SAUL (Heb. שָׁאוּל; "asked, requested, lent [by the Lord]"), the first king of Israel (c. 1029–1005 b.c.e.); son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin (i Sam. 9:1, 21). Saul's home was in Gibeah (ibid. 10:26), i.e., Gibeath-Benjamin, also known as Gibeath-Shaul (ibid. 11:4), which he made his capital. After his death, his bones were buried in the tomb of his father, Kish, in Zela (ii Sam. 21:24; cf. Josh. 18:28). Zela would seem to be the name of a place close to Gibeath-Benjamin where the house of Saul had its lands. According to i Chronicles 8:29–30, Saul's family came from Gibeon.
In the days of *Samuel's leadership the Israelites became increasingly aware that the time had come to replace the rule of the *Judges by a central, permanent authority capable of freeing the people from the pressure of the surrounding nations, and, in particular, from the domination of the Philistines (i Sam. 8:20; 9:16). The people therefore demanded of Samuel that he set a king over them, "to govern us like all the nations" (ibid. 8:5). The cycle of stories about the enthroning of Saul is made up of various divergent traditions. According to i Samuel 9:1–10: 16, Saul – "a handsome young man, and there was not a man more handsome among the people of Israel; from his shoulders and upward he was taller than all the people" – went out to look for his father's lost asses. Meanwhile the Lord revealed His will to Samuel. "Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be a prince over my people" (9:16). Samuel carried out God's command and poured oil on Saul's head. Saul modestly expressed his amazement at being anointed ruler of Israel. On his way back to his home in Gibeah, he was suddenly seized with the spirit of the Lord and joined a group of prophets "and prophesied [i.e., went into an ecstatic trance] among them" (10:10). In i Samuel 10:17–27, in contrast, it is related that Samuel assembled the people at Mizpah and cast lots before them. The lot fell on Saul, who was acclaimed king, "and all the people shouted 'Long live the king!'" (10:24). In this tradition, too, Saul stands out as a man of modest and humble character who "hid himself among the baggage" (10:22). In chapter 11, again, it is recounted that Saul was proclaimed king in Gilgal after his defeat and rout of the *Ammonites, who were attempting to subject the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead, kinsmen of the tribe of Benjamin. In this story Saul appears as a charismatic leader of the same type as the Judges who had arisen to save Israel in time of trouble. His choice to lead the people was determined by his heroism on the battlefield. The interrelation of the above traditions is variously conceived by modern commentators. At all events, all the stories are agreed that Saul was chosen as king by God, and anointed by Samuel with the people's approval.
Most of Saul's years as king were spent in wars against the enemies of Israel: "When Saul had taken the kingship over Israel, he fought against all its enemies on every side, against *Moab, against the Ammonites, against *Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the *Philistines" (14:47). In particular, "there was hard fighting against the Philistines all the days of Saul" (14:52). The signal for the start of the struggle with the Philistines was given when *Jonathan, Saul's son, struck down the Philistine governor in Geba (i.e., Gibeah) in Benjamin (13:3). Saul mustered the Israelites at Gilgal, near Jericho, while the Philistines encamped at Michmas (13:15–16). From there troops of Philistine raiders made punitive attacks on Israel (13:17–18). Saul waited at Gilgal for Samuel to come and give the signal for the battle to begin. When Samuel failed to appear and the people were beginning to disperse, Saul offered
up the burnt-offering and moved out to engage the Philistines, advancing on Gibeath-Benjamin with six thousand men. Jonathan took the nearby Philistine garrison by surprise, and the panic-stricken Philistines fled westward through the valley of Aijalon to Philistia (14:31). In this war the Philistines were driven out of the hill country of Ephraim. This was only the beginning of a series of wars against the Philistines. One of the engagements which is described in detail in the Bible is the battle in the Valley of Elah in the territory of Judah (i Sam. 17), in which *David killed the Philistine giant *Goliath. When the Philistines saw their hero felled in single combat by the young David, they fled to their own country. The encounter in the Valley of Elah thus liberated the hill country of Judah from Philistine rule. For his conduct of the wars against the enemies of Israel, Saul did not rely solely on the national levies but also established a regular armed force led by trained