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Samuel, The Books of

RELATED: Abner, Bible, David, Goliath, Hannah, Jerusalem, Jonathan, Kingdom of Judah, Old Testament, Philistines, Samuel, Saul
AUTHOR: Gad, Nathan, Samuel
READ: American Standard Version, King James Version, New American Standard Bible
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Easton's Bible Dictionary

The LXX. translators regarded the books of Samuel and of Kings as forming one continuous history, which they divided into four books, which they called "Books of the Kingdom." The Vulgate version followed this division, but styled them "Books of the Kings." These books of Samuel they accordingly called the "First" and "Second" Books of Kings, and not, as in the modern Protestant versions, the "First" and "Second" Books of Samuel.

The authors of the books of Samuel were probably Samuel, Gad, and Nathan. Samuel penned the first twenty-four chapters of the first book. Gad, the companion of David ( 1 Samuel 22:5 ), continued the history thus commenced; and Nathan completed it, probably arranging the whole in the form in which we now have it ( 1 Chronicles 29:29 ).

The contents of the books. The first book comprises a period of about a hundred years, and nearly coincides with the life of Samuel. It contains

(1) the history of Eli (1 Samuel 1 - 4);

(2) the history of Samuel (1 Samuel 5 - 12);

(3) the history of Saul, and of David in exile (1 Samuel 13 - 31).

The second book, comprising a period of perhaps fifty years, contains a history of the reign of David

(1) over Judah (2 Samuel 1 - 4), and

(2) over all Israel (2 Samuel 5 - 24), mainly in its political aspects.

The last four chapters of Second Samuel may be regarded as a sort of appendix recording various events, but not chronologically.

These books do not contain complete histories. Frequent gaps are met with in the record, because their object is to present a history of the kingdom of God in its gradual development, and not of the events of the reigns of the successive rulers. It is noticeable that the section ( 2 Samuel 11:2 - 12 : 29 ) containing an account of David's sin in the matter of Bathsheba is omitted in the corresponding passage in 1 Chronicles 20 .


Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names

(no entry)


Smith's Bible Dictionary

are not separated from each other in the Hebrew MSS., and, from a critical point of view, must be regarded as one book. The present, division was first made in the Septuagint translation, and was adopted in the Vulgate from the Septuagint. The book was called by the Hebrews: "Samuel," probably because the birth and life of Samuel were the subjects treated of in the beginning of the work. The books of Samuel commence with the history of Eli and Samuel, and contain all account of the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy and of the reigns of Saul and David, with the exception of the last days of the latter monarch which are related in the beginning of the books of Kings, of which those of Samuel form the previous portion. [KINGS, BOOKS OF]

Authorship and date of the book --

As to the authorship. In common with all the historical books of the Old Testament, except the beginning of Nehemiah, the book of Samuel contains no mention in the text of the name of its author. It is indisputable that the title "Samuel" does not imply that the prophet was the author of the book of Samuel as a whole; for the death of Samuel is recorded in the beginning of the 25th chapter. In our own time the most prevalent idea in the Anglican Church seems to have been that the first twenty-four chapters of the book of Samuel were written by the prophet himself, and the rest of the chapters by the prophets Nathan and Gad. This, however, is doubtful.

But although the authorship cannot be ascertained with certainty, it appears clear that, in its present form it must have been composed subsequent to the secession of the ten tribes, B.C. 975. This results from the passage in ( 1 Samuel 27:6 ) wherein it is said of David, "Then Achish gave him Ziklag that day wherefore Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah to this day:" for neither Saul, David nor Solomon is in a single instance called king of Judah simply. On the other hand, it could hardly have been written later than the reformation of Josiah, since it seems to have been composed at a time when the Pentateuch was not acted on as the rule of religious observances, which received a special impetus at the finding of the Book of the Law at the reformation of Josiah. All, therefore, that can be asserted with any certainty is that the book, as a whole, can scarcely have been composed later than the reformation of Josiah, and that it could not have existed in its present form earlier than the reign of Rehoboam. The book of Samuel is one of the best specimens of Hebrew prose in the golden age of Hebrew literature. In prose it holds the same place which Joel and the undisputed prophecies of Isaiah hold in poetical or prophetical language.


