Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

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

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Samuel, a prophet who ruled Israel at the end of the period of the judges and anointed the first two kings. He is the dominant figure at the beginning of the first of the two books of the Bible that bear his name.

Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was an Ephraimite from the village of Ramathaim-zophim. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, who was barren before his birth, had prayed for a child during a visit to the temple at Shiloh, promising to devote him to the service of Yahweh (1 Sam. 1). The young Samuel, therefore, grew up in Shiloh under the tutelage of Eli, the chief priest. The first oracle he uttered (1 Sam. 3:11-14) was a renunciation of the house of Eli, whose sons had corrupted the cult of Yahweh (cf. 1 Sam. 2:12-17). This marked the beginning of Samuel’s career as a prophet (cf. 1 Sam. 3:19-4:1).

Samuel assumed national leadership after a disastrous battle in which the Israelites were routed by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4). Having driven out the enemy and pacified the entire land (1 Sam. 7:13-14), he began periodic visits to a circuit of cities where he passed judgment on cases brought before him (1 Sam. 7:15-17). This pattern continued for most of Samuel’s life, but in his old age the men of Israel approached him to request a king (1 Sam. 8). Though angered, he acted on God’s instructions and, after warning the people of the burdens a king would impose on them (1 Sam. 8:11-18), he acceded to the request.

Samuel anointed Saul king during a private audience in Samuel’s home town (1 Sam. 9:1-10:16). Subsequently, however, he presided over a public ceremony in which Saul was chosen king by casting lots (1 Sam. 10:17-27). After Saul’s victorious campaign against the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11) the kingship was ratified in yet another ceremony conducted by Samuel (1 Sam. 11:15). Then in a final public appearance (1 Sam. 12) the prophet admonished the people and their new king to obey the commands of God and promised to continue to act on their behalf.

Samuel was also the agent of Saul’s rejection as king. Because he did not carry out God’s instructions as conveyed by Samuel, Saul’s kingship was condemned. Samuel prophesied that he would be removed from office in favor of a new king (1 Sam. 13:7-14; 15:10-29). Then God sent Samuel to Bethlehem, where he anointed David (1 Sam. 16:1-13).

Although Samuel’s death is reported in 1 Sam. 25:1, he makes one further appearance in the story. In 1 Samuel 28 we are told that Saul invoked Samuel’s ghost before his final battle with the Philistines, hoping for a favorable oracle. The ghost, however, reminded Saul of the divine rejection of his kingship and predicted a Philistine victory in the battle.

The biblical narrative presents Samuel as the last of the heroes of the premonarchical age and the first of the prophets who stand alongside the kings. It is tempting to think of him as having played such a transitional role historically—the last judge and the first prophet. He appears in the story, however, as a typical figure rather than as a historically accessible personality. The account of the rise of kingship in 1 Samuel 1-15 is told from a point of view that is suspicious of the institution of monarchy, to which the direct rule of Israel by God acting through a prophet is preferred. In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel is presented as the ideal prophetic leader, in whom all types of authority—military, judicial, and sacerdotal—are combined. In subsequent chapters, after the reality of kingship has been acknowledged, the portrayal of Samuel amounts to a paradigm for the prophetic office under the monarchy: the prophet will anoint and reject kings, intercede with God on Israel’s behalf, and guide the conscience of the people (cf. 1 Sam. 12:23).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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