Friday, April 20, 2007

Will Elijah Come Twice?

I frequently find some of my favorite pieces of information simply by pulling random books off the shelf and turning to random pages. This happened last night with one of my favorite (and most expensive) volumes on my shelf: James Scott's Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Brill, 2001), p. 266.
I opened to an article on restoration eschatology in Rabbinic Judaism by Chaim Milikowsky and found a fascinating quote from a Rabbinic work I've never read (or heard much discussed): Seder Olam. This text, which is attributed to Rabbi Yose ben Halaphta (2nd cent A.D.), relates an ancient Jewish tradition that Elijah will come twice: once at the time of the Messiah, and again during the final Great Tribulation. It reads:

In the second year of Azariah (King of Israel) Elijah was hidden away and is not seen until the messiah comes. In the days of the messiah he will be seen and hidden away a second time and will not be seen until Gog will arrive. At present he records the deeds of all generations. (Seder Olam, chap. 17)

This is a fascinating quote, for it suggests that there was an expectation in ancient Judaism that Elijah would not only return, but that he would come twice: once during the days of the Messiah and then a second time during the time of "Gog." This second reference is a reference to the mysterious days of Gog and Magog described in Ezekiel 38-39, after the coming of the Messiah in Ezekiel 37. As many people are aware the days of Gog and Magog are linked in Jewish eschatology and the New Testament with the Great Tribulation that will precede the Final Judgment and the resurrection of the dead (see, e.g., Rev 20:7-10).

One reason this was so interesting to me was that I had already argued in my book on Jesus and the Tribulation that Jesus held John the Baptist to be the new Elijah and that there was a link between the persecution and death of John as Elijah and the eschatological tribulation (see chapter 3 on Mark 9:11-13; Matt 11:11-15). Here this link is confirmed by a rabbinic text of which I was totally unaware when I wrote the dissertation.

Moreover, the passage also is intriguing because it illuminates another quite baffling text in the book of Revelation, which describes the coming of two witnesses during a time of tribulation and persecution. One of these witnesses is described as an Eljiah figure, who "shuts the sky" so that "no rain may fall" just as Elijah did in the Old Testament (Rev 11:4-7). Unfortunately, the beast ascends from the bottomless pit and kills this new Elijah, along with his Moses-like counterpart. Clearly this is a time of tribulation...
Finally, and perhaps most intriguingly, it is a well known fact that many orthodox Jews today are still waiting for the (first) coming of Elijah. This is particularly expressed through the tradition of the Jewish Passover seder, where a cup of wine is left for Elijah to drink when he comes. For Christians, Jesus declares that "Elijah has come" in the figure of John the Baptist (Mark 8:13). But perhaps there is room for agreement here, if we both somehow await Elijah's "Second Coming"? Just a thought, just speculation, but interesting nonetheless...


Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that while visiting a Synagogue in Rome, the Rabbi told us that when a child is circumcised, the person holding the child (I believe he said it was normally an Uncle - [this was years ago]) "stood in the place of Elijah."

I always found the explanation as to how Jesus could have come before Elijah to be wanting (i.e., the John the Baptist came "in the spirit" of Elijah, and so the prophecy was satisfied). It always seemed like a stretch to me until I found out, on that day, that the Jews also had a similar tradition, or practice, wherein one could "sit in" for Elijah!

Anonymous said...

If the destruction of the temple and the end of the Old Covenant age is a type of the end of time, was there a type of Elijah during the tribulation leading up to the temple destruction?

Anonymous said...

There is some interesting stuff on this question towards the end (book 20?) of St. Augustine of Hippo's great work City of God, along with much other matter on tribulation, antichrist etc., as well as a truly fascinating section on the "two resurrections" of Rev. 20. Delving into the Fathers is always interesting and rewarding, and of course Augustine is worth paying attention to hear in that he articulates perhaps most firmly of all the Fathers except perhaps Origen the general patristic consensus in favour of "amillenialism", (or to use more Catholic language "liturgical millenialism"!)

Brant Pitre said...

2nd anonymous,
I actually argued in the dissertation that the tribulation leading up to the Temple destruction in 70AD began with the persecution and death of John the Baptist, so he would fit the bill. However, one could also interpret Rev 11 as describing some kind of advent of Elijah and Moses in which they preached in the city of Jerusalem but were martyred. However, if this were a correct interpretation it would be the only witness to such a belief. So again, it's pretty speculative. But good question! Stuart, I will go back and reexamine City of God, which is a masterpiece far too often overlooked by exegetes.

Steven Carr said...

Didn't Moses and Elijah return to the Earth, as witnessed by people who were surprised to hear that Jesus had returned from the dead?

Anonymous said...

