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When Elisha is jeered by youths in 2 Kings 2:23-25 he is told (as many translations have it) to "Go up" or "Go on up". The new NIV (2011) renders this as "Get out of here." Is this a fair translation of the idiom? What were the young boys telling Elisha to do? To go on up to Bethel? To go on up to heaven like Elijah? Is it just an idiom for "Get out of here?"

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For some rabbinical interpretations of the incident (which are not derivable only from the text), see: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29226/472 –  Gone Quiet Jun 5 '13 at 1:48

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The word here is עֲלֵה , which usually means "arise" or "go up". This is the same root that is used for the burnt offering, called the olah because its sweet savor rises heavenward. It is also the word used in Elijah's ascent. But we see that in many translations of the 36 uses of this verb in Tanakh, it is also used to refer to going to other places, and it doesn't seem to always mean going to a higher elevation (though I haven't consulted elevation maps of the middle east).1

One possibility is that the children meant to taunt Elisha, saying he should "go up" like Elijah did. That would depend on the children knowing about that. If the incident is occurring as Elisha leaves Jericho for Bethel then they might know; they probably didn't see it, but days have passed and rumors will be rumors. This would be a speculative interpretation (the text doesn't provide enough information to support it). If, on the other hand, the incident happens near Bethel, that is less likely. It seems to me to be happening near Bethel because after the incident it says Elisha went on to Carmel -- it doesn't say he then went to Bethel. But, again, the text is sparse.

If it isn't a reference to Elijah, then what does it mean? This is not the usual word for "to go", which is halak (c.f. Gen 12:1, lech l'cha), nor the usual word for "stand up" (kum, like in Song of Songs 2:13). עֲלֵה seems to convey both "arising" and going to a destination, but no destination is named in this passage. So we are left with "go up", and the sense that he should go somewhere (not just wander). "Go up" is a correct translation; I'm not sure it's fair to read it as just "scram". Whether they are telling him to go to Bethel or to keep going (to Carmel) or to go up like Elijah, or something else, is not clear from the text.

1 In post-biblical usage, alah applies to going to Jerusalem -- which is in the mountains, thus at a higher elevation. In modern Hebrew, the word refers to moving from the diaspora to Israel, even if one isn't going to Jerusalem; perhaps this is seen as a spiritually higher place.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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The lads are taunting Elisha to "go up." Is this not the same Hebrew verb that described Elijah's ascent into heaven in verse 11 of this same chapter? In other words, are the lads not in fact ridiculing Elisha because he did not "go up" with Elijah, and therefore they are now taunting him to "go up" in mock ridicule? –  Joseph Jun 5 '13 at 0:01
@Joseph it's the same verb, but the taunters didn't witness it and the text doesn't give us any reason to believe that they know what happened to Eliyahu (a) at all or (b) in any detail. That happened near Jericho, not Bethel. It's possible they heard, of course -- several days passed -- but an interpretation based on that would be speculative. So could they be saying that? Sure. Does the text support that? Not very well, from what I see. –  Gone Quiet Jun 5 '13 at 0:12
I thought that when the text said "the lads came out of the city" that the city was Jericho, since Elisha had to "look behind him" in order to see them (since he was heading for Bethel) - thus the lads came out of Jericho, where Elisha had just established with the sons of the prophets that Elijah was not lost, but had ascended into heaven. Nonetheless, I agree with you that there is no explicit statement that these lads had heard of Elijah's ascent, and so there is therefore no "concrete" correlation in the text as such. –  Joseph Jun 5 '13 at 0:34
Oh! While I thought this must be happening near Bethel, since after the incident he continues to Carmel. (It doesn't say he went to Bethel there.) Thanks for pointing out the ambiguity; I'll expand my answer. –  Gone Quiet Jun 5 '13 at 0:40

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