The Fifth Mountain
is a work of historical fiction by Brazilian novelist and lyricist Paulo Coelho. A fictionalized version of the biblical story of the Prophet Elijah, it relates his struggle to spread the word of God in Israel after he experiences a series of powerful visions. At first, Elijah is afraid to follow his vocation as a prophet, having been taught by his parents to prioritize the secular world and his career over God. Coelho connects this story from the 900’s B.C. to modern themes, including political refugeeism, existential anxiety, alienation, and crisis of faith.
The story begins in Israel. Since he was a child, Elijah has been troubled by mystical visions and visited by angels bearing messages from God. Once, his parents took him to a priest, who proclaimed that Elijah was a nabi
, or “man of the spirit,” who is able to hear the word of God. His parents rejected his calling as a prophet, and made him train to be a carpenter instead. As his training progressed, the visions became more infrequent. By the time Jezebel, the princess of Tyre, married Israel’s king, Ahab, Elijah’s voice has lost much of its insight and persuasive
power over common folk.
Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel creates peace between their two contentious regions, but it also starts to transform the religious makeup of Israel. After marrying Ahab, Jezebel implores him to stop following the Jewish God and to submit instead to the pagan Gods of Lebanon. Jezebel began a crusade intended to kill all of Israel’s prophets and priests, so that no one will be able to spread Judaism. Knowing that he will die if he stays, Elijah takes flight from Israel. He is joined by another prophet, who is killed before they make it out. Just as Elijah begins to despair, an angel descends from heaven and guides him to the town of Akbar. There, a widow offers him food and shelter. The rest of the townspeople are reluctant to house an Israelite prophet and potentially stoke the anger of Jezebel; however, their tradition forces them to take him in.
When the widow’s son gets very sick, the townspeople chalk it up to a curse brought on by Elijah. When her son dies, Akbar’s high priest forces Elijah to climb the “Fifth Mountain” and be smote by the gods at its summit. Elijah makes it to the top of the mountain, but is not killed. An angel descends from heaven and helps guide him back to Akbar. There, Elijah performs the miracle of resurrection on the widow’s son. The miracle convinces the townspeople that Elijah is a son of God.
The Assyrian army encroaches on Akbar and prepares to invade. Elijah advises the town Governor to draw up a peace agreement with the Assyrian leaders, but the plan is thwarted by Akbar’s war-mongering army commander and high priest. Akbar is totally destroyed in the ensuing battle. The widow who housed Elijah is one of its victims. In the wake of the war, Elijah decides to restore Akbar and its population, which now consists mainly of women, young children, and the elderly (all able-bodied men having been slain). Elijah becomes Akbar’s commissioner and oversees the construction of a library and education programs. They use the library to store the written record of Akbar’s early history, fall, and reconstruction.
Despite his miracles and successes, Elijah continues to struggle with his belief in God. At one point, he momentarily denies God’s existence. When he recovers from this despair, God blesses him. An angel appears to Elijah and relays God’s order to travel back to Israel and restore faith in his word to Israel. Part of this task means taking Jezebel out of power. Elijah returns to Israel and performs another miracle to gain the trust of its people. While Jezebel looks far and wide for him, Elijah spreads the word that any prophet who betrayed God shall be executed. Elijah successfully evades Jezebel for the rest of her reign by hiding out on the Fifth Mountain. Many years later, Israel is invaded by Syria. The Syrian army executes Ahab, and Jezebel blockades herself in her palace for a time before being captured. The Fifth Mountain
ends optimistically, as Elijah looks forward to a more peaceful Israel free of pagan influence.