commanders, such as his own son Jonathan and *Abner son of Ner (13:2–3; 14:50, 52). Of special historical importance was the war against *Amalek, since it was in this war that the breach between Samuel and Saul first appeared (i Sam. 15). Samuel ordered Saul to smite the Amalekites and destroy them utterly, leaving no survivors (cf. Ex. 17:16). Saul mustered the people at Telaim, which is apparently identical with Telem in the Negev (Josh. 15:24). The war was fought in the southern desert regions "from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt." The defeat of the Amalekites brought much needed relief to the people of Judah and Simeon, who had suffered greatly from the nomads' incursions. By his wars against the raiders from the desert (cf. i Chron. 5:10) Saul won the loyal support of the Israelites living in the southern border regions of Ereẓ Israel and Transjordan, since he was fighting to protect the territories on which they were settled. His kingdom then comprised the areas of Israelite settlement in Judah, Ephraim, Galilee, and also in Transjordan (as may be deduced from the extent of the kingdom of his son, Ish-Bosheth (ii Sam. 2:8–9). Saul did not try to extend his rule beyond the area of Israelite settlement; nor does he appear to have attacked the non-Israelite families living within that area – apart from the Gibeonites, whom he sought to destroy "in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah" (ii Sam. 21:1ff.), i.e., in order to convert his kingdom into a solid ethnic block uninterrupted by non-Israelite enclaves. Saul does not seem to have made far-reaching changes in the tribal organization of the Israelites, or to have taken any drastic measures to establish a centralized authority, with a royal court and an elaborate bureaucratic machinery. He was thus able to avoid friction with the tribal leaders who exercised their power within the framework of the local tribal institutions.
But Saul did not succeed in remaining on good terms with Samuel. The tangled relations between the two men reflect the difficulties of the transition from the old regime of the Judges to the new monarchal rule. According to one tradition, Samuel opposed the people's demand for a king, since in his view the Lord was the King of Israel and the people's demand was thus tantamount to a rejection of God (see *Gideon). When he was commanded by God to grant the people's request, he demanded of both the people and the king absolute obedience to the Lord and to the prophet that spoke in His name (i Sam. 12:14–15; 15:22), regardless of political, military, or human considerations. This demand explains the deterioration of the relations between Samuel and Saul. The rift between them first appeared at the time of the engagement at Michmas (i Sam. 13), when Saul sacrificed the burnt-offering, instead of waiting patiently for Samuel to come and give the signal for the battle to commence. It may be that Samuel regarded Saul's offering of the sacrifice as an encroachment upon his own priestly authority and as an attempt by Saul to arrogate ritual powers to the king. Samuel declared to Saul that his rule would be short-lived: "But now your kingdom shall not continue" (13:14). The rift between Samuel and Saul became final after Saul's failure to comply with the order given him to exterminate the Amalekites (15:34–35; 28:18). The awareness that the Lord had rejected him gradually penetrated into Saul's mind in the course of his relations with David. As soon as David – who was now Saul's son-in-law – appeared at the court, Saul realized that he was the people's favorite (18:16). David's victories over the Philistines aroused Saul's envy (18:5–9, 12–16), and this envy turned into a blind hatred which drove Saul to try to kill David (18:20–29; 19:1, 4–7, 9–10). The rift between Saul and Samuel, David's growing popularity, and the suspicion that even those closest to him had traitorously joined David in a plot against him (20:30–31; 22:8) – R. Kittel suggested that there may have been a plot to depose him as mentally incompetent and to make Jonathan king in his stead – all undermined Saul's self-confidence and darkened his mind (16:14–23). His destiny now began to run its tragic course as he became more and more given to alternating fits of hatred and love, violence and depression, stubbornness and remorse. His morbid suspiciousness, his uncontrolled outbursts of passion, and his fear of David (18:15) frequently disturbed his mental balance, driving him to violent acts bordering on madness, such as hurling his spear at his son Jonathan (20:33), or killing the priests of Nob for – unless R. Kittel is right – unwittingly helping David (21:2ff.). David was compelled to flee from Saul's service into the Judean desert, where Saul tried to pursue him.
