ELISHA (Heb. אֱלִישָׁע; "God is salvation"), Israelite prophetic wonder-worker of the ninth century b.c.e. in the days of *Jehoram son of *Ahab, *Jehu, *Jehoahaz, and *Joash. According to i Kings 19:16, God commanded *Elijah on Mount Horeb to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place. (ii Kings 19:15 is the sole biblical reference to anointing as an element of prophetic investiture.) When Elijah passed by the fields of Elisha's father and found Elisha busy plowing, "he cast his mantle upon him." The mere touch of Elijah's cloak transformed Elisha. The fact that he was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen that he slaughtered as a farewell feast before leaving his family for Elijah's service shows that he was wealthy. He became Elijah's devoted servant and outstanding disciple. Elisha came from *Abel-Meholah (19:16). On the basis of the opinion that Abel-Meholah was in Gilead (see Glueck in bibl.), certain scholars postulated that geographical proximity was one of the causes of the personal affinity between Elijah and Elisha. Elisha was given the task of continuing Elijah's general prophetic mission. He also performed certain acts which had been imposed on Elijah but which the latter did not carry out in his lifetime, e.g., the anointing of *Hazael as king of Aram and Jehu as king of Israel. The transfer of Elijah's prophetic mission to Elisha is also described in the story of Elijah's ascension. Elisha, who saw Elijah ascending and "took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen upon him," was vouchsafed two-thirds of Elijah's prophetic spirit, and the sons of the prophets said: "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha" (ii Kings 2:1–18). In contrast to Elijah, who appears as a hermit-like prophet performing his deeds alone, Elisha in the performance of his acts avails himself of the sons of the prophets (9:1–12). He is also in need of a musician, so that the hand of God may rest upon him (3:15). Elisha's first appearance as a prophet in his own right took place during the expedition against Moab undertaken by *Jehoram king of Israel and *Jehoshaphat king of Judah (about 850 b.c.e.). Jehoram asked Elisha to reveal to him the "word of the Lord" about the outcome of the battle. Elisha did not hesitate to speak to Jehoram in the sharpest terms, and at first even refused to prophesy. Only when the king pressed him, hinting that not only was he in danger but also his allies – the kings of Judah and Edom – did Elisha agree to prophesy because of the virtues of Jehoshaphat (ii Kings 3:11–19). The relations between Elisha and the kings of Israel were generally, but not always, harmonious (ii Kings 6:31–3). Jehoram is described as an improvement over his parents Ahab and Jezebel because "he put away the pillar of Baal which his father had made" (3:2). The Bible has preserved an account of how the king asks *Gehazi, Elisha's young servant, to describe some of his master's deeds (8:4–6). The king listened with interest to Gehazi's narration, evidence not only of admiration for the prophet but also of complete belief in him and his prophetic powers. Nevertheless, this did not prevent Elisha from apprehending the failures of Jehoram's regime: the Moabite rebellion against Israel, defeats in the wars against the Arameans, the Aramean invasion and siege of Samaria, and the many years of famine, which Elisha saw as an indication that the sins of Ahab's house demanded atonement. In Jehu and Hazael, he saw the rod of God's wrath in the awful and terrifying events that befell Israel as a punishment for the sins of Ahab's house.
Especially noteworthy is Elisha's prophecy to the Aramean Hazael (ii Kings 8:7–15) in which the prophet told Hazael that he would succeed to the throne of his ailing master *Ben-Hadad. Elisha instructed Ben-Hadad to tell Hazael that he would recover, despite Elisha's prophetic knowledge that Ben-Hadad would die. Encouraged by Elisha's prophecy Hazael hastened Ben-Hadad's death. Noteworthy as well in the same story is how Elisha wept when he told Hazael that his greatness would come at the expense of the Israelite people. Elisha is likewise depicted as playing a role in Jehu's revolution in the kingdom of Israel. It was Elisha who sent one of the disciples of the prophets (Heb.: benei ha-nevi'im) to anoint the army commander Jehu and instruct him: "You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord" (9:1–7). Interestingly, the biblical writers do not mention any direct involvement of Elisha with Jehu in the destruction of the house of Ahab, or in Jehu's bloody purge of the worshippers of Baal. Nor do we have an account of Elisha's intervention in subsequent events of Jehu's reign. Only in the days of Jehu's grandson, Joash, more than 40 years after the bloodshed, does Elisha once again appear to prophesy future victories for the kingdom of Israel over the Arameans (ii Kings 13:14–19). He died during the reign of Joash son of Jehoahaz.
