Elisha: a problem in legend and history
Frerichs, Ernest S.
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Statement of the Problem. The dissertation is an investigation of the mixture of legend and history in the Elisha cycle in II Kings, attempting to discover to what extent the interests and life of the historic Elisha can be authenticated. The Elisha cycle is used as the basis for exploring the functions of legend and history in Biblical traditions. A secondary problem is an evaluation of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha, especially at those points where it is frequently asserted that Elisha traditions are adaptations of Elijah traditions. Procedure. The materials of the Elisha cycle are examined with respect to their present nature and possible origins through the use of form- and literary-critical methods. These traditions are grouped according to the roles which the early preservers of the Elisha materials appear to have assigned to the prophet. Three such roles are considered: 1) wonder worker; 2) cultic prophet; 3) political prophet. Elijah and Elisha traditions are compared at those points at which the prophets are associated either historically or through doublets in the traditions. Talmudic and patristic writings are examined to compare the emphases of Elisha's ministry in Kings with the aspects of Elisha's ministry which appealed to later Jewish and Christian writers. Conclusions. 1. The three roles considered prove to be the most adequate bases for comprehending the varying traditions of the Elisha cycle. 2. The role of wonder worker is derived from Elisha's role as cultic prophet. The assumption that Elisha can work wonders is based on an acceptance of him as cultic prophet and as a leader of the "sons of the prophets." J. The roles of Elisha within the tradition are best explained if it is assumed that these materials were preserved by prophetic circles, especially the "sons of the prophets." 4. The preservation of the Elisha tradition by the "sons of the prophets" resulted in an emphasis upon prophetic roles for Elisha which would cease to be characteristic of classical prophecy after Amos. 5. Elisha's stature as a prophet was not enhanced by his historic and literary relationship to Elijah. The frequently asserted superiority of Elijah as a prophet is shown to result from judgments based both on the greater excellence of the literary traditions of Elijah and on his greater importance for Judaism. An examination of Elijah's importance in Judaism shows clearly that it rests on factors other than the quality of his historic ministry. 6. In four instances of parallelism between Elijah and Elisha traditions only one instance Kings 17:17-24 parallel to II Kings 4:8-37) demonstrates clearly a transfer from Elijah to Elisha traditions. 7• The legendary aspects of those traditions which picture Elisha as political prophet are not to be discounted since Elisha's participation in the political life of the nation is conceivable for the period in question. It is shown that the settings for the political traditions in the Elisha cycle are all authentic for the general period, even though specific dates cannot be attached to all such traditions. 8. The legendary aspects of the Elisha traditions are shown to serve an historical purpose in communicating the interests and needs of those among whom these traditions were preserved. The legends are important in expanding our understanding of group prophecy in Israel in the ninth century B.C. although they do not carry us to the historic Elisha.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Boston University
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