By and by, Benhadad became King of Syria and plotted in his mind to renew Syria's beef with Israel. He gathered his armies and went up against Samaria and beseiged it to the point of severe famine in the land. So severe was the famine that the mere head of a donkey1 sold for eighty pieces of silver2, and a pint of chick peas3 was bringing five silver pieces.
Now as it happened the king was walking along the wall when a woman cried out to him, "Help me!"
"Help you what?" asked the king. "What is the matter with you?"
The woman replied, "Here is this woman who said to me, 'Let us eat your son today, and tomorrow we will eat mine,' so we boiled my son and ate him. Now it's her turn, and she has hidden her son and refuses to cough him up, so to speak."
When the king heard this, he tore his clothes, and walked upon the wall wearing only sackcloth next to his skin. And he swore by God that he should become food for the people if Elisha's head remained on his shoulders at the end of the day. Now the king sent an executioner down before him to the house where Elisha sat chatting with the elders. Before the executioner arrived, Elisha said, "Look, this son of a murderer who calls himself king is on his way to remove my head. Bar the door! The king cannot be far behind."
The king came, and Elisha told him that on the morrow barley and fine flour would be sold for a shekel in the gates of the city. The king's aide laughed and snorted, "What? Provender will rain from heaven?" "Indeed, I tell you the truth, but you shall not partake of the food, not a mouthful."
And that came to pass exactly as Elisha had foretold it; the man who scoffed was trampled to death by the crowd in its rush to obtain food.4
Based on 2 Kings 6, & 7
1Recall that the donkey was an "unclean" animal, thus forbidden for food to the Israelites, and the head must surely have been among the least desirable parts of an abominable creature.
2It is difficult to determine exactly the value of a "piece of silver;" but some scholars agree that eighty pieces of silver could be the equivalent of nine or ten months wages for a skilled workman.
3The phrase is translated "a fourth part of a cab of dove's dung" in the King James Version. Scholars have long debated whether the material is to be taken literally as translated, or as a type of chick pea which is still referred to as "dove's dung" in parts of the Middle East. Most, I think, tend to the latter.
4Between the first sentence of this paragraph and the last, there is a long tale of running soldiers, thieving lepers who get a conscience, and so on. It is all germane to the story, but the limitations of space restrict the retelling to this footnote.