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


In the Hebrew Canon and enumeration of the sacred books of the Old Testament, the two Books of Samuel were reckoned as one, and formed the third division of the Earlier Prophets (nebhi'im ri'shonim). The one book bore the title "Samuel" (shemu'el), not because Samuel was believed to be the author, but because his life and acts formed the main theme of the book, or at least of its earlier part. Nor was the Book of Samuel separated by any real division in subject-matter or continuity of style from the Book of Kings, which in the original formed a single book, not two as in the English and other modern versions. The history was carried forward without interruption; and the record of the life of David, begun in Samuel, was completed in Kings. This continuity in the narrative of Israelite history was made more prominent in the Septuagint, where the four books were comprised under one title and were known as the four "Books of the Kingdoms" (bibloi basileion). This name was probably due to the translators or scholars of Alexandria. The division into four books, but not the Greek title, was then adopted in the Latin translation, where, however, the influence of Jerome secured the restoration of the Hebrew names, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings (Regum). Jerome's example was universally followed, and the fourfold division with the Hebrew titles found a place in all subsequent versions of the Old Testament Scriptures. Ultimately, the distinction of Samuel and Kings each into two books was received also into printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. This was done for the first time in the editio princeps of the Rabbinic Bible, printed at Venice in 1516 - 17 AD.


The narrative of the two Books of Samuel covers a period of about a hundred years, from the close of the unsettled era of the Judges to the establishment and consolidation of the kingdom under David. It is therefore a record of the changes, national and constitutional, which accompanied this growth and development of the national life, at the close of which the Israelites found themselves a united people under the rule of a king to whom all owed allegiance, controlled and guided by more or less definitely established institutions and laws. This may be described as the general purpose and main theme of the books, to trace the advance of the people under divine guidance to a state of settled prosperity and union in the promised land, and to give prominence to theocratic rule which was the essential condition of Israel's life as the people of God under all the changing forms of early government. The narrative therefore centers itself around the lives of the three men, Samuel, Saul and David, who were chiefly instrumental in the establishment of the monarchy, and to whom it was due more than to any others that Israel emerged from the depressed and disunited state in which the tribes had remained during the period of the rule of the Judges, and came into possession of a combined and effective national life. If the formal separation therefore into two books be disregarded, the history of Israel as it is narrated in "Samuel" is most naturally divided into three parts, which are followed by an appendix recording words and incidents which for some reason had not found a place in the general narrative:


To present a brief and clear analysis of these Books of Samuel is not altogether easy. For as in the Pentateuch and the earlier historical Books of Joshua and Judges, repetitions and apparently duplicate accounts of the same event are found, which interfere with the chronological development of the narrative. Even the main divisions, as stated above, to a certain extent overlap.

1. Life of Samuel (1 Samuel 1 - 15)

(1) Visit of Hannah to Shiloh, and promise of the birth of a son (1 Samuel 1:1-19); birth and weaning of Samuel, and presentation to Eli at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:19-28).

(2) Hannah's song or prayer (1 Samuel 2:1-10); ministry of Samuel to Eli the priest (1 Samuel 2:11,18-21,26); the evil practices of the sons of Eli and warning to Eli of the consequences to his house (1 Samuel 2:12-17,22-25,27-36).

(3) Samuel's vision at the sanctuary and his induction to the prophetic office (1 Samuel 3:1-4:1).

(4) Defeat of the Israelites by the Philistines, capture of the ark of God, death of the two sons of Eli and of Eli himself (1 Samuel 4).

(5) Discomfiture of Dagon before the ark of God at Ashdod; return of the ark to Beth-shemesh, with expiatory offerings of golden tumors and golden mice; its twenty years' sojourn at Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel 5:1-7:4).

(6) Assembly of Israel under Samuel at Mizpah, and victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:5-14); Samuel established as judge over all Israel (1 Samuel 7:15-17).

(7) Samuel's sons appointed to be judges and the consequent demand of the people for a king; Samuel's warning concerning the character of the king for whom they asked (1 Samuel 8).

(8) Saul's search for, the lost asses of his father and meeting with Samuel (1 Samuel 9).

(9) Saul is anointed by Samuel to be ruler over the people of Israel, and receives the gift of prophecy (1 Samuel 10:1-16); second assembly of the people under Samuel at Mizpah, and election of Saul to be king (1 Samuel 10:17-27).

(10) Victory of Saul over the Ammonites and deliverance of Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-13); Saul made king in Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:14,15).

(11) Samuel's address to the people in Gilgal, defending his own life and action, and exhorting them to fear and serve the Lord (1 Samuel 12).

