Books of Samuel

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The Book of Samuel forms part of the narrative history of Israel in the Nevi'im or "prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament called the Deuteronomistic history, a series of books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) that constitute a theological history of the Israelites and aim to explain 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 Deuteronomistic history was composed in the period c. 630–540 BC by combining a number of independent texts of various ages.[3][4]

Samuel begins with the prophet Samuel's birth[5] 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, purchased the threshing floor (2 Samuel 24:24), where his son, Solomon built the Temple and brought the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promised David and his successors an everlasting dynasty.[6]


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 besides Samson to be identified in the Bible. Eli's sons, Hophni and Phinehas, sin against God's laws and the people, which cause them to die in the battle of Aphek, 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 recognizes 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 Joel and Abijah as judges, but because of their corruption the people ask for a king to rule over them. God directs Samuel to grant them a king despite his concerns, and gives them Saul from the tribe of Benjamin. Shortly after Saul leads Israel to victory over Nahash of Ammon. Despite his numerous military victories, Saul disobeys Yahweh's instruction of destroying Amalek by sparing the Amalekite ruler and the best portion of their flocks to present them as sacrifices. Samuel rebukes Saul and tells him that God has chosen another man to be king of Israel.

God tells Samuel to anoint David of Bethlehem as king, and David enters Saul's court as his armor-bearer and harpist. Saul's son and heir Jonathan befriends David and recognizes him as the 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 Mount Gilboa. At this point, David offers a majestic eulogy, where he praises the bravery and magnificence of both his friend Jonathan and King Saul.[7]

The elders of Judah anoint David as king, but in the north Saul's son Ish-bosheth, or Ishbaal, rules over the northern tribes. After a long war, Ishbaal is murdered by Rechab and Baanah, 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 his 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, who becomes pregnant. When her husband, Uriah the Hittite returns from battle, David encourages him to go home and see his wife but Uriah declines in case David might need him. David thus deliberately sends Uriah on a suicide mission; and for this, Yahweh sends disasters against his house. Nathan tells David that the sword shall never depart from his house. For the remainder of his reign there are problems. Amnon (one of David's sons) rapes his half-sister Tamar (one of David's daughters). Absalom (another son of David) kills Amnon, rebels against his father, and David flees from Jerusalem. Absalom is killed following the Battle of the Wood of Ephraim, David is restored as king, and he returns to his palace. Finally only two contenders for the succession remain, Adonijah, son of David and Haggith, and Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba.

The Second Book of Samuel concludes with four chapters (chapters 21 to 24) which lie outside the chronological narrative of Saul and David. The narrative is resumed with the first Book of Kings, which relates how, as David lies dying, Bathsheba and Nathan ensure Solomon's elevation to the throne.

The four supplementary[8] chapters cover a great famine during David's reign,[9] the execution of seven of Saul's remaining descendants, only Mephibosheth being saved,[10] David's song of thanksgiving,[11] which is almost identical to Psalm 18, his last words,[12] a list of David's "mighty warriors",[13] an offering made by David using water from the well of Bethlehem,[14] David's sinful census,[15] a plague over Israel which David opted for as preferable to either famine or oppression,[16] and the construction of an altar on land he purchased from Araunah the Jebusite.[17]


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


What it is now commonly known as 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are called by the Vulgate, in imitation of the Septuagint, 1 Kings and 2 Kings respectively.[18] Then, what it is now commonly known as 1 Kings and 2 Kings would be 3 Kings and 4 Kings in old Bibles before the year 1516.[19] It was in 1517 that use of the division we know now today used by Protestant Bibles and adopted by Catholics began. Some Bibles still preserve the old denomination, for example, the Douay-Rheims Bible.[20]

1 and 2 Samuel were originally (and, in most Jewish bibles, still are[21]) a single book, but the first Greek translation, called Septuagint and produced around the second century BC, divided it into two; this was adopted by the Latin translations used in the early Christian church of the West, and finally introduced into Jewish bibles around the early 16th century.[22] The Hebrew text, that is used by Jews today, called the Masoretic text, differs considerably from the Hebrew text that was the basis of the first Greek translation, and scholars are still working at finding the best solutions to the many problems this presents.[23]

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).[24] 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.[25]

The Deuteronomistic view is that an early version of the history was composed in the time of king Hezekiah (8th century BC); the bulk of the first edition dates from his grandson Josiah at the end of the 7th BC, with further sections added during the Babylonian exile (6th century BC) and the work was substantially complete by about 550 BC. Further editing was apparently done even after then. For example, A. Graeme Auld, Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Edinburgh, contends that 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 period" because a quarter-shekel was known to exist in Hasmonean times.[26]

The 6th century BC 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).[27] The oldest of these, the "ark narrative," may even predate the Davidic era.[28]