At the same time, Saul continued to bear the heavy burden of the prolonged war against the Philistines, who hoped to exploit the quarrel between Saul and David to reestablish their domination of the Israelites. When the Philistines mustered their forces in the Valley of Jezreel, Saul marched out with his army to meet them and camped near En-Harod at the foot of Mount Gilboa (28:4; 29:1). Greatly alarmed by the size and power of the Philistine army, he sought a sign from the Lord about the outcome of the impending battle, but "the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets" (28:6). In despair, he appealed to a medium to raise the spirit of the dead Samuel for him (she is commonly but inaccurately called the "witch" of *En-Dor), but according to the biblical account Samuel castigated him as before and prophesied a bitter end for him: "And tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; The Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines" (28:19). Saul bravely led the Israelite host out to meet the Philistines, but in the ensuing engagement the Philistines clearly had the upper hand right from the start and the Israelites broke into flight, leaving many dead behind them on Mount Gilboa. Realizing that there was no escape from the archers pressing in around him, Saul chose to die by his own hand, "lest these uncircumcised come and make sport of me" (31:4; but cf. ii Sam. 6:1–10). When the Philistines found his body, "they cut off his head, and stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to their idols and to the people" (31:9). The body itself they nailed to the walls of Beth-Shean. The men of Jabesh-Gilead, who still gratefully remembered how Saul had fought against Nahash the Ammonite when the latter was threatening their city (i Sam. 11), took down his body from the wall and buried his bones in Jabesh-Gilead. The bones were subsequently reinterred in the tomb of Saul's father (ii Sam. 21:14). With the Israelite defeat on Mount Gilboa the Philistines were once more the dominant power in Ereẓ Israel and their pressure on the Israelites increased. A zealous Yahwist, Saul is credited with building the first altar to Yahweh (i Sam 14: 31–35) and with ridding the land of necromancers (i Sam. 28:3). K. van der Toorn finds Saul central to the formation of Yahwism as a state religion. Building on Toorn's work, Sperling argues that the historical Saul inspired the creation of the figure Moses.
In the Aggadah
Saul, the first anointed king (Esth. R., Proem 10) was selected for many reasons:
(1) his military prowess (Mid. Sam. 11:78–79), (2) his unusual handsomeness (Ber. 48b), (3) his modesty (Tosef., Ber. 4:16; Tanḥ. B., Lev. 4), (4) his innocence since he was considered free from sin like "a one-year-old child" (Yoma 22b), and (5) the merits of his ancestors, particularly his grandfather Abiel, who was also named Ner ("candle") because he lit the streets after dark so that people might go to the houses of study (tj, Shev. 3:10, 34d). He liberally endowed all poor brides (ii Sam. 1:24; Mishnat R. Eliezer, 186); and during his initial successful war with Nahash, Saul displayed his zeal for the scrupulous observance of the sacrificial ordinances by rebuking his warriors for eating the sacrificial meat before the blood was sprinkled on the altar (Zev. 120a). There is a marked tendency by the rabbis to show the first king of Israel in a favorable light even when the Scriptures deprecate his actions. Even his sin during the Amalekite conflict is explained by Saul's refusal to consider the women, children, and cattle as sinners and worthy of death (Yoma 22b). It is Doeg who induces Saul to spare the Amalek king, Agag, His argument was that the law prohibits the slaying of an animal and its young on the same day; how much less permissible is it to destroy at one time old and young, men and children (Mid. Sam. 18:99–100). Saul had no selfish interest in retaining the Amalekite booty since he was so wealthy that he took a military census by giving one of his own sheep to every one of his soldiers, distributing not less than two hundred thousand sheep (Yoma 22b). His final days were filled with regrets on account of his executing the priests at Nob, and his remorse secured pardon for him (Ber. 12b; Tanḥ. B., Lev. 45).
He was even more worthy than David. David had many wives and concubines while Saul had but one wife. David remained behind, fearing to lose his life in battle with Absalom, while Saul led his troops into his final battle. Saul led the life of a saint in his own house, observing even the priestly laws of purity. God rebuked David for composing a song on the downfall of Saul, stating, "Had you been Saul and he David, I would have annihilated many a David out of regard for him" (mk 16b). David was also punished for having cut off the corner of Saul's mantle, for no amount of clothing would keep him warm (Ber. 62b). Finally, when a great famine fell upon the land during the reign of David, God told him that it had been inflicted because Saul's remains had not been buried with due honor. At that moment a heavenly voice resounded calling Saul "the elect of God" (Ber. 12b). The real reason for his loss of the monarchy was his misplaced meekness in not avenging himself against the "base fellows" who "despised him" (i Sam. 10:27; Yoma 22b). Moreover, his family was of such immaculate nobility that his descendants might have become too arrogant (Yoma 22b). However, his persecution of David was unjustified and it greatly contrasted with the humility he previously displayed. In contrast to his hesitancy in accepting the monarchy, he now sought to slay David rather than surrender his throne (arn2, 20, 43). Once, when Saul and his men surrounded David, an angel appeared and summoned him home to repulse the raid of the Philistines upon the land. Saul only gave up the pursuit of David after a majority of his officers had so decided. Some still felt that the seizure of David was even more important than defeating the Philistines (Mid. Ps. to 9:83; 18:138).