Elisha was remembered as a powerful wonder-worker for both good and ill. One of his miracles rescues the son of the widow of one of the disciples of the prophets from slavery (ii Kings 4). In another tale he brings fertility to a barren woman and later brings the boy back to life (ibid.) In another tale he heals the Aramean general Naaman of a dread skin disease (ii Kings 5). In yet another case he responds to youngsters who had teased him about his baldness by cursing them in Yahweh's name with the result that 42 of them are mangled by bears. Elisha was a prophet by profession and sometimes received payments or gifts for services rendered, but refused to take them from the grateful Naaman (ii Kings 5:16). In fact, when his servant Gehazi cunningly received the gift from Naaman, Elisha cursed him vehemently (ii Kings 5:20–27). It appears that the stories of the wonders performed by Elisha and his master Elijah influenced the New Testament writers in their portrayals of Jesus as wonder-worker.
[Yehoshua M. Grintz /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
In the Aggadah
Elisha was the only one of Elijah's disciples whose prophetic powers were not only not diminished after his master's ascension but were increased, as a reward for his undeviating loyalty to his master. When the angel descended to take Elijah to heaven, he found the two so immersed in a learned discussion that he had to return without accomplishing his mission (ser 5:90–91; cf. Ta'an. 10b). Elijah's promise to bestow a double portion on his disciple was realized in that Elisha performed 16 miracles compared to the eight performed by his master (David Kimḥi to ii Kings 2:14). While Elijah restored one person to life, Elisha revived two – the son of the Shunammite woman and Naaman, since a leper was considered as dead (Ḥul. 7b). His washing of Elijah's hands is extolled since serving a teacher is more meritorious than being his disciple (Ber. 7b).
The Shunammite built a private chamber for him to minimize his contact with other people since any woman gazing directly at Elisha would die (pdre 33). She discerned the holiness of the prophet since she never saw a fly on his table and because a pleasant fragrance surrounded him (Ber. 10b; Zohar, 2:44a). Elisha did not refuse her hospitality because a sage may benefit from the generosity of his followers, though Samuel refused to do so (Ber. 10b). Elisha sanctified God's name when he refused to accept any recompense from Naaman (Num. R. 7:5). The children devoured by the bears on Elisha's command were in reality disgruntled water carriers whose livelihood was affected by the miraculous healing of the waters of Jericho. They, their ancestors, and their posterity were completely devoid of virtue. Nevertheless, Elisha was punished and afflicted with severe illness because he yielded to anger and cursed his antagonists. He was also visited with illness for completely thrusting Gehazi away instead of maintaining some relationship with him (Sot. 46b–47a). When Elisha rebuked King Jehoram in anger, the spirit of prophecy departed from him and he had to resort to artificial means to arouse it again (Pes. 66b). Elisha recovered from his two illnesses and was the first person in history to survive serious illness. Before him, every illness had resulted in death (bm 87a). Even after his death a great miracle occurred when a dead man was revived by touching his bier (pdre 33; Sanh. 47a).
Al-Yasaʿ or Alyasaʿ is to be identified with Elisha, the disciple of Elijah. He is mentioned in the Koran twice (Sura 6:86; 38:48), once together with Ishmael, Jonah, and Lot (Sura 6:86) and the second time with Ishmael and Dhū al-Kifl, a figure who is not easy to identify (see *Ezekiel). It is, however, evident that Muhammad did not know where to place him. According to the commentators of the Koran, he lived before King Saul.
[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]
H. Gunkel, Das Maerchen im Alten Testament (1917), index; W.W. Fereday, Elisha the Prophet (1924); L. Bieler, in: arw, 32 (1935), 228–45; J. Morgenstern, Amos Studies, 1 (1941), 349 ff.; F. James, Personalities of the Old Testament (1943), 187–95; N. Glueck, in: basor, 90 (1943), 2–23; Y. Kaufmann, Toledot, 2 (1960), index. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 239–46; 6 (1928), 343–8. in islam: A. Geiger, Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (1833), 192; eis2, s.v.; H. Speyer, Biblische Erzaehlungen… (1961), 406; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 h), 218–9. add. bibliography: M. Cogan, i Kings (2000), 455; M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (1988), 30–96, 147–52; Y. Zakovitch, Every High Official (Heb., 1986), 142–45.
