Here as briefly as possible, to conclude this chapter, I should like to lay a foundation for this novel idea. ….
What followed then was my suggested first biblical alter ego for Elisha (as Jehonadab the Rechabite), to be followed by a second one later on (as the reforming priest, Jehoiada). Whilst both of these identifications seemed to me a good idea at the time, I later came to be more cautious about - and even to move right away from - both of them.
But now I feel emboldened to take another shot at them.
a spectator of Jehu’s massacring
“Whilst Gehazi had received from Naaman only silver and clothing … 2 Kings 5:23, Elisha had taken the matter further, to include cultivated land, livestock and servants; none of which Gehazi - as far as we know - had actually received from Naaman (v. 26): ‘Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves?’”
The possibility of Elisha as the Rechabite, Jehonadab, I presented in the following section of my thesis (pp. 116-118):
Elisha the Rechabite
If one cares to read through the sequences of incidents in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles in which Elisha (when going under the name of ‘Elisha’) is involved, one will find that the multi-miracle-working prophet is never reported as having raised a sword in anger (as e.g. Samuel did against Agag, king of the Amalekites, 1 Samuel 15:33).
Was Elisha perhaps a pacifist, who despised violence?
One might think that that would not have been in keeping with the mentality of the age in which he lived. …. I am going to argue that the prophet Elisha had actually joined up with Jehu ….
Jehu, we later read, was on his way to Samaria, after his having just overseen (at Betheked of the Shepherds) the slaughter of forty-two relatives of king Ahaziah of Judah, whom he had previously slain (cf. 2 Kings 9:27 & 10:12-14). It was then that this
meeting occurred (10:15-17):
When [Jehu] left there, he met Jehonadab son of Rechab coming to meet him; he greeted him, and said to him, ‘Is your heart as true to mine as mine is to yours?’ Jehonadab answered, ‘It is’. Jehu said, ‘If it is, give me your hand’. So he gave him his hand. Jehu took him up with him into the chariot. He said, ‘Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord’. So he had him ride in his chariot. When he came to Samaria, he killed all who were left to Ahab in Samaria, until he had wiped them out, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke to Elijah.
Since this ‘Jehonadab son of Rechab’ is the only person actually named as a willing supporter of Jehu’s purge, then he stands as the most likely person to be Elisha, son of Shaphat, in Elisha’s rôle as terminator of Baalism. [The question of ‘Rechab’ will be considered briefly in Chapter 10, on p. 238]. ….
Though this Jehonadab comes across in 2 Kings as being a very obscure figure, the Book of Jeremiah fortunately provides some important further detail about him. His loyalty and example were apparently still, about 250 years later in the days of Nebuchednezzar’s siege of Jerusalem, ruling the lives of those known as ‘Rechabites’. Thus the ‘Rechabites’ tell Jeremiah and those accompanying the prophet (Jeremiah 35:6-7):
‘We will drink no wine, for our ancestor Jonadab [Jehonadab] son of Rechab commanded us, ‘You shall never drink wine, neither you nor your children; nor shall you ever build a house, or sow seed; nor shall you plant a vineyard, or even own one; but you shall live in tents all your days, that you may live many days in
the land where you reside’.’
The Rechabites then added (vv. 8-11):
‘We have obeyed the charge of our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, and not to build houses to live in. We have no vineyard, or field or seed but we have lived in tents, and have obeyed and done all that out ancestor Jonadab commanded us. But when king Nebuchedrezzar [Nebuchednezzar] of Babylon came up against the land, we said, ‘Come, let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and the army of the Arameans’. That is why we are living in Jerusalem’.
This explanation by the Rechabites accounts fully I suggest for a statement made by Elisha to his servant Gehazi, when severely reprimanding Gehazi for his having accepted presents from the willing Naaman, recently cured of his leprosy. Whilst Gehazi had received from Naaman only silver and clothing (2 talents of the former and two changes of the latter) (2 Kings 5:23), Elisha had taken the matter further, to include cultivated land, livestock and servants; none of which Gehazi - as far as we know - had actually received from Naaman (v. 26): ‘Is this a time to accept money and to accept clothing, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, and male and female slaves?’
