The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book that was written on a single scroll. Because of its length, however, the book was divided into two in early Greek versions—known as the Septuagint (LXX)—and grouped together with the book of Kings, which had undergone a similar division. Together the books of Samuel and Kings, now separated into four books, were known as 1–4 Reigns or 1–4 Kingdoms (Greek: Basileion a′–d′) in the LXX, of which the books of Samuel made up the first two parts (a′–b′). The arrangement of Samuel into two books was continued in the Latin versions, following the Greek tradition. Thus, the Christian canon adopted this division from an early point, although early Christian sources seem to have been aware that the original format was just one book; it is noted by both Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History (6.25.2) and Jerome in his preface to the Vulgate. Rabbinic sources referred to Samuel as a single book, an arrangement that was maintained through the fifteenth century, when Samuel was split for the first time in a Hebrew translation into two books, on the basis of the Vulgate. Early in the sixteenth century, a printed edition of a Hebrew Bible, published by Daniel Bomberg, followed this division of Samuel.

The first book of Samuel ends just after the death of Saul, the first king of Israel who was anointed by the prophet Samuel. The reason for dividing the book at this point in the narrative appears to operate on analogy to other biblical books that were divided after the death of an important character: Genesis ends with the deaths of Jacob (Gen 49:33) and Joseph (Gen 50:26) and Deuteronomy with the death of Moses (Deut 34:5).

The books of Samuel are named for one of the central figures in the first book—the prophet Samuel—who plays a significant role in the transition from the period of the judges to a nation-state organized under a monarch. The importance of Samuel in the early part of the first book named for him can hardly be overestimated. Several elements in the narrative of Samuel's life highlight his significance, including a miraculous story about his conception (1 Sam 1) and a dramatic encounter with God in the temple (1 Sam 3).

The English name, Samuel, is a translation of the Hebrew, a name that means “his name is El.” The first chapter of 1 Samuel offers an etiology or origin story regarding Samuel's name. Here we are told that Samuel's mother Hannah was barren. In her distress, she prayed to God and requested a son who she would dedicate to God's service. When Hannah conceived and bore a son, she named him Samuel, saying, “because I have asked him of God” (1 Sam 1:20). The difficulty with this particular story is that the verb “to ask” (Heb. šā'al) in Hebrew is connected to the name Saul (Heb. šā'ûl)—a name that means “asked”—not Samuel. This led to the conclusion that the birth story was originally told about Saul and later changed to fit the character Samuel (Hylander, 1932). If the birth narrative for Saul was overwritten to describe Samuel's birth, it serves to underscore the importance of the figure Samuel in the current version of the text.

Dividing the books of Samuel just after the death of Saul creates the odd situation in which 2 Samuel is named for a prophet who is nowhere mentioned within its pages. The death of Samuel is recorded near the end of the first book of Samuel before Saul's death (1 Sam 25:1). There is, however, a second possibility for why the books are named after the prophet Samuel. Rabbinic tradition saw Samuel as the author of the books (b. B. Bat. 14b). The tradition of associating a scriptural book with a prophetic figure indicated the work's authoritative status. Thus, giving the book Samuel's name indicates both his importance as a Mosaic-type prophet in his own right, as well as the belief that he had authored the text.

Canonical Status.

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are considered canonical in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. However, Jews and Christians place the books of Samuel in different sections of their respective canons. For Christians, the books of Samuel are a part of the “Historical Books,” the second part of the four-part division of the Christian Old Testament. These books are grouped together along with Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings as well as the books of Ruth, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. In the Septuagint, the book of Ruth was placed in between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel. This is due to the fact that Ruth opens with the words, “In the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1), offering a logical insertion point for the book according to a chronological arrangement. (It is likely, however, that the book of Ruth was written at a much later point.) But this arrangement seems to interrupt the arc of a larger historical work that scholars have designated as the Deuteronomistic History (DH), which includes the Deuteronomic law code as well as the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.

In the Jewish canon, the books of Samuel are included with the Nevi'im (“Prophets”), the second division in the tripartite arrangement of the Hebrew Bible. The books of Samuel, along with Joshua, Judges, and Kings together constitute the Nebiim Rishonim (“Former Prophets”) of the Jewish canon. The books of the Former Prophets describe a number of prophetic figures—including Samuel, Nathan, Gad, Elijah, and Elisha—but these descriptions are set in the context of a larger history of Israel that consists for the most part of prose narratives. These books are distinguished from the Latter Prophets (or Writing Prophets)—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor prophets—which are mostly the recorded speeches of prophets and contain large sections of poetry in addition to some narrative accounts.

The canonical status of the books does not seem to have been in question at any point for either Jewish or Christian communities. As a part of the Nevi'im, the books of Samuel likely were considered authoritative scripture during the mid-Second Temple period, probably by at least 200 B.C.E., although the term canon was not applied until a later date. In the prologue to Ecclesiasticus (second century B.C.E.) Ben Sira's grandson states, “Many great teachings have been given to us through the Law and the Prophets and the others that followed them.” This reference does not specifically name the books of Samuel but the mention of the “prophets” has been taken as an indication of the authoritative nature of the Prophetic Books, both Former and Latter. Additionally, Samuel is never discussed as a contested book, unlike the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (m. Yad.). The rabbinic sources seem to view the book as having authority; the fact that it was thought to have been authored by the prophet Samuel probably helped to solidify its place within the canon.


The view of ancient interpreters who saw Samuel as the author of the books named for him was based in part on an interpretation of 1 Chronicles 29:29: “The acts of King David, early and late, are recorded in the history of Samuel the seer, the history of Nathan the prophet, and the history of Gad the seer, together with all the mighty deeds and events that befell him and Israel and all the kingdoms of the earth.” The rabbis interpreted this verse to mean that Samuel had authored the portions of Samuel until his death and that the work was completed by the prophets Nathan and Gad (b. B. Bat. 15a). This view dominated early assumptions about the books of Samuel for many centuries.

