Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

According to the Bible, did all Old Testament prophets perform miracles?

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Broadly speaking, no. There is a clear difference between prophets in Judah/Judea, and those in Israel (the northern kingdom).

The Judahite prophets—such as Nathan and Isaiah—were dour, upper-class members of the court, who served effectively as the kingdom’s ombudsmen. They restricted their activity to emerging from time to time when the king did something particularly egregious and castigating him for inciting God’s wrath.

The Israelite prophets—typified by Elijah and Elisha—were charismatic, larger-than-life figures, who went among the people, curing the sick and raising the dead (or seemingly dead—I Kings 17; II Kings 4), bringing forth rain (I Kings 18), smiting people with blindness (II Kings 6), slaughtering Baal prophets en masse, and other amazing feats such as outrunning the king’s chariot for miles (I Kings 18), trekking alone from northern Israel to Mt. Sinai with nothing—even anointing foreign kings (II Kings 8). Even in death, Elijah went out literally in a blaze of glory, ascending to heaven in a whirlwind amidst a chariot of fire (II Kings 2).

This type of ‘man of God’ behaviour was frowned upon after the fall of Israel and the absorption of the remnants of the Israelite population within Judea and integration of the Israelite and Judahite religions and traditions under King Hezekiah. In particular, the compilers and editors of the Hebrew Bible—Judean scholars in the Second Temple period (ca. 500 BCE onwards)—took a stern view of the Israelite prophets’ conduct, and made sure to insert hints of their limitations in the biblical accounts (e.g. I Kings 19:4, II Kings 4:31).

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Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

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