הַעֵת לָקַחַת אֶת-הַכֶּסֶף, וְלָקַחַת בְּגָדִים, וְזֵיתִים וּכְרָמִים וְצֹאן וּבָקָר, וַעֲבָדִים וּשְׁפָחוֹת
Elisha was apparently thus seriously reminding Gehazi of his ‘Rechabite’ calling.
Gehazi’s punishment for his infidelity was to be struck leprous, he and his descendants for ever (v. 27). No wonder the ‘Rechabites’ continued to hold firm down through the
So Jehonadab accompanied Jehu to Samaria where Jehu, by a ruse, killed all the Baal worshippers in their temple. Jehu and his men also burned the pillar of Baal and his temple, turning it into a latrine (2 Kings 10:18-27). But in all this there is no mention whatsoever of any actual physical involvement by Jehonadab himself. He was taken along by Jehu to witness the destruction of which he obviously approved, given that ‘his
heart was true’ to Jehu’s. ….
Later Elisha, perhaps due to his having had the opportunity of observing at close hand the tactics of the brilliant Jehu, will himself assume a very positive rôle, to complete the Sinai commission. But even then he will act entirely as a leader giving orders, rather than as one personally involved in the slaughter. (See Chapter 10, pp. 237-238).
Later, on p. 238, I would consider the possibility that Elisha, formerly wealthy, may have adopted a ‘Rechabite’ lifestyle only after his calling.
The Rechabite tradition, I propose, arose from Elisha rather than his father, Shaphat. Elisha, seemingly wealthy, a farmer possessing land and oxen - and probably all of those
other things that the Rechabites had denounced … left everything to follow Elijah, who was undoubtedly the prototypal ‘Rechabite’ in his poverty and nomadic style of existence. The father and mother whom the already old Elisha had kissed before he left (1 Kings 19:20) …. There is no indication that the father was living a ‘Rechabite’ existence at the time. He was probably a wealthy farmer, just like his son appears to have been, until now.
Strangely Elisha, despite his greatness, is not accorded a genealogy (qua Elisha), except for the mention of his father, “Shaphat”. I think it possible, though, that this could be a reference, not to his actual father, but to king Jeho-shaphat himself, to whom Elisha may have been related through marriage. This situation will be considered further in Part Three.
I also wrote on p. 238: “A blessing of the ascetical, nomadic lifestyle that Elisha came to embrace in following Elijah was, according to the Rechabites to ‘live many days in the land’. That blessing was certainly bestowed upon Elisha in abundance …”.
My reason for making this last statement will also be considered in Part Three, when Elisha’s final potential biblical alter ego is revealed.
a priest of reform
“For a six year reign of terror, [Queen] Athaliah held all the power in Judah”, according to North.
The possibility of Elisha as the priest, Jehoiada, I presented in the following sections of my thesis (pp. 236-239):
Elisha’s Rôle in the Sinai Commission
I had previously, in Chapter 4 (section: “Elisha the Rechabite”, beginning on p. 116), proposed an identification of Elisha with Jehonadab the Rechabite, who had supported Jehu in his initial campaign against the worshippers of Baal; though seemingly as an onlooker. ….
All this had led me to ponder the biblical statement according to which ‘… Elisha shall kill’.
Who in fact did he ‘kill’?
My suggestion is that, whilst it befell Jehu and Hazael to wipe out Baalism from Israel, and Atonism from Egypt, it befell Elisha to eradicate Baalism from Judah. And his target would be queen Athaliah and her murderous régime (2 Chronicles 22:10); that other unsavoury woman at the time, according to the Bible, and possibly also a daughter of the
notorious Jezebel/Nefertiti. Queen Athaliah had succeeded to the throne of Jerusalem at the same time as Jehu had become king of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 11 & 2 Chronicles 22:10-11; 23:1-21). It is with Athaliah that we can finish our account of the prophet Elisha.
