E'li (Hebrews Eli', עֵלַי. i.e., עֵַלי, ascent; Sept. ᾿Ηλι [so N.T. SEE HELI ], Josephus Ηλεί,Vulg. Heli), the high-priest of the Jews when the ark was in Shiloh (1Sa 1:3,9). He was descended from Aaron through Ithamar, the youngest of his two surviving sons (Le 10:1-2,12), as appears from the fact that Abiathar, who was certainly a lineal descendant of Eli (1Ki 2:27), had a son Ahimelech, who is expressly stated to have been "of the sons of Ithamar" (1Ch 24:3; compare 2Sa 8:17). With this accords the circumstance that the names of Eli and his successors in the high-priesthood up to and including Abiathar are not found in the genealogy of Eleazar (1Ch 6:4-15; compare Ezr 7:1-5). As the history makes no mention of any high-priest of the line of 4thamar before Eli, he is generally supposed to have been the first of that line who held the office (Josephus, Ant. 8:1, 3). From him, his sons having died before him, it appears to have passed to his grandson Ahitub (1Sa 14:3; compare however Josephus, Ant. 5:11, 2), and it certainly remained in his family till Abiathar, the grandson of Ahitub, was "thrust out from being priest unto the Lord" by Solomon for his share in Adonijah's rebellion (1Ki 2:26,2-7; 1Ki 1:7), and the high-priesthood passed back again to the family of Eleazar in the person of Zadok (1Ki 2:35). How the office ever came into the younger branch of the house of Aaron we are not informed; perhaps it was through the incapacity or minority of the then sole representative of the elder line, for it is very evident that it was no unauthorized usurpation on the part of Eli (1Sa 2:27-28,30). SEE ITHAMAR. Eli also acted as regent or civil judge of Israel after the death of Samson, being the immediate predecessor of his pupil Samuel (1Sa 7:6,15-17), the last of the judges. This function, indeed, seems to have been intended, by the theocratical constitution, to devolve upon the high-priest, by virtue of his office, in the absence of any person specially appointed by the divine King to deliver and govern Israel. He is said to have judged Israel 40 years (1Sa 4:18): the Septuagint makes it 20. It has been suggested, in explanation of the discrepancy, that he was sole judge for 20 years, after having been co-judge with Samson for 20 years (Jg 16:31). But the probability is that the number 40 is correct, but that it comprehends only the period of his administration as judge; for not only does the whole tenor of the narrative imply that this immediately succeeded the judgeship of Samson (as indeed Josephus evidently understood it; a fact apparent not only from his history, but also from the summing up of his numbers as computed by himself, Ant. 5:9; 10:3; title to book 5), but this view is evidently taken by Paul in his assignment of the period of 450 years to the judges (Ac 13:20), a number that immediately results from simply adding together the items as given in the O.T. history, including Samson and Eli as continuous to the others. SEE JUDGES. As Eli died at the age of ninety-eight (1Sa 4:15), the forty years (B.C. 1165-1125) must have commenced when he was fifty-eight years old. (See Lightfoot's Works, 1:53, 907, fol. Lond. 1684; Selden, De Success. in Pontif. Hebr. lib. 1, cap. 4). SEE HIGH-PRIEST.
Eli seems to have been a religious man, and the only fault recorded of him was an excessive easiness of temper, most unbefitting the high responsibilities of his official character. His sons Hophni and Phinehas, whom he invested with authority, misconducted themselves so outrageously as to excite deep disgust among the people, and render the services of the tabernacle odious in their eyes (1Sa 2:27-36; 1Ki 2:27). Of this misconduct Eli was aware, but contented himself with mild and ineffectual remonstrances (1Sa 2:22-25), where his station required severe and vigorous action (1Sa 3:13). For this neglect the judgment of God was at length denounced upon his house, through the young Samuel (q.v.), who, under peculiar circumstances, had been attached from childhood to his person (1Sa 2:29; 1Sa 3:18). Some years passed without any apparent fulfillment of this denunciation, but it came at length in one terrible crash, by which the old man's heart was broken. The Philistines had gained the upper hand over Israel, and the ark of God was taken to the field, in the confidence of victory and safety from its presence. But in the battle which followed the ark itself was taken by the Philistines, and the two sons of Eli, who were in attendance upon it, were slain. The high-priest, then blind with age, sat by the wayside at Shiloh, awaiting tidings from the war, "for his heart trembled for the ark of God." A man of Benjamin, with his clothes rent, and with earth upon his head, brought the fatal news: and Eli heard that Israel was defeated-that his sons were slain-that the ark of God was taken — at which last word he fell heavily from his seat, and died (1 Samuel 4). According to Schwarz (Palest. page 142), an erroneous tradition locates his grave in an elegant building at the village Charim ben-Elim, eight miles N.N.E. of Jaffa, on the shore. The ultimate doom upon Eli's house was accomplished when Solomon removed Abiathar (the last high-priest of this line) from his office, and restored the line of Eleazar, in the person of Zadok (1Ki 2:27). SEE ABIATHAR. Another part of the same sentence (1Sa 2:31-33) appears to have been taking effect in the reign of David, when we read that "there were more chief men found of the sons of Eleazar than of the sons of Ithamar" — sixteen of the former, and only eight of the latter (1Ch 24:4).