- The designated successor of Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:19 ff.), who lived in the second half of the 9th cent. BCE. He seemed more at home in an urban environment than Elijah, even though his father was a farmer. He preferred city life (2 Kgs. 6:13) and had a residence in the city of Samaria (2 Kgs. 6:32). He visited religious centres like Bethel (2 Kgs. 2:23) and Gilgal (2 Kgs. 2:1) but was also attached to groups of ecstatic prophets (2 Kgs. 2:3–15) who lived in communities.In the stories handed down in the oral tradition about Elisha and eventually written down, perhaps about 700 BCE, there is a strong element of sympathetic magic [[➝ magic and sorcery]], or the extraordinary combined with prayer to Yahweh, as when the prophet is said to have divided the waters of the Jordan after receiving the mantle of Elijah (2 Kgs. 2:13 f.) and when he struck his enemies with blindness (2 Kgs. 6:18 ff.). There is a similar kind of magic in the story of Elisha recovering a borrowed axe-head from the water and making it float (2 Kgs. 6:1–7). But it was a demonstration of the power of the God of Israel when he healed Naaman's leprosy during a temporary lull in the perennial conflicts between Israel and Syria (2 Kgs. 5:1–19). That Elisha was a prophet of an era before the great classical prophets of the 8th cent. is indicated by the use of music to induce his trance (2 Kgs. 3:15; cf. 1 Sam. 10:5–7); and the mockery of his baldness by a group of jeering boys suggests that he had assumed the tonsure, a ritual shaving of the head commonly practised by holy men (2 Kgs. 2:23). According to the narrative the boys were promptly devoured by bears as a punishment; a coincidence that is thus given a theological, and by no means agreeable, interpretation.On the political level, Elisha aided the Israelites against Moabites (2 Kgs. 3:21–7) and Syrians (2 Kgs. 6:13–7:23). His motive was to persuade the kings of the absolute sovereignty of the God of Israel, who would tolerate no apostasy.There are similarities between the story (2 Kgs. 4:42–4) of Elisha's miracle [[➝ miracles]] in feeding 100 people with twenty loaves, with some still left over, and the account in Mark (6:30–44) of Jesus' multiplication of loaves.
Dictionary of the Bible.