Hannah (biblical figure)
Hannah (from Hebrew חַנָּה, also occasionally transliterated as Channah or Ḥannah; pronounced in English as //) is the wife of Elkanah mentioned in the Books of Samuel. According to the Hebrew Bible she was the mother of Samuel. The Hebrew word "Hannah" has many meanings and interpretations, with the most common being the ancient Hebrew meaning of "grace" or "favour/He (God) has favoured me".
In the biblical narrative, Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah; the other, Peninnah, bore children to Elkanah, but Hannah remained childless. Nevertheless, Elkanah preferred Hannah. Every year Elkanah would offer a sacrifice at the Shiloh sanctuary, and give Penninah and her children a portion but he gave Hannah a double portion "because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb" (NIV). One day Hannah went up to the temple, and prayed with great weeping (I Samuel 1:10), while Eli the High Priest was sitting on a chair near the doorpost. In her prayer she asked God for a son and in return she vowed to give the son back to God for the service of the Shiloh priests. She promised he would remain a Nazarite all the days of his life.
Eli thought she was drunk and questioned her. When she explained herself, he sent her away and effectively said that her prayer would be heard and her desire granted. As promised, she conceived and bore a son. She called his name Samuel, "since she had asked the Lord for him" (1 Samuel 1:20 NAB). She raised him until he was weaned and brought him to the temple along with a sacrifice. The first 10 verses of 1 Samuel 2 record her song of praise to the Lord for answering her petition. Hannah is also considered to be a prophetess, because in this Biblical passage she foretells history in advance. Eli announced another blessing on Hannah, and she conceived 3 more sons and 2 daughters, making six in total.
In contemporary biblical criticism
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It has been suggested among biblical critical commentaries that the name "Samuel" in the story of Samuel is a better etymological reference to the name Saul, and because of this it has been posited that the stories may have been displaced at one time in the narrative's transmission history. Peake's Commentary on the Bible explains:
- Hannah named her son Samuel. *The name, in the narrative, is interpreted as meaning "I have asked him of the Lord," but this interpretation belongs, etymologically, to the name Saul. It has therefore been suggested that the etymology, and probably the whole birth story with it, has been displaced from Saul to Samuel in the course of compilation or transmission.
- the name Samuel in Hebrew is Shmuel which is translated to mean Shema -El God Heard, not that she asked for him but rather that God heard her prayers. Saul in Hebrew is Shaul which is derived from Shehaylah - question or to ask for something.... although it is written that she named him Shmuel for from God she asked, Saul & Samuel are two different people and cannot be displaced or interchanged. Saul was king of Israel and Samuel a prophet of wondrous proportions.
The editors of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia presented but disputed this view, arguing that interpreting Hannah's "asked of God" answer as referring to the etymology of Samuel's name, the basis of the displacement theory, is "not tenable":
- The name "Shemu'el" is interpreted "asked of Yhwh," and, as Khimih suggests, represents a contraction of "M'El Shaul", an opinion which Ewald is inclined to accept ("Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Sprache," p. 275, 3). But it is not tenable. The story of Samuel's birth, indeed, is worked out on the theory of this construction of the name (i. 1 et seq., 17, 20, 27, 28; ii. 20). But even with this etymology the value of the elements would be "priest of El" (Jastrow, in "Jour. Bib. Lit." xix. 92 et seq.). Ch. iii. supports the theory that the name implies "heard by El" or "hearer of El." The fact that "alef" and "'ayin" are confounded in this interpretation does not constitute an objection; for assonance and not etymology is the decisive factor in the biblical name-legends, and of this class are both the first and the second chapter. The first of the two elements represents the Hebrew term "shem" (= "name"); but in this connection it as often means "son." "Shemu'el," or "Samuel," thus signifies "son of God" (see Jastrow, l.c.).
Vows were made by both men and women, especially in extreme circumstances to ask for God's intervention, as is the case with Hannah. In Leviticus, provisions were made for redeeming vows or pledges in money that would go to the support of the priests and the sanctuary. So Hannah could have chosen that option to fulfill her vow, if on calm reflection, once she had her son, she felt unable to part with him. It is measure of her great devotion to God that she honored the literal terms of her vow.
She stands over and against Jephthah (Judges 11:29-30) who vowed to sacrifice whatever comes out of his house — and it is his daughter, whom he sets aside to never marry, rather than back down in front of his men. Jepthah is about pride (a sin), and Hannah is about self-sacrifice done in faith. Hannah mouthed her prayer silently in the sanctuary because of a Leviticus limitation on her vow as a woman: if her husband should hear about it, he can nullify her vow if he does so on the very day he hears of it. Hannah is making sure that nobody, not even the priest, would hear her vow, taking no chance that anyone could nullify it. This power of nullification stems from the husband's ownership of the woman's property in marriage, including her children. Hannah is doing something rather daring in treating her future child and her vow as her own, between her and the Lord alone. Hannah apparently tells her husband about her vow later during the pregnancy, and Elkanah acquiesces, because the scripture says that Hannah tells him she will not part with her son until he is weaned. Elkanah agrees "As long as God's word is fulfilled". This refers to a Leviticus provision that if God does not answer the prayer, then one does not fulfil one's vow. By Elkanah's inaction, Hannah's vow de facto becomes his obligation also. That Hannah does not render her son at one month old is the subject of her discussion with Elkanah. By the time the child was weaned, usually around three years old, it was likely to survive to adulthood, so Hannah serves the soundness of her promise by bringing a viable child to serve in the sanctuary. The quality of one's sacrifice reflected the quality of one's faith. Only perfect animals were used in sacrifice; Hannah's sacrifice, her son, also will be of a quality pleasing to God.
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- Wells, John C. (1990). Longman pronunciation dictionary. Harlow, England: Longman. p. 324. ISBN 0-582-05383-8. entry "Hannah"
- Mathew Black, Peake's Commentary on the Bible. Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0-415-26355-7, p. 319
- "Samuel", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-1906.
- The Torah, A Women's Commentary, URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism, 2008. p 773-774
- The Torah, A Women's Commentary, page 99.