Question...wasn't Elisha very cruel when he sent those bears against those little kids who were teasing him about being bald?

Date: Sept 19, 2022

This question came in, back in 1999::

I've always been a little worried about the events in 2Kings 2:23-25, where Elisha is jeered and then ends up using a curse that kills 42 kids near Bethel. I understand this certainly identified him as a prophet to the people in that area, but it does, at least to me, seem cruel given the harmless taunt.Maybe Elisha was "real" sensitive about his male pattern baldness? yuk yuk

Anyway, I'd enjoy hearing your take on this, even if it does take you months to answer it.

I did answer it back then (4 page answer), but have just now done a massive rewrite / update, with the below outline.

Table of Contents – New Version


Part 1

·         History of Bethel

·         YHWHistic ‘sons of prophets’ group

·         Overview of sequence

o   Final trip to Jericho for Elijah

o   Ascension of Elijah and Elisha’s accession

o   Sending of ‘sons of prophets’ to look for Elijah

o   Elisha heals the waters of Jericho

·         Initial notes on our passage

o   Possible travel paths/roads

o   Features of the roads and various stages of the trip

o   How did the group coming out of Bethel know it was Elisha (if they did)?

o   How would they have known Elisha was bald, if he was?

·         Uncertainties in understanding our passage

o   Timing of the mob

o   How did they get BEHIND Elisha without him seeing them?

o   Sequence in the bear attacks


Part 2

·         A prophet in the ANE: What did that mean back then?

o   Prophets and Kings

o   Prophets as Messengers

o   Treaties, Messengers, and Honor/Shame Relations

·         A Prophet in YHWH’s Israel: What did that mean back then?

·         All of these ANE norms/protocols show up in Hebrew kings and prophets interactions

·         So, how was Elisha treated by those in power?


Part 3

·         What was the makeup of the group that came out of Bethel?

o   What kind of children were around to do something like this?

o   What kind of people lived in the city that these people came out from?

o   How did they spend their time / what were their occupations?

o   What was the economic situation and how did Jeroboam impact that?

o   Who had enough leisure time for participating in this event?

·         What did those terms normally refer to, and with what age ranges?

o   Collection of all data and analysis of each of the relevant words

§  The Qa and Qo words (qatan and qaton)

§  The Na’ar word

§  The Yeled word

§  Na’ar and Yeled together

o   Special discussion: Carolyn Leeb’s work

·         What was the distribution of ages of the people called by these terms?

o   All

o   Pre-adolescents

·         Establishing the meaning of our Na’ar word:

o   Impact of Qatan (and not Qaton)

o   Historical setting for a group of [N]



Part 4

·         Actions of the [N]

o   First action: Coming out of the city

§  Road description and capacity

§  Going through the woods

§  Forests were dangerous

§  More so than military enemies

§  YHWH will render woods safe in the future

§  YHWH would protect good covenant citizen from beasts

§  But a last-resort penalty would involve beasts and roads

§  This was in common with the ANE

§  Animals were dangerous on ROADs as well as forests

o   Second Action: Scorn

§  Our word is rare and not used for ‘normal’ levels of scorn/disdain

§  Our word is shocking in its repudiation and devaluation of authority

o   Third action: chanting ‘go up, baldy’

§  Both parts are somewhat unclear in meaning


Part 5

·         The consequences of their actions

o   Three actions of Elisha

o   Elisha turns around

o   Elisha saw them

o   Elisha utters some curse

§  Curses and oaths: Mosaic and ANE

§  Who could speak in the name of the Lord

§  The role of discretion on the part of the proxy

o   Two actions of the bears

§  Type of bear and typical behavior

§  What would trigger aggressive attacks?

§  What the text does NOT say about the bear attacks

v  What the ‘tore’ word means at base

v  What verbs are used for animal attacks (and our word in there)

·         But why weren’t they killed?

·         Seeing the structure of the text and its argument

·         The major omission – for the future.


I hope this helps... thx, g


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