Becoming Elijah Prophet of Transformation Daniel C. Matt

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
12 Apr 2022
Yale University Press
248 pages: 210 x 146mm
1 b-w illus.
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The story of the prophet Elijah’s transformation from fierce zealot to compassionate hero and cherished figure in Jewish folklore
“In a series on Jewish Lives, this volume is about the Jewish life—the one that goes on forever. Becoming Elijah blends meticulous scholarship with bold literary and poetic imagination. Don’t miss it!”—Arthur Green, author of Judaism for the World
"The author’s erudite prose and masterful command of history and faith traditions bring his subject to vibrant life. This is an edifying and accessible chronicle of a towering religious figure."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

In the Bible Elijah is a zealous prophet, attacking idolatry and injustice, championing God. He performs miracles, restoring life and calling down fire. When his earthly life ends, he vanishes in a whirlwind, carried off to heaven in a fiery chariot. Was this a spectacular death, or did Elijah escape death entirely? The latter view prevailed. Though residing in heaven, Elijah revisits earth—to help, rescue, enlighten, and eventually herald the Messiah. Because of his messianic role, Jews open the door for Elijah during each seder—the meal commemorating liberation from slavery and anticipating final redemption.
How did this zealot turn into a compassionate hero—apparently the most popular figure in Jewish folklore? Becoming Elijah explores this question, tracing how Elijah develops from the Bible to Rabbinic Judaism, Kabbalah, and Jewish ritual (as well as Christianity and Islam). His transformation is pertinent and inspirational for our polarized, fanatical world.

Daniel C. Matt is a leading authority on Kabbalah. His nine-volume annotated translation, The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, was honored with a National Jewish Book Award and has been hailed as “a monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought.”

"In a series on Jewish Lives, this volume is about the Jewish life—the one that goes on forever. Becoming Elijah blends meticulous scholarship with bold literary and poetic imagination. Don't miss it!"—Arthur Green, author of Judaism for the World 

“Becoming Elijah is a work of rare intellectual and spiritual depth. With erudition, Daniel Matt captures the unique role Elijah has played in the Western religious imagination and demonstrates how this prophet continues to inspire millions of spiritual seekers today!”—David Ellenson, Brandeis University

"A jewel of scholarship and poetic imagination, this lucid and beautifully crafted book highlights the tensions in Elijah’s personality as it evolves from the biblical narratives through to its final, Hasidic reconfiguration."—Avivah Zornberg, author of Moses