Mount Carmel is a coastal mountain range in north Israel that lies along the Mediterranean Sea. In Arabic, it is known as Mount Mar Elias, which translates as Mount Elias/Elijah. This gives us a clue as to where Mount Carmel is first mentioned in the Bible – the Book of Kings.
“Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table.” (1 Kings 18:19-20)
The prophet and miracle worker Elijah, or Elias as he is known in the Greek, challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a contest to determine whose God was really in charge of the Kingdom of Israel. Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to build an altar on the mountain and ask their god to set it alight. No matter how much they shouted, their god did not respond. Elijah, on the other hand, built an altar and asked the prophets to drench it with water, which would make it harder to light. Nonetheless, when he called on God, “the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (18:38) Thus, Elijah proved God was the one in charge of Israel.
This event took place during the reign of King Ahab. Biblical scholars have used the dates of Ahab’s reign to try to learn more about the god Baal. Traditionally, the title Baal was the equivalent to Owner of Lord in the Northwest Semitic communities; however, it was also used for a variety of gods. Due to Ahab’s connection with the Phoenicians, it is thought this particular Baal may have been Melquart, the patron god of the Phoenician city of Tyre.
“So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.”(1 Kings 18:42) After Elijah’s challenge, he claimed a storm was coming to end the three-year drought that had plagued the area. From the top of Mount Carmel, Elijah and his servant watched a tiny cloud in the distance develop into a raging storm.
Since Mount Carmel is a mountain range rather than an individual peak, the location of “the top of Carmel” is not certain. There is nothing written in the Bible to pinpoint a particular mountaintop, however, Islamic tradition believes it may have been the mountain known as El-Maharrakah, which means “burning”.
Mount Carmel is next mentioned in the Second Book of Kings not long after Elijah has been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha has taken on the role of his teacher and is walking along a road when a group of boys start calling out insults. “Get out of here, baldy!” In retaliation, Elisha curses them and two bears maul forty-two of the boys. Then Elisha carries on his journey. “And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.” (2 Kings 2:25)
In 2 Kings 4, we are told the story of a Shunammite woman who Elisha visited regularly when passing through Shunem. Elisha promised her that she would have a son, however, during his childhood, the son died. Distressed, the mother insisted on going to find Elisha. She “set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, "Look! There's the Shunammite!” (2 Kings 4:25) The woman berated him for raising her hopes by giving her a son that did not live long, however, Elisha calmly accompanied the woman back home and raised her son from the dead.
Mount Carmel is also mentioned in a vision of Amos, a shepherd from Tekoa. The vision predicts the fate of Israel and the judgement on Israel’s neighbours. “He said: ‘The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.’”
The destruction of Israel is also written about in Amos 9:3: “Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, there I will hunt them down and seize them. Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the serpent to bite them.”
The name “Mount Carmel” is used in three different ways, both in the Bible and other written histories. One is the entire 24-mile mountain range and another only the northern half (12 miles). The third is the aforementioned headland at the northwestern end of the range. At its widest, the mountain range stretches five miles and rises to 1,791 feet towards the northeast. Made of limestone and flint, the range is covered in vegetation, including laurel, oak, olive and pine trees. There are several towns within the range and also the city of Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel.
Mount Carmel has been listed as a World Heritage Site due to the discovery of Neanderthal remains and caves that represent roughly one million years of human evolution. According to the Romano-Jewish historian Josephus, the Essenes, a Jewish sect from Nazareth in Galilee, once inhabited Mount Carmel. Archaeologists have discovered ancient wine and oil presses in various places on Mount Carmel but whether any of these belonged to the Essenes is debatable.
In the 12th century AD, a Catholic religious order known as the Carmelites was founded on the mountain range in what they claimed to be Elijah’s cave, where the prophet hid after escaping from Queen Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. There is no evidence to prove this, however, it is believed several hermits dwelt in the mountains. A Carmelite monastery was erected on the site and dedicated to the “Star of the Sea”, another name for the Virgin Mary. During the crusades, the monastery was captured converted into a mosque. Much later, in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte, transformed the building into a hospital, only to be destroyed two decades later. Since then, another monastery has been built directly over “Elijah’s Grotto”, which is used as the crypt.
Mount Carmel is also a sacred place in the Bahá’í faith and is the location of the Bahá’í World Centre and the Shrine of the Báb. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have their largest mosque on Mount Carmel.
For fun, I have researched the things you can visit in the Mount Carmel mountain range:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon