Eli (biblical figure)

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1645 painting by Jan Victors of Hannah presenting her son Samuel to Eli, who is seated on the right.

Eli (Hebrew: עלי, Modern ʻEli Tiberian ʻĒlî, meaning "Ascent"; or "Yahweh is the most high/God on high"; Ancient Greek: Ηλί Ēli; Latin: Heli) was, according to the Books of Samuel, a High Priest of Shiloh.

Biblical narrative[edit]

Hannah is the wife of Elkanah. Elkanah also has another wife (Peninnah) who bore him children. Peninnah, at every chance, teases and criticises Hannah about her barrenness to the point of Hannah's deep despair. Her husband sees her distress and tries to uncover her deep despair with these questions. "Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?" The story indicates that Hannah gave no answer to the questions and rose and presented herself before Yahweh weeping bitterly in the temple.

When she is found in the temple by the priest she is praying silently, but her lips are moving. The priest witnesses this odd posture and concludes she is drunk. In her despair she prays to Yahweh for a child and if her prayer is granted she will give the son back to Yahweh. After Hannah's explanation of her sobriety, Eli blesses her with peace and a guarantee that Yahweh of Israel will grant her request. She went home, ate and drank with her husband, and was filled with hope. Subsequently Hannah becomes pregnant; her child is named Samuel. The time had come to offer the yearly sacrifice at the temple but Hannah stayed home. She promises to go with him to the temple when Samuel is weaned and planned to leave him with Eli to be trained as a Nazirite.

The book of Samuel records Hannah's prayer to Yahweh. She rejoices and exalts the Holy One there is no father like Yahweh, therefore, the nation should rejoice also in this Holy One. This story of Hannah intertwines itself with the culture of the nation of Israel. Eli is the high priest of Shiloh, the second-to-last Israelite judge (succeeded only by Samuel - see 1 Samuel 7:15) before the rule of the kings, therefore, the Shiloh tradition will become an old and lost tradition that when the prophet Jeremiah comes on the scene in the history of Yahweh's people, he will seek to renew and to bring back the way of the Shiloh tradition to the people of Israel because the kings have become wicked and defiled the temple and tradition of Yahweh.

The sons of Eli[edit]

Depiction of Eli and Samuel by John Singleton Copley, 1780.

The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, meanwhile, were behaving wickedly, for example by taking for themselves all the prime cuts of meat from sacrifices, and by committing adultery with the women who served at the sanctuary entrance. Eli is aware of their behavior but he rebukes them too lightly and is unable to stop them. The sons continue in their sinful behavior, and so, according to the text, a man of God prophesies to Eli that Eli and his family will be punished for this, with all male descendants dying before reaching old age and being usually placed in positions subservient to prophess from other lineages.[1] The curse alludes to a previous (not appearing elsewhere in the Bible) promise from Yahweh of Eli's lineage continuing eternally (c.f. similar promises to King David and Jehonadab). While this continuation is not revoked, a curse is placed on all of Eli's male descendants forever. As a sign of the accuracy of this future, Eli is told by the man of Yahweh that his sons will die on the same day.

Samuel's training[edit]

Eli goes on to train Samuel. When Samuel hears Yahweh speaking to him, he at first thinks it is Eli; Eli, who doesn't hear Yahweh calling Samuel, eventually realizes the truth, and instructs Samuel on how to respond. Samuel is told that Yahweh's threat (which isn't elaborated further) will be carried out on Eli and his family, and that there is nothing that can be done to prevent it. Eli asks Samuel what he had been told, insisting that he be told the whole truth, and so Samuel does; Eli reacts by saying that Yahweh will do as he judges best.

Philistine attack and the death of Eli[edit]

Some years later, when Samuel had become an adult, the Philistines attacked Eben-Ezer, eventually capturing the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites and killed Eli's sons, who accompanied the Ark to battle as priests. (The Israelites had brought the Ark with them to battle under the premise that there was no possible way Yahweh would allow it to enter enemy hands, an assumption that proved to be incorrect.) Eli, who was nearly blind, was unaware of the event until he asked about all the commotion. Eli, sitting in a chair, was told what had happened by a soldier who had fled the battle. In reaction to the news that the Ark of God had been captured, Eli fell backwards out of the chair he was sitting in, and died from a broken neck. He was a Judge of Israel for a total of 40 years, and died at the age of 98. His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the Ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and husband were dead, she went into labour and gave birth, but was overcome by labour pains. As she was dying, the women attending her said, Don't despair; you have given birth to a son. But she did not respond or pay any attention. She named the boy Ichabod, saying The Glory has departed from Israel- because of the capture of the Ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband.

