Thursday, July 09, 2015

Elijah vs the prophets of baal

It's so easy to miss those small details when illustrating a Bible story. The little details that we often skim over in our Bible reading are often the ones essential to the Bible artist. The Bible illustrator is looking for all those little visual details because they have to recreate a particular scene. Does the text mention a table? or a chair? How many people are in the room? What type of room is it? Is it light outside or dark? Is a certain type of tree mentioned? All these snipits of information, that are of less importance in a Bible study, help the artist to recreate the scene accurately.

Back in 2009 I illustrated a 'one off' picture from the life of Elijah for a proposed children's Bible (that didn't materialise). The picture was from the biblical account of Elijah vs the Prophets of Baal. (1 Kings 18). Before I started this picture I wanted to get some idea of what Mt Carmel looked like so I went to one of my favourite sites -!
I managed to find this photo (left) which is thought to be the traditional site of the contest in 1 Kings 18. The Bibleplaces website says "This is probably the best view of the area of Elijah's contest, assuming tradition is correct.  The monastery of Muhraqa is at the top of the hill, but tradition places the contest slightly lower near a spring."  You will notice from the photo that there's lots of grass around - so, not thinking, I drew lots of grass! Now, if I had paid more attention to the beginning of the chapter, in 1 Kings 18 I would have noticed that there had been a great drought in the land for a number of years and there was a severe famine! At the beginning of chapter 18, it says that King Ahab sent out Obadiah, his palace administrator to look for grass to keep the horses and mules alive! So, presumably there was little or no grass to be seen! Last week I finished a new set of pictures based on this same biblical account and, needless to say, I made sure that all the backgrounds were dry and dusty - not a blade of grass in sight!

There are 6 pictures in this new set retelling the story of Elijah vs the prophets of Baal. As I was illustrating the picture depicting the 12 jars of water being poured over the sacrificial bull, I realised just how precious this water would have been at the time of a severe drought! So I illustrated the crowd looking on in horror at this apparent waste! I was reminded of the scene in Mark 14:3 of Mary and the alabaster pot of very expensive perfume being broken over the head of Jesus. The disciples looked on in horror and complained that this ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. There's also another similarity in these two accounts. Jesus was also being prepared, like the bull in 1 Kings 18, to come under the fiery judgement of God for sins not His own.

The second mistake I made in 2009 was in the way I had depicted Elijah. The problem is, you don't find a physical description of Elijah until 2 Kings ch 1! From this description you can see why some of those in Jesus' day, (who would have been familiar with 2 Kings ch 1), thought that John the Baptist was Elijah! (John 1:21) Both men do sound very much alike in appearance! In fact, Zechariah 13:4, does seem to suggest that there was a certain dress code for prophets - almost like a badge of their profession! In some versions, 2 Kings 1:8 is translated 'He was a hairy man', but most versions translate verse 8 as 'He wore a garment of hair.' Just to play it safe I've depicted Elijah as a hairy man and wearing clothes woven from hair!

Picture 1 shows Elijah confronting Ahab. Picture 2 depicts Elijah explaining the contest to the people. Picture 3, (right), shows Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal and Asherah. The prophets are cutting themselves with swords and spears as was the custom. There is a stone image of Baal and an Asherah pole in the background. Picture 4 shows the people emptying 12 jars of water over the sacrificial bull on the altar set up by Elijah. The water is pouring down the stones and into the trench around the altar, mixing with the blood of the bull. Picture 5 depicts Elijah praying. Those in the background look heavenward in anticipation. Picture 6 shows God answering Elijah's prayer with fire! The fire consumes the sacrifice, wood, stone altar and even the soil! I've shown a lot of steam as the fire licks up the water in the trench. The people are falling down in wonder crying out "The Lord - He is God! The Lord - He is God!"

This Bible picture set, along with many others, is available from

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