Heaven for Elijah?

A Study of Structure, Style, and Symbolism in 2 Kings 2:1-18

by Michał Karnawalski (Author)
©2022 Monographs 384 Pages


How it is possible that the story about Elisha’s succession in 2 Kings 2:1-18 is now remembered as the story about Elijah’s ascent? The intertextual answer is provided by the contrast between the number of references about the human heavenly ascension in the Hebrew Bible, and the popularity of this theme in the Ancient Near East. However, in this dissertation we focus on the more direct intratextual approach. We analyze the construction of the narrative in order to discern the features of style, structure, and symbolism which emphasize Elijah’s ascent, rather than Elisha’s succession. As a result, we can identify the proto-symbol of the narrative (Gilgal) which is interpreted by three elements (whirlwind, chariotry, and rolled mantle) referring to Elijah’s ascent.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Bibliography
  • Bibles
  • Grammar
  • General
  • Introduction
  • 1. Heavenly Ascent in the Ancient Near East
  • 2. Biblical and Post-Biblical Perspectives
  • 3. Question and its Status
  • 3.1 Our Question
  • 3.2 Status Quaestionis
  • 4. Text and Codices
  • 4.1 Masoretic Text
  • 4.2 Non-Masoretic Texts
  • 5. Methodology and Chapters
  • 5.1 Examined Strata
  • 5.2 Methodology
  • 5.3 Chapters
  • Chapter I.From Hebrew to English
  • 1. Translation of the Masoretic Text of 2Kgs 2:1–18
  • 2. Notes on the Adopted Translation and Textual Choices
  • 2.1 Translation of בסערה השׁמים (2Kgs 2:1a, 11b)
  • 2.1.1 Reflecting the Grammar Ambiguity
  • 2.1.2 Identifying the “Missing” Elements
  • 2.1.3 The Reason of Omitting he
  • 2.1.4 Translation
  • 2.2 Translation of אם־אעזבך חי־יהוה וחי־נפשׁך (2Kgs 2:2aβ; 4aβ; 6aβ)
  • 2.2.1 Morphology and Syntax
  • 2.2.2 The meaning of the formula
  • 2.3 Translation of אף־הוא (2Kgs 2:14)
  • 2.4 Ketiv/Qere Variant: (הגיאות) [הגאיות] (2Kgs 2:16aβ)
  • 3. Chapter Conclusions
  • Chapter II.From Redaction to Structure
  • 1. Redactional Setting
  • 1.1 Redaction of the Elijah–Elisha Cycles
  • 1.2 Redaction of the Narrative: Classical Proposals
  • 1.3 Other Historical-Critical Investigations on the Narrative
  • 1.3.1 Rofé’s proposal
  • 1.3.2 Łach’s proposal
  • 1.3.3 Hergesel’s proposal
  • 1.3.4 McKenzie’s proposals
  • 1.3.5 Otto’s proposal
  • 1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 2. Structural Setting
  • 2.1 Chiastic Structures of the Narrative
  • 2.1.1 Lundbom’s Chiasm
  • 2.1.2 Hobbs’ Chiasm
  • 2.1.3 Long’s Chiasm
  • 2.1.4 Cohn’s Chiasm
  • 2.1.5 Brodie’s Parallelisms
  • 2.2 Non-Chiastic Structures
  • 2.2.1 Satterthwaite’s Proposal
  • 2.2.2 Long’s Proposal
  • 2.2.3 DeVries’s Proposal
  • 2.3 Close Reading with the Narratology Criteria
  • 2.3.1 Macro-Narrative
  • 2.3.2 Narrative Sequence
  • 2.3.3 Micro-Narrative
  • 2.3.4 Scenes
  • 2.4 Section Conclusions
  • 3. Chapter Conclusions
  • Chapter III.The First Scene: vv.1–6
  • 1. Verbal Structures
  • 1.1 Narrator Verbs
  • 1.1.1 Time Verbal Structures
  • 1.1.2 Space Verbs
  • 1.1.3 Speech Verbs
  • 1.2 Character Verbs
  • 1.2.1 Elijah’s Verbs
  • 1.2.2 Elisha’s Verbs (I)
  • 1.2.3 Sons of Prophets’ Verbs
  • 1.2.4 Elisha’s Verbs (II)
  • 1.3 Incidents and Quasi-Incidents
  • 1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 2. Narrative Techniques
  • 2.1 Prolepsis in v. 1a
  • 2.1.1 Proleptic Resumés Framework
  • 2.1.2 Proleptic Titles Framework
  • 2.1.3 Sui Temporis Phenomenon
  • 2.1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 2.2 Repetitions in vv. 1–6
