I am in the early pages of Hillel Millgram’s The Elijah Enigma, in which he deals with the conflict between the prophet, Elijah, and the king, Ahab. I will make just a few points about Millgram’s approach.
First, Millgram uses literary analysis. He especially relies on Robert Alter’s approach to the Bible.
Part of the way the Bible is written involves the author taking an omniscient, all-knowing position. The author knows what the characters do not, even what the reader does not. But the author acknowledges the fog of uncertainty that being human entails. So he only reveals part of what he knows. He is sometimes suggestive and mystifying.
Second, the way this relates to history is not that the authors really had a God’s-eye view. They used sources and were not channeling direct or divine knowledge. And yet they take a literary position as though they are able to tell us what really happened. Symbolically, they had a God’s-eye perspective.
This, according to Millgram, was part of the agenda of biblical writers to promote a monotheistic revolution. They were historians in that they tried to pass on a real and credible story about the origins of the people God had called.
He claims that this means they did not write fiction (a modern concept). They did not invent a past that never was. But they took what was passed on to them and molded a story to show the sharp divide between the city of man and the city of God. The city of man reflected the common political practices of the ancient orient. The city of God reflected the prophetic call to allow a transcendent God to judge all human activity.
So in the story of Elijah and Ahab, Elijah represents the city of God and Ahab represents the city of man. But, that the story is symbolic of monotheism and false religion does not mean it has no roots in actual events.
Third, he applies this to the events of Kings (which was originally not divided into 1st and 2nd Kings) by showing how distinct and unique the monarchy in Israel was. Everywhere else in the ancient Near East the gods chose and installed the king. But in Israel the king arose out of a partnership between God and man so that a prophet anointed him and the leaders of the land confirmed him. In the case of both Saul and Solomon, a prophet rejected the sitting king and chose somebody else.
Yet David brought something new to leadership in Israel in that he was able to establish a “house”. There had been a charismatic model for leadership in Judges. The model still lingered in the tendency to let military leaders rule. But, with David, there came to Judah the strong idea of a hereditary house, which privileged David’s line as well as David himself.
But in the Northern Kingdom, after the division, we have something like a reversion to Judges with strong men seizing power as they are able. This became the setting for the rise of the house of Omri and his son, Ahab.
Millgram stresses how Jeroboam acted for his own political interest in setting up the calf or bull shrines. Millgram does not think the scholarly trend to affirm that the bulls were not idols matters. The common people were not sophisticated enough to make this distinction. So, regardless of the intention of Jeroboam, he introduced something that would inevitably be abused.
By the time that Ahab and Elijah squared off, Baal (originally a name for deity in a more general sense) came to be the symbol for paganism and the opposition to prophetic monotheism.
With these preliminary observations out of the way, we can move on the Millgram’s treatment of the Elijah and Ahab stories.