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Book of Samuel

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Book of Samuel

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The two Books of Samuel (Hebrew: Sefer Shmuel ספר שמואל‎) are part of a series of Old Testament books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) making up a theological history of the Israelites that affirm and explain God's law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets.[1]

The first Book of Samuel begins with a description of the prophet Samuel's birth and of how God called to him as a boy. The story of the Ark of the Covenant that follows tells of Israel's oppression by the Philistines, which brings about Samuel's anointing of Saul as Israel's first king. But Saul proves unworthy and God's choice turns to David, who defeats Israel's enemies and brings the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promises David and his successors an eternal dynasty.[2]

According to Jewish tradition the book was written by Samuel, with additions by the prophets Gad and Nathan. Modern scholarly thinking is that the books originated by combining a number of independent texts of various ages when the larger Deuteronomistic history (the Former Prophets plus Deuteronomy) was being composed in the period c.630–540 BCE.[3][4]


See Book of Samuel at Bible Gateway

The childless Hannah vows to Yahweh that if she has a son, he will be dedicated to Yahweh. 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 Nazirite beside Samson to be identified in the Old Testament. Eli's sons, Hopini and Phinehas, prove unworthy of the priesthood and are destroyed by God, 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 idol 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 commits 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 brother Jonathan and King Saul.

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 hoping for 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 God punishes him, saying 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.



1 and 2 Samuel were originally (and still are in some Jewish bibles[5]) a single book, but the first Greek translation, produced in the centuries immediately before Christ, 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 CE.[6] 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.[7]

Authorship and date of composition

According to Jewish tradition the book was written by Samuel up until 1 Samuel 25, where Samuel dies, and the remainder by the prophets Gad and Nathan.[8] Critical scholars from the 19th century onward have rejected this idea, and instead argue that Samuel, like many other books of the bible is a composite work that developed into its current "fixed" form (or forms) over several centuries.

Early biblical scholars sought to identify various strata of Samuel with "J" and "E" (Jahwist and Elohist) sources. This, view, while popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, has fallen out of currency.[9] On the other hand, the "fragmentary hypothesis" first posited by H. Gressman remains influential among scholars.[10]

A somewhat different and still popular approach was taken by Martin Noth, who in 1943 theorized that Samuel was composed as part of the Deuteronomistic history (Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings).[11] Although Noth's belief that the entire History was composed by a single individual has been largely abandoned, the theory that the History was an attempt to compile a continuous history from the time of the settlement of Canaan to the Babylonian exile (i.e., Joshua through Kings), by interweaving various sources into a cohesive unit, has been adopted by most scholars.[12]

The current scholarly consensus argues for multiple authors active over a considerable period, culminating in the mid-6th century.[13] These 6th century authors and editors would have drawn on many earlier and well-known 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).[14] The oldest of these, the "ark narrative," may even predate the Davidic era.[15]

However, while the bulk of the narrative in Samuel may have been completed by the 6th century, further editing was apparently done even after that. 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.[16]


The sources used to construct 1 & 2 Samuel are believed to include the following:[17]

  • 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.[18]
  • 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.[19]
  • 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 apart.
  • 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,[20] and its purpose is to serve as an apology for the coronation of Bathsheba's son Solomon instead of his older brother Adonijah.[21]
  • 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.

The Hebrew text of Samuel is heavily corrupted with errors (meaning that scribes, over the centuries, have introduced many mistakes while copying the original version), while in addition the Greek and Hebrew versions differ considerably; modern scholars are still working at finding the best solutions to the many problems this presents.[7]


The Book of Samuel is a theological evaluation of kingship in general and of dynastic kingship and David in particular.[22] 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.[23] 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, the God of the Israelites, acts as a judge, and is a perfect leader who never makes mistakes.[24] 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.[11]


Saul is the chosen one, a king appointed by Yahweh, God of Israel, and anointed by Samuel, Yahweh's prophet, and yet he is ultimately rejected.[25] Saul loses the chance to establish his dynasty and even to continue to reign through two faults: he carries out a sacrifice in place of Samuel (1 Samuel 13:8–14), and he fails to carry out complete genocide against the Amalekites as God has ordered (1 Samuel 15).[26] Instead, Saul spared their livestock in order to sacrifice them to God properly. The Deuteronomist's negative view of Saul and desire to show David as the first real king of Israel has obscured Saul's real achievements.[27]


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.[28] 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.[29] 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).[30] God enters into an eternal covenant (treaty) with David and his line, promising divine protection of the dynasty and of Jerusalem through all time.[31] The story can be compared to that of a 13th-century Hittite king who was forced to take the throne after a lifetime of loyalty when his life was in danger: like David, he was assisted by his god, whose divine will decided the course of events.[29]

See also



Translations of 1 and 2 Samuel

  • Samuel 1 and 2 at Bible Gateway

Commentaries on Samuel

  • Rashi's commentary] at
  • Rashi's commentary] at


  • Coogan, Michael D. (2009) A Brief Introduction to the Old Testament: the Hebrew Bible in its Context Oxford University Press

External links

Masoretic Text
  • Hebrew – English at
  • Hebrew – English at
Jewish translations
  • 1 Samuel at Mechon-Mamre (Jewish Publication Society translation)
  • 2 Samuel at Mechon-Mamre (Jewish Publication Society translation)
Related articles
  • NIV Study Bible
  • NIV Study Bible
  • 1 Samuel at
  • 2 Samuel at
Books of Samuel
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Old Testament
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