Elisha (“God has granted salvation”), son of Shaphat, a native of Abel‐Meholah in the northern kingdom of Israel (Map 3:x4), was a prophet during the reigns of Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash (849–785 BCE). The stories about him in 2 Kings 2–9 and 13.14–21 directly continue those about his prophetic predecessor Elijah in 1 Kings 17—2 Kings 1. The Deuteronomic history (Deuteronomy to 2 Kings), a vast work narrating the story of Israel from Moses to Josiah and into the sixth century BCE, incorporated these stories with little editing. Most scholars assume there was once a cycle of stories about Elisha, perhaps more extensive than those preserved in 2 Kings, which was then joined to the slightly older Elijah cycle before being incorporated into the Deuteronomic history. Elisha is portrayed as a disciple of Elijah (1 Kings 19.16–21; 2 Kings 2.1–18; 3.11). Elisha, however, is quite different from the solitary Elijah with his unswerving hostility toward the house of Omri. He leads prophetic guilds, “the sons of the prophets” (NRSV: “company of prophets”; 2 Kings 2.15–18; 4.38–44; 6.1–7; 9:1), and is sometimes, though by no means always, in friendly contact with the Israelite kings.
Elisha is first mentioned in 1 Kings 19. Elijah, renewed by his visit to the source of Yahwism at Mount Horeb, is commissioned to three momentous tasks: to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria in place of Ben‐Hadad, to anoint Jehu to be king in Israel in place of Jehoram, and to anoint Elisha “as prophet in your place…and whoever who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill” (vv. 16–17). Elijah thereupon seeks out Elisha, who is plowing, and casts his mantle, the symbol of his prophetic office, upon him; Elisha becomes his servant and eventually his successor, when Elijah's mantle definitively is given into his hands (2 Kings 2.1–18). The first two tasks given to Elijah—the anointing of Hazael in 2 Kings 8.7–15 and of Jehu in 2 Kings 9—were in fact performed by Elisha.
There are two types of Elisha stories. One type is the lengthy narratives in which the prophet, sometimes with his servant Gehazi, is involved with the great figures of the day. He advises the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom in their war with Moab (2 Kings 3.4–27); he assists the king of Israel in the matter of Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5); he plays a role in wars between Syria and Israel (6.8–7.20); and he foments the rebellion of Jehu (2 Kings 9). The other type is brief stories in which Elisha alleviates the distress of individuals: he makes a spring's water nontoxic (2 Kings 2.19–22); he punishes irreverent boys (vv. 23–25); he feeds the Shunammite widow and raises her son from the dead (2 Kings 4.8–37; 8.1–6); he detoxifies a cooking pot and multiplies loaves of bread (2 Kings 4.38–44); and he makes an ax head float (2 Kings 6.1–7). Both types of stories, especially the latter, emphasize the miraculous. Their emphasis upon the extraordinary resembles that of the Elijah stories and the plague narratives in Exodus; biblical signs and wonders, generally, are more soberly portrayed.
Elisha is mentioned only once in the New Testament, in Luke 4.27, which cites the cure of Naaman the Syrian as an instance of God's caring for non‐Israelites. The miracles of Elisha, like those of Elijah, have, however, influenced the narratives of Jesus' miracles, especially in Luke, such as the raising of the widow's son (2 Kings 4.32–37; cf. Luke 7:11–17) and the multiplication of loaves (2 Kings 4.42–44; cf. Mark 6:30–44; 8:1–10; par.).
Richard J. Clifford