Thursday, July 09, 2015

Elijah vs the prophets of baal

It's so easy to miss those small details when illustrating a Bible story. The little details that we often skim over in our Bible reading are often the ones essential to the Bible artist. The Bible illustrator is looking for all those little visual details because they have to recreate a particular scene. Does the text mention a table? or a chair? How many people are in the room? What type of room is it? Is it light outside or dark? Is a certain type of tree mentioned? All these snipits of information, that are of less importance in a Bible study, help the artist to recreate the scene accurately.

Back in 2009 I illustrated a 'one off' picture from the life of Elijah for a proposed children's Bible (that didn't materialise). The picture was from the biblical account of Elijah vs the Prophets of Baal. (1 Kings 18). Before I started this picture I wanted to get some idea of what Mt Carmel looked like so I went to one of my favourite sites -!
I managed to find this photo (left) which is thought to be the traditional site of the contest in 1 Kings 18. The Bibleplaces website says "This is probably the best view of the area of Elijah's contest, assuming tradition is correct.  The monastery of Muhraqa is at the top of the hill, but tradition places the contest slightly lower near a spring."  You will notice from the photo that there's lots of grass around - so, not thinking, I drew lots of grass! Now, if I had paid more attention to the beginning of the chapter, in 1 Kings 18 I would have noticed that there had been a great drought in the land for a number of years and there was a severe famine! At the beginning of chapter 18, it says that King Ahab sent out Obadiah, his palace administrator to look for grass to keep the horses and mules alive! So, presumably there was little or no grass to be seen! Last week I finished a new set of pictures based on this same biblical account and, needless to say, I made sure that all the backgrounds were dry and dusty - not a blade of grass in sight!

There are 6 pictures in this new set retelling the story of Elijah vs the prophets of Baal. As I was illustrating the picture depicting the 12 jars of water being poured over the sacrificial bull, I realised just how precious this water would have been at the time of a severe drought! So I illustrated the crowd looking on in horror at this apparent waste! I was reminded of the scene in Mark 14:3 of Mary and the alabaster pot of very expensive perfume being broken over the head of Jesus. The disciples looked on in horror and complained that this ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor. There's also another similarity in these two accounts. Jesus was also being prepared, like the bull in 1 Kings 18, to come under the fiery judgement of God for sins not His own.

The second mistake I made in 2009 was in the way I had depicted Elijah. The problem is, you don't find a physical description of Elijah until 2 Kings ch 1! From this description you can see why some of those in Jesus' day, (who would have been familiar with 2 Kings ch 1), thought that John the Baptist was Elijah! (John 1:21) Both men do sound very much alike in appearance! In fact, Zechariah 13:4, does seem to suggest that there was a certain dress code for prophets - almost like a badge of their profession! In some versions, 2 Kings 1:8 is translated 'He was a hairy man', but most versions translate verse 8 as 'He wore a garment of hair.' Just to play it safe I've depicted Elijah as a hairy man and wearing clothes woven from hair!

Picture 1 shows Elijah confronting Ahab. Picture 2 depicts Elijah explaining the contest to the people. Picture 3, (right), shows Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal and Asherah. The prophets are cutting themselves with swords and spears as was the custom. There is a stone image of Baal and an Asherah pole in the background. Picture 4 shows the people emptying 12 jars of water over the sacrificial bull on the altar set up by Elijah. The water is pouring down the stones and into the trench around the altar, mixing with the blood of the bull. Picture 5 depicts Elijah praying. Those in the background look heavenward in anticipation. Picture 6 shows God answering Elijah's prayer with fire! The fire consumes the sacrifice, wood, stone altar and even the soil! I've shown a lot of steam as the fire licks up the water in the trench. The people are falling down in wonder crying out "The Lord - He is God! The Lord - He is God!"

This Bible picture set, along with many others, is available from

Photo © 2015


Dr. J said...

Love your color illustrations! Any chance you'd be willing to license them for use in Accordance Bible Software? Let us know. I think our customers would love them.

"Dr. J"

Bible artist said...

Hi Dr J,
many thanks for the positive feedback - I have passed your email on to I'm presuming that they can contact you online at ABS? Thanks again!

Dr. J said...

Yes, thanks! My e-mail there is

Bible artist said...

That's great - will be in touch.

Kirsty said...

Coincidentally I made the exact same mistake when drawing Elijah, and am currently going through my illustrations (fortunately not many) altering his clothes. And Elisha's, because he got Elijah's cloak.

There's always something new you can learn!

Bible artist said...

Yes, it's so easy to miss something - I do it all the time!! I'm just finishing 63 pictures telling the story of Joseph. I hope to blog on that one soon. Thanks for the comment Kirsty - keep up the good work!

deboraw said...

Graham, is there any chance your work will be for sale anytime soon? I don't remember if I was supposed to get back to Jem last fall, or whatnot. I tried going to the store about the time he had said he thought it would be available, but no success. I was thinking on this post and how true it is. I'm wondering about the small things such as tables and chairs. Often illustrations use them in the stories, but in looking at how people in some of the areas still live, I'm sure these are not accurate, unless in the homes of the wealthy. Well, have a great new year, and take care, my friend. Hope all is well in your neck of the world. ;)

Bible artist said...

Hi, thanks for that! Yes, I would recommend contacting Jem. The latest camp is due to finish this weekend so next week would be a good time to catch him. I'm not sure where we are with the online store - I know it's still offline! I am still working on the pictures despite my quietness on the blog!! My wife is going through a bad patch with her illness at the moment so haven't had any spare time to blog.

Yes, I think you're right about the tables and chairs. The Nazareth village project has recreated a lot of items like this that are very helpful.

I'm just working on a series titled 'People Jesus Met' in John's Gospel. Also a new set on Peter's denial, the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane and the following trial.
Take care. Great to see a picture of you both!

Dr. J said...

Good luck with contacting Jeff. I write him, twice, requesting permission to license the entire collection. Didn't even get the courtesy of a reply. :-(

Bible artist said...

Our sincere apologies Dr J! I know it's on Jem's 'to do' list - and I know he's been really busy with the camps etc. All I can say is that I'm sure he'll be in touch. We do need to have the store up and running and I'm sure that one of the team are working on this too. I will definitely be writing a blog when the store's back online!

Anonymous said...

Back in 1980, perhaps earlier, I remember seeing on television a Lutheran series out of Leeds, UK which had Bible stories retold, featuring full colour artwork not unlike this one (pen, brush, and ink with either watercolours or dyes). Did you do them? Or do you know who the illustrator was?

Anonymous said...

I went to the Foundations website but can't find these pictures about the Elijah. Any suggestions or links?

Bible artist said...

Best thing to do is email Jem Hudson at Foundation Matters as all our recent picture sets have not been uploaded to the website.

Alec Stevens said...

Hello, Graham! I have enjoyed looking at your work. I publish Christian books, graphic novels, comics tracts, & posters via my own Calvary Comics imprint across the pond (though titles have sold all over the world, courtesy of the 'net). You can see some here:

I'd be interested to learn more about some of the Christian comics stories you drew for D C Thomson in the past.

Do you have any other websites, Facebook page, etc.? This one seems to have stopped updates after 2015.

Best regards,