Books of Samuel

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The two Books of Samuel (Hebrew: Sefer Shmuel ספר שמואל‎) are part of the Deuteronomistic history, a series of books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that constitute a theological history of the Israelites which explains God's law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets.[1] According to Jewish tradition the book was written by Samuel, with additions by the prophets Gad and Nathan;[2] modern scholarly thinking is that the entire history (called the Deuteronomistic history) was composed in the period c.630–540 BCE by combining a number of independent texts of various ages.[3][4]

Samuel begins with the prophet Samuel's birth and God's call to him as a boy. The story of the Ark of the Covenant that follows tells of Israel's oppression by the Philistines, which brought about Samuel's anointing of Saul as Israel's first king. But Saul proved unworthy and God's choice turned to David, who defeated Israel's enemies and brought the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promised David and his successors an everlasting dynasty.[5]

Contents[edit]

Ernst Josephson, David and Saul, 1878.

The childless Hannah vows to Yahweh of hosts that if she has a son, he will be dedicated to him. Eli, the priest of Shiloh (where the ark of the covenant is located), blesses her, and a child named Samuel is born. Samuel is dedicated to the Lord as a Nazirite - the only one beside Samson to be identified in the Bible. Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, prove unworthy of the priesthood and are killed in battle, but the child Samuel grows up "in the presence of the Lord."

The Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh and take it to the temple of their god Dagon, who recognises the supremacy of Yahweh. The Philistines are afflicted with plagues and return the ark to the Israelites, but to the territory of the tribe of Benjamin rather than to Shiloh. The Philistines attack the Israelites gathered at Mizpah in Benjamin. Samuel appeals to Yahweh, the Philistines are decisively beaten, and the Israelites reclaim their lost territory.

In Samuel's old age, he appoints his sons as judges, but they are unworthy, and so the people clamour for a king. God reluctantly accedes and gives them Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul defeats the enemies of the Israelites, but sins against Yahweh.

Yahweh tells Samuel to anoint David of Bethlehem as king, and David enters Saul's court as his armour-bearer and harpist. Saul's son and heir Jonathan befriends David and recognises him as rightful king. Saul plots David's death, but David flees into the wilderness, where he becomes a champion of the Hebrews. David joins the Philistines, but continues secretly to champion his own people, until Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle. At this point, David offers a majestic eulogy, where he praises the bravery and magnificence of both his friend Jonathan and King Saul.[6]

The elders of Judah anoint David as king, but in the north Saul's son Ishbaal rules over the northern tribes. After a long war Ishbaal is murdered by two of his captains who hope for a reward from David; but David has them killed for killing God's anointed. David is then anointed King of all Israel. David captures Jerusalem and brings the Ark there. David wishes to build a temple, but Nathan tells him that one of David's sons will be the one to build the temple. David defeats the enemies of Israel, slaughtering Philistines, Moabites, Edomites, Syrians and Arameans.

David commits adultery with Bathsheba and plots the death of her husband; for this Yahweh sends disasters against his house. The prophet Nathan tells David that the sword shall never depart from his house. For the remainder of his reign there are problems: one of his sons rapes one of his daughters, another son kills the first, his favourite son rebels and is killed, until finally only two contenders for the succession remain, one of them Bathsheba's son Solomon. 1 Kings then relates how, as David lies dying, Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan ensure Solomon's elevation to the throne.

Composition[edit]

David and Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi. David is in the background, standing on a balcony.

Versions[edit]

1 and 2 Samuel were originally (and still are in some Jewish bibles) a single book, but the first Greek translation, produced around the second century BCE, divided it into two; this was adopted by the Latin translation used in the early Christian church of the West, and finally introduced into Jewish bibles around the early 16th century.[7] The modern Hebrew text (called the Masoretic text) differs considerably from the Greek, and scholars are still working at finding the best solutions to the many problems this presents.[8]

Authorship and date of composition[edit]

According to passages 14b and 15a of the Bava Basra tractate of the Talmud, the book was written by Samuel up until 1 Samuel 25, which notes the death of Samuel, and the remainder by the prophets Gad and Nathan. Critical scholars from the 19th century onward have rejected this idea. Martin Noth in 1943 theorized that Samuel was composed by a single author as part of a history of Israel: the Deuteronomistic history, made up of (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings).[9] Although Noth's belief that the entire history was composed by a single individual has been largely abandoned, his theory in its broad outline has been adopted by most scholars.[10]

The most common view today is that an early version of the history was composed in the time of king Hezekiah (8th century BCE); the bulk of the first edition dates from his grandson Josiah at the end of the 7th, with further sections added during the Babylonian exile (6th century) and the work substantially complete by about 550 BCE.[11] Further editing was apparently done even after then: for example, the silver quarter-shekel which Saul's servant offers to Samuel in 1 Samuel 9 almost certainly fixes the date of this story in the Persian or Hellenistic periods.[12]

The 6th century authors and editors responsible for the bulk of the history drew on many earlier sources, including (but not limited to) an "ark narrative" (1 Samuel 4:1–7:1 and perhaps part of 2 Samuel 6), a "Saul cycle" (parts of 1 Samuel 9-11 and 13–14), the "history of David's rise" (1 Samuel 16:14-2 Samuel 5:10), and the "succession narrative" (2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2).[13] The oldest of these, the "ark narrative," may even predate the Davidic era.[14]

Sources[edit]

The sources used to construct 1 & 2 Samuel are believed to include the following:[15]

  • Call of Samuel or Youth of Samuel (1 Samuel 1–7): From Samuel's birth his career as Judge and prophet over Israel. This source includes the Eli narrative and part of the ark narrative.[16]
  • Ark narrative (1 Samuel 4:1b-7:1 and 2 Samuel 6:1–20): the ark's capture by the Philistines in the time of Eli and its transfer to Jerusalem by David – opinion is divided over whether this is actually an independent unit.[17]
  • Jerusalem source: a fairly brief source discussing David conquering Jerusalem from the Jebusites.
  • Republican source: a source with an anti-monarchial bias. This source first describes Samuel as decisively ridding the people of the Philistines, and begrudgingly appointing an individual chosen by God to be king, namely Saul. David is described as someone renowned for his skill at playing the harp, and consequently summoned to Saul's court to calm his moods. Saul's son Jonathan becomes friends with David, which some commentators view as romantic, and later acts as his protector against Saul's more violent intentions. At a later point, having been deserted by God on the eve of battle, Saul consults a medium at Endor, only to be condemned for doing so by Samuel's ghost, and told he and his sons will be killed. David is heartbroken on discovering the death of Jonathan, tearing his clothes as a gesture of grief.
  • Monarchial source: a source with a pro-monarchial bias and covering many of the same details as the republican source. This source begins with the divinely appointed birth of Samuel. It then describes Saul as leading a war against the Ammonites, being chosen by the people to be king, and leading them against the Philistines. David is described as a shepherd boy arriving at the battlefield to aid his brothers, and is overheard by Saul, leading to David challenging Goliath and defeating the Philistines. David's warrior credentials lead to women falling in love with him, including Michal, Saul's daughter, who later acts to protect David against Saul. David eventually gains two new wives as a result of threatening to raid a village, and Michal is redistributed to another husband. At a later point, David finds himself seeking sanctuary amongst the Philistine army and facing the Israelites as an enemy. David is incensed that anyone should have killed Saul, even as an act of mercy, since Saul was anointed by Samuel, and has the individual responsible killed.
  • Court History of David or Succession narrative (2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2): a "historical novel", in Alberto Soggin's phrase, telling the story of David's reign from his affair with Bathsheba to his death. The theme is of retribution: David's sin against Uriah the Hittite is punished by God through the destruction of his own family,[18] and its purpose is to serve as an apology for the coronation of Bathsheba's son Solomon instead of his older brother Adonijah.[9] Some textual critics have posited that given the intimacy and precision of certain narrative details, the Court Historian may have been an eyewitness to some of the events he describes, or at the very least enjoyed access to the archives and battle reports of the royal house of David.[19]
  • Redactions: additions by the redactor to harmonize the sources together; many of the uncertain passages may be part of this editing.
  • Various: several short sources, none of which have much connection to each other, and are fairly independent of the rest of the text. Many are poems or pure lists.

