Elisha and the Sons of the Prophets by Gerhard Remisch

Gerhard Remisch

Elisha and the Sons of the Prophets, c.1516–22, Stained glass, 70 x 65.9 cm, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Given by E.E. Cook, C.210-1928, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Elisha and the Sons of the Prophets

Commentary by

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 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; 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.

 

References

Williamson, Paul. 2003. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum (New York: Abrams)


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