Elijah, a prophet from Gilead, was active in Israel during the reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah in the ninth century BCE (1 Kgs 17–2 Kgs 2). He fiercely opposed Ahab for allowing his wife, Jezebel, to introduce the cult of the Tyrean god Baal. Hunted by the royal party, Elijah took refuge in the desert, reappearing when his presence was required.
When Naboth was murdered by Ahab to gain his vineyard, the prophet appears before the king to rebuke him: "Would you murder and take possession?" (1 Kgs 21:19). In a climactic confrontation on Mount Carmel, he asks the people, "How long will you keep hopping between two opinions?" (1 Kgs 18:21), and with the help of his supporters he slays the prophets of Baal. The Bible tells of many miracles related to Elijah: ravens fed him when he was hiding; he brought a dead child back to life; he prophesied the beginning and end of a drought; and he did not die but ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot.
Elijah features prominently in Jewish ritual and folklore. Stories tell of his coming to the aid of the Jews against their enemies, of individuals in dire need, and of sages in unraveling obscure points of Torah. He is also depicted as the precursor and herald of the Messiah and the final redemption (Mal. 3:23–24). At the Passover Seder an extra cup of wine is poured ("Elijah's Cup") to symbolize, among other things, the future redemption of the Jewish people. The chair on which the baby boy is circumcised is called "Elijah's Chair," and Elijah is referred to as the "messenger of the circumcision." In the Grace After Meals, in some rites, a request is included in the Ha-Rahaman (Merciful God) prayer that Elijah come "and bring us good tidings, deliverance and consolation."
At the end of the post-Sabbath Havdalah rite, some sing of the expectation that Elijah will bring the redemption "soon in our time." The talmudic sages, however, also depict Elijah as an impatient perfectionist, as a result of which God tells him to anoint Elisha to succeed him sooner than might otherwise have occurred.