1. His Story Is Told in Kings and Chronicles

Perhaps the most famous of the Jewish prophets (after Moses, of course), Elijah’s activities are told in the Book of Kings—starting in I Kings 17 and ending in II Kings 2. In II Chronicles 21, there is also record of a scathing letter he sent to King Jehoram, who did not lead righteously. Elijah did not, however, leave us with a book of his prophecies, so there is no volume of the Bible that bears his name.

Read: 21 Jewish Prophets

2. He Chastised an Evil King and Was Fed by Ravens

Elijah first appears in I Kings 17, where is identified as a resident of Toshav (he was hence known as a “Tishbi”) from the region of Gilead. After he told the evil King Ahab that there would be no dew or rain, G‑d told him to hide in a valley, where he was sustained by ravens who brought him meat and bread twice a day.1

3. He Revived a Dead Boy

Elijah eventually left his hideout because there was no water to drink, and G‑d directed him to a certain widow who would care for him. The woman was poor and did not even have enough for herself and her son, but she gave what she had to Elijah. In return, Elijah promised her that her small jar of flour and flask of oil would never run out from that time on.

The woman’s son eventually took ill and “no soul was left within him.” Elijah took the boy to his attic room, where he called out to G‑d. G‑d listened to Elijah and the boy came back to life.2

4. He Defended G‑d at Mt. Carmel

During Elijah’s time, prophets of G‑d were persecuted and often killed, and the people adopted the idolatrous cult of Baal. To demonstrate the fallacy of idol worship, he invited 450 priests of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel.

First he invited them to set up an altar and sacrifice to their god, using whatever rituals they wished to invite down a fire from heaven, but none came. Then, he set up a waterlogged bull on a wet altar, and prayed to G‑d that fire would come. When the fire came down, the people saw the fallacy of their ways and declared, “G‑d is the L‑rd!”3

Read: Elijah and the Prophets of Baal

5. He Met G‑d at Mount Sinai

Queen Jezebel, who was even nastier than her husband Ahab, was none too pleased to learn that Elijah had trounced the priests of Baal, and he was forced to flee. After 40 days of walking (fueled by a miraculous meal supplied by an angel), he came to “the mountain of G‑d, Horeb,” which is identified as Mount Sinai. A great wind swept through, followed by an earthquake, and a fire. But G‑d was in none of them—instead appearing in a still, small sound. G‑d then commanded him to leave the Holy Mountain and return to the people.4

This is the only recorded incident of anyone in the Bible ever returning to Mount Sinai after the revelation that took place shortly after the Exodus.

Read: Why Don’t the Rabbis Know Where Mount Sinai Is?

6. He Was Hairy

The Bible rarely gives us much detail about how people looked, but one interesting fact we know about Elijah is that he was blessed with much hair and that he wore a leather belt. After King Ahaz fell through his bed, he sent messengers to idolatrous temples to inquire whether he would survive his injuries. An angel told Elijah to send the message that he would die. After the messengers told the king that the man who spoke to them was hairy and had a leather sash, he correctly identified him as Elijah.5

Fun fact: This is in direct contrast to his prime student, Elisha, who was mocked for being bald.6

7. He Ascended to Heaven Alive

Elijah’s life on earth ended in a most dramatic fashion. Together with his student and successor Elisha, Elijah crossed the Jordan River, which he split by striking it with his cloak.

As the two walked and talked, a fiery chariot drawn by fiery horses pulled up between them, and Elijah was whisked up to heaven.7

Read: The Prophet Elisha

8. He Frequently Returns to Earth

Jewish literature has many references to people who interacted with Elijah hundreds and thousands of years after he ascended to heaven. At times, he appears to Torah scholars at night and teaches them the secrets of Torah (this is known as giluy Eliyahu), and at times he shows up at just the right moment to assist people in distress.

Fun fact: He flies to perform his missions in four hops.8

9. Dogs Sense His Presence

The Talmud tells us that when dogs cry we can know that the “Angel of Death” has come to town, and when they laugh we know that Elijah has come.9

Read: Do Animals Sense the Paranormal?

10. A Midrash Bears His Name

A classic Midrashic work, Tana D’bay Eliyahu (“It Was Taught in [the Academy] of Elijah), contains many of the teachings Elijah the Prophet transmitted to sages of later generations, most notably through Rav Anan. The work is divided into two sections, Seder Eliyahu Rabbah (“The Great Order of Elijah”) and Seder Eliyahu Zuta (“The Minor Order of Elijah”).

Read: How Elijah Communicated With Rav Anan

11. He Attends Circumcisions

At every circumcision, it is traditional to designate a chair for Elijah the Prophet, the “Angel of the Covenant.” Why? When Elijah was at Mount Sinai, he complained to G‑d that the people had stopped circumcising their sons.10

“I vow,” replied G‑d, “that whenever My children make this sign in their flesh [i.e., whenever there is a circumcision], you will be present, and the mouth which testified that the Jewish people have abandoned My covenant will testify that they are keeping it.”11

Read: Why the Chair for Elijah?

12. He Also Swoops Into Seders All Over the World

For the first thousand-plus years of our nation’s history, the Passover Seder centered around sacrificing and eating the Passover Lamb. While all Jewish females were welcome to partake, males could only do so if they were circumcised.12 Thus, there is a time-hallowed custom to open the door and invite in Elijah, who can “testify” that all present are indeed circumcised.

Read: Why Is Elijah the Prophet Invited to the Seder?

13. He Is Identified as Pinchas

Elijah describes himself as a zealot for G‑d,13 mirroring terminology used to describe Pinchas,14 Aaron’s grandson, who acted swiftly against sinners in the time of Moses.

Indeed, a number of sources tell us that Pinchas and Elijah are the same person.15 It is debated whether this means that they are literally the same individual or that they share a common soul.

Read: Pinchas the Zealot

14. We Mention His Name After Shabbat

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

Many people have the custom chant Elijah’s name a certain number of times after Shabbat. Some say “Eliyahu Hanavi'' 40 times, “Eliyahu Hatishbi” 40 times, “Eliyahu Hagiladi” 40 times, and then recite each one again three times, concluding with “Eliyahu Hanavi,” for a total of 130 times. Others recite every verse in Scripture that mentions him by name, while many simply sing or recite a hymn that mentions his name.

Read: Why Sing About Elijah After Shabbat?

15. He Will Foretell the Redemption

The prophet Malachi says, “Behold I will send to you Elijah the Prophet before the arrival of the great and awesome day of G‑d.”16 This is understood to mean that shortly before the coming of Moshiach—perhaps three days—Elijah will come to earth and announce to all that the Redemption is imminent.

Read: Elijah Heralding the Redemption