The account of Elisha’s curse of the forty-two young people and their seemingly unjustified fatal end when attacked by two bears has puzzled Latter-day Saints as well as other students of the Bible. An enlightening solution to this unusual incident, as I argue here, also leads to a clearer view of an important underlying issue: the acceptance or nonacceptance of divinely approved succession among prophetic personalities, in this case Elisha’s succession to the prophet Elijah.
Most scholars who have analyzed the problematic passage in which Elisha is called “baldy” or “baldheaded” (qereah) by a group of youths agree that this word should be translated literally (2 Kings 2:23–24). But the issue does not end here. Philological and contextual evidence suggests that the word qereah is being used figuratively to denote a person who is a usurper of authority. In this light, the question of how qereah is to be interpreted on a figurative level should be approached systematically, beginning with an analysis of the Hebrew text that underlies translations of 2 Kings 2:23–24 (see my rendition below).