Era[edit]

The Philistine incursions spanned a period of 40 years; and Samson, who fought the Philistine incursions, judged Israel for 20 years. Some scholars, like Kessler,[2] and Nowack[3] have argued that there is likely to have been some overlap between the time of Samson and that of Eli.[4] However, the Book of Judges always mentions the years of oppression in contrast to the period of a judge's dispensation; since the early parts of Eli's rule do not appear to occur during a time of oppression, this appears to rule out any overlap with the Philistine oppression that Samson, a previous judge, had lived under.[4]

Identity[edit]

Though his own genealogy is not given by the text, a number of scholars have determined a genealogy for Eli, based on that given to his sons in other passages. Abiathar is described by the Book of Chronicles as being a direct (paternal) descendant of Ithamar; the Books of Samuel state that Abiathar was a son of Ahimelek and that Ahimelek was a son of Ahitub, who is the brother of Ichabod. Consequently since the narrative states that Ichabod was the son of Phinehas, and that Phinehas was the son of Eli, a number of scholars have drawn the conclusion that Eli must be a descendant of Ithamar.[5]

Descendants[edit]

  • Ahimelech great-grandson of Eli; slain by Doeg the Edomite-fulfilling part of the curse on the House of Eli that none of his male descendants would live to old age. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia on David descendant Jehoash of Judah: In Rabbinical Literature: As the extermination of the male descendants of David was a divine retribution for the extermination of the priests by David (comp. I Sam. xxii. 17-21), Joash escaped death because in the latter case one priest, Abiathar, survived (Sanh. 95b).
  • Abiathar son of Ahimelech; the only survivor of the massacre at Nob; great-great-grandson of Eli and last High Priest of the House of Eli; deposed from office of High Priest which went to the house of Zadok after Yahweh deserted Abiathar and without which the Urim and Thummin could not be consulted (fulfilling the other part of the Curse on the House of Eli that the priesthood would pass out of his descendants hands-the house of Zadok was descended from the family of Eleazar and Phinehas)
  • Hannaniah Brother of Rabbah bar Nahmani (Amora)
  • Rabbah bar Nahmani {270-330} Babylon Jewish Talmudist (Amora)
  • Abaye {280-340} Babylon Jewish Talmudist-nephew of Rabbah bar Nahmani (Amora)

Both Rabbah and his nephew Abaye died at the same age (60).

Other sources[edit]

Talmud[edit]

The Talmud lists him as a prophet.[6]

Samaritan sources[edit]

The Samaritans assert that Mount Gerizim was the original Holy Place of Israel from the time that Joshua conquered Israel and the ten tribes settled the land. According to the Bible, the story of Mount Gerizim takes us back to the story of the time when Moses ordered Joshua to take the Twelve Tribes of Israel to the mountains by Shechem and place half of the tribes, six in number, on the top of Mount Gerizim (Mount of the Blessing), and the other half in Mount Ebal (Mount of the Curse). The two mountains were used to symbolize the significance of the commandments and serve as a warning to whoever disobeyed them.

A counterargument to the above is found in Joshua 18:1 which describes the tabernacle as being set up in Shiloh beginning with the time that the Israelites were dividing up the promised land and before Yahshua died (see Yahshua 18:3).

Abu l-Fath, who in the fourteenth century C.E. wrote the major work of Samaritan history, comments on Samaritan origins as follows:

Further, the Samaritan Chronicle Adler, or New Chronicle, believed to have been composed in the 18th century C.E. using earlier chronicles as sources states:

According to the Samaritans this marked the end of the Age of Divine Favor called רידון (Ridhwan) or רהוּתה (Rahuta), which began with Moses. Thus began the פנוּתה (Fanuta) Era of Divine Disfavor when God looks away from the people. According to the Samaritans the age of divine favor will only return with the coming of the Taheb (Messiah or Restorer).[10]

Likewise according to Samaritan sources the high Priests line of the sons of Phineas died out in 1624 C.E. with the death of the 112th High Priest Shlomyah ben Pinhas when the priesthood was transferred to the sons of Ithamar; see article Samaritan for list of High Priests from 1613 to 2013-the 132nd High priest of the Samaritans was Aharon ben Ab-Chisda ben Yaacob who was succeeded by Aabed-El ben Asher ben Matzliach (ironically Eli was of the House of Ithamar).

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ 1 Samuel 2
  2. ^ Kessler, The Chronology of Judaism and The First of the Kings
  3. ^ Nowack, Richter-Ruth
  4. ^ a b Jewish Encyclopedia
  5. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. 
  6. ^ How many prophets were there? – AskMoses.com
  7. ^ The Emergence of the Samaritan Community (Lecture given by Professor Abraham Tal at Mandelbaum House, August 2001) [1]
  8. ^ The Keepers, An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Samaritans, by Robert T. Anderson and Terry Giles, Hendrickson Publishing, 2002, pages 11-12
  9. ^ The Keepers, page 12
  10. ^ The Keepers, page 13

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Samson
Judge of Israel Succeeded by
Samuel
Preceded by
Uzzi
High Priest of Israel Succeeded by
Ahitub