As early as 1670, this tradition viewing Samuel as a single composition authored by the prophet was brought into question. The work of Spinoza suggested serious problems with maintaining that Samuel had authored the books. Like the rabbis, he was aware of the problem created by the fact that Samuel dies part of the way into the first book of Samuel (1 Sam 25:1), indicating that a significant portion of the books of Samuel were composed after his death. However, unlike the rabbinic interpretation, he did not try to solve this by using a text in 1 Chronicles to provide an answer. Rather, he complicated the picture even further, noticing that there were difficulties already inherent in the text even before the notice about Samuel's death, including editorial notes that indicate the writer is trying to explain a detail about an earlier time period to a contemporary audience. For example, 1 Samuel 9:9 states, “Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly a seer.’ ” The explanation provided in this verse only makes sense if it was written long after the time of Samuel when the word “seer” had been replaced by the then common title “prophet”; if it had been written by Samuel, there would be no need to explain the use of the word “seer” as the word still would have been in use.

The book of 2 Samuel gives a further hint that there are sources upon which a later writer drew in the construction of the books of Samuel, mentioning one source for its history—the book of Jashar, which provided the material for David's elegy over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:18)—but makes no explicit mention of a particular author. In addition to this reference to an earlier source, modern biblical scholars—building on the observations of scholars such as Spinoza—have focused on two primary reasons why the narratives of Samuel are unlikely to have been composed by a single author. One kind of evidence cited in favor of multiple sources behind the books of Samuel has been the recognition of repetitions and narrative inconsistencies. For example, there are three different accounts of the way in which Saul became king. The first of these portrays an encounter between Saul and Samuel that occurs while Saul is looking for his father's donkeys. Along the way, he met Samuel and was anointed by him, after which event, “the spirit of God possessed him and he fell into a prophetic frenzy” along with a band of prophets he had encountered (1 Sam 9:1–10:16). Another story portrays Saul as a king who was selected when Samuel held a lottery for all the tribes (1 Sam 10:20–24). In the following chapter, however, there is a story in which it seems the people have selected Saul on account of his military leadership, a model that emulates the earlier judges. The narrative tells how the spirit of the LORD came on Saul, providing him strength to help the people of Jabesh-gilead defeat the Ammonites (1 Sam 11). It appears that there is an attempt on the part of a later editor to redact the stories to smooth out the seams between the conflicting accounts of Saul's selection as king. For example, the story describing Saul as a military leader concludes with Samuel's exhortation to the people “Come let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship” (1 Sam 11:14). The “renewal” of kingship is likely redactional, linking this chapter to the previous one. However, this notice does not fully account for the introduction of Saul in 1 Samuel 11 as a character who responds to the weeping of the people of Jabesh and acts unsolicited on their behalf. Up until this point, there were no hints within the story that this is a familiar figure who had just been named the first king of Israel.

Similar problems are posed by the two conflicting accounts regarding how the Israelites were saved from the Philistine hero Goliath. One story attributes Goliath's death to David, the youngest son of Jesse (1 Sam 17). Another text recounts various battles that David waged against the Philistines early in his reign and notes that it was Elhanan, son of Jaare-oregim who slew Goliath the Gittite (2 Sam 21:19). These two different stories are challenging to reconcile because it is highly improbable that there were two Philistines named Goliath who were killed by two different people on two different occasions. Already in the eighteenth century, scholars used these repetitions as a starting point for their analyses of the Samuel stories, including the important work of Eichhorn (1780–1783).

The second important body of evidence cited to counter the belief in a single author of the books of Samuel related to two different themes that run throughout the narratives of Samuel. The most significant aspect of the text that scholars of the nineteenth century noticed was different evaluations of the institution of monarchy. Thus, one of the major linchpins of early source criticism on the book of Samuel in the nineteenth century was the identification of a particular tension between “pro-” and “anti-monarchical” sources. This position followed Wellhausen's identification in 1878 of “early” and “late” strata in the books of Samuel, the latter of which was thought to be characterized by an anti-monarchical viewpoint, assumed to be late because the exilic writer had seen the failure of the monarchy. This included texts such as 1 Samuel 8, a severe warning by Samuel to the people about the implications of a monarchy. Samuel concludes the text with the eerie promise, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam 8:18). The earlier view was thought to be more positive because it came from a time much closer to when the events occurred, thus providing a better resource for reconstructing the history of Israel. Thus, the insightful critiques about authorship anticipated already in Spinoza's work became a central component of Samuel scholarship. Modern critical scholars generally concluded that the books of Samuel are not a unified composition authored by the prophetic figure Samuel, even though the reasons for this view vary. It is now thought that the books of Samuel were composed by anonymous authors. Building on the important contributions of Martin Noth in 1943, many scholars think that the books of Samuel, along with the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Kings were taken from various sources and compiled into a work known as the Deuteronomistic History (DH), which gives a continuous account of the people of Israel from their arrival in the Promised Land until the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. Source-critical scholars have produced a wealth of theories about how the books of Samuel came into their present form, with no complete consensus reached. However, most scholars would acknowledge that there were early source materials brought together in several stages of redaction by a group of unknown authors and editors, referred to as Deuteronomists, or Dtr(s). Because of the anonymous nature of the writers of Samuel, the question of authorship has been displaced in many ways by the question of sources and redactors, a subject which will be taken up in more detail below.

Date of Composition and Historical Context.

The period about which the books of Samuel are written—in modern chronology, the late eleventh and early tenth centuries B.C.E., during the early Iron Age—is extremely significant in the history of Israel. According to the biblical sources, the period witnessed a dramatic transformation in Israel's polity from a collection of tribes—united informally by allegiance to Yahweh and the expectation of military support in times of crisis—to a nation-state unified by a monarchy and centralized capital. The preceding period of the judges had been marked by charismatic leaders who arose in times when the Israelites were expressing oppression, but none of the judges established any kind of dynastic succession. The introduction of kingship brought with it the benefit of protection from the encroachment of the Philistines from the west, a motivation that is explicitly stated by the people when they demand that Samuel provide for them a king (1 Sam 8:20B). The contribution of archaeologists has added a great deal to the understanding of the material and social conditions of Iron Age Israel. There are, however, many problems in trying to reconstruct the history during this period because there are no nonbiblical sources that directly connect to the events described in the books of Samuel.