(12) Saul at Gilgal offers the burnt offering in Samuel's absence; gathering of the Philistines to battie at Michmash; the Israelites' lack of weapons of iron (1 Samuel 13).

(13) Jonathan's surprise of the Philistine army, and their sudden panic (1 Samuel 14:1-23); Saul's vow, unwittingly broken by Jonathan, whom the people deliver from the fatal consequences (1 Samuel 14:24-45); victories of Saul over his enemies on every side (1 Samuel 14:46-52).

(14) War against Amalek, and Saul's disobedience to the divine command to exterminate the Amaleldtes (1 Samuel 15).

2. Reign and Death of Saul (1 Samuel 16 - 2 Samuel 1)

(1) Anointing of David as Saul's successor (1 Samuel 16:1-13); his summons to the court of Saul to act as minstrel before the king (1 Samuel 16:14-23).

(2) David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

(3) The love of David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4); the former's advancement and fame, the jealousy of Saul, and his attempt to kill David (1 Samuel 18:5-16,29,30); David's marriage to the daughter of Saul (1 Samuel 18:17-28).

(4) Saul's renewed jealousy of David and second attempt to kill him (1 Samuel 19:1-17); David's escape to Ramah, whither the king followed (1 Samuel 19:18-24).

(5) Jonathan's warning to David of his father's resolve and their parting (1 Samuel 20).

(6) David at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-9); and with Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 21:10-15).

(7) David's band of outlaws at Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1,2); his provision for the safety of his father and mother in Moab (1 Samuel 22:3-5); vengeance of Saul on those who had helped David (1 Samuel 22:6-23).

(8) Repeated attempts of Saul to take David (1 Samuel 23; 24).

(9) Death of Samuel (1 Samuel 25:1); Abigail becomes David's wife, after the death of her husband Nabal (1 Samuel 25:2-44).

(10) Saul's further pursuit of David (1 Samuel 26).

(11) David's sojourn with Achish of Gath (1 Samuel 27:1-28:2; 1 Samuel 28:3-25).

(12) David's pursuit of the Amalekites who had raided Ziklag, and victory (1 Samuel 30).

(13) Battle between the Philistines and Israel in Mt. Gilboa and death of Saul (1 Samuel 31).

(14) News of Saul's death brought to David at Ziklag (2 Samuel 1:1-16); David's lamentation over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:17-27).

3. Reign of David (2 Samuel 2 - 20)

(1) David's Seven and a Half Years' Reign over Judah in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1-5:3).

(a) Consecration of David as king in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1-4 a); message to the men of Jabesh-gilead (2 Samuel 2:4-7); Ish-bosheth made king over Northern Israel (2 Samuel 2:8-11); defeat of Abner and death of Asahel (2 Samuel 2:12-32).

(b) Increase of the fame and prosperity of David, and the names of his sons (2 Samuel 3:1-5); Abner's submission to David, and treacherous murder of the former by Joab (2 Samuel 3:6-39).

(c) Murder of Ish-bosheth and David's vengeance upon his murderers (2 Samuel 4:1-3,5-12); notice of the escape of Mephibosheth, when Saul and Jonathan were slain at Jezreel (2 Samuel 4:4).

(d) David accepted as king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

(2) Reign of David in Jerusalem over United Israel (2 Samuel 5:4-20:26).

(a) Taking of Jerusalem and victories over the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:4-25).

(b) Return of the ark to the city of David (2 Samuel 6).

(c) David's purpose to build a temple for the Lord (2 Samuel 7:1-3); the divine answer by the prophet Nathan, and the king's prayer (2 Samuel 7:4-29).

(d) Victories over the Philistines, Syrians, and other peoples (2 Samuel 8).

(e) David's reception of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 9).

(f) Defeat of the Ammonites and Syrians by the men of Israel under the command of Joab (2 Samuel 10:1-11:1).

(g) David and Uriah, the latter's death in battle, and David's marriage with Bath-sheba (2 Samuel 11:2-27).

(h) Nathan's parable and David's conviction of sin (2 Samuel 12:1-15); the king's grief and intercession for his sick son (2 Samuel 12:15-25); siege and capture of Rabbah, the Ammonite capital (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

(i) Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22); Absalom's revenge and murder of Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-36); flight of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:37-39).

(j) Return of Absalom to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:1-24); his beauty, and reconciliation with the king (2 Samuel 14:25-33).

(k) Absalom's method of ingratiating himself with the people (2 Samuel 15:1-6); his revolt and the flight of the king from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:7-31); meeting with Hushai (2 Samuel 15:32-37); Absalom in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15:37).

