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Bible Dictionaries
Samuel, Books of

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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1. Title . The two Books of Samuel are really parts of what was originally one book. This is shown not only by the fact that the narrative of Book I. is continued without the slightest interruption in Book II., and that the style, tone, point of view, and purpose are the same throughput, but also by their appearance as one book bearing the simple title ‘Samuel’ in the oldest known Hebrew MSS. The division of the Hebrew text into two books was first made in print by Daniel Bomberg in his Hebrew Bible (2nd ed. 1517). In doing so he was in part following the text of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, in which the Books of Samuel and Kings are described as the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Books of Kingdoms (LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ), or Kings (Vulgate). The title ‘Samuel,’ less accurately descriptive of the contents than that of ‘Kingdoms’ or ‘Kings,’ owes its origin to the prominent place held by Samuel in 1 Samuel 1:1-28; 1 Samuel 2:1-36; 1 Samuel 3:1-21; 1Sa 4:1-22; 1 Samuel 5:1-12; 1 Samuel 6:1-21; 1 Samuel 7:1-17; 1Sa 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 9:1-27; 1 Samuel 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 11:1-15; 1 Samuel 12:1-25; 1 Samuel 13:1-23; 1 Samuel 14:1-52; 1 Samuel 15:1-35; 1 Samuel 16:1-23 . A late Jewish interpretation regarded it as declaring Samuel’s authorship of the narrative; but this is impossible, in view of the fact that the history extends through the reign of David, long after the death of Samuel ( 1 Samuel 25:1 ).

2. Contents . The period covered by the Books of Samuel extends from the birth of Samuel to the close of David’s reign, i.e. approximately from b.c. 1070 to b.c. 970. The narrative falls into three main divisions: I.: Samuel and Saul, 1 Samuel 1:1-28; 1 Samuel 2:1-36; 1 Samuel 3:1-21; 1Sa 4:1-22; 1 Samuel 5:1-12; 1 Samuel 6:1-21; 1 Samuel 7:1-17; 1Sa 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 9:1-27; 1 Samuel 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 11:1-15; 1 Samuel 12:1-25; 1 Samuel 13:1-23; 1 Samuel 14:1-52; 1 Samuel 15:1-35; II.: The Rise of David, 1 Samuel 16:1-23 - 2 Samuel 5:3; III.: David as king of United Israel, 2 Samuel 5:4-24 . Division I. is made up of three sections: (1) The childhood and youth of Samuel, to the downfall of Eli’s house and the captivity of the Ark ( 1 Samuel 1:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1 ); (2) Samuel’s career as Judge, including his defeat of the Philistines, his anointing of Saul, and his farewell address ( 1 Samuel 7:2-12 ); (3) Saul’s reign till his rejection ( 1 Samuel 13:1-23; 1 Samuel 14:1-52; 1 Samuel 15:1-35 ). Division II. likewise includes three sections: (1) David at Saul’s Court ( 1 Samuel 16:1 to 1 Samuel 21:1 ); (2) David as a fugitive outlaw ( 1 Samuel 21:2 - 2 Samuel 1:1-27 ); (3) David as king in Hebron ( 2 Samuel 2:1 to 2 Samuel 5:3 ). Division III. forms three more sections: (1) establishment of Jerusalem as the religious and national capital, and a brief summary of David’s reign ( 2 Samuel 5:4-8 ); (2) supplementary narratives, setting forth particularly David’s great sin and subsequent troubles ( 2 Samuel 9:1-13; 2Sa 10:1-19; 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-31; 2 Samuel 13:1-39; 2 Samuel 14:1-33; 2 Samuel 15:1-37; 2 Samuel 16:1-23; 2 Samuel 17:1-29; 2 Samuel 18:1-33; 2 Samuel 19:1-43; 2 Samuel 20:1-26 ); (3) a series of appendixes ( 2 Samuel 21:1-22; 2 Samuel 22:1-51; 2 Samuel 23:1-39; 2 Samuel 24:1-25 ). 1 Kings 1:1 to 1 Kings 2:11 really belongs to 2Sam., since it relates the circumstances attending the death of David, and thus brings the narrative to its natural close.