  • 2.2.1 The Four Speeches of the Narrator
  • 2.2.2 The Three Requests of Elijah
  • 2.2.3 The Three Answers of Elisha
  • 2.2.4 The Two Speeches of the Narrator
  • 2.2.5 The Two Questions of the Sons of the Prophets
  • 2.2.6 The Two Answers of Elisha
  • 2.2.7 A Nonverbal Phenomenon
  • 2.2.8 Section Conclusions
  • 3. Plot Stages
  • 3.1 The First Equilibrium
  • 3.1.1 Initial Exposition Elements
  • 3.1.2 Gradual Exposition Examples
  • 3.1.3 Gradual Exposition Elements
  • 3.1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 3.2 From Equilibrium to Disequilibrium
  • 3.2.1 Equilibrium of the Exposition
  • 3.2.2 Perturbation in the Inciting Moment
  • 3.2.3 Disequilibrium of the Complication
  • 3.2.4 Section Conclusions
  • 4. Chapter Conclusions
  • Chapter IV.The Second Scene: vv. 7–14
  • 1. Verbal Structures
  • 1.1 Narrator Verbs
  • 1.1.1 Time Verbal Structures
  • 1.1.2 Space Verbs
  • 1.1.3 Deed Verbs
  • 1.1.4 Speech Verbs
  • 1.2 Character Verbs
  • 1.2.1 Elijah’s Verbs (I)
  • 1.2.2 Elisha’s Verbs (I)
  • 1.2.3 Elijah’s Verbs (II)
  • 1.2.4 Elisha’s Nominal Expressions
  • 1.3 Incidents
  • 1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 2. Narrative Techniques
  • 2.1 Simultaneity
  • 2.1.1 Types of Simultaneity
  • 2.1.2 Phenomenon of v. 7
  • 2.1.3 Phenomenon of v. 11a
  • 2.1.5 Phenomenon of v. 12aα
  • 2.2 Points of View
  • 2.2.1 Points of View in Disequilibrium
  • 2.2.2 Points of View in Re-establishment of Equilibrium
  • 2.3 Section Conclusions
  • 3. Plot Stages
  • 3.1 Extended Disequilibrium
  • 3.2 Re-establishment of the Equilibrium
  • 3.3 Section Conclusions
  • 4. Chapter Conclusions
  • Chapter V.The Third Scene: vv. 15–18
  • 1. Verbal Structures
  • 1.1 Narrator and Character Verbs
  • 1.1.1 Narrator Verbs in v. 15a
  • 1.1.2 Sons of the Prophets Verb in v. 15a
  • 1.1.3 Narrator Verbs in vv. 15b–16a
  • 1.1.4 Sons of the Prophets Verbs in v. 16a
  • 1.1.5 Narrator Verb in vv. 16b
  • 1.1.6 Elisha Verb in v. 16b
  • 1.1.7 Narrator Verbs in v. 17a
  • 1.1.8 Elisha Verb in v. 17a
  • 1.1.9 Narrator Verbs in v. 17b–18
  • 1.1.10 Elisha Verbs in v. 18b
  • 1.2 Functional Verb Groups
  • 1.2.1 Quasi Time Verbs
  • 1.2.2 Space Verbs
  • 1.2.3 Deed Verbs
  • 1.2.4 Speech Verbs
  • 1.3 Incidents
  • 1.4 Section Conclusions
  • 2. Narrative Techniques
  • 2.1 Classification of Analepsis in v. 18b
  • 2.1.1 Formula “Didn’t I tell”
  • 2.1.2 Phenomenon of v. 18
  • 2.2 Functions of Analepsis vv. 18b
  • 2.2.1 Functions of Analepses
  • 2.2.2 Rhetorical Question
  • 2.2.3 Negative Particles in Direct Speech
  • 2.2.4 Functions of v. 18bβ
  • 2.3 Section Conclusions
  • 3. Plot Stages
  • 3.1 End of Denouement in v. 15
  • 3.2 Plot’s Conclusion in vv. 16–18
  • 4. Chapter Conclusions
  • Chapter VI.From Narrative to Symbolism
  • 1. Itinerary Symbolism
  • 1.1 Bethel (בית־אל) as an Allegory
  • 1.1.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 1.1.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 1.1.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 1.1.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 1.2 Jericho (ירחו) as an Allegory
  • 1.2.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 1.2.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 1.2.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 1.2.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 1.3 Jordan (הירדן) as a Symbol
  • 1.3.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 1.3.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 1.3.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 1.3.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 1.4 Sky (שׁמים) as a Symbol
