In last week’s reading of the Hebrew scriptures…

AltarofElijah6…I came across one of my favorite passages, the throw-down between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah — or, more accurately, the throw-down between God, and Baal and Asherah.

Baal is a continual annoyance and worse for the early kingdoms, and the Israelites are continually warned away from the worship of same. Baal may have been one god, or a series of local gods. Tough to say, but we know that the writers of I and II Kings (that’s One and Two Kings, if you’re Donald Trump, and yeah, I should probably let that go) were adamant that the Hebrews stop already. Asherah isn’t mentioned nearly so often as Baal, though the worship of the mother goddess is widespread enough to gain Elijah’s attention.

(Even today, we are still talking about Baal — at least, that’s the case if we’re Glenn Beck, who has spent not nearly enough time in Sunday school or serious study to know what he’s talking about. Anyway. Onward.)

I don’t know what happens to the goddess’ prophets, but asking both sets of seers to assemble, Elijah, a Hebrew prophet of some renown, challenges the 450 prophets of Baal (or baalim, plural) to a throw-down. Elijah asks Baal’s prophets to bring two bulls, and prepare one animal for sacrifice and Elijah will do the same. Then Baal’s prophets and Elijah will pray and see whose god is paying attention.

Team Baal prayed for hours, and danced around the altar, but by noon nothing had happened, so Elijah started to trash-talk. Pray louder! Dance harder! Maybe Baal is sleeping! Maybe Baal is dreaming! Or peeing!

That make the prophets angry so they danced harder and even cut themselves with knives, though how that’s supposed to get a deity’s attention is beyond me.

So Elijah asked three times that water be brought to pour over his bull, and then he said a simple prayer, and fire rained down from heaven, so much so that everything was incinerated — the bull, the altar, everything.

So then the story ends as all these Kings’ stories ends: Elijah leads the prophets down to a brook and slaughters them. That part is tough to read, so I mostly as a kid just focused on the fire raining down, so much so that gallons upon gallons of water couldn’t deter it.

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One response to “In last week’s reading of the Hebrew scriptures…

  1. I find for me, the story can get lost in all the ways of and reasons for stoning and beheading and slaughtering. It’s horribly violent. I can’t wait to get through this to get to the good parts. Thanks for the summary. It is not always easy to follow with the many new names or interpret. (E.g. “rent his garments”)

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