Elijah and the Rabbis

Elijah and the Rabbis: Story and Theology

Kristen H. LINDBECK
Copyright Date: 2010
DOI: 10.7312/lind13080
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/lind13080
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  • Book Info
    Elijah and the Rabbis
    Book Description:

    Through an innovative synthesis of narrative critique, oral-formulaic study, folkloric research, and literary analysis, Kristen H. Lindbeck reads all the Elijah narratives in the Babylonian Talmud and details the rise of a distinct, quasi-angelic figure who takes pleasure in ordinary interaction.

    During the Talmudic period of 50-500 C.E., Elijah developed into a recognizable character quite different from the Elijah of the Bible. The Elijah of the Talmud dispenses wisdom, advice, and, like the Elijah of Jewish folklore, helps people directly, even with material gifts. Lindbeck highlights particular features of the Elijah stories, allowing them to be grouped into generic categories and considered alongside Rabbinic literary motifs and non-Jewish traditions of late antiquity. She compares Elijah in the Babylonian Talmud to a range of characters-angels, rabbis, wonder-workers, the angel of death, Christian saints, and even the Greek god Hermes. She concludes with a survey of Elijah's diverse roles from medieval times to today, throwing into brilliant relief the complex relationship between ancient Elijah traditions and later folktales and liturgy that show Elijah bringing benefits and blessings, appearing at circumcisions and Passover, and visiting households after the Sabbath.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52547-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xxii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  5. 1 THE STUDY OF RABBINIC NARRATIVE Elijah, Folklore Studies, and Form Criticism
    (pp. 1-19)

    At some point, during the rabbinic period or shortly before it, people began to tell stories in which the prophet Elijah appeared to people of their own generation or generations just before their own.¹ When these stories were first told is now inaccessible to us, as it has not left a trace in any text. The New Testament speaks of Elijah, but usually seems to do so in a messianic context. Jesus, for example, is seen by some as the Elijah who will usher in the end of days.² Rabbinic literature, therefore, is the first to describe the legendary Elijah...

  6. 2 ORAL-FORMULAIC STUDIES AND THE CULTURE OF THE BAVLI
    (pp. 20-43)

    The first chapter has laid out why the Elijah stories are worth studying. This chapter continues to discuss how best to study them. The first section makes clear that the prevalence of oral teaching and learning in the world of the Rabbis is important for understanding legendary narrative in the Babylonian Talmud. The second section, “Why Folklore Studies Are Useful in Interpreting Rabbinic Narrative,” describes how folklore and oral-formulaic studies help us interpret individual stories within their wider cultural context. The third section summarizes how the book’s methodology combines comparative approaches with form-critical, oral-formulaic, and literary analyses.

    The boundaries between...

  7. 3 ELIJAH IN RABBINIC CULTURE AND THE WIDER CULTURE OF LATE ANTIQUITY
    (pp. 44-94)

    Many aspects of the rabbinic Elijah can be best understood by comparing him to other figures that mediate between the supernatural and human worlds. In this chapter we will see that Elijah is unique as mediator of God’s mercy, God’s affirmation of rabbinic authority, and God’s support for humanity. The first major section of this chapter, “Elijah as Angelic or Supernatural Being,” compares Elijah to other supernatural figures within the Babylonian Talmud, bringing his unique role within the Bavli into high relief. The second section, “Elijah as Rabbi and Holy Man,” compares Elijah to Jewish Sages as well as to...

  8. 4 THE THREE GENERIC GROUPS OF ELIJAH STORIES
    (pp. 95-135)

    The previous chapter compared the characteristics of Elijah in the Bavli to those of other supernatural beings, seeking to understand what makes Elijah unique. This chapter analyzes the three generic groups of Elijah stories. As discussed in chapter 1, stories in each generic group share close parallels in phrasing and plot and often in theme as well. In the first group of stories Elijah ceases to visit or never visits someone of whom he disapproves, in the second group Elijah appears in disguise, usually to rescue someone, and in the third group Rabbis ask Elijah various questions. This chapter postulates...

  9. 5 ELIJAH FROM RABBINIC TIMES TO THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
    (pp. 136-170)

    As we saw in chapter 3, Elijah differed from all other mediators of God’s power in rabbinic times. He stepped into the roles that earlier Judaism reserved for angels, becoming helper, teacher, and companion of the righteous. Though Jewish storytellers may have borrowed miraculous powers for Elijah from both Christian saints and the Greco-Roman god Hermes, Elijah remains a uniquely Jewish figure. He provides a sense of greater connection to God, as ideal teacher, benefactor, and savior of Jews threatened by Gentiles, yet he still does not intrude on God’s authority by ruling on individuals’ worth or directly helping them...

  10. APPENDIX: THE ELIJAH STORIES OF THE BAVLI IN TRANSLATIONS WITH SIGNIFICANT VARIANT READINGS
    (pp. 171-194)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 195-220)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 221-232)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 233-246)