The bloody Jehu had looked to make a start towards reforming the kingdom of Judah by his assassination of king Ahaziah and his relatives (2 Kings 10). But this violence would actually cause a backlash; for it now brought the vengeful Athaliah to the throne for six years. Thus Elisha, like Jehu, would have to contend with a fiery Baal-worshipping queen. For Jehu, she would be queen Jezebel/Nefertiti. For Elisha, she would be Jezebel’s daughter (or a near kinswoman of Jezebel’s), Athaliah; a veritable ‘clone’ of queen Jezebel.
Athaliah was also the mother of the slain king Ahaziah (2 Kings 11:1).
According to [Lisa] Liel, this Athaliah was actually the sole female [El Amarna] EA correspondent, NIN.UR.MAH.MESH, whom I had identified instead with Jezebel ….
It would take Elisha some half a dozen years before he could even make a start. But he would finally triumph in Judah, I think, as the priest, Jehoiada - the very Jehonadab who had seen first-hand how the tactical genius Jehu had negotiated the Baal problem.
(Though I am not claiming a perfect name correspondence here, Jehoiada = Jehonadab).
The narrative of 2 Kings 11:1-3 tells that when queen Athaliah saw that her son Ahaziah
was dead, “she set about to destroy all the royal family”. But Jehoshabeath (var. Jehosheba 2 Kings 11:2), Ahaziah’s sister and king Jehoram’s daughter – who we learn was also the wife of the priest, Jehoaida (2 Chronicles 22:11) - took the king’s son, the infant Joash (Jehoash), and hid him with his nurse in a bedroom (2 Kings 11:2), where “he remained with her for six years, hidden in the House of the Lord” (v. 3). “For a six year reign of terror, Athaliah held all the power in Judah”, according to North. ….
Towards the end Part Two I had surmised that the “Shaphat” mentioned in relation to Elisha “could be a reference, not to his actual father, but to king Jeho-shaphat himself, to whom Elisha may have been related through marriage”. And I went on to say here that: “This situation will be considered further in Part Three”.
Now if, as is being speculated here, Elisha is the same person as the priest Jehoiada who was married to king Jehoram’s daughter (Jehosheba), then he was indeed also related - through this marriage - to king Jehoshaphat, the father of Jehoram.
Continuing on with my thesis (pp. 237-238), we read in the next sections:
The Priest Jehoiada
Elisha as the priest Jehoiada (therefore a Levite) - as I see it - who must have been just as much in fear for his life as had been his predecessor Elijah, when faced with the wrath of queen Jezebel, eventually became emboldened to act. And act he did, with Jehu-like decisiveness (2 Chronicles 23:1). “But in the seventh year Jehoiada took courage, and entered into a compact with the commanders of the hundreds …”; men who had probably also served general Jehu. According to 2 Kings 11:4, Jehoiada also employed Carite (i.e. ‘Indo-European’) mercenaries for the task. (See brief art-historical note on the Carians/Carites, as possibly connected to a combined Horemheb-Jehu scenario, on p. 252, under Figure 10). Jehoiada’s plan apparently was to surround the palace and Temple, and to guard the young Joash in his comings and goings, and to proclaim the boy as king of Jerusalem (vv. 5-11). And so we read (v. 12): “Then [Jehoiada] brought out the king’s son, put the crown on him, and gave him the covenant; they proclaimed him king and anointed him; they clapped their hands and shouted, ‘Long live the king!’.”
The narrative goes on to recount the death of Athaliah, who met her end with the same courage and defiance as had her mother (or kinswoman), Jezebel. Jehoiada ordered the queen to be slain by the sword outside the Temple ‘Let her not be killed in the House of
the Lord’ (v. 15). …. Notice that … Jehoiada gave the order rather than wielded the sword by which the queen was dispatched.