3. Text and Versions . The text of Samuel is the worst in the OT; only Ezekiel and Hosea can approach it in this respect. Many passages are unintelligible on the basis of the Massoretic text. The large amount of corruption may be due in part to the relatively great antiquity of the text, much of the narrative being among the oldest writings in the Hebrew Bible; and, in part, to the fact that these books were not used in the ordinary synagogue services, and so were not so carefully transmitted as they otherwise would have been. Unfortunately, the oldest existing Hebrew manuscript of Samuel dates its origin no farther back than the tenth century of our era. With each copying and recopying during the many preceding centuries fresh opportunity for error was afforded; and the wonder is not that there are so many errors, but that there are not more. In any effort to recover the original text large use must be made of the Septuagint, which is based upon a Hebrew text at least as old as the 3rd cent. b.c., and has preserved the original reading in many cases, while showing traces of it in others. The Syriac and Vulgate versions are also useful, but to a far less extent.

4. Sources and Date . The Books of Samuel, like almost every other OT writing, are a compilation from various sources, rather than the result of a careful study of earlier sources presented in the form of a unified, logical, and philosophical statement of facts and conclusions. We are here given the sources themselves, and are in large part left to draw our own conclusions. The composite character of the books is evidenced (1) by the existence of differing literary styles within them; (2) by the presence of varying and conflicting theological standpoints; (3) by the fact that they exhibit radically different attitudes towards the founding of the monarchy (cf. e.g . 1Sa 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 9:1-10; 1 Samuel 9:16 ); and (4) by the appearance of two or more narratives of one and the same event. In illustration of this last point we may cite ( a ) the three accounts of Saul’s choice as king given in 1 Samuel 9:1-27; 1Sa 10:1-27; 1 Samuel 11:1-15; ( b ) the two accounts of David’s introduction to Saul in 1 Samuel 16:17 ff; 1 Samuel 17:55 ff.; ( c ) the twofold announcement of the fate of Eli’s house in 1 Samuel 2:27-36; 1 Samuel 3:11 ff.; ( d ) the double rejection of Saul in 1 Samuel 13:7-15; 1 Samuel 15:1-35; ( e ) the two accounts of David’s flight to Achish in 1 Samuel 21:10 ff; 1 Samuel 27:1 ff.; ( f ) the two narratives of David sparing Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 23:19 ff; 1 Samuel 26:1 ff. one of the most marked examples of a doublet; ( g ) the differing descriptions of the death of Saul given in 1 Samuel 31:1-13 and 2 Samuel 1:1-27; ( h ) the varying traditions of Absalom’s family found in 2 Samuel 14:25 ff; 2 Samuel 18:18; ( i ) the inconsistency of 1 Samuel 7:13 f. with 13 14; and ( j ) the story that Goliath was slain by David in 1 Samuel 17:1-58 , but by Elhanan in 2 Samuel 21:19 . Phenomena of this kind are much more easily accounted for on the supposition that we are dealing here with the works of different hands, than on the hypothesis of a single author upon whom alone all the responsibility for the contents of the books must be placed.

This fact of composite origin is granted by all students of the Books of Samuel. In the attempt, however, to resolve the narrative into its original elements, two different schools of analysts have been formed. To the one belong such scholars as Budde, Cornill, H. P. Smith, Driver, Nowack, Stenning, and Kent; to the other, Wellhausen, Kuenen, Löhr, Kittel, Stade, and Kennedy. Budde and his followers find two main sources running through the books and covering practically the same ground, though from differing points of view. These sources, which Budde himself assigns to the same school of prophetic writers that produced the J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] narratives of the Hexateuch, are supposed to have originated from the 9th to the 8th cents. b.c.; the J [Note: Jahwist.] source being the older of the two. These two sources were then supplemented and united by editors somewhere in the early part of the 7th cent. b.c.; and finally the books were given their present form by a Deuteronomic editor who revised the existing materials and added materials of his own some time in the Exile. Budde’s distribution of the materials among the sources is as follows [figures within parentheses in J [Note: Jahwist.] indicate later elements; in E [Note: Elohist.] they designate the older portions of the document]:

J [Note: Jahwist.] = 1 Samuel 9:1 to 1 Samuel 10:7 , ( 1 Samuel 10:8 ), 1Sa 10:9-16 a, 1 Samuel 13:2-7 a, ( 1 Samuel 13:7-15 a.) 1 Samuel 13:15-18 , ( 1 Samuel 13:18-21 ) 1 Samuel 13:22 , 1 Samuel 14:1-46 , 1 Samuel 14:52 , 1 Samuel 16:14-23 , 1 Samuel 18:5-11 , 1Sa 18:20-30 , 1 Samuel 19:1; 1 Samuel 19:4-18 a, 1 Samuel 20:1-3; 1 Samuel 20:18-39 , 1 Samuel 22:1-4; 1 Samuel 22:6-10 a, 1 Samuel 22:11-18 , 1 Samuel 22:20 to 1 Samuel 23:14 a, 1 Samuel 23:19 a, 1 Samuel 23:20 to 1 Samuel 24:20 , 1 Samuel 25:2 ff., 1 Samuel 27:1 to 1 Samuel 28:15 , 1 Samuel 28:19 to 1 Samuel 31:13; 2Sa 1:1-4; 2 Samuel 1:11-12; 2 Samuel 1:17-23; 2 Samuel 2:1 to 2 Samuel 6:23; 2 Samuel 8:8-14 a, 2 Samuel 8:16-18 , 2 Samuel 9:1 to 2 Samuel 21:22 , 2 Samuel 23:7 bff., 2 Samuel 24:1-22 .