The introduction of the monarchy was viewed by many biblical scholars for some time as a foreign institution that had been adopted from the Canaanites (e.g., Wright 1967). Some biblical texts offer support for this perspective in their suspicion of the institution of kingship. In 1 Samuel 8, the people were unhappy with Samuel's attempt to set up his corrupt sons as judges who would succeed him and so request a king. Samuel proceeds to warn the people in no uncertain terms regarding the abuses and problems that will accompany the institution of kingship, but the people are not persuaded by him. The people persist, determined to have a king so that they might “be like other nations” (1 Sam 8:20A). This text, among others, suggested that the institution of kingship was based on foreign models. An assumption that developed from this view was that the institution of kingship, which was alien to Israel's polity, undercut traditional kinship relationships.

More recently, however, there have been significant challenges to earlier formulations about kingship as a foreign imposition that disrupted kinship structures in a violent way (Stager 2003). Stager instead views the institution of kingship as an extension of existing familial structures. He contends that the language of family provided a central metaphor around which political structures were modeled, not only during the premonarchic but also during the monarchic period. This system he describes as a “patrimonial kingdom,” that is, a monarchy that is predicated upon personal relationships rather than on a large, bureaucratic organization.

Stager's work offers a caution against overdrawing the distinction between the premonarchic and monarchic periods. Even so, however, the shift to a nation-state had important social and political consequences, not the least of which was the material conditions necessary for the production of texts. As early as Wellhausen, scholars have posited that some of the earliest sources for the history recorded in Samuel were contemporaneous with the events that they describe. For early source-critics, the earliest materials—and the most historically reliable—were those that favored the monarchy. Even as later source-critical formulations were made, there remained a view that some of the earliest layers behind the narratives in Samuel could be dated to an early period. For example, Leonard Rost identified several important sources in his analysis of the Samuel narratives. One such source was the History of David's Rise (HDR) found in 1 Samuel 16 to 2 Samuel 5. Rost thought that this portion of Samuel represented a unified source that was later incorporated into a longer history, a view that was adopted by Alt. The identification of this source material led scholars to make comparisons with late second-millennium Hittite royal apologies, including the “Apology of Hattushili” (e.g., Wolf 1967; Hoffner 1968). According to this perspective, HDR functions as a kind of propaganda to justify either David's rule or that of later Davidic kings. Thus, in this line of argument, the source material must come from the period of the monarchy, perhaps close to David's own time.

Even if early elements are embedded within the Deuteronomistic History, there is also clear evidence of late editorial work that was likely finished not long after the fall of Jerusalem and Judah to the Neo-Babylonian empire in 586 B.C.E. There is much discussion as to how many redactions there were of the Deuternomistic History, but it is clear that a final layer must be attributed to at least the time of the Babylonian exile. For example, in 1 Samuel 12, Samuel concludes his speech to the people with the words, “Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Sam 12:24–25). The ominous note at the end of this address seems to be more than just a general warning, but rather a specific reference to later historical events.

Literary History.

The Masoretic Text of Samuel is in relatively poor condition. It is short, especially in comparison with other textual traditions, and suffers from scribal errors throughout. For some time, text-critical issues were so substantial that this work overshadowed, to a larger extent, the “higher criticism” of source critical work (McCarter 1980B, p. 12). Scholars devoted a great deal of their energy to the task of trying to restore an earlier, less corrupt text. Scholars such as Thenius looked to the Septuagint as the key to helping to recover an Urtext. The attempt to emend the Masoretic Text based on the LXX was also pursued by Wellhausen and Driver in the nineteenth century. The discovery of Dead Sea scrolls relating to the book of Samuel impacted this work in important ways. Three primary manuscripts from Cave 4 at Qumran have helped scholars to clarify the relationship between the LXX and the MT, the most important of which is 4QSama (McCarter 1980B, pp. 6–11).

Thus, the work of source criticism on Samuel began somewhat later than it might have otherwise. As scholars began to contemplate the literary history of the book of Samuel, their work tended to move in one of three directions. One trend was to extend the sources that had been identified in the Pentateuch into the books of Samuel, looking for the evidence of either J or E sources (Budde 1902). Another significant approach, however, followed the work of Wellhausen in distinguishing between two major strands: an early pro-monarchical source, and a late, exilic, anti-monarchical source. Finally, there were scholars who took the view that there were various fragments behind the Samuel narratives. Thus the books of Samuel were a collection of diverse elements which had been pieced together at a later date. These different lines of inquiry were a response to the recognition that there were repetitious and conflicting accounts within Samuel, and also larger sections that seemed to work together as a narrative unit, with foreshadowing and shared thematic elements and vocabulary. Balancing these two observations, Rost developed a critical theory that focused on larger literary units.

Rost contributed significantly to the source-critical understanding of the text by identifying several early stories, including the Succession Narrative (SN), the Ark Narrative (AN), and the History of David's Rise (HDR) as originally separate and independent narratives (Rost 1926). His identification of the SN built on Wellhausen's identification of 2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2 as a narrative unit. According to Rost, the Succession Narrative was a single narrative unit that was likely composed by one author. Like Wellhausen, he thought that this writer could well have been from a time very close to the historical events that were described. According to his view, the one responsible for the narrative was not just a compiler of disparate pieces but an author in his own right, who had composed a narrative whole using several literary techniques. There was, however, also a compiler who worked to bring together narrative units into a larger work according to a chronological arrangement. Rost's work was groundbreaking for Samuel studies, reconciling the problems between repetitions and inconsistencies with the literary sophistication of narrative units.

The work of Rost was bolstered by the contribution of von Rad, who argued that the SN served to legitimate Solomon's accession to the throne, and thus the rest of the David's descendants (von Rad, 1966). Scholars viewed the frank depictions of a flawed David in these narratives as evidence for the document originating soon after the actual events that were described, probably as a way to control public perceptions of David. This view, however, has been not been accepted by everyone. Gunn, for example, saw literary connections to earlier David stories, and argued that succession was not the major focus of the work, but at best one element among several others (Gunn 1978). More recent work has continued to undermine early assumptions by Rost and von Rad regarding the date and function of this portion of the Samuel stories (see, for example, Van Seters 1997).

