—Biblical Data:

Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, of Ramathaim-zophim, in the hill-country of Ephraim (I Sam. i. 1). He was born while Eli was judge. Devoted to Yhwh in fulfilment of a vow made by his mother, who had long been childless, he was taken to Shiloh by Hannah as soon as he was weaned, to serve Yhwh during his lifetime (i. 11, 22-23, 28).

The Call of Samuel.

The sons of Eli being sons of Belial, wicked and avaricious, Samuel ministered before Yhwh in their stead, being even as a lad girded with a linen ephod (ii. 12 et seq., 22 et seq.). His mother, on her yearly visits, brought him a robe. As he grew up Samuel won ever-increasing favor with Yhwh and with men (ii. 26). How he was called by Yhwh is related as follows: Eli, old and dim of vision, had lain down to sleep, as had Samuel, in the Temple of Yhwh, wherein was the Ark. Then Yhwh called "Samuel!" Answering, "Here am I," Samuel, thinking Eli had summoned him, ran to him explaining that he had come in obedience to his call. Eli, however, sent him back to his couch. Three times in succession Samuel heard the summons and reported to Eli, by whom he was sent back to sleep. This repetition finally aroused Eli's comprehension; he knew that Yhwh was calling the lad. Therefore he advised him to lie down again, and, if called once more, to say, "Speak, for Thy servant heareth." Samuel did as he had been bidden. Yhwh then revealed to him His purpose to exterminate the house of Eli.

Samuel hesitated to inform Eli concerning the vision, but next morning, at Eli's solicitation, Samuel related what he had heard (iii. 1-18). Yhwh was with Samuel, and let none of His words "fall to the ground." All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba recognized him as appointed to be a prophet of Yhwh; and Samuel continued to receive at Shiloh revelations which he imparted to all Israel (iii. 19-21).

Alleged Tomb of Samuel at Mizpah.(From a photograph by the American colony at Jerusalem.)Samuel as Judge.

During the war with the Philistines the Ark was taken by the enemy. After its mere presence among the Philistines had brought suffering upon them, it was returned and taken to Kirjath-jearim. While it was there Samuel spoke to the children of Israel, calling upon them to return to Yhwh and put away strange gods, that they might be delivered out of the hands of the Philistines (vii. 2 et seq.). The test came at Mizpah, where, at Samuel's call, all Israel had gathered, under the promise that he would pray to Yhwh for them, and where they fasted, confessed, and were judged by him (vii. 5-6). Before the Philistines attacked, Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering, calling unto Yhwh for help; and as the Philistines drew up in battle array Yhwh "thundered with a great thunder" upon them, "and they were smitten beforeIsrael." As a memorial of the victory Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Shen, calling it "Ebenezer" (= "hitherto hath the Lord helped us"). This crushing defeat kept the Philistines in check all the days of Samuel (vii. 7-14).

In his capacity as judge Samuel went each year in circuit to Beth-el, and Gilgal, and Mizpah, but he dwelt at Ramah, where he built an altar (vii. 15 et seq.). When he had grown old, and was ready to surrender his duties to his sons, neither Joel, the first-born, nor Abijah, the second, proved worthy; they "turned aside after lucre, and took bribes" (viii. 1-3). This induced the elders to go to Ramah and request Samuel to give them a king, as all the other nations had kings. Samuel was much vexed, but upon praying to Yhwh and receiving the divine direction to yield, he acquiesced, after delivering a powerful address describing the despotism they were calling upon themselves and their descendants; this address, however, did not turn the people from their purpose (viii. 3 et seq.). In this crisis Samuel met Saul, who had come to consult him, the seer, concerning some lost asses. Yhwh had already apprised him of Saul's coming, and had ordered him to anoint his visitor king. When Saul inquired of him the way to the seer's house, Samuel revealed his identity to the Benjamite, and bade him go with him to the sacrificial meal at the "high place," to which about thirty persons had been invited. He showed great honor to Saul, who was surprised and unable to reconcile these marks of deference with his own humble origin and station. The next morning Samuel anointed him, giving him "signs" which, having come to pass, would show that God was with him, and directing him to proceed to Gilgal and await his (Samuel's) appearance there (ix., x. 1-9).

