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Journeys with Elijah by Barbara Diamond Goldin

March 26, 2011

Book Review of Journeys with Elijah: Eight Tales of the Prophet by Barbara Diamond Goldin

The introduction to this book describes the eight tales as Jewish folklore. I cannot validate that assertion, but I would classify the stories as fable-like. The author states that Jewish folklore recounts an Elijah who is immortal and appears in many forms through out history. My guess is that this is an outgrowth of the Old Testament account of Elijah being taken up to heaven instead of dying a natural death.

The eight tales contain a moral lesson. The lessons include eternal rewards for faithfulness with earthly blessings, trusting God when we do not understand His ways, God’s provision through obedience, and the recurring theme of kindness to unfortunate strangers. (In this case usually a ‘beggar’ or ‘peddler.’)

Most of the tales take place in times gone by and portray country tradesmen, like weavers and farmers, from a wide range of locations including Argentina, Poland and China. The author includes a short historical reference about how the Jewish people came to reside in these areas and then tells the fable as it might unfold in that country.

The tales’ main characters are Jewish and customs like Passover, Synagogues, Paradise, the Talmud, and the Torah are woven into the narrative. Although the fables are somewhat reminiscent of the Biblical account of the widow’s oil and the Samaritan woman who asks the prophet to stay in her home, the portrayal of Elijah is somewhat puzzling. He is a hybrid of prophet, angel, and genie, bestowing blessings and granting requests.  He even has the ability to transport one character to Paradise.

While my personal feeling is that handling the stories as Aesop-like fables provide good moral lessons for children, it is also a valid concern that they blur the distinction between the Christian orthodox belief that Elijah is a factual, historical figure and treating Old Testament accounts as if they are fiction.

While the author seems excited about Jewish tradition and folklore, she also informs us that Elijah has “a place in the writing and folklore of Christianity and Islam.”  In the author’s introduction, Goldin states: “Elijah is also often identified with the Moslem figure Al Khadir, the Green One, who is immortal and can wander through the world unseen. He reveals himself from time to time to rescue someone from grave danger or bring someone a blessing.”

This, along with an unusual statement, “The Talmud is the second most sacred Jewish text after the Bible,” makes me suspicious of the author’s knowledge of Jewish belief, but the tales in and of themselves are simple moral stories which contain some merit and have no offensive content.

Flags:

Mentions of Jewish religious traditions such as Rabbis, Passover, Synagogues, Paradise, the Talmud, and the Torah

The historical references about how Jewish people came to be in certain parts of the world are on facing pages to the tales. A few hint at persecution of the Jewish people.

The mythological take on Elijah as discussed above

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