Another significant work that impacted study of the books of Samuel was Noth's Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien (1943). He proposed that both Deuteronomy and the entirety of Joshua to 2 Kings were brought together by the hand of a Deuteronomistic editor (Dtr) in the exilic period. This group of books is often referred to collectively as the Deuteronomistic History (DH). The history that Dtr had written was taken from a compilation of different earlier sources, according to Noth, and should be dated to the middle of the sixth century B.C.E. in connection with Jehoiachin's release from prison (2 Kgs 25:27–30). The history found in Joshua to 2 Kings was prefaced by the Deuteronomic law code—which Dtr had enclosed in a framework—that laid out the law according to which the later history would be evaluated. For this Deuteronomistic editor, there were four major periods of history: the era of Moses; the settlement in Canaan; the period of the judges; and the monarchy. Noth saw DH as a document that served an important historiographic function in trying to explain the reasons for the Babylonian exile. This view presented the history as a negative indictment of the people for their failure to live according to Deuteronomic laws. Like previous scholars such as Wellhausen, Noth based his proposal on an evaluation of the view exhibited toward the monarchy in the narratives. One important aspect of the Deuteronomistic redaction was the inclusion of speeches by central figures that helped to frame the narrative, including the speech by Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:1–24.

Noth's work was widely accepted almost immediately. There was, however, some disagreement as to the overall purpose of DH and whether it was intended as an entirely negative statement about Israel's failure to observe the law. Von Rad responded to Noth's work in an article shortly thereafter, noticing that there was a theme of judgment that ran throughout this history but also contending that there was a second theme running through DH that was positive: a theme of grace exemplified in the divine promise to David of an eternal covenant found in 1 Samuel 7:13–16 (von Rad 1947). The identification of this positive element throughout DH pointed out a significant weakness of Noth's work, which had focused solely on the negative tone of DH.

In addition to questioning Noth's understanding of the basic purpose of the Deuteronomistic History, scholars have also challenged other aspects of his thesis, most especially the view that there was one exilic editor. Both Nicholson and Weinfeld argued for a group of editors who worked together as a Deuteronomistic school rather than an individual editor who brought the whole work together (Nicholson 1967; Weinfeld 1972). Cross, recognizing both optimism and pessimism in the Deuteronomistic history, identified two editorial layers within DH: Dtr1, dating to the time of King Josiah (late seventh century B.C.E.), and Dtr2, dating the time of the exile (sixth century B.C.E.) (Cross 1973). According to Cross, two themes run throughout the history as compiled by Dtr1—the sin of Jeroboam on the one hand, and the fidelity of both David and Josiah—the twin poles of judgment and hope that operated to convince people to return to God. A third theme is incorporated into DH by Dtr2, who presented the history of Israel to Judean exiles, explaining why Judah experienced a similar fate as the northern kingdom. However, this editorial work, according to Cross, was a particularly light reworking of the materials that the editor had.

Despite the numerous reformulations that have been made in recent decades, including the assertion that the critique of the monarchy was not a late development but a reflection of a more genuine and early Yahwism, many source-critical ideas are still dependent in some way on the apparent contradictions between differing views on monarchy (Hanson 1986). This has significant implications for understanding the books of Samuel, and the view of prophecy within these books, because, following Weiser, the “anti-monarchic” view is often connected with a prophetic perspective. One of the most significant of the source-critical proposals is that of McCarter who, picking up Weiser's suggestion, posits a “prophetic history” as a middle stage in the literary development of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel (McCarter 1980). The notion of a prophetic layer of redaction behind the books of Samuel has some merit: considerable emphasis is given to the role of the prophetic figure Samuel. However, even if narratives in Samuel are in no way antithetical to a prophetic sensibility, neither are they in any way at odds with Deuteronomistic thinking. It is possible, therefore, that the prophetic Tendenz that has been recognized in these books is the work of Dtr who has reworked the older narrative strands, including pieces such as a birth story—perhaps originally about Saul—and the story of Samuel's call by God at Shiloh, to depict Samuel as a “prophet like Moses” (cf. Deut 15:15). Specifically they have drawn heavily on the traditions of Exodus so as to make explicit the connections between Samuel and Moses, thus highlighting the role of prophets in upholding the provisions of the Sinai covenant, concerns that are central for DH.

It has been argued that one of the hallmarks of the Deuteronomistic History is the careful way in which sources were treated, often leaving large sections of them untouched. This view is expressed by Albright (1969) and followed by other scholars (e.g., Hanson). Those who hold this position have seen it to be true not only of the DH in general, but especially for the books of Samuel (McCarter 1980b, p. 15). While this view has some merit, it is also the case that there are nearly no narratives that do not bear some evidence of editorial work: Even in places where the original source seems to be largely intact, there still seems to be a layer of redaction. In the Ark Narrative, for example, there is a great deal of explicit reference to the plagues in Exodus, additions most likely added by Dtr. When the ark was captured by the Philistines, they start to experience tumors. When the priest and diviners of Philistia are called to give advice, they recommend that the ark be sent back to the Israelites along with a guilt offering. The comparison to Egypt is made explicit as the priests and diviners warn, “Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he made fools of them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?” (1 Sam 6:6). Given the location of the AN just after the story of Samuel's birth and call, this editorial work, albeit light, seems to serve the function of tying Samuel to the earlier figure of Moses through explicit references to the Egyptians and Exodus.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, interest in identifying sources and redactors gave way to concern for how the whole of 1 and 2 Samuel could work together as a unit, either on theological or literary grounds. Scholars criticized the trends of earlier works to fragment the books into pieces. The growth of canonical criticism emphasized the final form of the text. With these moves, scholars have begun to question problematic trends in the history of scholarship on Samuel. On the one hand, there has been a tendency to overdraw the distinctions between “pro-monarchical” and “anti-monarchical” viewpoints, correlating them to separate literary sources. And on the other, the books have been used as a way of evaluating DH's perspective on whether or not kingship is a legitimate institution. One central text for both of these strategies has been 1 Samuel 8, a passage in which Samuel addresses the people and warns them against having a king. Several interpretive possibilities have been suggested that do not require scholars to resort to source-critical theory to reconcile this view with other more positive estimations of kingship found in Samuel. One early suggestion on reading 1 Samuel 8 is that of Weiser, who concluded that the critique of the monarchy was merely against foreign models of kingship, not the institution in general. Eslinger

1 and 2 Samuel

Ark Narrative.

The Philistines capture the ark and are struck by plague (1 Sam 5:1–12). Illustration from the Nuremberg Bible (Biblia Sacra Germanaica), fifteenth century.


