The term ‘company of prophets’ (in Hebrew ‘sons of the prophets’) is very infrequent in the Bible and found, almost exclusively, in the story of Elisha. Generally regarded as followers or disciples of the prophet, this group appears in several of the Elisha narratives (e.g. 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15) and, most significantly, it is they who first affirm that ‘the spirit of Elijah now rests on Elisha’ (2:15).
Despite much discussion regarding the identity of this ‘company of prophets’ in Christian tradition, especially by Protestant Reformers such as Johannes Bugenhagen (1485–1558) and John Mayer (1583–1664), they do not feature significantly in iconography. This makes their appearance in a stained glass window in the cloisters of the Mariawald Cistercian Abbey in Germany all the more rare.
With his characteristic bald head, we see Elisha being approached by an eager and enthusiastic group of younger men who clearly acknowledge his authority. Elisha discourages them from seeking Elijah (2:16), his caution expressed in his raised hands. He is dressed in the spartan garb of a Cistercian monk which in its simplicity is also reminiscent of the garb attributed to Elijah (1:7)—indeed, both Elijah and Elisha were held up by the Cistercians as models for the monastic life.
Thus the window underscores an affinity between the prophet and the monastic vocation for the edification of its original viewers. It also draws attention to Elisha as a type of Christ. In the original typological arrangement of the windows in the Abbey’s cloisters, this scene prefigured the window that was immediately below it, showing the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, celebrated by the Church on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–10; Luke 19:29–40; John 12:12–19).
The acknowledgement of the crowds as they welcome Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is prefigured by the proclamation of Elisha as the spiritual successor to Elijah by ‘the sons of the prophets’. In the small tracery panel above their meeting with Elisha, the prophet Ezekiel holds up a scroll relating the Old Testament story to the New Testament, thus giving the typology even greater sanction and authority.
Williamson, Paul. 2003. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum (New York: Abrams)
12And Eliʹsha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
And he took up the mantle of Eliʹjah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14Then he took the mantle of Eliʹjah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Eliʹjah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other; and Eliʹsha went over.
15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him over against them, they said, “The spirit of Eliʹjah rests on Eliʹsha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him. 16And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men; pray, let them go, and seek your master; it may be that the Spirit of the Lord has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and for three days they sought him but did not find him. 18And they came back to him, while he tarried at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?”
19 Now the men of the city said to Eliʹsha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Eliʹsha spoke.
23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and thence he returned to Samarʹia.