So, what was Jehoiada’s actual status here? Well, that has caused commentators to scratch their heads a bit. Thus North has written, with reference to 2 Chronicles 23 …. “Jehoiada is left strangely without an introduction …. He would appear to be the chief of police, but turns out to be a high priest in v. 8 (= 2 Kgs 11:9)”. This Jehoiada, as Elisha son of Shaphat, was apparently, like Jehu and Hazael, one of those shaphat-police, who happened also in Elisha’s case to have been a priest; even a high priest, according to North. So this, the story of Jehoiada, is how, I suggest, the prophet Elisha himself became
involved in the Sinai-commanded reform action: as a priest, and, [now] in Judah.
The people of Jerusalem, and the king, all of whom Jehoiada had now bound to a covenant with the Lord, then did as Jehu had previously done in Samaria. They went to the temple of Baal and tore it down, “his altar and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan, the priest of Baal, before the altars” (vv. 17-18). The rest of Jehoiada’s glorious career as priest in Jerusalem can be read in some detail in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.
One of his most notable achievements was the massive repair work done under his supervision on the Temple of the Lord – no doubt a necessary reconstruction after the ravages of Baalism. As long as Jehoiada lived, king Joash (who reigned for 40 years in Jerusalem) whom Jehoiada instructed in Yahwism, was kept in check as a servant of the Lord (though with some ambivalence). But immediately after Jehoiada’s death, at age 130 (2 Chronicles 24:15), king Joash took counsel with his Judaean officials and the kingdom reverted to its former idolatry. Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah, having boldly denounced his compatriots for their apostasy, was stoned to death upon the orders of the
king. As he was dying, Zechariah cried out: ‘May the Lord see and avenge!’ (vv. 20-22).
Commentators have stumbled over Matthew’s reference to the same Zechariah as a ‘son
of Barachiah’. Thus North again: …. “This Zechariah is doubtless that of Luke 11:51, called son of Barachiah in Mt 23:35 by assimilation to Is 8:2”. Whether or not there is in
fact any connection with the person intended by Isaiah, could Matthew’s name, Barachiah - the priest Jehoiada, according to my reconstruction - have a connection (albeit linguistically imprecise) with ‘son of Rechab’ (thus Bar-rachiah)? I have ventured
an identification between Jehoiada and Jehonadab, son of Rechab ….
The Prophet’s Death and Burial
The Rechabite tradition, I propose, arose from Elisha rather than his father, Shaphat.
A blessing of the ascetical, nomadic lifestyle that Elisha came to embrace in following Elijah was, according to the Rechabites to ‘live many days in the land’. That blessing was
certainly bestowed upon Elisha in abundance; for he, as the priest Jehoiada, lived to be 130 years of age. And apparently the blessing was bestowed upon his descendants too, inasmuch as they were still faithful to that lifestyle even in Jeremiah’s time.
Had Elisha been buried in Samaria, then this alone would have been sufficient to shatter my proposed identification of him with Jehoiada, because the aged Jehoiada was buried in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 24:16): “And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and for God and his House”. When we turn to read about the end of Elisha - who incidentally died (strikingly like Jehoiada), in the very last few years of Joash of Judah’s long reign (with Jehu’s grandson Jehoash now reigning
in Israel) - we simply read: “So Elisha died, and they buried him” (2 Kings 13:20).
Notice, too, that, when Elisha was dying, king Jehoash of Israel “went down to him”
וַיֵּרֶד אֵלָיו יוֹאָשׁ מֶלֶךְ-יִשְׂרָאֵל
(v.14; cf. 8:29), thus seemingly supporting my view that Elisha did not die in Samaria; hence, possibly, in Judah. The narrative of 2 Kings here does not actually tell us where the great prophet was buried. The Chronicler I think supplies the necessary information.