Alouf-Aboody, Hilla. “Halokh ve-daber: Elijah the Prophet as a Bearer of Wisdom in Rabbinic Literature,” Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 2017.
My dissertation entitled Halokh ve-daber: Elijah the Prophet as a Bearer of Wisdom in Rabbinic Literature explores the different roles that Elijah embodies in rabbinic literature and their connection to the wisdom tradition. One of the most striking things about the Elijah texts are their variegated nature, including the different traditions and legends that surround his character. Elijah appears in traditions regarding the Messianic era, in halakhic discussions, and in rabbinic legends. At first glance these traditions seem so strikingly different from one another that it is difficult to find any common link besides for the presence of Elijah. However, through analyzing a significant number of the Elijah traditions, I demonstrate how a common thread seems to permeate through many of them, mainly their connection to the wisdom tradition.
In order to better grasp the connection of these traditions to wisdom, it is necessary to understand how wisdom is defined and how it developed over time, discussed in depth in Chapter Two. Incorporating the ideas of modern genre theory and the recent developments in the study of biblical wisdom enable us to view genre as fluid in nature. Modern genre theory as expressed in the works of Alastair Fowler questions the static definition of genre and instead views genre as dynamic and constantly changing. Scholars such as Stuart Weeks and Mark Sneed utilize this idea to question the rigid definition of Wisdom as proposed by earlier biblical scholars. Earlier scholars focused on the form of the prototypical wisdom texts, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as the essential component of Wisdom, allowing little room for works that deviated from that form, a place in the wisdom tradition. However, if genre is viewed as being dynamic in nature, it is not surprising to see deviations from the prototypical form of the genre. Therefore works such as Job and the “wisdom psalms“ are not viewed as aberrations, but rather as part of the natural progression of a genre as it continuously changes and evolves based on its interaction with new works from within and from outside of the genre. This allows for a broader understanding of what is considered wisdom and a greater focus placed on wisdom themes as opposed to the form of wisdom. Some of these important themes that appear in the Elijah traditions discuss practical day to day advice, an interest in nature and its properties, proper sexual conduct, questions of theodicy and reward and punishment. This allows for a more direct association between the Elijah texts and wisdom, even though they do not in most cases embody the form of wisdom texts. Furthermore, viewing genre as a dynamic category helps explain the evolution of wisdom texts in the Second Temple period when apocalyptic and wisdom traditions greatly influence one another and are found in the same works. The merging of apocalyptic and wisdom traditions plays an extremely important role in linking Elijah‘s messianic character and his role in rabbinic literature as a “bearer of wisdom“, an essential point of this work. Significant evolutions in the wisdom tradition occurred during the Second Temple period, and these changes in wisdom played a significant role in the manner in which wisdom was understood in rabbinic literature which is manifested in the rabbinic portrayals of Elijah.
Chapters Three and Four discuss in detail the changes that occurred in the Second Temple period in relation to both wisdom and apocalyptic thought. Three manifestations of wisdom most clearly dominated this period, as enumerated by Cornelius Bennema: Torah-Centered wisdom, Apocalyptic-Centered wisdom and Spirit-Centered wisdom. The Torah-Centered wisdom tradition perceives the Torah as the source of all wisdom and as a result the study of the Law is regarded as integral to the sage's study. This type of wisdom is present in the works of Ben Sira as well as 4QInstruction found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Apocalyptic-Centered tradition merges apocalyptic themes with wisdom. This tradition views wisdom as being imparted by heavenly mediators and the wisdom imparted relates to esoteric knowledge such as the secrets of creation, the heavenly realms, and the events of the end of days. The third manifestation of wisdom, the Spirit-Centered tradition is distinguished by its focus on the "Spirit"/Pneuma or the ruah ha-qodesh as the conduit through which wisdom is imparted to the sage. This type of wisdom is evident in the Wisdom of Solomon and the works of Philo. These three manifestations of wisdom reflect the multifaceted nature of wisdom developing from its original biblical expression. In analyzing the Elijah traditions and their connection to wisdom, I show how these three manifestations of wisdom play a crucial role in illuminating the development of the Elijah traditions.