Themes[edit]

Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli, by Jan Victors, 1645.

The Book of Samuel is a theological evaluation of kingship in general and of dynastic kingship and David in particular.[20] The main themes of the book are introduced in the opening poem (the "Song of Hannah"): (1), the sovereignty of Yahweh, God of Israel; (2), the reversal of human fortunes; and (3), kingship.[21] These themes are played out in the stories of the three main characters, Samuel, Saul and David.

Samuel[edit]

Samuel answers the description of the "prophet like Moses" predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15–22: like Moses, he has direct contact with Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, acts as a judge, and is a perfect leader who never makes mistakes.[22] Samuel's successful defence of the Israelites against their enemies demonstrates that they have no need for a king (who will, moreover, introduce inequality), yet despite this the people demand a king. But the king they are given is Yahweh's gift, and Samuel explains that kingship can be a blessing rather than a curse if they remain faithful to their God. On the other hand, total destruction of both king and people will result if they turn to wickedness.[9]

Saul[edit]

Saul is the chosen one, a king appointed by Yahweh, and anointed by Samuel, Yahweh's prophet, and yet he is ultimately rejected.[23] Saul has two faults which make him unfit for the office of king: he carries out a sacrifice in place of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8–14), and he fails to complete the genocide of the Amalekites as God has ordered (1 Samuel 15).[24]

David[edit]

One of the main units within Samuel is the "History of David's Rise", the purpose of which is to justify David as the legitimate successor to Saul.[25] The narrative stresses that he gained the throne lawfully, always respecting "the Lord's anointed" (i.e. Saul) and never taking any of his numerous chances to seize the throne by violence.[26] As God's chosen king over Israel David is also the son of God ("I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me..." – 2 Samuel 7:14).[27] God enters into an eternal covenant (treaty) with David and his line, promising divine protection of the dynasty and of Jerusalem through all time.[28]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  2. ^ 1 Chronicles 29:29
  3. ^ Knight 1995, p. 62.
  4. ^ Jones 2001, p. 197.
  5. ^ Spieckerman 2001, p. 348.
  6. ^ 2 Samuel 1:17-27
  7. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 19-20.
  8. ^ Bergen 1996, p. 25-27.
  9. ^ a b c Klein 2003, p. 316.
  10. ^ Tsumura 2007, p. 15-19.
  11. ^ Walton 2009, p. 41-42.
  12. ^ Auld 2003, p. 219.
  13. ^ Knight 1991, p. 853.
  14. ^ Tsumura 2007, p. 11.
  15. ^ Jones, pp.197–199
  16. ^ Soggin 1987, p. 210-211.
  17. ^ Eynikel 2000, p. 88.
  18. ^ Soggin 1987, p. 216-217.
  19. ^ Kirsch, Jonathan (2009). King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel. Random House LLC. pp. 307–309. ISBN 9780307567819. 
  20. ^ Klein 2003, p. 312.
  21. ^ Tsumura 2007, p. 68.
  22. ^ Beytenbrach 2000, p. 53-55.
  23. ^ Hertzberg 1964, p. 19.
  24. ^ Klein 2003, p. 319.
  25. ^ Dick 2004, p. 3-4.
  26. ^ Jones 2001, p. 198.
  27. ^ Coogan 2009, p. 216, 229-233.
  28. ^ Coogan 2009, p. 425.

Bibliography[edit]

Translations of 1 and 2 Samuel[edit]

Commentaries on Samuel[edit]

General[edit]

External links[edit]

Masoretic Text
Jewish translations
Related articles
Books of Samuel
Preceded by
Judges
Hebrew Bible Succeeded by
Kings
Preceded by
Ruth
Christian
Old Testament