This view of late compilation for Samuel has faced serious scholarly opposition on the basis that evidence for the Deuteronimistic history is scant, and that Deuteronimistic advocates are not in consensus as to the origin and extent of the History. Secondly, the basic theological concerns identified with the Deuteronimistic school are tenets central to Hebrew theology in texts that are widely regarded as predating Josiah. Thirdly, there are notable differences in style and thematic emphasis between Deuteronomy and Samuel. Finally, there are widely acknowledged structural parallels between the Hittite suzerain treaty of the second millennium BC and the Book of Deuteronomy itself, far before the time of Josiah. The alternative view is that it is difficult to determine when the events of Samuel were recorded: "There are no particularly persuasive reasons to date the sources used by the compiler later than the early tenth century events themselves, and good reason to believe that contemporary records were kept (cf. 2 Sam. 20:24–25)."[29]


The sources used to construct 1 and 2 Samuel are believed to include the following:[30]

  • 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.[31]
  • 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.[32]
  • 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, an Amalekite, 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,[33] and its purpose is to serve as an apology for the coronation of Bathsheba's son Solomon instead of his older brother Adonijah.[24] 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.[34]
  • 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.


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.[35] 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.[36] These themes are played out in the stories of the three main characters, Samuel, Saul and David.


Samuel answers the description of the "prophet like Moses" predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15–22: like Moses, he has direct contact with Yahweh, acts as a judge, and is a perfect leader who never makes mistakes.[37] Samuel's successful defense 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.[24]


Saul is the chosen one, tall, handsome and "goodly",[38] a king appointed by Yahweh, and anointed by Samuel, Yahweh's prophet, and yet he is ultimately rejected.[39] Saul has two faults which make him unfit for the office of king: carrying out a sacrifice in place of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8–14), and failing to exterminate the Amalekites, in accordance to God's commands, and trying to compensate by claiming that he reserved the surviving Amalekite livestock for sacrifice (1 Samuel 15).[40]


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.[41] 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.[42] 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).[43] God enters into an eternal covenant (treaty) with David and his line, promising divine protection of the dynasty and of Jerusalem through all time.[44]

2 Samuel 23 contains a prophetic statement described as the "last words of David" (verses 1–7) and details of the 37 "mighty men" who were David's chief warriors (verses 8–39). The Jerusalem Bible states that last words were attributed to David in the style of Jacob (see Jacob's Blessing, Genesis 49) and Moses (see Blessing of Moses, Deuteronomy 33). Its editors note that "the text has suffered considerably and reconstructions are conjectural".[45]

1 Kings 2:1–9 contains David's final words to Solomon, his son and successor as king.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gordon 1986, p. 18.
  2. ^ 1 Chronicles 29:29
  3. ^ Knight 1995, p. 62.
  4. ^ Jones 2001, p. 197.
  5. ^ 1 Samuel 1:1–20
  6. ^ Spieckerman 2001, p. 348.
  7. ^ 2 Samuel 1:17–27
  8. ^ Sub-heading in Jerusalem Bible
  9. ^ 2 Samuel 21:1
  10. ^ 2 Samuel 21:2–9
  11. ^ 2 Samuel 22:1–51
  12. ^ 2 Samuel 23:1-7
  13. ^ 2 Samuel 23:8–39
  14. ^ 2 Samuel 23:13–17
  15. ^ 2 Samuel 24:1–9
  16. ^ 2 Samuel 24:10–17
  17. ^ 2 Samuel 24:18–25
  18. ^ Bechtel, Florentine Stanislaus (1913). "First and Second Books of Kings". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  19. ^ Schets, Joseph (1913). "Third and Fourth Books of Kings". Catholic Encyclopedia.
  20. ^ Douay Rheims bible
  21. ^ Barron, Robert (2015). 2 Samuel (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible). Brazos Press. ISBN 978-1441221964.
  22. ^ Gordon 1986, pp. 19–20.
  23. ^ Bergen 1996, pp. 25–27.
  24. ^ a b c Klein 2003, p. 316.
  25. ^ Tsumura 2007, pp. 15–19.
  26. ^ Auld 2003, p. 219.
  27. ^ Knight 1991, p. 853.
  28. ^ Tsumura 2007, p. 11.
  29. ^ Walton 2009, pp. 258–59.
  30. ^ Jones, pp. 197–99
  31. ^ Soggin 1987, pp. 210–11.
  32. ^ Eynikel 2000, p. 88.
  33. ^ Soggin 1987, pp. 216–17.
  34. ^ Kirsch, Jonathan (2009). King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel. Random House LLC. pp. 307–09. ISBN 978-0307567819.
  35. ^ Klein 2003, p. 312.
  36. ^ Tsumura 2007, p. 68.
  37. ^ Beytenbrach 2000, pp. 53–55.
  38. ^ 1 Samuel 9:2: King James Version
  39. ^ Hertzberg 1964, p. 19.
  40. ^ Klein 2003, p. 319.
  41. ^ Dick 2004, pp. 3–4.
  42. ^ Jones 2001, p. 198.
  43. ^ Coogan 2009, pp. 216, 229–33.
  44. ^ Coogan 2009, p. 425.
  45. ^ Jerusalem Bible, footnote at 2 Samuel 23:1


Commentaries on Samuel[edit]

External links[edit]

Masoretic Text
Jewish translations
Christian translations
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Books of Samuel
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