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proposed that if 1 Samuel 8–12 was read together, the disparate viewpoints could be mediated by attention to the omniscient voice of the narrator (Eslinger 1983). Another possibility for reading this text is offered by Mark Hamilton, who contends that 1 Samuel 8 is not a statement about monarchy in general, particularly because none of the abuses of power listed are abuses that Saul himself commits. Rather, he proposed that 1 Samuel 8:11–18 may not be an actual critique of monarchy but a “ritualized rejection” on analogy to ancient Near Eastern texts, especially those of the Akkadian akitu festival. Hamilton acknowledges that this reading cannot be definitively proven, but at least suggests that the text of 1 Samuel 8 may be more nuanced than earlier reconstructions have indicated (Hamilton 2005).

Structure and Contents.

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are structured around three primary figures: Samuel, Saul, and David. A great deal of the action in the books centers on the political struggles of each of the three. There are other important figures who also play significant roles within the books, not the least of whom are several significant women. The brief outline below details the major narrative components of the books of Samuel.


  • I.1 Samuel 1:1—4:1a: Samuel's birth and call
  • II.1 Samuel 4:1b—7:2: Ark Narrative
  • III.1 Samuel 7:3—15:35: Saul and the emergence of kingship
  • IV.1 Samuel 16—2 Samuel 5:10: History of David's Rise to Power
  • V.2 Samuel 5:11—8:18: Miscellaneous events during David's reign
  • VI. 2 Samuel 9–20: Succession Narrative
  • VII. 2 Samuel 21–24: Miscellaneous collection (poetry, lists of officers, and narrative materials)


In many ways, the stories about Samuel portray him as an idealized character. Yet he is not altogether without flaws. Certainly his anger at the people's demand for a king (1 Sam 3:15) and his choice of corrupt sons to succeed him (1 Sam 8:1) portray him as very human and imperfect. However, within the narrative accounts about Samuel there are several strong resonances between his life and the life of Moses. In both cases, there is a miraculous birth narrative, a call story, a direct message to be delivered, and leadership of the people assumed. Furthermore, language that is characteristically Deuteronomistic is also evident throughout the texts about Samuel. Like Moses, Samuel is also nursed by his own mother but then raised outside of the home. Thus both mothers continued to interact with their children but in each story the sons are literally set apart from the family and the rest of the community. The physical distance from the family and community functions to symbolize the way that both figures are set apart for special service for God. Moreover, both Samuel and Moses hear a voice call them by name, to which they respond with the words, “Here I am.” In both cases, the divine presence is signified through fire (Exod 3:2, 1 Sam 3:3)—in Exodus 3:2 it is fire in the midst of a bush, and in 1 Samuel 3:3 it is the lamp of God. Each receives a call just after a notice that they had been performing their regular duties: Moses was tending sheep; Samuel was ministering before the LORD at Shiloh. Neither is looking for the job of divine spokesperson that they are given, and both are initially reluctant to speak the message that is given because it involves great risk. Moses must confront Pharaoh and Samuel must give Eli the news that Eli's house will be punished. It is only under divine persuasion that each delivers his message. Finally, in 1 Samuel 7, Samuel is depicted as an intercessor, much like his predecessor Moses (v. 8), and offers a whole burnt offering (v. 9; cf. Exod 23:18).

The book of 1 Samuel opens with the birth narrative of Samuel, who is portrayed as functioning as prophet, priest, and judge. Although not of the tribe of Levi, Samuel is dedicated at an early age to serve under the priest Eli at Shiloh where he offers sacrifices as a part of his priestly role. He is a transitional character from the charismatic leadership of the judges to the dynastic succession that has brought about the monarchy. After he had been judging for some time and had become old, Samuel decided to put his sons in a leadership position following him (1 Sam 8:1). This appears to be an attempt to establish a dynasty of his own. However, because of the corruption of his sons, the people demand from Samuel a king instead. Samuel also function as a “seer” (1 Sam 9:6–20) connected to a band of prophets. As a prophet Samuel functions as a “kingmaker” who anoints both Saul and David, but also as the one with the power to depose kings should they disobey God. Thus, after Saul's failure to destroy all of the Amalekites, Samuel tells him that the kingship will be taken from him (1 Sam 15:10–33). Despite the importance of Samuel as both a symbolic and a transitional figure, he disappears from the books of Samuel after 1 Samuel 25, where his death is recorded, except for his postmortem appearance to Saul in 1 Samuel 28 where the earlier pronouncement of divine rejection is reiterated.


Saul is portrayed in the narratives as a complex character. Some accounts depict Saul in a highly favorable light. He is a warrior who fights on behalf of the people of Jabesh-gilead to prevent them from being oppressed by the Ammonites (1 Sam 11). He is also physically distinguished from other men; often in biblical texts, positive physical attributes are a sign of divine favor. Thus, when Saul is selected in a lottery to be king of Israel, the text mentions that he is “head and shoulders taller than any of them,” a distinction that causes Samuel to remark, “Do you see the one whom the LORD has chosen? There is no one like among the people” (1 Sam 10:23B–24). Furthermore, Saul has an ecstatic experience in which he joins a band of prophets, on account of which people ask, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Sam 10:9–13). However one might interpret the passage, it is clear from the text that “the spirit of God possessed him” (1 Sam 10:10). The experience of prophesying and being possessed by God's spirit, the physical characteristics that set Saul apart, and the selection by lots of Saul as the king of Israel all contribute to a very positive portrayal of Saul as the one whom God favored and chose to be king of Israel. If, as has been suggested above, the Samuel birth narrative was initially a story about Saul, this would further bolster the portrayal of Saul as a significant figure who was favored by God.

However, a very different picture of Saul is also evident throughout the books of Samuel. Despite early indications that this king would be a great success, the picture quickly changes. Almost as soon as Saul becomes king, he disobeys Samuel's command and sacrifices to the LORD himself (1 Sam 13:7B–15A). On account of this, Samuel tells Saul that his actions have caused him to forfeit any hope of dynastic succession after his death. Samuel says, “The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Sam 13:13A–14). Saul is again rejected by God for his failure to destroy all of the Amalekites as he was commanded (1 Sam 15:10–33), and just after this event Samuel, at the command of the LORD, goes to find a new king to anoint. Saul's rejection is made even more tragic by the preference of his own daughter Michal and his son Jonathan for David.

