John Martin
The Ascent of Elijah

Etching and mezzotint
New York Public Library

In 2 Kings 2:8-12, Elijah and Elisha have just left Jericho and passed over a river together when "behold a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder: and Elias [Elijah] went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2:11). In the print, a driver stands in the chariot as its three horses carry it through the light up to Heaven. Below in the shadows, Elisha stands by the river and cries out his lament: "‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the driver thereof.’ And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own garments, and rent them in two pieces."

Jericho's formidable walls can be seen on the other side of the river. The lightning bolts striking beyond them may refer to Nebuchadnezzar's defeat of King Zedekiah on "the plains of Jericho" in 2 Kings 25:1-7. In his campaign against the Jews Nebuchadnezzar was able to prevail because "the Lord was angry against Jerusalem and against Juda, till he cast them out from his face" (2 Kings 24:18-20). Despite the brilliance of the light in one portion of the sky, therefore, the primary burden of this image is a sense of loss and separation from the divine.

Note: the colored spot in the lower left of this photo is a reflection from the glass cover, not a feature of the print itself.

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Photographed at the library by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.