Perhaps no other figure is as embedded into western religious faith and lore as this solitary figure. The prophet Elijah appears prominently in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Talmud, Mishnah and the Qur’an. Stories of Elijah appear in the Manual of Discipline in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Featured in multiple Jewish traditions, the Book of Malachi predicts the return of Elijah prior to the return of the Messiah. Elijah is considered a Prophet Saint and recognized on liturgical calendars of the Lutheran Church, Byzantine Eastern Catholic Churches, Roman Catholics Church, The Catholic Order of Carmelites, and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
He appears in The Doctrine and Covenants Section of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Baha’i faith recognizes Elijah as a lesser prophet, but a precursor to Bab, the founder of the faith. Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe foretold of a God of storms, Elijah the Thunderer who drove a chariot and directed rain and snow. Even Raelists, who believe in extra-terrestrial life as the source of religion, recognize Elijah among their prophets on earth.
Despite his near universal appearance in western religion, Elijah is a character shrouded in mystery. He appears in the Old Testament as a prophet from the ninth century BC. Despite the biblical tradition of identifying the lineage of major biblical characters, the Prophet Elijah appears on the scene with no information concerning his family background. He is referred to as a “Tishbite,” or in the times of the day, “one coming from town of Tishbe.” However, there are no records, 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, raise people from the dead, produce abundant meals from scraps of bread, rain fire from the sky, end famines, and ascend into heaven. Significantly, he is also one of only two people in the bible who depart earth without dying. Elijah was recorded to have entered heaven in a whirlwind, riding on a chariot and horses afire. In Christian teachings, Elijah appeared again on the Mount of Transfigurations with Moses as they discussed Jesus’ approaching death.
There is also a religiously controversial concept known as the “Revelation of Elijah.” Scholars disagree on the true meaning. Some believe it is the concept that Elijah will return prior to the Messiah as predicted in the Book of Malachi. Others believe it means the reappearance of Elijah prior to 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 is wealthy and the other is quite poor. The wealthy brother rebukes Elijah, while the poverty stricken brother takes Elijah in and gives him food and shelter. Elijah gives the poor man several coins and asks him to count them. He begins counting and counting and counting. The coins multiply and the man becomes miraculously wealthy. The man was rewarded for his kindness to a stranger.
In another story Elijah gives two coins to a man and he as well becomes wealthy beyond his dreams. Several months later Elijah returns and takes back the two coins, which in turn causes the man to lose all of his wealth. The reason Elijah took the coins back was that the man did not provide charity despite the great wealth he had accumulated. In a third story Elijah asks a young man whether he would rather have money, wisdom or a beautiful wife. The young man chooses wealth and Elijah gives him a coin, which the man turns into a great fortune. The three choices were given to the man because he had cared for his father’s garden and made it more prosperous. Since he had given of his time and energies to improve his father’s business, Elijah rewarded the son.
All of the Elijah “coin” stories have a common theme. A coin was given which resulted in good fortune or success. Bestowing the coin in each case was itself an act of kindness and rewarded acts of kindness by each recipient. Thus, evoking kindness and evincing the “give to get” philosophy. The coin, however, comes with obligations. If one does not behave as Elijah wished, the good fortune can be whisked away along with the coin.
Although the coins may have been largely symbolic, they represented both a gift from Elijah and a promise by the recipient. Perhaps the significance of Elijah’s Coin was as simple as “each gift bears a promise.” If the recipient doesn’t fulfill the promise, the gift is discredited. The promise could be to pay forward the kindness or give to others who deserve. Remember the next time you are fortunate enough to receive a gift, you also have a promise to keep.