Putting Elisha in his place: genre, coherence, and narrative function in 2 Kings 2-8
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Argues that, against the literary contexts of confused royal identities, the comingling of the northern and southern kingdoms, and the anonymity of the weak king of Israel, the prophet Elisha in 2 Kgs 2-8 is portrayed in a manner both royal and divine, performing deeds more typical of the king and Yhwh. The answer to the question raised in 2 Kgs 2.14, 'Where is Yhwh God of Elijah?,' is answered in 2 Kgs 8.1-6: the great deeds of Elisha are the great deeds of Yhwh. The portrayal of this prophet with divine and royal characteristics provides textual coherence to a set of narratives often viewed as disparate, based on the wide variety of form and content which they manifest. Part I (chapters 1-2) establishes the need for the present study. Chapter one argues that an examination of literary coherence in the Elisha narratives is overdue. Chapter two provides a theoretical examination of coherence. While the use of the term 'coherence' has increased in biblical studies over the last twenty years, the field has not reflected adequately upon the question, 'What is coherence?' We conclude that coherence may be viewed variously as 'discourse topic', 'global intention', or 'mental representation'. The chapter closes with the adoption of a model for reading the Elisha narrative. Part II (chapters 3-4) suggests several narrative contexts which will function as the backdrop for the detailed exegetical work that follows. Chapter three examines the broader contextual themes placed under the figureheads of Jehu, Hazael, and Elisha. In establishing the narrower context, 2 Kgs 1 and 2 are examined. The negative portrayal of the northern king in 2 Kgs 1 is contrasted with Elisha's succession of Elijah, a unique event in the Hebrew Bible. Chapter four explores 2 Kgs 3 and 2 Kgs 8.16-29 and argues for a narrative collapse of identity between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Part III (chapters 5-8) examines a range of narrative details suggesting that the prophet is portrayed as a re-presentation of king and Yhwh. Chapter five examines 2 Kgs 4-5 and argues that Elisha acts and is himself acted upon in a manner often reserved for king and deity (e.g., caring for the widow and orphan, feeding, healing, receiving gifts). Chapter six takes a multi-perspective approach to the two stories of 2 Kgs 6.1-23. The story of 2 Kgs 6.1-7 is examined alone initially. Next follows an exploration of the lexical connections between the two stories. After an examination of the remainder of 6.8-23 we look at the two stories together in relationship to the Exodus and Conquest traditions. In chapter seven (2 Kgs 6.24-7.20) it is suggested that the king is no longer the appropriate representative of Yhwh as the prophet again fulfils that role. Four major points are provided as evidence for this. In Chapter eight (2 Kgs 8.1-15), the concluding exegetical chapter, we demonstrate that the portrayal of Elisha mimics the portrayal of Yhwh. Both prophet and deity bring life to the dead, the word of the prophet and the word of Yhwh are inseparable, and each of their deeds are retold using similar vocabulary. Our concluding chapter attempts to 'put Elisha in his place' by examining the narrative function of 2 Kgs 2-8 within the wider scope of Kings and the Former Prophets. We provide a possible explanation for what Elisha is actually 'doing' within the book of Kings. After a brief return to the issues of genre and coherence, we consider Elisha's role as a royal figure in relation to that of the king. Next we consider Elisha as a transitional figure (like Joshua) and his identity with respect to the nameless king of Israel. Finally, we consider a 'reversal of history' as we observe the re-formation of a number of former enemies in the Former Prophets. The present study supports the proposal of T. Collins that a 'royal metaphor' once uniting king and people is replaced by a 'prophetic metaphor'. However, with Elisha the metaphor is 'mixed' in an enigmatic figure who manifests prophetic, royal, and divine traits.