1 Samuel - Introduction
First Samuel and Second Samuel were originally a single work narrating the beginning of the monarchy and the reigns of its first two kings, Saul and David. They were divided into two books in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint), and were named after Samuel, who plays a prominent role in the first half of the work, and were even attributed to his authorship. The name is not entirely appropriate, however, since Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends ( 25.1 ).
First Samuel has three sections built around its principal characters, Samuel (chs 1–7), Saul (chs 8–15), and David (chs 16–31). Samuel is a transitional figure—the last of the judges and the prophet who anoints Saul and then announces his rejection by the LORD and anoints David in his place. Saul is a tragic figure—plucked from obscurity and thrust into a position of power for which he ultimately proves unfit. David is the focal figure of 1 Samuel, for whom both Samuel and Saul pave the way. Like Saul, he is presented as humble and without personal ambition for kingship. However, while Saul was initially the divinely designated ruler, in the end he fell out of divine favor and “the LORD was with David”—a major theme in the book.
Most scholars view 1–2 Samuel as part of a larger original composition called the Deuteronomistic History, which encompasses the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings and relates Israel's history from the conquest under Joshua to the end of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (see pp. 310–11 HB ). The Deuteronomistic History is a theological history; it evaluates Israel's past according to the principles of the book of Deuteronomy, with which it begins. It stresses such matters as obedience to the law and God's choice of Jerusalem as the central place of worship for Israel and of David and his descendants as its kings.
The Deuteronomistic History was composed by one or more nameless “Deuteronomists,” probably in the exile, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, though some scholars date its initial edition to the reign of King Josiah in the late seventh century. The Deuteronomist(s) edited various traditions into a single, running historical account. They occasionally inserted speeches or commentary in their own distinctive Deuteronomistic style into the narrative. Examples of Deuteronomistic style in 1 Samuel are 8.8 (the Exodus), 8.12 (the people crying out), and 12.14–15 (the review of Israel's history and the command to “heed the voice of the LORD”).
First and Second Samuel are a literary masterpiece, but they may also contain genuine history. While they were written hundreds of years after the events they describe, they seem to contain older source material. Some scholars have suggested that an old “Ark Narrative” underlies 4.1–7.1 , that a cycle of stories about Saul and his reign is behind chs 8–15, and that chs 16–31 are based on a “History of David's Rise.” These documents are theoretical reconstructions, and the exact nature of the sources used by the Deuteronomistic remains uncertain.
The central character of the Deuteronomistic History is David. The Deuteronomistic(s) explained the long duration of the Davidic dynasty theologically as the result of a divine promise to David himself (see 2 Sam 7 ). David may also have been viewed as the model for the restoration of the monarchy after the crisis of the exile. The pro‐Davidic tone of 1 Samuel is evident. While Saul falters at every step, David can do no wrong. God abandons Saul but is constantly with David. At some stage in its development the section dealing with David's rise seems to have been designed as an “apology” or defense of David and his kingship. The charge that David usurped the throne to which he had no hereditary right and did so through multiple assassinations is subtly and effectively addressed in 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. The reader, who may draw closer to actual history by asking whether Saul was really as bad and David as innocent as their portraits in 1 Samuel indicate, is aided in answering such questions by materials presented in the Deuteronomistic History.