Books of Samuel

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 BC 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]


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 during 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 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 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.[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 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 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, Uriah the Hittite; 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. 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 is killed following the Battle of the Wood of Ephraim. Finally only two contenders for the succession remain, Adonijah and 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.


David and Bathsheba, by Artemisia Gentileschi. David is 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.[7]

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 such as the Vulgate and the Septuagint respectively.[8] It's from 1517 when is began using the division we know now today used by Protestant Bibles and adopted by Catholics. Some Bibles still preserve the old denomination, for example, Douay Rheims bible.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Authorship and date of composition

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).[12] 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.[13]

The most common view today 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.[14] 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.[15]

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).[16] The oldest of these, the "ark narrative," may even predate the Davidic era.[17]


The sources used to construct 1 & 2 Samuel are believed to include the following:[18]


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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[12]


Saul is the chosen one, a king appointed by Yahweh, and anointed by Samuel, Yahweh's prophet, and yet he is ultimately rejected.[26] 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).[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]

See also


  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. [Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) First and Second Books of Kings called in our days as First and Second of Samuel]
  8. [Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) Third and Fourth Books of Kings called in our days as First and Second of Kings]
  9. [Douay Rheims bible]
  10. Gordon 1986, p. 19-20.
  11. Bergen 1996, p. 25-27.
  12. 1 2 3 Klein 2003, p. 316.
  13. Tsumura 2007, p. 15-19.
  14. Walton 2009, p. 41-42.
  15. Auld 2003, p. 219.
  16. Knight 1991, p. 853.
  17. Tsumura 2007, p. 11.
  18. Jones, pp.197–199
  19. Soggin 1987, p. 210-211.
  20. Eynikel 2000, p. 88.
  21. Soggin 1987, p. 216-217.
  22. Kirsch, Jonathan (2009). King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel. Random House LLC. pp. 307–309. ISBN 9780307567819.
  23. Klein 2003, p. 312.
  24. Tsumura 2007, p. 68.
  25. Beytenbrach 2000, p. 53-55.
  26. Hertzberg 1964, p. 19.
  27. Klein 2003, p. 319.
  28. Dick 2004, p. 3-4.
  29. Jones 2001, p. 198.
  30. Coogan 2009, p. 216, 229-233.
  31. Coogan 2009, p. 425.


Translations of 1 and 2 Samuel

Commentaries on Samuel


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