The witch of En-Dor realized that it was Saul who was summoning Samuel when he appeared upright before them. In necromancy the rule is that a spirit raised from the dead appears head downward and feet in the air, unless it is summoned by a king (Tanh. B., Lev. 82). Samuel told Saul that if he fled he would save himself; but if he would accept God's judgment and find his death in battle, his sins would be forgiven and he would join Samuel in afterlife (Lev. R. 26:7). After his death, God told the angels of his admiration for Saul's final courageous act in going into war "knowing that he will lose his life, yet he took his sons with him, and cheerfully accepted the punishment ordained" (Tanḥ. B., Lev. 82).
The name Ṭālūt, which is given to Saul in the *Koran (2:248), is an allusion to his exceptional height (cf. i Sam. 9:2; 10:23). The form of this name was probably influenced by that of Jālūt (given to *Goliath) or tābūt (see below). After Mūsā's (i.e., Moses) death, the people of Israel requested of their prophet (his name is not mentioned, but see *Samuel) that he appoint a king to rule them. However, when Ṭālūt was designated as king, the people of Israel refused to accept him. The prophet then gave them a sign, that the tābūt (Ethiopian tābōt; Aramaic tebuta; "the Holy Ark") would come to them and in it would be Sakīna (Heb. shekhinah, "Divine Presence"). This would be the sign for believers (cf. Sot. 13a). When Ṭālūt went out to battle with his regiments, he passed by a stream, where he put his men to a trial. Only those who drew water with their hands were found worthy to pursue the campaign against the enemy (cf. the tale in Judg. 7:4–6). In that battle *David defeated Goliath (Jālūt; Sura 2:247–252). *Muhammad stops his narrative at this point. In post-Koranic literature the biblical name of Saul b. Kish is known to the commentators, and the descriptions from the Bible and the aggadah are added to the figure of Ṭālūt, in particular those concerning his attitude toward David and his attempts to kill him, as well as the meeting at En-Dor. Ṭālūt died in a holy war (*jiħād), after reigning for 40 years.
In the Arts
Unlike many other major figures of the Old Testament, Saul was accorded no particular significance in medieval Christian typology; and thus his first important appearance in the literature, art, and music of the West really dates from the Renaissance era. Among the earliest literary treatments of the subject were the Spanish dramatist Vasco Diaz Tanco's Tragedia de Amon y Saul (1552), which has not survived; La Coronazione del Re Saul, one of Giovan Maria Cecchi's realistic biblical plays of the same period; and an anonymous Italian work, La Rapresentatione della distruttione di Saul… (Florence, 1559). In Germany, the Meistersinger Hans Sachs wrote a Tragedia Koenig Sauls (1557). From this time onward the complex and tragic character of Saul attracted countless writers. Two outstanding 16th-century dramas on the theme were written by the French Protestant Jean de la Taille: Saül le Furieux (1572) and La famine ou les Gabéonites (1573). Interest was maintained in the 17th century, beginning with Claude Billard's Saül (1610).
The subject lent itself to more varied treatment in the 18th century. In England, Tragedy of King Saul (London, 1703), a verse play in five acts rejected by the censor, has been attributed to both Joseph Trapp and Roger Boyle. French tragedies entitled Saül were written by the abbé Nadal (1705) and *Voltaire (1763), the latter's work bearing a characteristic imprint of mockery. An outstanding 18th-century treatment of the subject was the Italian Vittorio Alfieri's tragedy, Saul (1782), which was later translated into English (1815) and, as Aḥarit Sha'ul, into Hebrew (by M.J. Lebensohn, 1870). An original Hebrew drama published in 1794 was Melukhat Sha'ul, ha-Melekh ha-Rishon al-Yeshurun (Vienna, 1794; often reprinted) by Joseph Troplowitz (= Joseph *Ha-Efrati c. 1770–1804). Saul appears as a tragic hero, torn by guilt, fear, and envy. From the era of Romanticism through the various movements of the 19th century, Saul continued to fascinate poets and dramatists. Lord *Byron's "Saul" poems (in: Hebrew Melodies, 1815) include the scene in which the king meets the witch of En-Dor and another poem on the theme was written by Robert *Browning (1845). There were two French tragedies – Alphonse de Lamartine's Saül (1818) and another of the same title by Alexandre Soumet (1822). There were also several tragedies in German, notably Karl Ferdinand Gutzkow's Koenig Saul (1839), Karl *Beck's Saul (1841), and Friedrich Rueckert's Saul und David (1843). The Cuban writer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Peregrina), who lived mostly in Spain, was the author of a powerful drama, Saúl (1849), and in Romania Alexandru Macedonski and Cincinat Pavelescu wrote the tragedy, Saul (1893).
