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, 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 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.