Saul's disobedience is given as the reason for his rejection by God as king. There are several other negative aspects to Saul's character which are emphasized in the books of Samuel. He is portrayed as being afflicted by an “evil spirit from the LORD” (1 Sam 19:9): the same man who was possessed by the spirit of the LORD and swept up into a prophetic frenzy also experienced a tormenting spirit that caused him to try to kill David. Saul's attempts on David's life continue, causing David to flee. Even with the attempts on David's life, however, the final portrait that is painted of Saul comes from the mouth of David, according to the biblical account. Second Samuel 1 gives an account of David's elegy for Saul and Jonathan, who are called “beloved and lovely” (2 Sam 1:23). This highly positive view of the father and son as mighty warriors who fought on Israel's behalf is likely an early poem inserted into the narrative. This final and positive portrayal of Saul affirms the character of David at this point in the Samuel story and serves the narrative function of bolstering the image of David as loyal to the LORD's anointed, even after his death. Moreover, it suggests that the negative portrayal of Saul that is given in the final redaction of the Deuteronomistic History was a later interpretation.


The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are divided just after the death of Saul. Thus, the book of 2 Samuel begins the account of David's reign, although his military prowess was already well established during the time of Saul's reign according to the narrative. The portrayal is almost entirely positive, making him the perfect narrative foil for Saul's failures. One of the major sources for the portrayal of David, according to one scholarly theory, is the “History of David's Rise” (1 Sam 16—2 Sam 5). This narrative account has been read in light of royal apologies from Anatolia and Mesopotamia. As such, the “History of David's Rise” is often viewed as an apologetic account that serves to promote David and his dynasty through a kind of royal propaganda.

There are hints in the books of Samuel that David was a savvy political leader. The book of 2 Samuel describes how David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites and selected this site as a capital for his kingdom (2 Sam 5: 6–10). It was here that David brought the ark of the covenant to rest and built for himself a palace. The selection of Jerusalem as a capital was of no small significance because it was a newly conquered region, an area that belonged to no tribe and thus was more neutral than another city would have been. The importance of this decision is monumental, as the city came to hold great symbolic significance during the monarchy, a status which has continued throughout the ages. Moreover, David's marriages can be read as politically motivated (Levenson and Halpern 1980). He marries the daughter of Saul, Michal, providing some legitimacy to his claim to the throne as a member of the ruling family. He also marries Abigail, the wife of Nabal, who is associated with Hebron, his first capital.

The theme of divine favor upon David is emphasized throughout the Samuel narratives. David is brought to Saul's court to try to ease his troubled spirit (1 Sam 16:14–23). He is described as both a musician and a poet as well as a successful military figure. According to the story of his anointing, he is chosen by God on a basis other than his impressive physical stature. Unlike Saul's significant height, David is the littlest among his many brothers. Yet, like Saul, David does still have physical characteristics which mark him as having divine favor early in the narrative. He is described as “ruddy,” having “beautiful eyes,” and “handsome” (1 Sam 16:12).

David is extremely successful in battle, even from a very early age when he killed the Philistine hero Goliath. On account of his successes, the people of Israel love him (1 Sam 18:16). Even King Saul's children come to favor David over their own father. Both David's military victories and his popularity incite Saul's anger toward him. On several occasions, Saul attempts to kill David. David, however, refuses to harm Saul even when he is given the chance. In the early part of David's reign, the picture that emerges of David is one of a highly skilled politician (2 Sam 1–9). It is through his artful political decisions that he was able to consolidate and solidify his power, first securing the support of tribe of Judah (2 Sam 2:1–4), followed by “all the tribes of Israel” at Hebron (2 Sam 5:1–5). Although the books of Samuel often represent David as a highly idealized figure, in no small way due to the contributions of the History of David's Rise, this portrayal is not the only image of David in the Samuel narratives. The chapters designated by Rost as the Succession Narrative (SN)—2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2 (see discussion above)—complicate this picture significantly, offering a much more nuanced picture of David. In 2 Samuel 11, the story of David and Bathsheba opens with a hint that David is not acting as a king ideally should. The text states, “It was springtime, the time when kings go forth to war” (1 Sam 11:1). However, David is at home instead of out fighting as he should have been. It is soon after that David's lust for Bathsheba causes him to commit adultery, an event that develops into a conspiracy to have Bathsheba's husband Uriah killed (2 Sam 11:15). The indictment of David becomes much more explicit through the mouth of the prophet Nathan, who delivers a parable wherein David's own verdict inadvertently serves as condemnation of his actions. But David is also penitent, immediately

1 and 2 Samuel

The Kingdom of David according to Second Samuel.

The dashed line shows the approximate boundary of the kingdom at its greatest extent.


acknowledging that he had “sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13).

In the narratives that follow, the once savvy David appears to be much more indecisive, especially in relationship to his own sons. Much of these narratives are occupied with the matter of who will ascend the throne after David, stories that are dominated by internecine conflict. After his eldest son Amnon raped his own half sister Tamar, the story explicitly details the king's inaction, “When King David heard all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (2 Sam 13:21). In response, David's son Absalom, Tamar's full-brother, waited for his opportunity to kill his half-brother Amnon, after which he spent several years in exile. Neither fratricide nor his son Absalom's exile prompted any response from David. Only under the persuasion of a wise woman recruited by Joab did David reconcile with Absalom. Not long after his return from exile, Absalom staged a revolt against his father. Absalom's failed coup ended in a disgraceful death, and it is ultimately Solomon, David's son by Bathsheba, who inherits the throne. This image of David offers a stark contrast to that of the earlier narratives, painting a portrait of David in Samuel that is exceptionally complex. He is both a heroic warrior capable of mitigating the Philistine threat and unifying the tribes, but unable to control his own sons; he is divinely chosen, but also commits adultery and murder. The amount of space in the Bible dedicated to the character of David is matched only by the figure of Moses. The variety of images of David within the books of Samuel demonstrate great artistry and also provide a vast resource for later interpretive traditions of the figure of David.


