Samuel

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Samuel

Samuel, two books of the Bible, originally a single work, called First and Second Samuel in modern Bibles, and First and Second Kingdoms in the Septuagint. They are considered part of "Deuteronomistic history," in which the book of Deuteronomy functions as the interpretive key for understanding Hebrew history. The books cover the careers of Samuel, Saul, and David (roughly the 11th cent. BC), as follows: first, Samuel's career and judgeship; second, the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy, with the anointing and subsequent success of Saul, followed by the anointing of David and the bitter rivalry between David and Saul; third, the reign of David, first at Hebron, then at Jerusalem; and, fourth, an appendix of various, unordered materials. Scholars have detected two main strands in the composition of the book, based on divergent attitudes toward the monarchical establishment. In both the books of Samuel and of Kings, the prophets represent the claim of the divine over human kingship. One section is said to be written by a contemporary of David, making it the oldest piece of Bible narrative. The prophet Samuel, fl. 1050 BC, was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. The circumstances of his birth, childhood, and vocation are told at the beginning of First Samuel. His judgeship was dominated by war with the Philistines, who captured the Ark of the Covenant. In his old age he agreed, at divine request, to the establishment of a king; he thus anointed Saul and remained chief prophet during Saul's reign. In this role he anointed David, and after dying, appeared to Saul at Endor. Samuel became a national hero and eventually a popular figure of Jewish legend.

See studies by P. K. McCarter (1980, 1984), J. Baldwin (1988), and W. Brueggemann (1990); R. Alter, The David Story (1999). See also bibliography under Old Testament.

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