Samuel and Saul.

In preparation for the installation of Saul, Samuel called the people together at Mizpah, where the private anointment of Saul was confirmed by his selection by lot (x. 17-24). Samuel is reported also to have taken active part in the coronation of Saul at Gilgal (xi. 12-15). He profited by the opportunity to rehearse before the people his own life and secure their acknowledgment of his probity. After a solemn admonition to the people to be loyal to Yhwh, Samuel, as a sign that the demand for a king was fundamentally wicked, called forth thunder and rain, which so impressed the people that they implored him to intercede with Yhwh for them, "that we die not." Samuel turned the occasion into a solemn lesson as to what the penalties for disobedience would be (xii.).

At Gilgal a break with Saul came because, in the absence of Samuel, the king had offered the burnt offering. Samuel announced then and there that Saul's dynasty was not to be permitted to continue on the throne (xiii. 8-14). Nevertheless, Samuel sent Saul to accomplish the extermination of Amalek (xv.). Again Saul proved refractory, sparing Agag, the Amalekite king, and the flocks, and everything that was valuable. Thereupon the word of Yhwh came unto Samuel, announcing Saul's deposition from the throne. Meeting Saul, Samuel declared his rejection and with his own hand slew Agag (xv.). This led to the final separation of Samuel and Saul (xv. 34-35). Mourning for Saul, Samuel was bidden by Yhwh to go to Jesse, the Beth-lehemite, one of whose sons was chosen to be king instead of Saul (xvi. 4). Fearing lest Saul might detect the intention, Samuel resorted to strategy, pretending to have gone to Beth-lehem in order to sacrifice. At the sacrificial feast, after having passed in review the sons of Jesse, and having found that none of those present was chosen by Yhwh, Samuel commanded that the youngest, David, who was away watching the sheep, should be sent for. As soon as David appeared Yhwh commanded Samuel to anoint him, after which Samuel returned to Ramah (xvi. 5-13).

Samuel and David.

Nothing further is told of Samuel until David's flight to him at Ramah, when he accompanied his fugitive friend to Naioth. There, through Samuel's intervention, Saul's messengers, as did later Saul himself, turned prophets "before Samuel" (xix. 18 et seq.). The end of Samuel is told in a very brief note: "And Samuel died, and all Israel gathered themselves together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah" (xxv. 1, Hebr.). But after his death, Saul, through the witch of En-dor, called Samuel from his grave, only to hear from him a prediction of his impending doom (xxviii. 3 et seq.).

In I Chron. xxvi. 28 Samuel the seer is mentioned as having dedicated gifts to the Sanctuary. He is again represented in I Chron. xi. 3 as having, in Yhwh's name, announced the elevation of David to the throne. He is furthermore credited with having ordained the "porters in the gates" (I Chron. ix. 22).

In the Biblical account Samuel appears as both the last of the Judges and the first of the Prophets, as the founder of the kingdom and as the legitimate offerer of sacrifices at the altars (I Sam. vii. 9 et seq., ix. 22 et seq., x. 8, xi. 15, xvi. 1 et seq.). In fact, Chronicles (I Chron. vi. 28) makes him out to be of Levitical descent. According to I Sam. ix. 9, the prophets preceding Samuel were called seers, while it would appear that he was the first to be known as "nabi," or "prophet." He was the man of God (ix. 7-8), and was believed by the people to be able to reveal the whereabouts of lost animals. In his days there were "schools of prophets," or, more properly," bands of prophets." From the fact that these bands are mentioned in connection with Gibeah (I Sam. x. 5, 10), Jericho (II Kings ii. 5), Ramah (I Sam. xix. 18 et seq.), Beth-el (II Kings ii. 3), and Gilgal (II Kings iv. 38)—places focal in the career of Samuel—the conclusion seems well assured that it was Samuel who called them into being. In the Acts of the Apostles (xiii. 20) Samuel occurs as the last of the Judges and the first true prophet in Israel (Acts iii. 24, xiii. 20; Heb. xi. 32), while a gloss in Chronicles (II Chron. xxxv. 18) connects his time with one of the most memorable celebrations of Passover. The Old Testament furnishes no chronological data concerning his life. If Josephus ("Ant." vi. 13, § 5) is to be believed, Samuel had officiated twelve years as judge before Saul's coronation. The year 1095 B.C. is commonly accepted as that of Saul's accession to the throne.

