Elijah and Archtypes

Rosalie Sugrue from Aotearoa / New Zealand sends a days’s retreat for looking at Elijah and for considering archetypes as a new way of entering Bible studies.

Elijah – Hebrew Bible lectionary hero for the month of June, 2016

Elijah is the archetype folk hero who begins as a nobody from the fringes of the Bible lands. He embarks on a journey that involves standing up for what he believes is right. Elijah becomes this larger than life character who dares confront royalty, then he becomes afraid. But the power he believes in, does not desert him. As Elijah hides from the wicked queen he is fed miraculously by ravens. Then we see a softer side as Elijah continues his God directed journey – he shares a meal with a poverty stricken widow who thinks it will be her last but Elijah blesses her flour jar and her oil jar and they never empty (shades of the magic porridge pot of European legend) and later Elijah revives the widows son.

To read Elijah as folklore presents a typical hero versus villain, combat and return tale, or as a quest story, rain taken and recovered. Those into mythological symbols, point out the importance of fire and water in his story, and stress the mythic power of these opposites both basic to life yet able to kill. However, the prime task of the Hebrew Scriptures editors’ was to present Elijah as a hero with absolute faith in God, done wonderfully well in the graphic telling of how he defeated the Priests of Baal – a story full of drama and humour. Elijah the Hebrew prophet thoroughly humiliates the heathen priests. To add insult to injury Baal was, among other things, the great god of weather and after his priests were slain there was the gratifying sound of ‘rushing rain.’ What a victory!

Elijah’s archetype is the Wildman Prophet, staunch in the face of danger yet a man who knows fear. His fear is also his redemption. In his fear he is receptive to the spiritual and hears the voice of God not in weather violence but in a still small voice of calm. He is a man who protects widows and children but Elijah’s greatness lies in his faith, his utter faith in the God of Israel. For the one true God Elijah was willing to stand up and be counted. In this he is a magnificent, manly role model. There was nothing half hearted about Elijah’s faith. The moral is put your trust in God.

Bible Archetypes a little background
Jesuit priest Patrick Arnold, in his book Wildmen Warriors and Kings advocates liberating the Scriptures by thinking of Biblical characters as story archetypes. In so doing is added a powerful dimension of defined attributes, qualities that we can readily relate to and learn from. Kings are kings, mighty men of valour. If we get hung up on David’s atrocities and attitudes to women, particularly his wives, we fail to see the majesty of this great king. Arnold sees Elijah as a man of the wilds in tune with nature. Elijah the wildman can whirl up rain and outrun the king’s chariot, be fed by ravens and hear God in the eye of a storm. Elisha is a shaman with a healing touch. Elisha purifies poisoned soup, restores life and heals the sick. Seen as a magician, Moses is every bit as riveting as wizards Gandalf, Merlin or Dumbledore. Thinking of Biblical characters as archetypes does not mitigate their worth or lessen their godliness. It is a way of maximizing the power of the story.

Bible study group activity

(feel free to adapt by only looking at two or three of these after naming them all or by having a vote of the five favorite to investigate)

• Define some typical archetypes
In groups of 2-4 people work on 4-6 archetypes (provide list)

1. What characteristics come to mind for these typical folk-story characters?
2. Supply 1 or more examples from literature or history
Patriarch (family head, position unchallenged, decision-maker)
Matriarch (head of domestic household, considerate, nurturing, notices details)
Trickster (ambitious, uses trickery for self-advancement)
Leader (grasps new situations, makes bold decisions, expects respect from followers)
Magician (has special powers, is insightful, uses magic to achieve results)
Priest (mediates between the people and the Divine, performs rituals, upholds morals)
Hero (brave, a leader prepared to do more than would be normally expected)
Fool (a character who brings light relief to the surrounding drama)
Everyman/Everywoman (ordinary person on life’s journey)
Seducer (someone who tempts others to sin)
Poet (dreamer of visions who uses words or music to reveal his insights to others)
King (powerful ruler who exhibits the trappings of wealth and success, his word is law)
Queen (wealthy consort with a limited measure of power)
Judge (known for wisdom, skilled in arbitration, able to make decisive moral decisions)
Hermit (thinker who lives alone but will give advice to seekers)
Prophet (spiritual person to whom truth is revealed, that he must proclaim)
Shaman /Healer (has special gift of healing may be knowledgeable with plants)
Maiden (innocent, pure, of good intent)
Youth (young person with enthusiasm and potential, willing to learn)
Wise Woman (woman with accumulated wisdom and special powers)
Villain (person who gets pleasure from doing evil)
Herald (someone who goes before and announces or proclaims of a greater person)
Traitor (a trusted person who lets down those who had his trust)
Saviour (someone with answers able to point to a better way of being)

Share attributes with whole group

Whole group activity  

(this can work with the earlier activity or it can replace the earlier one) Fit these Biblical characters into archetypes)

Note: An archetype is not static throughout life’s journey – some characters fit in more than one archetype

Aaron, Abraham, Adam, David, Delilah, Elijah, Elisha, Esther, Eve, Herod, Isaac, Isaiah, Jacob, Jonah, Joseph, Joshua, Jacob, Jeremiah, Jesus, Jezebel, Joseph, Joshua, John the Baptist, Judas, Martha, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, Moses, Naomi, Peter, Pharaoh, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Samson, Samuel, Sarah, Solomon, Timothy, Medium of Endor

Bible Archetypes — this is what folks might decide and these are the classical definitions, but is there a “right or wrong”? … Of course not.

Patriarch – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
Matriarch – Sarah, Naomi
Trickster – Jacob, Samson
Leader – Joseph, Moses
Magician – Moses,Elisha
Priest – Aaron
Hero – Joshua, Noah
Fool – Samson, Jonah,
Seducer – Eve, Delilah, Mary Magdalene — into what other archetypes do these women fit?
Poet – David, the writer of Song of Songs
King – Pharaoh, David, Solomon,
Queen – Jezebel, Esther
Judge – Solomon
Hermit – Elijah
Prophet – Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah
Shaman/Healer Elisha
Maiden – Rebecca, Rachel, Ruth, Mary of Nazareth
Youth – Samuel, Jeremiah, Timothy, Eutychus (go ahead, find him)
Everyman/Everywoman – Adam, Eve, Peter, Leah
Wise Woman – Medium of Endor, Martha
Herald – John the Baptist
Villain – Pharaoh, Jezebel, Herod
Traitor – Judas
Saviour – Jesus

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3 Responses to Elijah and Archtypes

  1. Dwight Lee Wolter says:

    Excellent!!!

  2. Todd Edeker says:

    YES!! What I have always (sort-a) believed about Elijah!! But the part about taking care of children… Guess that coves disipline too!! (2kings 2:20ish)

  3. Maren says:

    Yes, I think it does, Todd. Nice to hear from you.

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