1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Samuel

SAMUEL, a prominent figure in Old Testament history, was born at Ramah and was dedicated to the service of Yahweh at the sanctuary of Shiloh where his youth was spent with Eli (q.v.).[1] Here he announced the impending fate of the priesthood and gained reputation throughout Israel as a prophet. Best known as “king-maker,” two distinct accounts are preserved of his share in the institution of the monarchy. In one, the Philistines overthrow Israel at Ebenezer near Aphek, Eli’s sons

are slain, and the ark is captured (1 Sam. iv.). After a period of oppression, Samuel suddenly reappears as a great religious leader of Israel, summons the people to return to, Yahweh, and convenes a national assembly at Mizpah. 'The Philistines are defeated at Ebenezer (near Mizpah) through the direct interposition of Yahweh, and Samuel rules peacefully as a theocratic judge (vii). But in his old age the elders demandaking, his sons are corrupt, a monarchy and a military leader are wanted (viii. 3, 5, 20). The request for a monarchy is a deliberate offence against Yahweh (viii. 7, cf. x. 19, xii. 12), nevertheless, an assembly is called, and the people are warned of the drawbacks of monarchical institutions (viii. 11-21; note the milder attitude in Deut. xvii. 14-20). At Mizpah, after another solemn warning, the sacred lot is taken and falls upon Saul of Benjamin, who, however, is not at first unanimously accepted (x. 17-27a). About a month later (x. 2712; see Revised Version, margin), Saul—with Samuel (xi. 7)—leads an army of Israel and Judah to deliver Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites, and is now recognized as king. Samuel in a farewell address formally abdicates his office, reviews the past history, and, after convincing the people of the responsibility they had incurred in choosing a king, promises to remain always their intercessor (xii., cf. Jer. xv. 1). So, according to one view, Samuel’s death marks a vital change in the fortunes of Israel (xxv. 1, xxviii. 3, 6, 15). But, according to an earlier account, instead of a state of peace after the defeat of the Philistines (vii. 14) the people groan under their yoke, and the position of Israel moves Yahweh to pity. Samuel is a local seer consulted by Saul, and is bidden by Yahweh to see in the youth the future ruler. Saul is privately anointed and receives various signs as proof of his new destiny (ix. 1–x. 16). Despite the straitened circumstances of Israel, an army is mustered, a sudden blow is struck at the Philistines, and, as before, supernatural assistance is at hand. The Hebrews who had fled across the Jordan (xiii. 7), or who had sought refuge in caverns (xiii. 6, xiv. 11), or had joined the enemy (xiv. 21), rallied together and a decisive victory is obtained. That these two accounts are absolutely contradictory is now generally recognized by Biblical scholars, and it is to the former (and later) of them that the simple story of Samuel’s youth at Shiloh will belong. Next we find that Samuel’s interest on behalf of the Israelite king is transferred to David, the founder of the Judaean dynasty, and it is his part to announce the rejection of Saul and Yahweh’s new decision (xiii. 7b-15a, xv. 10-35, xxviii. 17), to anoint the young David, and, as head of a small community of prophets, to protect him from the hostility of Saul (xvi. 1-13, xix. 18-24).

All these features in the life of Samuel reflect the varying traditions regarding a figure who, like Elijah and Elisha, held an important place in N. Israelite history. That he was an Ephrathite and lived at Ramah may only be due to the incorporation of one cycle of specifically local tradition; the name of his grandfather Jeroham (or Jeraḥmeel, so Septuagint) suggests a. southern origin, and one may compare the relation between Saul and the Kenites (1 Sam. xv. 6) or Jehu and the Rechabites (2 Kings x. 15). But, although his great victory in 1 Sam. vii. may imply that he was properly a secular leader, comparable to Othniel, Gideon or Jephthah (see 1 Sam. xii. 11, cf. Heb. xi. 32), the idea of non-hereditary rulers over all Israel in the pre-monarchical age is a later theory (see Judges). However, so epoch-making an event as the institution of the monarchy naturally held a prominent place in later ideas and encouraged the growth of tradition. The Saul who became the first king of N. Israel must needs be indebted to the influence of the prophet (cf. Jehu in 2 Kings ix.). While the figure of Samuel grows in grandeur, the disastrous fate of Saul invited explanation, which 15 found in his previous acts of disobedience (1 Sam. xv., xxviii. 16–18; cf. Ahab, 1 Kings xx. 35-43). Further, while on the one side the institution of the monarchy is subsequently regarded as hostile to the preeminence of Yahweh, Samuel’s connexion with the history of David belongs to a relatively late stage in the history of the written traditions where events are viewed from a specifically Judaean aspect. Samuel’s name ultimately becomes a by-word for the inauguration and observance of religious custom (see 1 Chron. ix. 22, xxvl. 28, 2 Chron. xxxv. 18, Ps. xcix. 6, Ecclus. xlvi. 13 sqq.). According to the late post-exilic genealogies he was of Levitical origin (1 Chron. vi. 28, 33). See further David; Samuel, Books of; Saul.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. The name Samuel (Shémziél), on the analogy of Penuel, Reuel, seems to mean “name (i.e. manifestation) of El” (God). Other interpretations are “posterity of God” or “his name (shĕmō; perhaps Yahweh’s) is God.” “Heard of God,” based on 1 Sam. i. 20, is quite impossible and the interpretation of the passage is really only appropriate to Saul (“the asked one”): the two names are sometimes confused in the Septuagint (Envy. tb. col. 4303, n. 3). Ramah is presumably er-Rām, 5 m. N. of Jerusalem (probably the Arimathaea of Matt. xxvii. 57), or Bet Rima, W. of Jiljilia (Gilgal), and N.W. of Beitin, i.e. Bethel (cf. the Ramathaim of 1 Macc. xi. 34).