1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Saul

SAUL (Heb. shā’ūl, “asked”), in the Old Testament, son of Kish, and king of Israel.[1] His history is closely interwoven with that of the prophet Samuel and the Judaean king David. Two distinct accounts are given of his rise. In one Samuel, after defeating the Philistines, rules as the last “judge” of Israel; the people demand a king, and Saul, a young giant of Benjamin, is chosen by lot; the choice is confirmed when he delivers Tabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites (1 Sam. i.-viii., X. 17-27, xi., xii.). In the other, Saul is raised up by Yahweh to deliver Israel from a sore Philistine oppression. Samuel, a seer of local fame, previously unknown to Saul, gives him the divine commission, and ultimately a complete victory is gained which is celebrated by the erection of an altar (ix. 1-x. 16, xiii. seq.). See further Samuel. Once king, Saul achieves conquests over the surrounding states, and the brief summary in 1 Sam. xiv. 47-51 may be supplemented by 2 Sam. i. 19 sqq., Where the brave deeds of the loving pair Saul and his son Jonathan, and their untimely death, form the subject of an old poem which vividly describes the feelings of a prostrate nation. Saul and his sons fell in the battle on Mt. Gilboa in the north and the land was thrown into confusion (1 Sam. xxxi.). Iabesh-Gilead, mindful of its debt, secretly carried away the dead bodies (cf. 2 Sam. xxi. 12 seq.), and Abner the commander hurriedly removed the surviving son, Ishbosheth,[2] to Mahanaim and at length succeeded in establishing his power over all Israel north of Jerusalem (2 Sam. ii. 8 seq.). But the sequel is lost in the more popular accounts of the rise of David.

Little old tradition is preserved of the house of Saul. The interest now lies in the prominence of Samuel, and more particularly in the coming supremacy of the Judaean king David (see the introductory verse 1 Sam. xiv. 52); as a result of this Saul is depicted in less sympathetic colours, his pettiness and animosity stand in strong contrast to David's chivalry and resignation, and in the melancholy Benjamite court with its rivalry and jealousy, the romantic attachment between David and Jonathan forms the one redeeming feature. The great Israelite disaster is foreshadowed in a thrilling narrative of Saul's visit to the since famous Witch of Endor (1 Sam. xxviii.). Israel had lostits mainstay through the death of Samuel (cf. xii. 23), and the king, uneasy at the approach of the enemy, invoked the shade of the prophet only to learn that his cause was lost 'through his own sin. The incident is now connected with David's' nearing supremacy, and refers to a previous act of disobedience in his Amalekite campaign. In a detailed account of Saul's expedition |'we learn that his failure to carry out Yahweh's commands to the letter had brought the prophet's denunciation (cf. Ahab, 1 Kings xx. 42), and that he had lost the divine favour (xv.). This in turn ignores an earlier occasion when Saul is condemned and the loss of his kingdom foretold ere he had accomplished the task t o which he had been called (xiii. 8-14).[3]

