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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Shemuel', שַׁמוּאֵל [on the signification, see below]; Sept. and New Test. Σαμουήλ ), the last of those extraordinary regents that presided over the Hebrew commonwealth under the title of judges (q.v.), and the first of the line of the prophets (q.v.) specially so called (Acts 13:20). As such he possesses peculiar interest in the history of the chosen people. (See SAMUEL).
I. Name. — Of this different derivations have been given:
(1) שֵׁם אֵל, "name of God;" so apparently Origen (Euseb. H. E. 6, 25), i.q. Θεοκλητός .
(2) אֵל שׁוּם, "placed by God."
(3) שָׁאוּל אֵל, "asked of God" (1 Samuel 1:20). Josephus (who gives this interpretation, Σαμούηλος , Ant. 5, 10, 3) ingeniously makes it correspond to the well-known Greek name Θεαίτητος.
(4) שְׁמוּעִ אֵל, "heard of God." This, which is the most obvious, may have the same meaning as the previous derivation, which is supported by the sacred text (1 Samuel 1:20).
II. History. —
1. Private Life. — The circumstances of his birth were ominous of his future career. He was the son of Elkanah, an Ephrathite or Ephraimite, and Hannah or Anna. His father is one of the few private citizens in whose household we find polygamy. It may possibly have arisen from the irregularity of the period, but more probably from the sterility of his wife Hannah, whom, as she is always named first, and is known to have been the favorite, he probably married first. The usual effect of polygamy was felt in Elkanah's household. The sterility of Hannah brought upon her the taunts and ridicule of her conjugal rival, who "provoked her sore, to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb" (1 Samuel 1:6). The jealousy of Peninnah was excited also by the superior affection which was shown to Hannah by her husband. "To Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah" (1 Samuel 1:5). More especially at the period of the sacred festivals did the childless solitude of Hannah create within her the most poignant regrets, when she saw her husband give portions to all the sons and daughters of Peninnah, who, exulting in maternal pride and fondness, took advantage of these seasons to subject the favorite wife to a natural feminine retaliation. Hannah's life was embittered, "she wept and did not eat" (1 Samuel 1:7). (See HANNAH).
The descent of Samuel's father, Elkanah, is involved in great obscurity. In 1 Samuel 1:1 he is described as an Ephraimite. In 1 Chronicles 6:22-23 he is made a descendant of Korah the Levite (see the table below). Hengstenberg (on Psalms 78:1) and Ewald (2, 433) explain this by supposing that the Levites were occasionally incorporated into the tribes among whom they dwelt. The question, however, is of no practical importance, because, even if Samuel were a Levite, he certainly was not a regular priest by descent. In virtue of his semi-sacerdotal lineage as a Levite, and especially by the authority of his office as a prophet, he hesitated not to perform priestly functions, like Elijah and others. The opinion was, nevertheless, in former times very current that Samuel was a priest — nay, some imagine that he succeeded Eli in the pontificate. Many of the fathers inclined to this notion, but Jerome affirms (Advers. Jovin.), "Samuel propheta fuit, Judex fuit, Levita fuit, non pontifex, ne sacerdos quidem" (Ortlob, "Samuel Judex et Propheta, non Pont. aut Sacerd. Sacrificans," in the Thesaurus Novus Theol. Philol. Hasaei et Ikenii, 1, 587; Selden, De Success. ad Pontiff. lib. 1, c, 4). The American translator of De Wette's Introduction to the Old Testament (2, 21) say's he was a priest, though not of Levitical descent, slighting the information of Chronicles, and pronouncing Samuel at the same time to be only a mythical character.
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