(l) David's' meeting with Ziba (2 Samuel 16:1-4), and Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-14); counsel of Ahitophel and Hushai (2 Samuel 16:15-17:14); the news carried to David (2 Samuel 17:15-22); death of Ahitophel (2 Samuel 17:23).

(m) David at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24-29).

(n) The revolt subdued, death of Absalom, and reception by David of the tidings (2 Samuel 18:1-19:8).

(o) Return of the king to Jerusalem, and meetings with Shimei, Mephibosheth, and Barzillai the Gileadite (2 Samuel 19:8-43).

(p) Revolt of Sheba the Benjamite, and its suppression by Joab with the death of Amasa (2 Samuel 20:1,2,4-22); the king's treatment of the concubines left at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:3); the names of his officers (2 Samuel 20:23-26).

4. Appendix (2 Samuel 21 - 24)

(1) Seven male descendants of Saul put to death at the instance of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-14); incidents of wars with the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

(2) David's song of thanksgiving and praise (2 Samuel 22).

(3) The "last words" of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7); names and exploits of David's "mighty men" (2 Samuel 23:8-39).

(4) The king's numbering of the people, the resulting plague, and the dedication of the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24).


The natural inference from the character and contents of the Books of Samuel, as thus reviewed, is that the writer has made use of authorities, "sources" or "documents," from which he has compiled a narrative of the events which it was his desire to place on record. The same characteristics are noticeable here which are found in parts of the Pentateuch and of the Books of Joshua and Judges, that in some instances duplicate or parallel accounts are given of one and the same event, which seems to be regarded from different points of view and is narrated in a style which is more or less divergent from that of the companion record. Examples of this so-called duplication are more frequent in the earlier parts of the books than in the later. There are presented, for instance, two accounts of Saul's election as king, and an act of disobedience is twice followed, apparently quite independently, by the sentence of rejection. Independent also and hardly consistent narratives are given of David's introduction to Saul (1 Samuel 16:14 - 23; 17:31 , 55); and the two accounts of the manner of the king's death can be imperfectly reconciled only on the hypothesis that the young Amalekite told a false tale to David in order to magnify his own part in the matter. In these and other instances little or no attempt seems to be made to harmonize conflicting accounts, or to reconcile apparent discrepancies. In good faith the writer set down the records as he found them, making extracts or quotations from his authorities on the several events as they occurred, and thus building up his own history on the basis of the freest possible use of the materials and language of those who had preceded him.

However alien such a method of composition may appear to modern thought and usage in the West, it is characteristic of all early oriental writing. It would be almost impossible to find in any eastern literature a work of any length or importance which was not thus silently indebted to its predecessors, had incorporated their utterances, and had itself in turn suffered interpolation at the hands of later editors and transcribers. Accordingly, early Hebrew historical literature also, while unique in its spirit, conformed in its methods to the practice of the age and country in which it was composed. It would have been strange if it had been otherwise.

Two Main and Independent Sources: Apart from the appendix and minor additions, of which Hannah's song or psalm in 1 Samuel 2 is one, the main portion of the book is derived from two independent sources, which themselves in all probability formed part of a larger whole, a more or less consecutive history or histories of Israel. These sources may, however, have been, as others think, rather of a biographical nature, presenting and enforcing the teaching of the acts and experience of the great leaders and rulers of the nation. The parallelism and duplication of the narrative is perhaps most evident in the history of Saul. The broad lines of distinction between the two may be defined without much difficulty or uncertainty. The greater part of the first eight chapters of 1 Samuel is in all probability derived from the later of these two sources, to which is to be assigned more or less completely 1 Samuel 10 - 12:15; 17 - 19; 21 - 25; 28 and 2 Samuel 1 - 7. The earlier source has contributed 1 Samuel 9 with parts of 1 Samuel 10 ; 11 ; 13 ; 14 ; 16 ; 20 and considerable portions of 1 Samuel 22 ; 23 ; 26 - 27; 29 - 31; 2 Samuel 1 (in part); 2 - 6; 9 - 20. Some details have probably been derived from other sources, and additions made by the editor or editors. This general determination of sources rests upon a difference of standpoint and religious conception, and upon slighter varieties of style which are neither so pronounced nor so readily distinguished as in the books of the Pentateuch. It is reasonable also to bear in mind that a close and exact division or line of demarcation in every detail is not to be expected.


