The Glossary of Terms

1 Samuel & 2 Samuel


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Samuel, The First and Second Books of. O.T. books, originally one book, continuing the story of the people of Israel from The Book of Judges. The books tell about the work of Samuel and the reigns of Saul and David. Some of the material in them about David is also related in the First Book of the Chronicles. As is true of other O.T. books, the writer of Samuel used many different sources in compiling the book. Often he put in, side by side, two versions of a story. Perhaps parts of the sources consisted of records kept in David's court. Unlike the Chronicles, the book presents what is called a prophetic point of view. That is, it is not interested in worship as much as in the actions of the people and of their kings, and the judgments of God on them. The book was probably written in the seventh or sixth century B.C.

Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Samuel, the First and Second Books of, the eighth and ninth books of the Hebrew Bible, ninth and tenth in most English Bibles. Originally Samuel was one book, deriving its name from the great prophet who dominates the early chapters, but when it was translated into Greek, the book was divided into two with the curious result that Samuel does not appear in the second book that bears his name. Together 1 and 2 Samuel describe the rise of kingship in Israel (eleventh century b.c.) and give an account of the life of David.


The First and Second Books of Samuel

Text: The Hebrew text of Samuel that has come down to us is filled with small defects, the result of copyistsí errors over the centuries. Scholars attempt to repair these by study of other witnesses to the original text, especially the ancient translations of Samuel into Greek and other languages. Of special importance for this process are three fragmentary copies of Samuel found among the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran.

The Deuteronomistic History: 1 and 2 Samuel are part of the so-called Deuteronomistic History that extends from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. This long narrative, deriving from the Exile (sixth century b.c.) or slightly earlier, contains a variety of ancient materials brought together and evaluated by editors whose criteria for judgment are drawn from the laws of Deuteronomy. Although Deuteronomistic revision and expansion seem to be less extensive in Samuel than in Judges or Kings, the stories told here have special importance for the larger history because they introduce David, the ideal against whom subsequent kings will be judged, and Jerusalem, the city where God chooses to be worshiped (cf. Deut. 12). Key passages include the oracle against the house of Eli in 1 Sam. 2:27-36, which justifies the subordination of priests from outlying districts to the descendants of Zadok of Jerusalem; the historical review in Samuelís farewell address in 1 Sam. 12:6-25, which belongs to a series of such speeches uttered by major figures in the Deuteronomistic History; and especially the oracle of Nathan in 2 Samuel 7, which asserts the divine election of the Davidic dynasty and warrants the erection of Solomonís Temple.

The Prophetic History: Prior to their incorporation into the Deuteronomistic History many of the materials in 1 and 2 Samuel seem to have been part of an extended narrative reflecting a point of view that stressed the importance of the role of the prophets in Israel, often at the expense of the kings. Some of the ideas expressed in this narrative anticipate aspects of Deuteronomistic thought, and its distinctive ideas are sometimes thought of as belonging to the Deuteronomistic component of Samuel. Some scholars think of this prophetic editing as having taken place after the composition of the primary edition of the Deuteronomistic History. In much of 1 and 2 Samuel, especially where the leadership of Israel is at issue, the prophetic history has given preliminary structure to the larger stories. It is most apparent in the story of Samuelís birth and childhood (1 Sam. 1-3), the account of the peopleís demand for a king (1 Sam. 8), the reports of the rejection of Saul (1 Sam. 15) and anointing of David (1 Sam. 16), and Nathanís condemnation of the house of David (2 Sam. 12).

Original Narrative Sources: Certain early narratives upon which the prophetic and Deuteronomistic editors of Samuel drew can be identified. These include the Ark narrative, the Saul cycle, the story of Davidís rise, and the succession narrative.

The Ark narrative, an account of the capture and return of Godís Ark found in 1 Sam. 4:1-7:1, is sometimes thought to include parts of 2 Samuel 6. The story shows that the Ark was lost to the Philistines in battle because the corruption of the cult at Shiloh (cf. 1 Sam. 2:12-17, 22-25) had provoked God, who used the occasion to afflict the Philistines with plague.

The Saul cycle, a loose collection of materials about Saulís early career, is most visible now in the tale of the lost asses of Kish (1 Sam. 9-10) and the stories about Saulís wars with the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11) and Philistines (1 Sam. 13-14).

The story of Davidís rise, an extended account of Davidís rise from court musician to king (1 Sam. 16:14-2 Sam. 5:10), places special emphasis on Davidís innocence of wrongdoing in the suspicious circumstances of his alienation from Saul, his career as an outlaw and Philistine mercenary, and his acquisition of power after the violent deaths of those who stood in his way. It may have been composed during the reign of David as a court apology, defending David and his throne against the charges of his enemies. Some scholars, however, think of the apologetic material as secondary, part of a late redaction favorable to David.

The succession narrative is a long narrative explaining Solomonís acquisition of his fatherís throne after the demise of his older brothers (2 Sam. 9-1 Kings 2). Until recently scholars regarded this material as a unified history composed by an eyewitness who impartially reported events both favorable and unfavorable to the royal family. The current tendency, however, is to question both the unity and objectivity of the succession narrative. The story of Davidís crimes involving Bathsheba and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 and his subsequent condemnation by Nathan in chap. 12 are reminiscent of the prophetic stories about Saul and Samuel in 1 Samuel. 1 Kings 1-2 is concerned with the justification of the bloodbath that accompanied Solomonís accession, but Solomon appears only as an infant in 2 Samuel, and it may be that the oldest materials in the succession narrative, including the account of Absalomís revolt in 2 Sam. 13-20 and the story of the execution of the family of Saul in 21:1-14 and 9:1-13, derive from the time of David.

Bibliography Ackroyd, Peter R. The First Book of Samuel and The Second Book of Samuel. Cambridge Bible Commentary: New English Bible. Cambridge: University Press, 1971, 1977. Hertzberg, H. W. I & II Samuel: A Commentary. Translated by J. S. Bowden. Old Testament Library. London: SCM, 1964. McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. I Samuel and II Samuel. Vols. 8 and 9 of the Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980, 1984.

For links to some other Bible-related webpages, browse

To contact the website administrator, email or click on