The son of Elkanah and Hannah, Samuel was Israel's leader in the transition from the premonarchic to the monarchic period. The books of Samuel (see next entry) preserve various traditions about him, and he is described in several roles. He was a judge, in both the judicial (1 Sam. 7.15–8.3) and military (1 Sam. 7.13–14; 12.11 [MT]) senses of that office in the Bible; as the last of the judges, he was unable to defeat the Philistines, and their threat to Israel's existence was the primary historical reason for the establishment of the monarchy (see Kingship and Monarchy). He was apparently a priest (1 Sam. 2.11; see also Ps. 99.6; Sir. 46.13) and probably a nazirite (1 Sam. 1.11, 22, according to LXX and Qumran texts). Most frequently, however, he is called a prophet.
According to the Deuteronomic historians, for whom the prophets are key actors in their narrative, Samuel illustrates some of the key roles of later prophets. He was both king maker (for Saul and David) and king breaker (Saul), like Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha; he rebuked both kings and people for their violations of covenant (see especially 1 Sam 15.22, a saying that would fit well into the collections of the eighth‐century prophets).
Because of this idealized portrait, drawn from Israel's later institutions and traditions and shaped by the Deuteronomic historians, it is difficult to say much about Samuel historically, especially on the key issue of the monarchy: was he for or against it? Our sources give both perspectives. But of his importance in the crucial period of the mid‐eleventh century BCE there can be no doubt, and he is linked with Moses as one of Israel's preeminent leaders (Ps. 99.6; Jer. 15.1).
Michael D. Coogan