The Woman At Zarephath - Northern Elijah & Elisha: A Mirror-Reading

image: Wikimedia commons (  link  ).

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

This is a mirror-reading of the The Woman at Zarephath Narrative. If you don’t know what mirror-reading is, please visit this page. The Woman at Zarephath Narrative is primarily concerned with Elijah’s reputation, who was the widow, what happened to her son and which Elohim Elijah served.

If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on this narrative. If you’re not familiar with Northern Elijah & Elisha, be sure to check out all of the podcast episodes in that series. I used Tzemah Yoreh's work as the basis for my Northern Elijah/Elisha Source. My mirror-reading map and commentary are listed below. In my commentary, I refer to the author of the Northern Elijah/Elisha source as “M”, after Tzemah’s labeling of the source as “Miracle Workers”.

Mirror-Reading Map

The map below shows how I derived the opposing narrative from the Biblical narrative. It relies primarily on mirrors/echos and cause/effect. For more information about mirrors/echoes, causal chains and my methodology, please visit this post.


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Please note that “M” refers to the author of the opposing narrative

Was The Woman At Zarephath Elijah’s Wife?

Once again, M has to deal with another narrative where Elijah is outside of Israel. The city of Zarephath was a Phoenician city just north of the Israelite border. The opposing narrative asserted this was because Elijah was a fugitive (see Ahab and Obadiah for more details), but M will simply present him as a sojourner.

The opposing narrative asserts that the woman at Zarephath was Elijah’s wife. M will counter this by making the woman a widow and injecting several reasons into the text as to why she wasn’t his wife. Most have to do with their living situation: Elijah lived separately (in the loft) and he had his own bed. The woman is also put into a position of authority within the household by calling her “mistress” of the house.

Furthermore, the woman asks “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God?”. The opposing narrative would answer this by saying she was Elijah’s wife, but given the context given to us by M, the question is more likely to be answered “She has nothing to do with him”.

Was The Woman At Zarephath Unfaithful To Elijah?

M also has to counter the idea that, if the woman and Elijah were married, she cheated on him. I propose that the phrase “collecting sticks” was a sexual euphemism and doing it at the city gate suggested prostitution. Tamar is in a similar location (entrance to Enaim Gen. 38:14) when acting as a prostitute for Judah. It would seem that the city gate would be a poor place to find sticks or any type of wood, so M inserts that she is only gathering “two” sticks to make a meal.

Furthermore, the woman asks “ thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance..?” The “sin” would be defined as her infidelity by the opposing narrative, but M leaves it vague in his narrative, as there is no sin mentioned and his reader might answer, “What sin? There was no sin?”

The woman who is a prostitute and a wife of a prophet may sound familiar as it is also the case in Hosea. However, the author of Hosea handles it differently by make Gomer analogous to Israel.

The assertion by the opposing narrative that Elijah’s wife was a prostitute and later, that Elijah ate her son, does seem a little over the top and may indicate that the opposing narrative itself was propaganda and was responding to an even earlier narrative. But that is a mirror-reading of a mirror-reading, and it’s difficult to say with any certainty.

Who Ate The Cake?

The event in the opposing narrative that sets up the reason for the son to be eaten, is Elijah’s wife and her son eating the last of the food. In this case, it’s a “cake”. His wife and her son ate it to live. M will spin this by showing that Elijah is not concerned with it being the last of the food. Notice, the “fear not” that Elijah speaks to her, in order to downplay the event as the potential reason for the eating of the son. Notice also that M spins the reason for eating the cake, changing it from sustenance to keep her and her son alive, to despair with the expectation that they would die after eating it, not from Elijah killing her son, but from starvation.

Did The Food Run Out?

The making of the cake was done at the request of Elijah, countering the idea that the woman had done it on her own initiative. M has the barrel of meal and cruse of oil keep producing, feeding the woman, her son and her house for many days, whereas, in the opposing narrative, they run out. The lack of food and the failure of the woman to share the cake with him, leads Elijah to seek another food source. With the woman’s infidelity and the son’s paternity in question, Elijah feels justified in eating her son, perhaps even with a sense of revenge.

It seems that M would have us believe the cause of the lack of food was from the lack of rain declared in the previous cycle. This may not have been the case in the opposing narrative. Another possible reason would be a siege. Most if not all references in the Bible that refer to eating children have to do with a siege. It’s interesting that a later addition to the Elisha story involves a famine and a siege with two women eating a child.

The Death Of The Son

In the opposing narrative, Elijah takes the son away from the woman and kills him in preparation to eat him. According to M, the woman asks, “O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” The opposing narrative would have answered, “Yes, he did slay her son”, but by inserting sickness as the cause of death, M’s answer is a definite “No”, as Elijah will go on to revive the boy.

Additionally, M will note that the boy died after they ate, so as to indicate that Elijah could not have used hunger as a reason to kill the boy.

Did Elijah Eat The Son?

Elijah’s method of reviving the boy is somewhat enigmatic, stretching himself over the boy 3 times. Various explanations have been offered for this, including magic ritual and as a medical diagnostic tool. However, when looking at the opposing narrative, “stretch” could take on a new meaning. The Hebrew word is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to the measuring of food. Measuring three times, would suggest three portions of food. Whether the “three times” was part of the opposing narrative or M adds it to put distance away from the idea of food (why would Elijah measure out 3 portions?) is not clear. Elijah crying out to Yahweh leads us to the next issue.

Elijah’s Elohim

M let’s us know that Yahweh was Elijah’s Elohim by having the woman say that Yahweh was his Elohim, and when Elijah prays for the boy, he cries out to Yahweh. The text does not seem to indicate what the opposing narrative said who Elijah’s Elohim was, only that one of the reasons that Yahweh was not Elijah’s Elohim was because Yahweh was not alive. See comments regarding this in The Brook Cherith.

Man Of Elohim

The term “Man of Elohim” or “Man of God” is often used in regards to prophets but not exclusively. It seems to have been a term of respect and speaks to their character more than anything. This fits with the Elijah and Elisha narratives as M is trying to combat some negative views of the two prophets. The term is used only in this cycle for Elijah, and this cycle is countering the opposing narrative that would put his character in the most negative light. The frequency of the term jumps when we get to Elisha, as the opposing narratives that surround his character put in him in a negative light more often.