Author and Date
See Old Testament regarding authorship.
The Masoretic text ends its First Book of Samuel at what it describes as the mid-point of the book Samuel. The division is therefore arbitrary. Freedman says Genesis–2 Kings have common emphasis, and must predate the return from exile or they would describe it; 1 Chronicles–Nehemiah have a very different emphasis, and must be more recent since they describe the return from exile. Anderson p.xv and Koppers agree that Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings show a unity of language, style and content, and are attributed to a hypothetical "Deuteronomistic Historian" or "circle". The editorial hand in Samuel is not as firm as it is in Joshua or 1–2 Kings. The text suffers from copying errors and 1 Samuel, especially chapter 11, is probably the part of the Bible that has benefited most from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls . References to "Judah and Israel" are probably from the later editor [4 p.196f].
Ancient tradition says that the prophet Jeremiah wrote 1 and 2 Kings. Jeremiah prophesied from 627 BCE . The books of Samuel show common ancestry with them, yet signs of compilation from several sources, so perhaps Jeremiah edited the books Deuteronomy– Samuel into their present form.
1 Samuel 1–3: the emergence of Samuel as prophet;
1 Samuel 4–6: the departure of the Ark from liturgical life;
1 Samuel 7–12: Samuel takes control, but is pressed to anoint Saul as king
1 Samuel 13–15: Saul's kingdom;
1 Samuel 16–end: David's rise (1000 BCE).
Audience and Content
The books of Samuel describe a period of social change during which new phenomena appeared: the wandering Hebrews settled, and kings and prophets arose. Throughout the monarchy the prophets tried to influence the kings, and there was often tension between the two. The book Samuel contains stories and comments from both traditions, which sometimes leads to duplicate but not identical accounts of events, but the overall tone is prophetic and critical of the monarchy.[4 p.196f]
Samuel was Israel's first prophet, and anointed its first king. The trappings of Judaism, focussed on a tent at Shiloh containing the Ark of the Covenant, were well established, but society was morally lax. Through a military defeat in chapter 4 the people learned to associate God's presence not with the Ark but with special people, and to recognise that God did not support everything they did.
The opening chapters present Samuel as God's gift to Hannah, and Hannah's to the Temple. He became an important prophet and leader. When the people demanded a king, Samuel warned them of the consequences, but anointed Saul. Samuel seems to have struggled with his change of role from being last of the Judges to a prophet speaking from the margins.
Saul was a disappointment, so Samuel secretly anointed David king (1 Samuel 16:13). The tribes of Israel were oppressed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:7) who knew how to make metal weapons while Israel did not (1 Samuel 13:19–22). As Saul's general, David led the army to notable victories, but Saul was jealous and tried many times to kill David.
David fled to Gath in Philistia where he was welcomed as a deserter. The Philistines gave David the town Ziklag (1 Samuel 27:1f) as a vassal (1 Samuel 28:1) but forbade him to join a pitched battle against Israel (1 Samuel 29), so David and his men returned to Ziklag, to find it burned and the women captured by Amalekites (1 Samuel 30). They defeated the Amalekite group (1 Samuel 31) and rescued the women, while Saul and his sons died in the battle with the Philistines. Thus David is shown to have replaced Saul as king without personally shedding the blood of Saul or his family.[4 p.196f]
This book is titled "1 Kingdoms" in the Greek Bible.
According to Nehemiah 8:17, the full Law was not followed throughout the period covered by this book.
© David Billin 2002–2021