E [Note: Elohist.] = 1 Samuel 1:1-5; 1 Samuel 1:7-28; 1 Samuel 2:11-26; 1Sa 3:1-10; 1 Samuel 3:15-21 , ( 1 Samuel 4:1-18; 1 Samuel 5:1 to 1 Samuel 7:1 ), 1 Samuel 7:2 to 1Sa 8:22 a, 1 Samuel 12:1-25; 1 Samuel 15:1 , ( 1 Samuel 15:2-23 ), 1 Samuel 15:24-31 , ( 1 Samuel 15:32 f.), 1 Samuel 15:34 f.; ( 2 Samuel 1:6-10; 2 Samuel 1:13-16 ), 2 Samuel 7:1-29 .

Pre-exilic Editors = 1 Samuel 1:6; 1 Samuel 2:22 b, 1Sa 4:15; 1 Samuel 4:22; 1 Samuel 6:11; 1Sa 6:15; 1 Samuel 6:17-19; 1 Samuel 8:22; 1Sa 9:2; 1 Samuel 9:9; 1 Samuel 10:9; 1 Samuel 17:12 1 Samuel 17:12 f., 1 Samuel 18:21; 1 Samuel 19:2 f., 1 Samuel 19:7 a, 1Sa 19:18-24; 1 Samuel 20:4-17; 1 Samuel 20:40-42; 1 Samuel 21:11-15; 1 Samuel 22:4; 1 Samuel 22:10 b, 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 24:21-22; 1 Samuel 25:1; 1 Samuel 28:3; 1Sa 28:16-18; 1 Samuel 30:5; 1 Samuel 30:18 b; 2Sa 1:5; 2 Samuel 2:23; 2 Samuel 3:6; 2Sa 3:30; 2 Samuel 8:6; 2 Samuel 8:11-12; 2 Samuel 11:21; 2 Samuel 13:18; 2 Samuel 13:38; 2 Samuel 14:25-27; 2 Samuel 20:23-26; 2 Samuel 21:2-3; 2Sa 21:7; 2 Samuel 23:14; 2 Samuel 23:23 a.

Exilic Editor = Exilic Editor = 1 Samuel 2:27-36; 1 Samuel 3:11-14; 1 Samuel 13:1; 1 Samuel 14:47-51; 2Sa 2:10-11; 2 Samuel 5:4 f., 2 Samuel 7:13; 2Sa 18:1-6; 2 Samuel 18:14; 2 Samuel 18:16; 2 Samuel 12:7-8; 2Sa 12:10-12; 2 Samuel 24:1 a.

Of uncertain Orioin = 1Sa 2:1-10; 2 Samuel 22:1 ff; 2 Samuel 23:1 ff.

This, which we may call the two-source theory because of the predominant place of the two main sources, is in its general features the prevailing view at the present time. In the assignment of certain passages, however, there is considerable variety of opinion, and in the identification of the two main sources with J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] , Budde and Cornill are not followed by several adherents of the two-source view.

The analysis presented by the opposing school (Well-hausen, Stade, Kennedy, et al .) differs from the foregoing chiefly ( a ) in denying the unity of the two sources, J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.] respectively; ( b ) in refusing to recognize any relationship of these sources to J [Note: Jahwist.] and E [Note: Elohist.]; and ( c ) in proposing another chronological assignment of the sources. Kennedy, e.g ., the latest representative of this school, resolves Budde’s J [Note: Jahwist.] into three main elements, and dates these three documents from the middle of the 10th cent. b.c. Budde’s E [Note: Elohist.] likewise falls into three fragments under Kennedy’s examination; one of these is a life of Samuel dating from about b.c. 630; another and larger portion is from a Deuteronomic writer; and a small remainder consists of pre-exillc duplicates of some narratives appearing in Budde’s J [Note: Jahwist.] .

