08 April 2014

Passover mythology

How does Eliyyahu (a.k.a Elijah/Elias) manage to get to absolutely every Passover seder? Why it must be with his chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire (rekeb ēsh wə‐sûsê ēsh רכב אש וסוסי אש)! The Greeks identified Elias with the sun god Helios due to a superficial similarity in their names and in their conveyances (although their names are etymologically unrelated, אליהו Ēliyyāhû being Afro‐Asiatic and Ήλιος Hēlios Indo‐European), and Eliyyahu is frequently portrayed in a fire chariot not unlike Helios’ sun chariot.

This is a detail of a fresco in Rila Monastery, Bulgaria, portraying Eliyyahu (Saint Elias) and his chariot of fire (from a larger picture on Wikimedia, in the public domain).


[I]t is easily seen how, by a scarcely perceptible change of sound, the great god Helios could be transmuted into Elias. Helios drove round the world in his fiery chariot, drawn by horses. Elias went up to heaven in a similar conveyance. Helios produced rain and storm, and so did Elias by the fervor of his prayer on Mount Carmel. Elias brought down fire from heaven and so did the great sun‐god. Hence the parallel between the two was too tempting to be passed over.

—J. Theodore Bent, “Paganism in England,” The Gentleman’s Magazine 262, Jan. 1887, 36.

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