E. G. H.—In Rabbinical Literature:

Samuel was a Levite (Lev. R. xxii. 6) of the family of Korah (Num. R. xviii. 17), and was also a Nazarite (Naz. 66a). As a child he was extremely delicate (Ḥag. 6a), but highly developed intellectually. Thus, when he was weaned and brought by his mother to Shiloh, he noticed that the priests were most careful that the sacrificial victims should be slain by one of their number. Samuel, however, declared to the priests that even a layman might offer sacrifice, whereupon he was taken before Eli, who asked him the grounds of his statement. Samuel answered: "It is not written that the priest shall slay the victim, but only that he shall bring the blood" (Lev. i. 5; comp. Zeb. 32a). Eli acknowledged the validity of his argument, but declared that Samuel merited the penalty of death for giving legal decisions in the presence of a master; and it was only the entreaty of Samuel's mother which saved the child (Ber. 31b). When God revealed Himself to Samuel for the first time and called his name, he cautiously answered only "Speak" (I Sam. iii. 10) and not, as Eli commanded him, "Speak, O God" (Shab. 113b).

Samuel was very rich. On his annual journeys as judge to various cities (comp. I Sam. vii. 16-17) he was accompanied by his entire household, and would accept hospitality from no one (Ber. 10b; Ned. 38a). While Moses commanded the people to come to him that he might declare the Law to them (comp. Ex. xviii. 14-16), Samuel visited all the cities of the land to spare the people weary journeys to him; and while Samuel was considered equal to Moses and to Aaron (Ber. 31b; Ta'an. 5b), he was favored above Moses in one respect; for the latter was obliged to go to the Tabernacle to receive a revelation from God, whereas God Himself came to Samuel to reveal His will to him (Ex. R. xvi. 4). For ten years Samuel judged Israel; but in the tenth the people asked for a king. Samuel anointed Saul; and when the latter was rejected by God, Samuel grieved bitterly and aged prematurely (Ta'an. 5b). Cruel though he was in hewing Agag to pieces, yet this was a righteous punishment for the Amalekite, who had been equally barbarous to the children of Israel (Lam. R. iii. 43).

Samuel wrote the books of Judges and Ruth, as well as those bearing his own name, although the latter were completed by the seer Gad (B. B. 14b-15a). He died at the age of fifty-two (M. Ḳ. 28a). When he was raised from the dead by the witch of Endor at the request of Saul (comp. I Sam. xxviii. 7-19), he was terrified, for he believed that he was summoned to appear before the divine judgmentseat; he therefore took Moses with him to bear witness that he had observed all the precepts of the Torah (Ḥag. 4b).

W. B. J. Z. L.Sources of Biography. —Critical View:

The outline of the life of Samuel given in the First Book of Samuel is a compilation from different documents and sources of varying degrees of credibility and age, exhibiting many and not always concordant points of view (see Samuel, Books of—Critical View). The name "Shemu'el" is interpreted "asked of Yhwh," and, as Ḳimḥi suggests, represents a contraction of , an opinion which Ewald is inclined to accept ("Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Sprache," p. 275, 3). But it is not tenable. The story of Samuel's birth, indeed, is worked out on the theory of this construction of the name (i. 1 et seq., 17, 20, 27, 28; ii. 20). But even with this etymology the value of the elements would be "priest of El" (Jastrow, in "Jour. Bib. Lit." xix. 92 et seq.). Ch. iii. supports the theory that the name implies "heard by El" or "hearer of El." The fact that "alef" and "'ayin" are confounded in this interpretation does not constitute an objection; for assonance and not etymology is the decisive factor in the Biblical name-legends, and of this class are both the first and the second chapter. The first of the two elements represents the Hebrew term "shem" (= "name"); but in this connection it as often means "son." "Shemu'el," or "Samuel," thus signifies "son of God" (see Jastrow, l.c.).

