The River Jordan is the border for part of the border between the countries of Israel and Jordan. Near the River Jordan, just outside of Jericho, Israel, but on the Jordan side, is a hill called "Elijah's Hill." It is the traditional site for where Elijah was taken into heaven by a whirlwind. It is very close to the traditional site for where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
|Elijah's Hill near the River Jordan.|
I previously posted on the Church of Elijah located on Jebel Musa, the traditional location for Mount Sinai, in Egypt, and noted it relates to perhaps my favorite scripture in the Hebrew Bible. 2 Kings, chapter 2, which deals with both Elijah and Elisha, is a chapter which relates both one of the most sublime and one of the most horrific events in the Hebrew Bible.
Here is a portion of 2 Kings, chapter 2: "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal…[and] they came to Jericho…And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two [Elijah and Elisha] stood by [the River] Jordan.
And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters [of the River Jordan], and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground…. Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of [the River] Jordan; And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.” That is the sublime part.
|A different view of Elijah's Hill.|
Then comes the horrific part: “And [Elisha] went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” The New International Version is a little more clear. It says “some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
|Syrian brown bears. Picture from here.|
No wonder some of the Gnostics viewed the God of the Old Testament as an evil God. I can easily imagine myself being one of those children calling Elisha "baldy." I like the scriptural references where God and his prophets are a little more gentle and forgiving. But one of the things I found fascinating about this account is that I learned there really are bears in Israel and Jordan, called Syrian brown bears, and they are big, like the size of grizzly bears, big enough to maul 42 little brats. There was an article in the newspaper before our trip with a picture of a brown bear being operated on in an Israeli hospital.
|A picture of the Syrian brown bear being operated on in Israel.|
|Look at the size of that thing! It is huge!|