The most notable of the ecstatic prophets of the 9th cent. BCE, coming in time between the orgiastic bands of prophets who encountered Saul (1 Sam. 10: 5 ff.) and the classical prophets of the 8th cent. Although the narratives relating Elijah's exploits contain theological ideas (e.g. an idea of a remnant similar to that found in Isaiah, 1 Kgs 19: 18) of a later age or even of post‐exilic provisions of the Law (e.g. Num. 36: 7–9), it is probable that there is a basis of historical fact in the recorded contests which Elijah pursued on behalf of Israel's traditions. Against the introduction of Baal worship by the Tyrian princess Jezebel, married to King Ahab, Elijah triumphantly vindicated his God when fire came down to consume his sacrifice on Mount Carmel (1 Kgs. 18: 38). He was told to anoint Jehu to take over the kingship (1 Kgs. 19: 17), which Elisha his successor carried out (2 Kgs. 9: 6).
The challenge to Baal was important in that his status as a fertility‐god was diminished. When Elijah confronted Ahab because of his appropriation of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kgs. 21) he was appealing to an ancient Israelite concept of justice which even monarchs were not to override. The two stories show Elijah as champion of Yahweh the only God and the judge who defends the defenceless and exacts vengeance.
Elijah is mentioned by Malachi (4: 5) in conjunction with the observance of the Law. It became a part of Jewish tradition that Elijah would come before the day of the Lord (Ecclus. [= Sir.] 48: 10) and in observances of the Passover a place is regularly set for Elijah. He therefore is named in the NT in this role (Matt. 17: 10–13); John the Baptist is the new Elijah. This identification is, however, denied in the gospel of John (1: 20–21) which is determined to minimize the importance of the Baptist in relation to Jesus. (No baptism of Jesus is recorded in the fourth gospel.) Elijah, representing the prophets, is present along with Moses, giver of the Law, at the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mark 9: 4). He is mentioned by Paul (Rom. 11: 2) and James (5: 17).