The precise delimitation of the various sources and the exact way in which the Books of Samuel assumed their present form must remain for the future to determine. The unmistakable fact is that these books in their present form are due to the labours of late exilic editors who wrought them out of existing documents, some of which show Deuteronomic colouring, while others come from early pre-exilic times, somewhere about b.c. 900. As compared with the Books of Kings and Chronicles, or even the Book of Judges, Samuel shows far less evidence of editorial additions and modifications. The various sources are for the most part allowed to tell their stories in their own way. There is a total absence of any such theological strait-jacket as is found in the editorial framework of the Books of Kings. We thus have in the Books of Samuel some of the finest examples of the historical writings of the Hebrews in the various stages of their development.

5. Historical value . In estimating the historical value of the Books of Samuel, care must be taken to discriminate sharply between the books themselves and the sources which constitute them. The books themselves are the product of a long literary history, the work of various men living in widely scattered periods. They thus form a source-book, rather than a history in the modern sense. It is for this reason that they are so extremely valuable to the modern historian of Israel. For a correct picture of the times of Samuel, Saul, and David, it goes without saying that the oldest sources are the most trustworthy. Failure to paint original scenes and characters with a proper perspective increases in direct proportion to the distance of the narrator from the things he describes. Hence the later elements in these books are primarily of value not as sources of information concerning the times of the early monarchy, but as reflecting the point of view and the background of their writers. The older sources, however, coming from a period within a century or two of the events they narrate, furnish us with accurate information and are among the best historical records in the OT. They are especially rich in biographical materials. They help us to see Saul and David and their contemporaries as they really were. They give us glimpses of Samuel as the local seer, known only within the narrow limits of his own immediate district; of David as the fugitive, the freebooter, the outlaw, the idol of his men, the devoted servant of Jehovah, and yet capable of the most dastardly deeds; of Saul as the brave warrior, the patriot, the religious enthusiast, the moody chieftain of his clan. These men, with Joab, Absalom, and others, live and move before our eyes.

A still further service of the Books of Samuel is in the light they throw upon the development of religious practices and ideas in Israel. Kennedy rightly says: ‘The study of this book has contributed more than anything else to the more accurate views of the historical development of religious thought in OT times, which are characteristic of the present day.’ The books represent from first to last a period of about five hundred years, during which time the religion of Israel was advancing by leaps and bounds under the leadership of the prophets. They contain, therefore, the record of this progress. Instances of this may be seen in the wide difference between the attitude towards foreign gods ascribed to David in 1 Samuel 26:19 (an early source), and that appearing in 1 Samuel 12:21 (a late source); in the primitive conception of revelation presented in the story of Samuel’s call ( 1 Samuel 3:1 ff.); in the narratives dealing with the origin of prophecy ( 1 Samuel 9:7 ff.), and the sons of the prophets ( e.g . 1 Samuel 10:5 ff.); in the use of the teraphim ( 1 Samuel 19:13 ff.) and the ephod ( 1 Samuel 23:6-12 ); and in the advanced conception of God appearing in such passages as 2 Samuel 7:22 . The Books of Samuel are thus invaluable to the historian of Israel’s religious, social, and political life.

6. Purpose . But the purpose of these books is not to serve as a bare, cold record of events and their causes; such matters are of only secondary importance; they are but means to an end. Their great purpose is to teach religion; they give sermons, not annals; they are prophecy, not history. In the Hebrew canon they occupy a place alongside of the prophetic books, and the entire division to which they belong is entitled ‘the Prophets.’ Just as Amos and Isaiah deal with the facts of the present, interpreting them as expressions of Jehovah’s will and using them to drive home moral and spiritual truth to the hearts and consciences of their hearers, so these writers have dealt with the facts of the past. What they have given us, then, is history seen through the eyes of prophets. The horizon of the prophets, however, was filled with religion; they themselves were nothing if not religious; their whole being throbbed with the energy of religion. Consequently it is not surprising that everything in the narratives is presented from the point of view of religion, and in such a way as to count most for the furtherance of religious ideals. This is not saying that these writers consciously and deliberately changed the course of events, or shifted the emphasis from one point to another in order to accomplish their purpose; but rather that they wrote things as they themselves conceived of them, and that, being prophets, they could conceive of Israel’s history in no other way than as through and through religious, as the embodiment of Jehovah’s revelation of Himself and His will to His people. This is the prophets’ philosophy of history, and as such must commend itself to the mind and conscience of the Christian Church.

J. M. P. Smith.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Samuel, Books of'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​s/samuel-books-of.html. 1909.
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