The older strata in the story are more trust worthy historically than are the younger. In I Sam. ix. 1-x. 16 Samuel is a seer and priest at one of the high places; he is scarcely known beyond the immediate neighborhood of Ramah. Saul does not seem to have heard of him; it is his "boy" that tells him all about the seer (ix.). But in his capacity as seer and priest, Samuel undoubtedly was the judge, that is, the oracle, who decided the "ordeals" for his tribe and district. In order to apply to him the title of "judge" in the sense it bore in connection with the heroes of former days—the sense of "liberator of the people"—the story of the gathering at Mizpah is introduced (vii. 2 et seq.). Indeed, the temptation is strong to suspect that originally the name (Saul) was found as the hero of the victory, for which later that of (Samuel) was substituted. At all events, the story proceeds on the assumption that Samuel had given earnest thought to his people's plight, and therefore was prepared to hail the sturdy Benjamite as the leader in the struggle with the Philistines (ix. 15, 17, 20 et seq.; x. 1 et seq.). His hero was to be the champion of Yhwh and of Yhwh's people, the anointed prince ("nagid"), whose call would rouse the scattered tribes from their lethargy and whose leadership would unite the discordant elements into a powerful unit for offense and defense. Favoring Saul even before the people had recognized in him their predestined leader, Samuel soon had cause to regret the choice. Common to both accounts of the rupture (xiii. 8 et seq. and xv. 10 et seq.) is the disobedience Saul manifested in arrogating to himself Samuel's functions as priest and offerer; the story concerning Agag's exemption from the ban (see Schwally, "Der Heilige Krieg im Alten Israel," p. 30) seems to be the more likely of the two, but in both instances the data show clear traces of having been recast into prophetic-priestly molds.

Probably Shaped Under Influence of Deuteronomy.

In fact, the majority of the reports concerning Samuel reflect the post-Deuteronomic, prophetic conception, and therefore, on the theory that before the erection of the central and permanent sanctuary the "altars" and "high places" were legitimate, no offense is manifested at his having, though not a priest, sacrificed at these places, though preciselyfor this reason the Book of Chronicles lays stress upon his Levitical descent. In ch. iii. 20 Samuel appears as the prophet of Yhwh, known as such from Dan to Beer-sheba. In ch. xix. 18 et seq. Samuel is at the head of prophet bands (differing from ix. 1 et seq., where these roving bands of "shouters" ["nebi'im"] appear to be independent of him). Again, ch. vii., viii., and ix. represent him as the theocratic chief of the nation. Ch. vii. 7 et seq. must be held to be pure fiction, unless it is one of the many variants of Saul's victory over the Philistines (comp. xiii. 1 et seq.). Nor is there concordance in the conceptions of the rise and nature of the monarchy and the part Samuel played in its founding. In ix.-x. 16 Yhwh legitimatizes the nomination of the king, but in ch. viii. the view of Deut. xvii. 14 et seq. predominates. This chapter could not have been written before Hos. x. 9, and the reign of Solomon and some of his successors. The fact is, the monarchy developed without the intervention of Samuel. Such deeds as those performed at Jabesh caused the people to offer Saul the crown at Gilgal (xi. 1 et seq.), an act which Samuel, who at first may have welcomed the young leader as chief only, expecting him to remain under his tutelage, was compelled to ratify.

The story of David's elevation (xvi. 1-13) presents itself as an offset to that of Saul's (I Sam. x. 17 et seq.), the historical kernel in it being the fact that Samuel, disappointed in Saul, transferred his favor to the rival tribe of Judah, and intrigued to bring about the raising of a counter-king in the young freebooter David. Ch. xv. is a prophetic apotheosis of Samuel, which rings with the accents familiar in the appeals of Amos, and which makes Samuel a worthy forerunner of Elijah. The Levitical genealogy of I Chron. vi. is not historical.

  • Guthe, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, pp. 68 et seq., Freiburg, 1899;
  • idem, Bibelwörterbuch, Tübingen and Leipsic, 1903;
  • H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, p. 106, New York, 1903.
E. G. H.