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The prophet Elijah being fed by ravens in the wilderness, from a 19th century Sunday School card

Elijah was a renowned prophet and miracle-worker whose name means "Yaweh is my God." He lived 850–718 BCE and was not known as a great orator, political leader, or warrior, but rather as simply a holy man and a traveling wizard. He is first mentioned in the Bible in 1 Kings 17:6. According to this account, Elijah told King Ahab with great confidence, “There will be no dew or rain throughout these years except according to my own command.” And it was so.

As a wonder-worker, Elijah was able to produce endless supplies of flour and oil, as described in 1 Kings 17:19-24, and he beat the priests of the Canaanite god Baal in a magical competition to produce instantaneous fire, as told in 1 Kings 18:30-39. He produced rain, as noted in 1 Kings 18:41-45, and again demonstrated the magical production of fire in 2 Kings 1:9-12, as well as parting the waters of the Jordan River in 2 Kings 2:8. Elijah is said to have never died. Rather, as told in 2 Kings 2:11, he rode a chariot of fire and vanished into the sky, throwing his cloak to his follower Elisha, who donned it and became a prophet and miracle worker in his own right.

Elijah's reputation as a prophet is firmly incorporated into diasporic Jewish traditions. At the Passover Seder -- an annual family ritual dinner that commemorates Jewish escape from slavery -- a cup of wine is poured for him and the door of the house is opened to allow him to enter, because it is said that he will return to Earth one day as an unknown guest and will announce the coming of the Messiah. His reputation as a mage is just as firmly celebrated. In Jewish folklore he is generally depicted as a man dressed all in green whom one may meet while walking on the road. Since at least the Middle Ages, Elijah's name, his green clothing, and the condition of meeting him on the road have been used in spell casting by practitioners of Jewish folk magic to protect loved ones against sickness or death. Because of his green clothes, some Muslims associate him with the Islamic spiritual figure Al-Khidr, "the Green One." Meanwhile, Christians often depict him as a man wrapped in a robe being fed by ravens in the wilderness, as told in 1 Kings 17:2-16, or as a standing figure who is causing a pyre of wood to burst into flame, as in 1 Kings 18:30-39.


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