Dr. Pitre,

If John was the Elijah who has come, I wonder if it is worth mentioning that there is already a second coming of Elijah recorded in the Gospels. I am thinking here of the appearance of Elijah in Mk 9 (which leads to the passage you quoted from Mk 9.13 -- I think that there's a typo in the original post). I really have no idea if this is a fruitful line of investigation, but you've certainly got my wheels turning!

To be honest, reading through Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile got me more excited than anything I have read about Jesus since Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. I do, however, have one question about your understanding of the Lord's Prayer (in particular, I wonder about your interpretation of "lead us not into peirasmos"). If it is not too tangential to this discussion, I would love to ask you a bit about the implications of your reading of this phrase.

Grace and peace.

Michael Barber said...


Great post.

I just opened up to a random page in three different books and found nothing of interest. Is there some dance I need to do or ritual I must perform before turning the pages?

This post just makes me mad. (Just kidding).

Of course, all three books I opened up were written by Dominic Crossan--might that have something to do with it? :)

Brant Pitre said...

Wow, Dan, thanks for the compliment! Wright is one of my favorite scholars. It's very gratifying to hear you like the book.

As for "lead us not into temptation," ask away. It's certainly one of the most difficult petitions to grasp. Le me know what your question is.

Michael, sorry your Quest for the Random datum was unsuccessful. The ritual I've utilized involved the rare red heifer, so I don't know if you'll be able to replicate it. Perhaps you should develop some criteria of randomicity that you could then apply systematically to the books on your shelf.
(Otherwise you could just call me on the phone and I'll tell you the secret that cannot be revealed to the masses.)

Anonymous said...

Apropos of the above; there is also a Jewish belief that there will be two different Messiahs. Moshiach Ben David and Moshiach Ben Joseph. Moshiach Ben Joseph will come and be defeated by the enemies of God. Then Moshiach Ben David will come and be victorious.

See: Messiah Texts by Raphael Patai


Anonymous said...

Regarding the last comment the books and articles of John Mitchell (I think I have got the spelling right) have some fascinating things to say about the traditions relating to Messiah ben Joseph (cf. a recent article of his in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudipigrapha looking at Enoch material in particular).

Does the Transfiguration have any role to play here, given that Elijah, together with Moses appears, and this in some sense a "coming" of the Kingdom with powere etc? (Forgive me if I sound a little confused here). Looking at how the Eastern tradition understands the Transfiguration in relation to the resurrection and the eschaton might yield some insights. However, I could be wildly off here.

Anonymous said...

Oops! Sorry! It's David C. Mitchell, not John Mitchell, as I realised when I saw his book footnoted in one of Michael's earlier postings.

Anonymous said...

It appears to me that Elijah is a transendant figure to mirror the workings of the Holy Spirit throughout time.

He is established to represent a figure who "Prepares the Way", as did John the Baptist, to whom Jesus attached that Title at His First Coming.

It seems to not only foreshadaow a John The Batist (Elijah like Figure) to come and Preapre the Way for the Lord's Return, but also seems to Post Shadow the workings of the Holy Spirit, Preparing mankind to enter the presence of God, from the begining of time.

And as Isaiah refers to the End being a likeness of the Begining, could it be that He who BEGAN as the Lord's Vice Regent (The Holy Spirit) of "Preparing the Way" to enter the Presence of God, will also FINISH the Work He began ?

Just as Christ incarnated in the Flesh to perform HIS Pre Earthly appointed Mission from the Father...Why not the Holy Spirit DO THE SAME?

In order to FINISH what He had been appointed by God in HIS Pre Earth life and has spent perfoming the past 6,000 years as an unimbodied Spirit, now awaiting HIS TURN to recieve what the REST of us, including Christ, has recieved...A Body and a JOB to do here on Earth in the Flesh ?


What Goes around...Comes around.

It began with the Lord sending the "Angel of His Prsence" (The Holy Spirit) to guide the Chidren of Israel upon their FIRST Exodus from Egypt (A symbol for the World). And as He appeared to them as a Cloud by Day & a Flame by Night, might He not be doing this SAME thing again in Directing the Final Exodus of the Lord's Children Out of Babylon (The World as it is characterized by God Today)?

I believe when the Lord says we must take the "SPIRIT' for our Guide as we embark upon this Quest in the near future...It probably takes on a LITTERAL meaning as... The "PROPHET LIKE UNTO MOSES" who will be sent to Guide our steps on this New Exodus out of this World and Back to the Prsence of Christ as we are "CALLED UP" to "Meet Him in the Air" as He desends.

Make sense? Besides...What better WAY to become aquainted with a Saviour that we are expecting to meet, than to catch a FIRST HAND GLYMPS of His Nature true the eyes of "THE ANGEL OF HIS PRESENCE", who knows and Represents Him BEST?

And remember...We're not taking about ANY Angel, but rather "THE" Angel of God's PRESENCE (Immeadiate Surroundings).

Who ELSE is CLOSER to Jesus & His Father and Better ABLE to PREPARE THE WAY?