ELISHA (last half of the ninth century bce) was a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet Elisha (Heb., Elishaʿ) is presented in the Hebrew scriptures not primarily as a spokesperson for God to king and people, as the other prophets were, but as a holy man and a wonder-worker. In a series of hagiographic tales (2 Kgs. 2–8), his unusual powers are portrayed by his control over nature, his multiplication of food and oil, his healing the sick or raising the dead, and his powers of extrasensory perception. Such stories are similar to the legends of Christian saints and Jewish rabbis.
Elisha is associated with prophetic guilds known as the sons of the prophets; he served as their leader, or "father." The social status and religious purpose of such communities are quite unclear from the texts, so they shed little light on the nature of Elisha's prophetic office. In some stories Elisha is an itinerant prophet, traveling from place to place with his assistant; in others, he is a city dweller and property owner. The tradition says nothing about his teaching or his social and religious concerns. Nor does it reflect any protest against political and religious authorities, such as in the case of Elijah and the eighth-century prophets.
While some scholars accept the biblical chronology and order of events, it seems more likely that the period of Elisha's activity should be placed entirely within the reigns of Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (c. 842–786 bce). This was a period of Syrian domination of Israel, a fact that is reflected in several of the stories. The historian of Kings, however, mistakenly placed the Elisha cycle in the time before the revolt of Jehu. In this way he extended Elisha's ministry back to the time of Ahab and made him a successor of Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:19–21, 2 Kgs. 2), suggesting a tradition of regular prophetic succession. Thus two quite distinct prophetic traditions influenced each other in the final formation of the text.
There are no extensive treatments of the Elisha cycle in English. For the present, therefore, see the brief discussion by Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (Philadelphia, 1983), pp. 68–77. Two studies of special importance are J. Maxwell Miller's "The Elisha Cycle and the Accounts of the Omride Wars," Journal of Biblical Literature 85 (December 1966): 441–454, and Alexander Rofé's "The Classification of the Prophetical Stories," Journal of Biblical Literature 89 (December 1970): 427–440.
Bergen, Wesley J. Elisha and the End of Prophetism. Sheffield, 1999.
John Van Seters (1987)
Prophet and successor of elijah, Elisha (Heb.Ĕl îŝa ', God saves), from Abel-Mehula (south of BethSan) was active in the second half of the 9th century b.c. The account of his career is given in 1 Kgs 19.16, 19–21; 2 Kgs 2.1–8.15; 9.1–3; 13.14–21. Much of his story, which once circulated in separate form before it was reworded and incorporated by the editor of Kings into his book, is overlaid with legend. Some of his miracles [see miracles (in the bible)], for example, have more than a touch of the bizarre about them. Immediately after the "ascension" of Elijah, for instance, the story is told how Elisha "sweetened" the waters of Jericho (2 Kgs2.15–22); even today the copious spring at ancient Jericho is pointed out to travelers and pilgrims as the Fountain of Elisha. Following this is the incident of the boys who mocked the Prophet and, at his prayer, were torn apart by bears (2.23–24). The story of his relations with the rich woman of Sunam and his raising of her young son from the dead (2 Kgs 4.1–37) is remarkably similar to the story of Elijah and the widow of Sarephta (1 Kgs 17.9–24). The most significant event in Elisha's career was his designation of Jehu as King of Israel. Even after his death he was credited with working miracles (2 Kgs 13.20–22); but his fame and influence were much less enduring than those of Elijah, who, for example, is mentioned about 30 times in the NT, whereas Elisha is mentioned only once (Lk 4.27), in connection with his curing the leprosy of Naaman the Syrian (2 Kgs 5.1–19).
Bibliography: v. hamp, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:821–822. g. fohrer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 2:429–431. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 650.
Elisha (ēlī´shə), in the Bible, prophet who functions as a model of the Mosaic prophetic office after Elijah, whose work he continued; he is believed to have lived in the 9th cent. BC Elisha initiated the political programs outlined to Elijah on Mt. Horeb. The stories about Elisha are collected in Second Kings, which relates a collection of miracle stories and associates Elisha with political revolution in Syria; he is said to have initiated the revolution of Jehu. Elisha is also attested in the Qur'an.