9 October 2009
Interpreting Elijah and Elisha
In Cultural Anthropology and the Old Testament, Overholt provides anthropological theory for assistance in interpreting how the Elijah and Elisha narratives fit within the culture and society of monarchic Israel. Overholt focuses on the prophets’ correspondences with the conceptual world of shamanism, an ancient set of beliefs among tribal people, in order to understand the culture at that time. In addition, Overholt addresses different themes in the narratives, such as a folklore motif, curing, resuscitation, miracles, and knowledge-at-a-distance to further explain the Elijah and Elisha narratives from an anthropological point of view.
In the historical context at that time, Elijah and Elisha were seen as men of power. Some of the narratives contain an inexhaustible food supply episode, along with a resuscitation episode. These episodes would have given Elijah and Elisha recognition in the area as men of power, since curing and resuscitation were traditionally powerful themes in folklore from around the world during their lives.
The language in the Elisha and Elijah narratives reflect three assumptions compatible with the Deutoronomic ideology that presents itself in the Old Testament. First, Yahweh has control over nature and history. Second, disaster is interpreted as punishment for human sin. And third, the prophets are the spokesmen for the Lord and his Word. Considering theses assumptions, one can evaluate how the stories of resuscitation are not in complete harmony with the assumptions. The stories stand in tension with Deutoronomic ideology in four important ways.
First of all, there is a tension that arises from the necessity to account for the fact that resuscitation was a live possibility. It is important to note that the pattern of ritual activity has close parallels in ethnographic reports of shamanic curing among tribal peoples. Shamanism is...