ELIJAH. One of the greatest religious leaders of the Israelite people. He lived in the ninth century before Christ, and his influence dominated Hebrew thought for centuries although he left no writings. He was an unusual man, unconventional, physically robust, a man who survived many ordeals (I Kings 17-21). In an arduous trip across the desert to Mount Horeb, he reenacted the experiences of Moses when he received the law. His communications with God amplified the application of the Ten Commandments in an era of more complex social life. To prove the authenticity of his God, Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal in a contest, a vindication that established the Hebrew religion firmly and ended the drought that had afflicted Israel (I Kings 18:22-40). In his old age Elijah chose Elisha as his successor (II Kings 2:15). Presumably he went to heaven without dying, and it was an established belief that one day he would reappear on earth to restore Israel's glory (II Kings 2:11). Many people, in fact, mistook Jesus for Elijah (Matthew 16:14). At the Transfiguration it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Christ (Matthew 17:3). At the Jewish Passover the door is opened in anticipation of his return and a cup of wine is poured out for him. Elijah is also spelled Elias.
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