5th installment in the series exploring whether Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same.
I feel it noteworthy that the title of this midrashic work, Tana d’Vey Eliyahu, literally means, “The Teaching of the House of Elijah.” This midrash purports to be information transmitted from Eliyahu haNavi (Elijah the Prophet) himself to Rav Anan, a sage of the Talmudic era (circa 5th century CE). If true, this teaching represents the authoritative word of Elijah himself and ought to be granted especial weight, particularly on this subject.
From Tana D’Vey Eliyahu Zuta, Ch. 15:
Our Sages were sitting the study hall and saying, “From whence does Elijah come?” Some of them said that he comes from the seed of Rachel, and some of them said that he comes from the tribe of Gad, and some of them said that he comes from the seed of Leah. While they were sitting involved in this, Elijah came and stood before them. He said, “Our Sages, why are you distressed over this? I come from none other than the seed of Rachel!”
Note the similarity to the story from Midrash Rabah. I have quoted this midrash as well because of the addition of the opinion that Elijah was of the seed of Leah. This is a gamechanger because the Kohanim (priests) were of the tribe of Levi who was of the seed of Leah. Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron (Aharon) the High Priest, was of the seed of Leah. If Elijah was of the seed of Leah, then it becomes possible that he and Pinchas were the same. This opinion among the Sages may indeed be that voice from which the view that Pinchas is Elijah originates.
But what of it, you may ask. After all, Elijah appears at the end and clarifies the issue, concluding once and for all that he is a descendant of Rachel, confirming that view that he is of the tribe of Benjamin. So that’s that, right?
What complicates this conclusion is that there are alternative manuscripts of Tana d’Vey Eliyahu that indicate the opposite. In these versions, Eliyahu announces that he is of the seed of Leah, confirming the other opinion.
I have merely quoted the Tana d’Vey Eliyahu according to the standard printed version, which conforms to the Midrash Rabah quoted earlier. But as widely accepted a source as the midrashic anthology Yalkut Shimoni presents the text according to the opposite manuscript.
The conclusion from Tana d’Vey Eliyahu remains, therefore, ambiguous, scoring a full point for neither side, but setting an important precedent as the first source that does not absolutely contradict the possibility that Pinchas is Eliyahu, but might, according to some versions, even support it.