Jezebel, wife of Ahab, has been slaughtering the prophets of YHWH in record numbers (1 Kings 18:4), so Elijah tells Ahab to gather the prophets of Baal and Asherah for a duel on Mount Carmel. But it couldn’t really be a duel without a little trash talking, right?
The story is familiar from Sunday school (I decided to choose a Sunday school-esque image), so I’ll be brief, but the goal for each side is to provoke your deity to torch your altar. Unfortunately for his prophets, Baal doesn’t seem to be responding to their petitions. (Asherah, Baal’s “wife” isn’t mentioned in the rest of the story.)
So, Elijah thought, now’s the time. “Perhaps, he’s relieving himself?” (1 Kings 18:27). While the Hebrew is difficult here, so English translations give a wide range of translations, he is either “occupied” (NAS), “is deep in thought” (NIV) or “has wandered away” (NRS). But if you approach it as trash-talking, which is the only thing that makes sense in this context, then the ESV’s “relieving himself” makes the most sense. Holladay’s Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon says the verb could be translated as “bowel movement”.
But real trash talking wouldn’t use something quite so sophisticated as “relieving yourself.” And “bowel movement” would be even worse. “Your god’s having a BM” doesn’t really cut it. Genuine trash talking uses slang, the hipper the better, so I’m still waiting for a translation that captures the essence of Elijah’s taunt. Any suggestions? “Taking a dump”?
Fortunately for Elijah, YHWH isn’t “busy” when the time comes and he responds to the prophets prayer, sending fire from heaven to torch the saturated altar. Elijah then orders that Baal’s prophets be slaughtered, which begins a series of taunt speeches between Jezebel and various prophets of YHWH, which will be the focus of future blog posts.
What would you say if someone asked you about the appropriateness of Elijah’s slaughter here? I’m getting a lot of these kind of questions lately, so I’m looking for some help.