Attempts which have been made to determine the date of these two sources, or to identify them with one or other of the principal authorities from which the historical narratives of the Pentateuch are derived, have not been convincing. In the judgment of some, however, the later of the two sources should be regarded as a continuation of the narrative or document known as E, and the earlier be assigned to J. The style of the latter has much in common with the style of J, and is clear, vigorous and poetical; the religious conceptions also that are embodied and taught are of a simple and early type. The later writing has been supposed to give indications of the influence of the prophetic teaching of the 8th century. The indications, however, are not sufficiently decisive to enable a final judgment to be formed. If it is borne in mind that J and E represent rather schools of teaching and thought than individual writers, the characteristics of the two sources of the Books of Sam would not be out of harmony with the view that from these two schools respectively were derived the materials out of which the history was compiled. The "sources" would then, according to the usual view, belong to the 9th and 8th centuries before the Christian era; and to a period not more than a century or a century and a half later should be assigned the final compilation and completion of the book as it is contained in the Hebrew Canon of Scripture.


For an exact estimate and understanding of the history and text of the Books of Samuel count must further be taken of the Greek version or versions. In the Septuagint there is great divergence from the Hebrew Massoretic text, and it is probable that in the course of transmission the Greek has been exposed to corruption to a very considerable extent. At least two recensions of the Greek text are in existence, represented by the Vatican and Alexandrian manuscripts respectively, of which the latter is nearer to the Hebrew original, and has apparently been conformed to it at a later period with a view to removing discrepancies; and this process has naturally impaired its value as a witness to the primary shape of the Greek text itself. There are therefore three existing types of the text of Samuel; the Massoretic Hebrew and Codex Vaticanus and Codex Alexandrinus in the Greek. The original form of the Septuagint, if it could be recovered, would represent a text anterior to the Massoretic recension, differing from, but not necessarily superior to, the latter. For the restoration of the Greek text, the Old Latin, where it is available, affords valuable help. It is evident then that in any given instance the agreement of these three types or recensions of the text is the strongest possible witness to the originality and authenticity of a reading; but that the weight attaching to the testimony of A will not in general, on account of the history of its text, be equivalent to that of either of the other two.


The religious teaching and thought of the two Books of Samuel it is not difficult to summarize. The books are in form a historical record of events; but they are at the same time and more particularly a history conceived with a definite purpose, and made to subserve a definite moral and religious aim. It is not a narrative of events solely, or the preservation of historical detail, that the writer has in view, but rather to elucidate and enforce from Israel's experience the significance of the divine and moral government of the nation. The duty of king and people alike is to obey Yahweh, to render strict and willing deference to His commands, and on this path of obedience alone will national independence and prosperity be secured. With the strongest emphasis, and with uncompromising severity, sin even in the highest places is condemned; and an ideal of righteousness is set forth in language and with an earnestness which recalls the exhortations of Deuteronomy. Thus the same is true of the Books of Samuel as is manifest in the preceding books of the canonical Old Testament: they are composed with a didactic aim. The experience of the past is made to afford lessons of warning and encouragement for the present. To the writer or writers--the history of the development and upbuilding of the Israelite kingdom is pregnant with a deeper meaning than lies on the surface, and this meaning he endeavors to make plain to his readers through the record. The issues of the events and the events themselves are under the guidance and control of Yahweh, who always condemns and punishes wrong, but approves and rewards righteousness. Thus the narrative is history utilized to convey moral truth. And its value is to be estimated, not primarily as recording the great deeds of the past, but as conveying ethical teaching; that by means of the history with all its glamor and interest the people may be recalled to a sense of their high duty toward God, and be warned of the inevitable consequences of disobedience to Him.


pon all points of introduction, criticism and interpretation, the commentaries afford abundant and satisfactory guidance. The principal English commentaries. are by H. P. Smith in ICC, Edinburgh, 1899, and S. R. Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text of the Books of Samuel, 2nd edition, Oxford, 1913; A. R. S. Kennedy, "Samuel," New Century Bible, New York, Frowde, 1905; in German by R. Budde, 1902, W. Nowack, 1902, A. Klostermann, 1887. See also the articles "Samuel" in HDB, Encyclopedia Biblica and Jewish Encyclopedia.



abner, absalom, amnon, ark of the covenant, bathsheba, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of 1 samuel, book of 2 samuel, david, david's psalm, death, goliath, jerusalem, joab, jonathan, nathan, philistines, prophet, saul, tamar



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