Several women function in important ways throughout the books of Samuel. First Samuel opens with the spotlight on Hannah, a childless woman who is tormented by Peninnah, her husband's other wife. Like many of the matriarchs of the Genesis stories, Hannah prayed to God for a child and God answered her prayer. In fulfillment of her promise to God, Hannah dedicated her son Samuel for service to God. It is notable that Hannah is at the center of the drama while Samuel's father plays a much more minor role. There are also a number of women in Samuel who are portrayed as wise, offering council to important political figures (Camp 1981). The wise woman of Tekoa is summoned for the express purpose of counseling David regarding his son Absalom (2 Sam 14). The way she is referred to by title as “a wise woman” rather than by name has suggested to some scholars that there may have been a social role allocated to women that is behind this and other narratives of counseling women. Similarly, the woman of Abel of Beth-maacah—another unnamed woman who is also called “wise”—mediates with Joab to prevent the destruction of her city (2 Sam 20). Abigail also acts as a counselor to David, cautioning him not to act violently (1 Sam 25). Although the text does not specifically designate her as a wise woman, there are significant clues in the text that her temperate character is a direct contrast to her rash husband, Nabal (whose name means “fool”). After their exchange, David says to Abigail, “Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself my own hand!” (1 Sam 25:32). The important role that these women play in the Samuel narratives, preventing significant episodes of violence and reconciling David to his son, allow for the historical possibility that women could serve as wise counselors.

David's other wives also play a central role in the narrative. Many of them serve a political function, helping to solidify David's power. However, these women are not portrayed as mere political instruments but as significant actors in the story. Michal sides with her husband David against her father. It is through her deceit of her father that David is able to evade Saul's plan to have him killed (1 Sam 19:11–17). Later in the narratives, however, Michal no longer seems to view David as favorably, critiquing him for his actions in dancing before the ark as it is being brought to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6:20–23). Bathsheba is portrayed initially as having little say in her relationship with David, implying that she may not have had much choice. Yet her role in securing her son, Solomon, as heir to the throne at the end of SN (1 Kgs 1) depicts her as an important political player later on in the narrative. Like Abigail, both Michal and Bathsheba participate significantly in political affairs and seem to exert a considerable measure of influence at certain points in their lives.

Some of the stories of women in the Samuel narratives have a much more negative tone. The story of Amnon's rape of Tamar portrays David's daughter as exceptionally vulnerable to the advances of her own half-brother (2 Sam 13). The tragic story, and David's lack of response to his own daughter's fate, hint at the negative turn of events in the future in regard to David's progeny.


From the perspective of Dtr, the books of Samuel are a story detailing the rise of David through divine intervention on his behalf. Although the books are arranged around the three human characters of Samuel, Saul, and David, one of the most significant actors in the drama according to the perspective of the DH is Yahweh. There are several hints that it is God who is at work behind the scenes of much of the human dramas in the Samuel narratives. Thus, it is the LORD who “gave victory to David” (2 Sam 8:6), allowing him to defeat the Philistines and other foreign threats. The theme of divine power contrasted with human ability is introduced early in the Samuel narratives in the prayer of Hannah (1 Sam 2). The failure of Saul and the success of David was directly a result of divine favor transferring from the one to the other after the former's significant sins.

When viewed from a canonical perspective, the books of Samuel are framed in the beginning and the end by two related elements (Childs 1979), God's response to individual prayers, and praise of God for having done so. First Samuel opens with the distress of an individual woman, for which reason she “prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly” (1 Sam 1:10). The LORD responds to the cry of the distressed woman and provides her with a child, Samuel. For this reason, Hannah responds with a song praising God, saying, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God.” Her prayer attributes to the LORD the power to “make poor and make rich;” to “bring low” and also to “exalt” (v. 7). Like Hannah's prayer at the beginning of the books, the end of 2 Samuel includes a psalm of praise (2 Sam 22:2–51). The close of the Samuel narratives also recount a request by David to God to avert a plague, a prayer which God answers after David's prayer and burnt offering (2 Sam 24:25). The theme of divine favor thus provides bookends for Samuel.

The books of Samuel have also given rise to theories about the origins of prophecy as well as the institution of kingship and their respective relationships to one another. Cross asserts that prophecy coincides with the rise and fall of the monarchy according to the Deuteronomistic Historians (Cross 1973). If this is so, then the significance of Samuel is central to understanding the way in which the institution of prophecy originates (see also Albright). The role of prophets in the books of Samuel is connected to the emerging institution of the monarchy: as a prophet, Samuel is the one who anoints and deposes kings (as is Nathan in the continuation of SN in 1 Kgs 1). McCarter's proposal that there is a prophetic redaction to the books of Samuel is contingent on a notion that there was an inherent tension between the two roles of prophet and king. Although there is reason to exercise caution between overdrawing the pro- and anti-monarchical viewpoints and correlating them to king and prophet, respectively, the books of Samuel are central texts for the investigation of these questions.

Feminist scholars have also suggested that there may have been a negative correlation between the introduction of the institution of kingship and the role of women. Several scholars have linked women's ability to take public power directly to times of crisis. Thus, many have seen the period of the judges—a time that the Bible characterizes as a time of repeated crises—as a time of relative openness to women's authority in more public ways. In describing the premonarchic period, Jo Ann Hackett argues that women are prominent characters throughout the book of Judges because they are able to gain greater political roles when the political system is less rigid, a view that is echoed by Tikva Frymer-Kensky (Hackett 1998; Frymer-Kensky 2002). According to this view, the ability of women to move into public roles is greatly limited when there is a strong political power in place. According to Carol Meyers, a clear distinction between public and private spaces appears with the advent of the monarchy. For her, premonarchic Israel represents a time of more gender equality. Both men and women had to work more closely together because of the difficult conditions created by life in highland Israel. The monarchy, however, completely altered the situation, introducing gendered divisions between public and private spaces.

Reception History.

The books of Samuel have had a lasting impact on the imagination of subsequent generations. The prophetic figure of Samuel is explicitly linked to the figure of Moses in both Jeremiah (15:1) and in Psalm 99. He is described as an intercessor for God on behalf of the people. In Sirach, the role of Samuel seems to have taken on an even greater significance (Sir 46:13–20). Here Samuel's actions are recounted, indicating his status as a figure of growing importance in the tradition. The rabbinic association between the figure of Samuel and authorship of the books named for him indicates that he was considered to be an authoritative figure by this time. Conversely, the portrayal of Saul as decidedly negative was present already in Chronicles. The Chronicler recounts, “So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance, and did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse (1 Chr 10:13–14).

It is the figure of David, however, and the vision of kingship that God promised to him, that has preoccupied the theological and artistic reflections upon the books of Samuel. In 2 Samuel 7, David proposes to build a house for God. To this, the LORD responds that it is God who will establish “a house” for David. The LORD tells David through the prophet Nathan, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me.…Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:12B–16). This theological statement affirming the Davidic line is found in other biblical texts, including Psalm 89, and has had long lasting consequences (Schneidewind 1999).

The image of David as an idealized king and ruler is well developed in the context of the Deuteronomistic History. Although as we have seen, the portrait found in the books of Samuel is not of a man entirely without flaws, Dtr uses David as a model for future kings. Thus, two later Davidic kings, Hezekiah and Josiah—who are also portrayed in idealized language—are explicitly compared to David (2 Kgs 18:3 and 22:2). Of Hezekiah we are told, “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD just as his ancestor David had done” (2 Kgs 18:3). Yet even while David was a model, Dtr did not exclude materials that portray David's flaws. Cheryl Exum uses this as evidence that David is a kind of tragic figure in the DH, with his actions helping to explain the later failure of the monarchy (Exum 1992).

Increasingly positive assessments of David had developed already in later biblical traditions, focusing especially on the admirable qualities of David. The Chronicler's account reworks traditions about David found in the Deuteronomistic History—deleting some narratives and retelling others—in order to cast David in more favorable light. The texts from Qumran further develop David as a heroic figure, expanding upon images within the biblical texts (Evans 1997). It is evident from the wide range of texts that comment upon David, that he was a very prominent figure of the early Jewish period. Some of the most notable descriptions during this time include David as a psalmist and prophet, who exhibited devotion to God (Pomykala 2004). Furthermore, many sources show evidence of deliberately trying to exonerate David from guilt by explaining any actions that did not conform to contemporary values. Thus, the Damascus Document (CD) describes David's deeds very positively; the fact that he had many wives, in contradiction to Deuteronomic law, was explained by the fact that he did not have access to the sealed scroll (CD 5.5).

The view of an eternal kingship promised to David in the Deuteronomistic History, along with texts such as Psalm 89, Isaiah 11:1–10, and Jeremiah 33:14–26, provided theological material from which messianic expectations were developed in both Judaism and Christianity. Textual evidence suggests that messianism was not actively expressed until the first century B.C.E. (Pomykala 1995; Collins 1995). However, Psalm of Solomon 17 (Ps. Sol. 17), a text from Qumran dating to the Herodian period, offers explicit exegesis on 2 Samuel 7, among other biblical texts, as a way to challenge the legitimacy of any non-Davidic rulers (Atkinson 2000). The language of father and son found within the promise to David was interpreted in Christian tradition as the relationship between God and Jesus, who was, according to this view, the inheritor of the Davidic promise. In the gospel of Matthew, the genealogical connection between Jesus and David is made explicit (Matt 1:1–17).

Rabbinic traditions about David sought to make sense of the negative and positive pictures of him presented in the Samuel narratives. In a rabbinic commentary on the psalms (Midrash Tehillim), the David tradition was expanded to focus both on his desire to build the Temple and as a person who was often engaged in prayer from a very early age (Menn 2004). Several early Jewish texts attest an image of David as a rabbi, a man who devoted himself to study of Torah, a model of devotion and piety (e.g., Ber. 3b and y. 1, 2d, cited in Ginzberg pp. 101 and 262). David's actions were deemed to be exemplary. Even his affair with Bathsheba was evaluated as a means by which others might learn how to truly repent (ʿAbod. Zar. 4b-5a, cited in Ginzberg). Thus, even in sinning David was a model for future generations.

Similarly, early Christian interpreters saw David in a very optimistic light. David's role as a musician was evidence of the Holy Spirit's work, according to Gregory the Great; and for Augustine David provided a model for young men of the church to devote themselves to study of the church's music. David's encounter with Goliath presented nothing less than a type for Christ: Bede saw David as modeling humility while Caesarius of Arles saw David's battle as symbolic of Jesus’ victory over the devil. David's sin with Bathsheba, rather than detracting from the positive role that David played, was used as a model for Christian penance in the view of Augustine and many other early Christian writers (Franke 2005).

Later medieval conceptions of kingship as divinely given were similarly associated with the Davidic dynasty and the divine blessing on it. The idealized model of David was also used by Martin Bucer as instructive device, a means of persuading European rulers to act according to his understanding of Christian leadership (Hobbs 2003). Many artistic representations of David have focused on one of two aspects: the young David—often portraying him as shepherd, poet, or hero over Goliath—or David in old age (O'Kane 1998, p. 326). Michelangelo's statue

1 and 2 Samuel

David Victorious over Goliath (1 Sam 17:1–58).

Painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, c. 1600.


view larger image

David and Caravaggio's David and Goliath both portray the young king as a heroic figure. Other artists have focused on other episodes from his early life, including Rembrandt's Meeting with Jonathan where David's youth is emphasized, and Reuben's artistic representation of David's encounter with Abigail. German woodcuts from the fifteenth century depict David as an ideal king, his strength providing a prototype for contemporary rulers. In the twentieth century Lipchitz sculpted David and Goliath as an embodiment of an anti-fascist sentiment (O'Kane). The complex portrayal of David in the biblical accounts included a great number of images, including gentle shepherd, a divinely favored king, a pious poet, and an adulterer, which have provided the resources for a long history of interpretation of David as a model figure.

Although much of the history of David has viewed him in the same positive light that the Deuteronomistic History takes in its portrayal, in recent scholarship on David the view has changed quite dramatically. With the identification of the History of David's Rise, source-critical scholars became much more skeptical about the historicity of its account of David. They saw behind it a kind of apologetic for a man who was far from the ideal presented in Dtr. The positive rhetoric about the person of David was read as propaganda that sought to address criticisms that were leveled at David. According to this view, David was not the gentle shepherd and divinely ordained ruler but a ruthless and violent dictator (Halpern 2001; McKenzie 2000). Although this has not gone entirely unchallenged (see, e.g., Short 2010), this understanding of David marks a sharp contrast with a long tradition of viewing him as an idealized monarch.



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Rebecca S. Hancock