Associated with the Prophet Elijah, Tall Mar Elias is very close to the ruins of a village known as Listib. It is believed that this place was formerly Tishbi, the home of Elijah, a native of Giliad in Transjordan (2Kings 17:1). The presence of two churches, built on the Tall (hilltop) at the end of the Byzantine period, substantiates the fact that this was a religious site. It is believed that Elijah’s ascension to Heaven in a chariot of fire took place at Wadi Al Kharrar, in Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Referred to in the Bible as ‘Barreya’ in Arabic, ‘Perea’ in French, and ‘the desert’ in English, many scholars believe this to be the Holy place that was visited by Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. The site at Tall Mar Elias includes extensive architectural remains, scattered across the summit of the hill that rises above Listib, to the southeast.
Elijah, (flourished 9th century BCE), Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheism to the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis.
The Israelite king Omri had allied himself with the Phoenician cities of the coast, and his son Ahab was married to Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon. Jezebel, with her Tyrian courtiers and a large contingent of pagan priests and prophets, propagated her native religion in a sanctuary built for Baal in the royal city of Samaria. This meant that the Israelites accepted Baal as well as Yahweh, putting Yahweh on a par with a nature-god whose supreme manifestations were the elements and biological fertility, celebrated often in an orgiastic cult. Jezebel’s policies intensified the gradual contamination of the religion of Yahweh by the Canaanite religion of Baal, a process made easier by the sapping of the Israelites’ faith in Yahweh.
lijah was from Tishbe in Gilead. The narrative in 1 Kings relates how he suddenly appears during Ahab’s reign to proclaim a drought in punishment of the cult of Baal that Jezebel was promoting in Israel at Yahweh’s expense. Later Elijah meets 450 prophets of Baal in a contest of strength on Mount Carmel to determine which deity is the true God of Israel. Sacrifices are placed on an altar to Baal and one to Yahweh. The pagan prophets’ ecstatic appeals to Baal to kindle the wood on his altar are unsuccessful, but Elijah’s prayers to Yahweh are answered by a fire on his altar. This outcome is taken as decisive by the Israelites, who slay the priests and prophets of Baal under Elijah’s direction. The drought thereupon ends with the falling of rain.
Elijah flees the wrath of the vengeful Jezebel by undertaking a pilgrimage to Mount Horeb (Sinai), where he is at first disheartened in his struggle and then miraculously renewed. In a further narrative, King Ahab has a man named Naboth condemned to death in order to gain possession of his vineyard. Ahab’s judicial murder of Naboth and confiscation of his vineyard arouse Elijah as the upholder of the moral law, as before he had come forward as the champion of monotheism. Elijah denounces Ahab for his crimes, asserting that all men are subject to the law of God and are therefore equals. Later Ahab’s son, King Ahaziah, appeals to Baal to heal him of an injury, and Elijah once more upholds the exclusive rights of Yahweh by bringing down “fire from heaven.” After bestowing his mantle on his successor, Elisha, the prophet Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.
One of the most important moments in the history of monotheism is the climax of Elijah’s struggle with Baalism. His momentous words, “If Yahweh is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him”—especially when taken with the prayer “Hear me, Yahweh, that this people may know that you, Yahweh, are God”—show that more is at stake than simply allotting to divinities their particular spheres of influence. The true question is whether Yahweh or Baal is God, simply and universally. Elijah’s words proclaim that there is no reality except the God of Israel, there are no other beings entitled to the name of divinity. The acclamation of the people, “Yahweh, he is God” expresses a fully conscious monotheism, never before perhaps brought home to them so clearly.
Tell Mar Elias is approximately 80km northwest of Amman and approximately 15km northwest of Ajlun.