Budapest Museum of Fine Arts

Shattering protocol, the woman of Shunem grasps Elisha’s legs and refuses to leave the prophet until he comes to her son’s aid, in this 1664 painting by Gerbrandt van den Eeckhout.

The woman has made the exhausting journey to Mt. Carmel (her weary servant sleeps upright against the donkey at left) in hopes of saving her son. Elisha first sends his servant Gehazi to greet the woman, but she will not be deterred from speaking directly to the prophet. Burke Long points out that the woman asserts herself several times during this meeting: In addition to insisting on a face-to-face meeting with Elisha, she upbraids the prophet for granting her a son only to have him die in his youth. She next objects to Elisha’s suggestion that Gehazi, rather than the prophet himself, try to revive the child. Because of her persistence, Elisha must accept the consequences of his earlier miracle-working and go personally to help the stricken child.