  • 1.4.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 1.4.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 1.4.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 1.4.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 2. Heritage Symbolism
  • 2.1 “Sons of” (בני) as a Symbol
  • 2.1.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 2.1.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 2.1.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 2.1.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 2.2 Two (שׁנים) as a Symbol
  • 2.2.1 Morphology, Syntax, and Style
  • 2.2.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 2.2.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 2.2.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 2.3 “Spirit of” (רוח) as a Symbol
  • 2.3.1 Morphology, Syntax, and Style
  • 2.3.2 Function in the Narrative
  • 2.3.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 2.3.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 2.4 Mantle (אדרת) as a Symbol
  • 2.4.1 Morphology, Syntax, and Style
  • 2.4.2 Function in the Narrative
  • 2.4.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 2.4.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 3. Etiological Symbolism (Proto-Symbolism)
  • 3.1 Gilgal (הגלגל) as Proto-Symbol
  • 3.1.1 Morphology, Syntax, and Style
  • 3.1.2 Function and Interpretation in the Narrative
  • 3.1.3 Occurrences in HB and Meaning
  • 3.1.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 3.2 Whirlwind (סערה) as Allegory and Symbol
  • 3.2.1 Morphology, Syntax and Style
  • 3.2.2 Function in the Narrative
  • 3.2.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 3.2.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 3.3 Chariotry (רכב) as Allegory and Symbol
  • 3.3.1 Morphology, Syntax, and Style
  • 3.3.2 Function in the Narrative
  • 3.3.3 Occurrences in HB
  • 3.3.4 Semiotic Identification
  • 3.4 Further Remarks on Rolled Up (ויגלם)
  • 4. Symbolism in LXX and Other Remarks
  • 4.1 Greek Narrative and Its Translation
  • 4.2 Remarks on the Style
  • 4.3 Remarks on the Structure
  • 4.4 Symbolism in LXX vs. MT
  • 4.4.1 Whirlwind (συσσεισμός) in vv. 1, 11
  • 4.4.2 Sky (οὐρανός) in vv. 1, 11
  • 4.4.3 Gilgal (Γάλγαλα) in v. 1
  • 4.4.4 Bethel (Βαιθηλ) in v. 2, 3
  • 4.4.5 Sons (υἱοὶ) in vv. 3, 5, 7, 15
  • 4.4.6 Jericho (Ιεριχω) in vv. 4, 5, 15, 18
  • 4.4.7 Jordan (Ἰορδάνης) in v. 6, 7 13, 16
  • 4.4.8 Two: (δύο) in v. 12; (διπλᾶ) in v. 9; (ἀμφότεροι) in vv. 6, 7, 8, 11
  • 4.4.9 Spirit (πνεῦμα) in vv. 9, 15, 16
  • 4.4.10 Mantle (μηλωτή) in vv. 8, 13, 14
  • 4.4.11 Rolled Up (εἱλέω) in v. 8
  • 4.4.12 Chariotry (ἅρμα) in vv. 11, 12
  • 4.5 Section Conclusions
  • 5. Chapter Conclusions
  • Conclusions and Proposals
  • 1. Hierarchical Complexity of the Narrative
  • 1.1 Complexity of Style and Structure
  • 1.2 Relation between Basic Categories
  • 1.3 Hierarchy within the Category of Space
  • 1.4 Hierarchy within the Category of Time
  • 1.5 Hierarchy within the Category of Agents
  • 2. Proto-Symbolism vs. Hierarchical Complexity
  • 2.1 Literary Genre of 2Kgs 2:1–18
  • 2.2 Three Etymological Traditions
  • 2.3 Elaboration of the Traditions
  • 2.4 Further Study Options
  • Transliterations
  • Hebrew Consonants– Simplified Transliteration (TCHB)
  • Hebrew Vowels– Simplified Transliteration
  • Greek Letters Transliteration
  • Hebrew Terms
  • Figures
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Authors
  • Index of References
  • Index of Subjects
  • Series Index

←16 | 17→


I would like to show my appreciation to all those who have made this work possible. I express my gratitude to Prof. Waldemar Chrostowski, who has efficiently and generously overseen this dissertation. I also wish to thank Prof. Peter Dubovský, the supervisor of my canonical license at the Pontifical Biblical Institute; Prof. Jean Louis Ska, whose seminar inspired me to explore narratological and historical-critical methodologies; Prof. Agustinus Gianto, who encouraged my Hebrew studies; Prof. Yves Simoens who introduced me to biblical exegesis; Prof. Janusz Lemański and Prof. Adam Kubiś, who have proved very supportive and detailed reviewers; and Susan Slade for all her editorial support. I feel deeply indebted to the communities and institutions of Collegium Bobolanum, UKSW, and PBI. In particular, I would like to thank Prof. Michael Kolarcik and Fr. Andrzej Kowalko, who kept my spirits up during my doctoral research. I also wish to express my appreciation for the Polish and British provinces of the Jesuits, especially to the London Jesuit community; Prof. Jack Mahoney, who proofread large parts of this dissertation; and, last but not least, Br. Andrzej Malenda, who helped me to properly understand texts in German.

←22 | 23→


The interpretation of the biblical narrative in 2Kgs 2:1–18 is, for various reasons, apparently simple. Firstly, the narrative itself predicts in 2Kgs 2:1 what is going to happen: “When Yhwh was about to lead Elijah up in the whirlwind to heaven (…)” (ויהי בהעלות יהוה את־אליהו בסערה השׁמים). Secondly, an attentive biblical reader is prepared for such an event by Gen 5:24, in which he learns that another biblical figure, Enoch, “walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him” (ויתהלך חנוך את־האלהים ואיננו כי־לקח אתו אלהים). Thirdly, the motif of the heavenly ascent is present in those ancient cultures which shaped the biblical texts. Fourthly, our text was remembered by the majority of biblical and many post-biblical texts as that which treated the heavenly ascent of Elijah.

The studies of Hermann Gunkel and other contemporary scholars show, however, that this narrative is not about the heavenly ascent of Elijah, but rather about the succession of Elisha.1 How is it possible that the narrative seems to be about one thing but in fact is about another? How do the essential features of style, structure, and symbolism function to produce this narrative effect? Is there any feature which can help us to offer an answer which is adequate for both synchronic and diachronic readers?2 We start this introduction with the cultural, biblical, and post-biblical background of the examined phenomenon and, in the second part of the introduction, we will move to the details of the methodology of research on 2Kgs 2:1–18.←23 | 24→

1. Heavenly Ascent in the Ancient Near East

Before progressing to the research provided by modern exegetes, we need to realize that it is the tradition of the ancient Near East itself which prepares the biblical reader for the study of the narrative in 2Kgs 2:1–18, known as the story about the heavenly ascent of Elijah. In fact, various human characters were associated with the ascent to heaven in Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek cultures.

