Eli­jah and the Rab­bis: Sto­ry and Theology

Kris­ten H. Lindbeck
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By – October 10, 2011
Eli­jah the Prophet has sev­er­al dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, depend­ing on where you’re look­ing. In the Bible, he’s a for­bid­ding and wrath­ful prophet, more seri­ous than God. In Jew­ish folk­lore, he’s a kind of Father Christ­mas, sip­ping cups of wine at every Seder and Bris. Kris­ten Lind­beck con­sid­ers the sum total of sto­ries involv­ing Eli­jah in the Baby­lon­ian Tal­mud as a cohe­sive nar­ra­tive web. There are almost 40 such sto­ries, and she divides them into sev­er­al small­er groups with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics. The image of Eli­jah that emerges from these sto­ries is that of a super-rab­bi, a char­ac­ter with some spe­cial abil­i­ties who lives in the same world as the rab­bis who cre­at­ed the Tal­mud. The sto­ries are real­ly about Elijah’s encoun­ters with those rab­bis — how he helps them, teach­es them, rep­ri­mands them and saves them from sticky sit­u­a­tions. Lind­beck uses tools from oral-for­mu­la­ic stud­ies and from the study of folk­lore in order to break the sto­ries into sub-sets and to iso­late the themes and mes­sages that can be found with­in them. Per­haps her most inter­est­ing sug­ges­tion is that some of the sto­ries about Eli­jah are based upon Greek myths about Her­mes, and are intend­ed as a humor­ous Jew­ish per­spec­tive on the rela­tion­ship between God and man.

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