As we begin 1 Samuel, I made a few calculations and realized that I’m just under a third of the way through the Old Testament!

In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth is placed later on – in the Writings – and does not break up the narrative from Judges to 1 Samuel. If we ignore Ruth, then Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings form a continuous narrative, bringing us through from the end of Mosaic rule, to the stopgap judges, to the monarchy, and, finally, ending with the exile.

The books of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings are variously broken up. If I understand correctly, they are a single book in the Masoretic Text (the authoritative Hebrew Bible), but were divided into four parts – 1-4 Reigns – in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation. From about the 16th century, most Hebrew Bibles have adopted the practice of separating the text into four books.

Composition and sources

According to my study Bible, 1 Samuel is a patchwork made from two different sources, called the Early Source and the Late Source. The Late Source covers the life of Samuel, and it’s main theses are that Samuel was appointed by God, the monarchy was a mistake, and David merited God’s favour despite being king. My study Bible dates the Late Source in the latter days of the monarchy.

King David Playing the Harp, by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

King David Playing the Harp, by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

My study Bible dates the Early Source at around the reign of Solomon. It’s theses are that the monarchy is a “divinely ordained blessing and the salvation of the nation” (p.330), and Samuel is not a central figure. Saul is noble but ultimately tragic, and David is a flawed and human hero. The Early Source owns most of 2 Samuel.

It appears that there is an allusion to the divided monarchy in 1 Sam 27:6, and the narrative of Kings includes the fall of the united monarchy. All of this suggests that the complete work comprised of 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings could not have been completed prior to the exile period – though that doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t use much earlier source material.

My study Bible argues that there was a final edit in the post-exilic period by the Deuteronomist school. In particular, it identifies the Deuteronomists as having re-written 1 Samuel 12 and added 1 Samuel 8. My study Bible also identifies 1 Samuel 2:1-10, 27-36; 2 Samuel 7, 22, and 23:1-7 as having been added by other editors.

It seems that 1-2 Samuel was poorly preserved in the Masoretic Text, so translators rely a great deal on the Septuagint (LXX). Collins explains that the LXX version of Samuel is a fair bit longer than the Hebrew:

Some scholars had thought that the translators had added passages, but the Dead Sea Scrolls preserve fragments of a Hebrew version that corresponds to the Greek. It is now clear that the Greek preserves an old form of the text and that some passages had fallen out of the Hebrew through scribal mistakes. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.116)

Content

The principle actors of 1 Samuel are Samuel (the final judge and first prophet), Saul (Israel’s first king), and David (Saul’s successor). The book opens with the birth of Samuel, then moves onto his relationship with Saul, and then David is introduced in chapter 16 (about mid way).

My brand new (to me), garage sale-purchased New Bible Commentary has a helpful outline of the contents of 1-2 Samuel (p.286, though I’m leaving out subdivisions and changing the formatting a little):

1 SAMUEL
1:1 – 7:14 Samuel’s early years
7:15 – 15:35 Samuel and Saul
16:1 – 31:13 Saul and David

2 SAMUEL
1:1 – 8:18 The early years of David’s reign
9:1 – 20:26 King David and his court
21:1 – 24:25 David’s reign: problems and prospects

My Commentary also identifies a number of episode pairings (in which the same thing occurs twice, such as the two separate occasions on which David spares Saul’s life (1 Sam. 24; 26). When we’ve seen this sort of duplication in the past, I’ve always chalked it up to sloppy editors. My Commentary, however, offers a different perspective; perhaps “the repetition of similar incidents serves to give emphasis to certain points the writer wishes to make” (p.285). We’ll have to pay attention as we read to see if this holds up and, if so, what the point may be.

On the story of David’s rise (1 Sam. 16:14-2 Sam. 5), Collins explains that some hypothesize that it was written as an apology for David, “intended to refute charges that might be brought against him. It shows that David was not an outlaw, a deserter, or a Philistine mercenary, that he was not implicated in Saul’s death or in the deaths of some of Saul’s family and followers” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.120).

With all that out of the way, let’s delve in!