Part III discusses the Palestinian sources in three chapters. Chapter Five focuses on the Elijah traditions in Tannaitic sources while Chapters Six and Seven deal with Amoraic and post-Amoraic sources. Chapter Five demonstrates that the greatest focus of the Elijah traditions in Tannaitic sources such as the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Halakhic Midrashim, were in connection to the Torah-Centered wisdom tradition, although there are a few traditions which are influenced by the Apocalyptic and Spirit-Centered traditions. The earliest messianic tradition in connection with Elijah relates to his return in the ‘end of days.’ The Book of Malachi declares that Elijah will restore the hearts of the sons to their fathers and the fathers' hearts to their sons on the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal 3:23-24). This prophecy paves the way for further messianic speculation regarding Elijah in the Mishnah. One of the striking roles that Elijah is given in the Mishnah is as adjudicator of the law and one who will resolve controversies. This role of teacher is not self-evident from the verses in Malachi 3:23-24, but seems to be an outgrowth of Second Temple developments in eschatological expectations. From the Dead Sea Scrolls it is evident that a number of messianic characters were expected, such as a Davidic Messiah, a Priestly Messiah, and Prophet/Teacher of the ‘end of days’ also known as the “Teacher of Righteousness.” The centrality of wisdom and knowledge of the law as essential characteristics of these messianic characters reflects the influence that the wisdom tradition had on messianic thought. It is this merging of the wisdom and apocalyptic traditions which most likely influenced the rabbinic perception of Elijah as a teacher of the law in the ‘end of days.’ This eschatological expectation of Elijah as teacher played a part in the development of different Elijah legends in which he imparts wisdom to rabbinic and non-rabbinic figures in both the Palestinian and Babylonian sources.
Furthermore, Elijah is connected to the Spirit-Centered tradition through a Tannaitic statement by Rabbi Phinehas Son of Yair, a famous pietist and rabbi. Rabbi Phinehas describes the process of attaining piety with the end goal of achieving ruah ha-qodesh/Holy Spirit and connects Elijah with the resurrection of the dead as reward for those who have achieved this lofty state. Elijah's biblical persona is also described in Tannaitic sources as being a conduit of ruah ha-qodesh for those around him. With Elijah's departure, ruah-ha-qodesh receded from this world. These statements make a direct association of Elijah with the "Spirit"- ruah. The connection of Elijah with the "Spirit" and with pietists like Rabbi Phinehas in Tannaitic sources is essential in understanding the future depictions of Elijah in Amoraic sources. As discussed above the Spirit-Centered wisdom tradition viewed the Holy Spirit as being the medium through which wisdom was attained. It seems that in Amoraic sources Elijah serves as that medium for wisdom in a time when ruah-ha-qodesh was perceived to have receded. This is demonstrated by the numerous legends in which Elijah appears to pietists to impart wisdom. The connection of Elijah to ruah-ha-qodesh/Spirit as well as to the famous pietist Rabbi Phinehas in Tannaitic sources is the bridge that can help us understand the connection of Elijah with the Spirit-Centered wisdom tradition and pietists in the Amoraic material.
Throughout Part IV, the chapters on the Palestinian Amoraic/Post-Amoraic sources and Babylonian Amoraic sources, the Elijah traditions are discussed in light of the three strands of the wisdom tradition. These sources reflect the transformation of the Torah-Centered wisdom to the study of the law/halakhah. The numerous depictions of Elijah teaching the rabbis different halakhic laws reflect this strand of wisdom. The Apocalyptic-Centered traditions are represented by the different appearances of Elijah that impart apocalyptic wisdom through heavenly journeys, messianic speculation, and questions of the ultimate reward and punishment. Questions of theodicy play an important role in many of the Elijah traditions as they attempt to understand why the righteous suffer. With regards to the Spirit-Centered wisdom tradition in Amoraic sources, Elijah is not directly connected with the "Spirit" or ruah ha-qodesh as he is in the Tannaitic sources. Rather, the legends of Elijah as appearing to individuals seem to be carried through into the Talmud by pietistic traditions. I attempt to demonstrate the pietistic nature of these traditions and that these traditions may have viewed the Elijah appearances as a remnant of pietists' ability to attain ruah ha-qodesh in an age where the power of prophecy was perceived to have dwindled.
This dissertation explores the Elijah traditions in rabbinic literature in a new light, through the prism of the wisdom tradition. The striking aspect of the Elijah traditions is how varied they are from one another, and the numerous themes and ideas that they reflect and engage in. These seemingly disparate traditions can be better understood when connected with the development of the wisdom tradition. The evolution of the wisdom tradition in the Second Temple era demonstrates the expansive nature of wisdom and how it influenced multiple genres, sects, and ideologies. I hope to have demonstrated that rabbinic literature absorbed ideas from many different sources and the Elijah traditions reflect the influence of not only the Torah-Centered wisdom tradition which viewed the law as the source of wisdom, but also the Apocalyptic-Centered and the Spirit-Centered wisdom traditions.
Hilla Alouf-Aboody, in a recent move to Israel, is adjusting to life with her family and applying for post-doc fellowships in hope of continuing to write about the wisdom and apocalyptic traditions in rabbinic literature, among other topics.