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The Coins of the Mysterious Prophet Elijah
Perhaps no other figure is so ingrained in Western religious belief and knowledge as this single figure. The prophet Elijah appears prominently in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Talmud, the Mishnah, and the Koran. The stories of Elijah appear in the Manual of Discipline in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Presented in numerous Jewish traditions, the Book of Malachi predicts the return of Elijah before the return of the Messiah. Elijah is considered a prophet saint and is recognized in the liturgical calendars of the Lutheran Church, the Eastern Byzantine Catholic Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Catholic Order of the Carmelites, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
It appears in the Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints section. The Bahá’í Faith recognizes Elijah as a minor prophet, but a forerunner of the Báb, the founder of the faith. Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe foretold a God of storms, Elijah the Thunderer, who drove a chariot and directed rain and snow. Even the Raelists, who believe in extraterrestrial life as a source of religion, recognize Elijah among their prophets on earth.
Despite his almost universal appearance in Western religion, Elijah is a figure shrouded in mystery. He appears in the Old Testament as a prophet from the ninth century BC. Despite the biblical tradition of identifying the parentage of major biblical characters, the Prophet Elijah appears on the scene without any information about his family background. He is referred to as “Tishbit”, or in the daytime, “one who comes from the city of Tishbe”. However, there is no record, nor any reference to a town or village called Tishbe or Tish. To further obscure his background, most of his time on earth was spent in isolation, wandering the desert.
In various versions of his existence on earth he was able to perform miracles; to converse directly with God, to raise men from the dead, to produce abundant food from the pieces of bread, to make fire fall from heaven, to end the famine, and to ascend into heaven . Significantly, he is also one of only two people in the Bible to leave the earth without dying. Elijah was recorded as having entered heaven in a whirlwind, riding on a chariot and flaming horses. In Christian teachings, Elijah appeared again on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses as they discussed the approaching death of Jesus.
There is also a controversial religious concept known as the “Revelation of Elijah”. Scholars disagree about the true meaning. Some believe it is the concept that Elijah will return before the Messiah, as predicted in the Book of Malachi. Others believe it means the reappearance of Elijah before the events predicted in the Book of Revelation. Some believe that through prayer, they can reach a mystical state and Elijah will appear to them, hence the revelation of Elijah.
Throughout his time on earth, Elijah used coins as symbols to recognize appropriate behavior and as a reward for positive interactions. Elijah’s coins had magical powers for the bearer and had life-changing abilities.
In one story Elijah meets two brothers, one rich and the other quite poor. The rich brother reprimands Elijah, while the poor brother takes Elijah in and gives him food and shelter. Elijah gives the poor man some coins and asks him to count them. He starts counting, counting and counting. The coins multiply and the man becomes wonderfully rich. The man was rewarded for his kindness to a stranger.
In another story Elijah gives two coins to a man and he also becomes rich beyond his dreams. A few months later Elijah returns and takes the two coins, which causes the man to lose all his wealth. The reason Elijah took the coins back was that the man did not give charity despite the great wealth he had accumulated. In a third story, Elijah asks a young man if he would rather have money, wisdom, or a beautiful woman. The young man chooses wealth and Elijah gives him a coin, which the man turns into a great fortune. All three choices were given to the man because he had taken care of his father’s garden and made it more prosperous. Since he had given his time and energy to improve his father’s business, Elijah rewarded the son.
All the stories of Elijah’s “coins” have a common theme. A coin was given that resulted in luck or success. The giving of the coin in each case was in itself an act of kindness, and acts of kindness rewarded by each recipient. Thus, evoking kindness and evidencing the “give to receive” philosophy. However, the currency comes with liabilities. If one does not behave as Elijah wished, the good luck can be taken away along with the coin.
Although the coins may have been largely symbolic, they represented a gift from Elijah and a promise from the recipient. Perhaps the significance of Elijah’s coin was as simple as “every gift carries a promise.” If the recipient does not fulfill the promise, the gift is discredited. The promise may be to repay the favor or to give to others who deserve it. Remember the next time you are lucky enough to receive a gift, you also have a promise to keep.
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