The motif of the ascent into heaven characterizes the religious texts of ancient Egypt at various stages of the development of this civilization which interacted permanently with the culture of the Hebrews. The pyramid texts come from the period of Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BCE), which clearly precedes the creation of the biblical scriptures. On the walls of the pyramids, there are many allusions to the ascent into heaven, such as ladders:

Now let the ladder of the god be given to me, let the ladder of Seth be given to me, that I may ascend on it to the sky and escort Re’ as a divine guardian of those who have gone to their doubles.3

Furthermore, the coffin texts represent the successive period of the development of Egyptian religiosity. Most of them were created in the First Intermediate Period and in the Middle Kingdom Period (c. 2181–1650 BCE), so also before the creation of the biblical scriptures. The pharaoh was believed to ascend to the sky to live with gods, as in the example below:

I will cross over to the sky, I will live on what they live on, I will eat what they eat of, my booth is in plenty, my abundance is in the Field of Offerings, and I am well-supplied in company with the gods, for I am one of them.4

Finally, the Book of the Dead reflects the postmortem beliefs from 1550 BCE to 50 BCE. It covers the period of the creation of the writings of the Hebrew Bible. Its composition starts in the New Kingdom period, which directly precedes the events described in Sam-Kgs and finishes in the time of the creation of such Greek biblical writings as the Book of Wisdom. In one of the examples, the ascent into heaven is connected to the opening of the heavenly doors:

←24 | 25→May the doors of heaven be opened unto me. (…) May the goddess Skhet make me to rise so that I may ascend unto heaven.5

What seems to be crucial regarding these concise allusions to Egyptian texts is that the motif of the heavenly ascent was widely spread in the Egyptian civilization from the Third Millennium onwards and that it was associated both with different religious characters (Re’, Seth, Skhet) and with various religious objects (ladder, Field of Offerings, doors).

While in Egypt the expectation of the heavenly ascent of buried pharaohs occurred widely in mortuary places, the situation in Mesopotamia was different for two reasons. Firstly, we learn of the heavenly ascent from the narratives and lists inscribed on clay tablets. Secondly, these stories regard past events attributed to Mesopotamian heroes. Two figures seem to be the most representative. The first figure is Etana. According to the Sumerian king list, he was the thirteenth king of Kish. This list of kings was written probably under the reign of Utu-Hegal, a prince of Uruk (c. 2055–2048 BCE), as an interpretation of an earlier kings list from Akkad. The record regarding Etana and his heavenly ascent is as follows:

Etana the shepherd, the one who went up to heaven, who put all countries in order, was king; he reigned 1,500 years.6

Furthermore, we find this relation, developed to the genre of a narrative, among the Neo-Assyrian clay tablets. These tablets come from the library of Ashurbanipal created in the seventh century BCE. The fragment regarding the heavenly ascent on an eagle is as follows:

When he had borne in aloft a third league,

The eagle [says] to him, to Etana:←25 | 26→

‘See, my friend, how the land appe[ars]!

The land has tuned into a gardener’s ditch!’

After they had ascended to the heaven of Anu,

Had come to the gate of Anu, Enlil, and Ea,

The eagle (and) E[tana to]gether did o[beisance]

[…] the eagle (and) Etana. (ANET 118) 7

Another story found in the library of Ashurbanipal regards a Mesopotamian mythical figure called Adapa. Fragments of this story were primarily found in Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, its fourteenth century BCE setting. Adapa was the one who lost his chance to become immortal by refusing to eat and drink in heaven after his ascent. The reference to the heavenly ascent is as follows:

The envoy of Anu arrived.

‘Send to me Adapa,

Who broke South Wind’s wing?’

He made him take the way of heaven

And he [Adapa] went up to heaven.

When he came up to heaven,

When he approached the Gate of Anu,


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Elijah’s heavenly ascent Elisha’s succession Books of Kings Symbolism Narratology Intratextuality
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 384 pp., 47 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Michał Karnawalski (Author)

Dr. Michał Karnawalski, S.J., is a lecturer in Old Testament Studies and Biblical Hebrew at the Catholic Academy in Warsaw. He studied theology (2008–2011) at Centre Sèvres in Paris. He gained his canonical license (2011–2015) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His ongoing research focuses on prophetic narratives and linguistic symbolism.


Title: Heaven for Elijah?