This later tendency to subordinate the history of Saul to that of David appears especially in a number of detailed and popular narratives encircling Judah and Benjamin, superseding other traditions which give an entirely different representation of David's move from the south to Jerusalem. Consequently it proves impossible to present a consistent outline of the history. Instead of the sequel to Ishbaal's recovery of power, and instead of David's incessant conflicts north of Hebron, ending with the capture of Jerusalem and its district from a strange people (2 Sam. v. xxi. 15-22, xxiii. 8 sqq.), we meet with the stories of the war with Benjamin and Israel, of the intrigue of Abner (q.v.) and the vengeance of Joab (q.v.). While Saul's death had left Israel in the hands of the Philistines, it is David who accomplishes the deliverance of the people (2 Sam. iii. 18, xix. 9). So, also, in accordance with his generous nature, David takes vengeance upon the Amalekite who had slain Saul (2 Sam. i. 6-10, contrast the details in 1 Sam. xxxi.), and upon the treacherous aliens who had murdered Ishbaal (iv.). When king at Jerusalem (seven years after Saul's death) he seeks out the Survivors of Saul in order to fulfil his covenant with Jonathan. Jonathan's son Mephibosheth[4] is found in safe-keeping east of the Jordan and is installed at court (ix.). Another impression is given by the relations between David and Saul's daughter, Michal (vi. 16 sqq., cf. also the “ wives ” in xii. 8), and we learn from yet another source that he handed over Saul's sons to the Gibeonites who had previously suffered from the king's bloodthirsty zeal (xxi. 1–14). On this occasion (the date is quite uncertain) the remains of Saul and Jonathan were removed from Jabesh-Gilead and solemnly interred in Benjamin. During Absalom's revolt, Mephibosheth entertained some hopes of reviving the fortunes of his house (xvi. 1-4, xix. 24–30), and two Benjamites, Shimei and Sheba, appear (xvi. 5 sqq., xix. 16–23, xx). But there is no concerted action; the three are independent figures whose presence indicates that Judaean supremacy over Israel was not accepted without a protest, and that the spilt blood of the house of Saul was laid upon the shoulders of David. Henceforth Saul's family disappears from the pages of history. But a genealogy of his descendants (1 Chron. viii. 33-40, ix. 39-44) tells of “ mighty men of valour, archers,” who with their sons number 150 strong, and this interesting post-exilic list is suggestive for the vitality of the traditions of their ancestors. In surveying the earlier traditions of Saul's rise, it is clear that the desperate state of Israel leaves little room for the quiet (picture of the inexperienced youth wandering around in search 0 his father's asses, or for the otherwise valuable representation of popular cult at the local sanctuaries (1 Sam. ix.). Since it is Saul who is commissioned to deliver Israel, it is disconcerting to meet his grown-up son who slays the Philistine “ garrison ” (rather “ officer " ) in Geba (Gibeah, xiii. 3 seq.), and takes the initiative in overthrowing the Philistines (xiv. 1-16); yet the account which follows of Jonathan's violation of Saul's hasty vow and its consequences prepares us for the subsequent stories of the unfriendly relations between the two. Finally the absence of any prelude to the Philistine oppression is perplexing. On the other hand, Judg. X. 6 sqq. (now the introduction to the Gileadite Jephthah and the Ammonites) contain references (now obscure) to the distress caused by the Philistines, the straitened circumstances of the people, and their penitent appeal to Yahweh. When at length Yahweh “ could bear the misery of Israel no longer,” it is evident that in the original connexion some deliverer was raised. But the sequel cannot be found in the Danite Samson, the priest Eli, or the seer Samuel, and it is only in the history of Saul that Yahweh's answer to the people's cry leads to the appointment of the saviour. The traces of the older accounts of Saul's rise and the fragments in the highly composite introduction in judg. x. (ov. 7a, Sb, 10-16) agree so materially that unless both the prelude to the former and the sequel to the latter have been lost it is probable that the two were once closely connected, but have been severed in the course of the literary growth of the traditions. See further Samuel, Books, § 6.

The development of views regarding the pre-monarchical “ judges,” the rise of the monarchy and its place in the religion of Yahweh have been factors quite as powerful as the growth of national tradition of the first king of Israel and the subordination of the narratives in order to give greater prominence to the first king of the Judaean dynasty. Although a considerable body of native tradition encircled the great Israelite heroes (cf. Ahab, Jehu, the wars of Aramaeans and Ammonites), Saul is pre-eminently a Benjamite figure. From the biblical evidence alone it is far from certain that this is the earliest phase. Saul's deliverance of Jabesh-Gilead from Ammon and his burial may suggest (on the analogy of Jephthah) that Gilead regarded him as its own. Some connexion between Gilead and Benjamin may be inferred from Judg. xxi., and, indeed, the decimation of the latter (see ibid. xx. 4, 7, xxi. 13 seq.) seems to link the appearance of the tribe in the earlier history with its new rise under Saul. But the history of the tribe as such in this period is shrouded in obscurity, and the Benjamite cycle appears to represent quite secondary and purely local forms of the great founder of the Israelite monarchy, whose traditions contain features which link him now with another founder of Israel—the warrior Joshua, and now with the still more famous invader and conqueror Jacob.

See S. A. Cook, Critical Notes on O. T. History (Index, s.v.), and art. Jews, §§ 6-8, Samuel (Books).  (S. A. C.) 

  1. On the name Saul, also that of an Edomite king (Gen. xxxvi. 37'seq.), see SAMUEL note 1. Kish seems to be identical with the Arabic personal and god-name Kais.
  2. Ishbosheth, i.e. lshbaal, “man of Baal,” cf., 1 Chron. viii. 33.
  3. For other explanations see 1 Chron. x. 13 seq. (which refers to 1 Sam. xxviii.), and Josephus, Ant. vi. 14, 9 (a reference to Saul’s massacre of the priests at Nob, 1 Sam. xxii., a crime which is not brought to his charge in biblical history and probably belongs so one of the latest traditions).
  4. Perhaps Meribaal, “man of Baal,” or Meribbaal, “Baal contends”; for the intentional alteration of the name cf. note 2 above, and see Baal.