The Creator God of the Old Testament, the Demiurge, was generally regarded by Gnostics as not the genuine ultimate God who is the source and “the depth” of reality. Since the God of the Old Testament is jealous, vengeful, judgmental, and undoubtedly masculine, […].
Kelley L. Ross , Ph.D.
Enter the story of Elijah brought to life by the music of Mendelssohn as an oratorio. Elijah is an old testament prophet who takes on the king of Israel who is following a false God: Baal. The true God, not impressed by this idolatry, shows his character early on in the story:
For I the Lord your God, I am a jealous God
And I shall visit all the father’s sins
On the children to the third and the fourth generations
Of them that hate me.
– Elijah, “Yet doth the Lord”
The people of Israel are sentenced to drought and Elijah goes into retreat. After three years in the wilderness, Elijah returns to take Ahab, the king of Israel, head on in a religious bake-off: You and your prophets prepare a bull for sacrifice. I’ll do the same and we’ll ask our respective gods to provide the light for the fire. Whichever god answers by fire will be declared the true god.
This contest appears mid-way through the first half of the performance and is the highlight of the story’s action. Mendelssohn illustrates the excitement well with three successive choruses of the prophets of Baal calling to their god. Each cry gets more desperate but the only response is silence.
Then it’s Elijah’s turn and the fire rains down. Now the crowd is positively panicked as they see they’ve been backing the wrong deity. The music takes on a frenetic tempo (the composer’s directions literally say – “con fuoco” – “with fire”). When finally they realise that Jehovah is the true god, there is a beautiful exclamation from the chorus of “Our Lord is One God.” It is touching.
But no sooner is this sentiment laid down, than the mood is interrupted by the bellowing announcement of Elijah:
“Take all the prophets of Baal and let not one of them escape you! Take them down to Kishon’s brook and slay them everyone!”
Elijah, “Oh Though, who makest thine angels spirits”
There is little room for universal love and religious tolerance in the name of Jehovah.
The slaughter ensues. God, thus appeased, finally gives into Elijah’s pleas for an end to the drought. When the rain arrives, the people thank God for his mercy, not mentioning of course that he’s supposedly the one who brought the suffering in the first place. Part 1 thus draws to a happy close.
It is quite apparent that the creator god who visits humanity with the disaster of the flood is not identical with the “true God” […]. Viewing the character of the deity of Genesis with a sober, critical eye, the Gnostics concluded that this God was neither good nor wise. He was envious, genocidal, unjust, and, moreover, had created a world full of bizarre and unpleasant things and conditions. In their visionary explorations of secret mysteries, the Gnostics felt that they had discovered that this deity was not the only God, as had been claimed, and that certainly there was a God above him.
- Felix Mendelssohn: born Hamburg, 1809; died Leipzig, 1847 after a series of strokes.
- Elijah was written in English from an English translation of a German libretto. It was given its first performance in English on 26 August 1846 at the Birmingham Festival, conducted by Mendelssohn himself. Mendelssohn (who spoke fluent English) took great pains that the English version would be as accurate as possible.