Literary exploitation of the subject has been heightened in the 20th century by the use of psychological motivation. Works written before World War i include two poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, "Saul unter den Propheten" and "Samuels Erscheinung vor Saul." These were followed by dramas by the Japanese Torahiko Khori (1918), the Norwegian Jon Norstog (Kong Saul, 1920), and the South African (Afrikaans) writer W. Pienaar (1928). André Gide's Saül, a five-act drama written in the 1890s but published nearly 30 years later in 1922, portrays Saul as an old man consumed by the gratification of his lusts. The ill-fated monarch also plays a central part in the English writer D.H. Lawrence's play, David (1926), which was originally entitled "Saul."
A large proportion of modern works on the subject have, however, been written by Jews, and of these most are dramas. Plays written before World War ii include Max Donkhin's Russian Saul (1902), dramas by Lion *Feuchtwanger and Karl *Wolfskehl (1905), Israël *Querido's Dutch tragedy, Saul en David (1914), and Tsar Saul (1937), a drama in Russian by Naum Isaakovich Shimkin. Postwar works include dramas by Abel Jacob *Herzberg (Sauls dood, 1959) and Max Zweig (1961), and Charles Israel's novel, Rizpah (1961). Some of the most interesting dramatic treatments of the Saul theme have been written in Hebrew and Yiddish. Among those in Yiddish are Shaul (1922) by Hirsh Brill of Kovno (1891–1925); Der Melekh Shaul (1948), published in Poland by Israel Ashendorf; a dramatic sketch (in Lider un Poemen, 1949) by the Mexican Yiddish writer Nahum Pozner; and Leizer Treister's Der Pastekh-Kenig ("The Shepherd King," 1955). In Hebrew, there are poems by Tchernikowsky and dramas by M. Lazebnik (1932) and by Max *Brod and Shin *Shalom (Sha'ul Melekh Yisrael, 1944), the latter taking the form of a Schicksalstragoedie (tragedy of fate).
Saul's noble son Jonathan has also inspired writers from the 17th century onward. Two early Italian tragedies, both entitled Gionata, were published by Bartolommeo Tortoletti Veronese (1624) and the Jesuit Saverio Bettinelli (1747); and a "Tragedy of Jonathan" was one of the plays of the 16th-century Spanish author Vasco Diaz Tanco which has been lost. In the 20th century, treatments include "Yonatan," a poem based on i Sam. 14:1–43, by the Hebrew poetess *Rachel; Arthur W. Spaulding's novel, A Man of Valor (1908); and S.B. Rosner's German drama, Jonatan und Tirzah (1912). Saul's daughter Michal, who became David's wife, has also figured in literary works of the 19th and 20th centuries. Hebrew treatments include J.L. *Gordon's epic Ahavat David u-Mikhal (1857) and Aharon *Ashman's three-act drama, Mikhal Bat Sha'ul (1941; Michal the Daughter of Saul, 1957); and there have also been dramas by the Italian Adolfo Isaia (Micol, 1898), the Yiddish writer David *Pinski (Mikhol, 1918), and the Dutch author J.D. van Calcar (1937). Morris Raphael *Cohen published King Saul's Daughter (1952), a biblical dialogue.
In art, scenes from the life of Saul are found in the third-century wall paintings from the synagogue of Dura *Europos, on the fourth-century door at St. Ambrogio, Milan, and in a variety of Carolingian and medieval manuscript illuminations. Representation of the subject during the Middle Ages was almost entirely confined to illuminated manuscripts. The main episodes to have been treated are Saul anointed by Samuel (i Sam. 10:1), David playing the harp before Saul (i Sam. 16:23), Saul casting a spear at David (i Sam. 19:10), David finding Saul in the cave (i Sam. 24:4, and Saul visiting the witch of En-Dor (i Sam. 28:8). Although David playing the harp before Saul was the subject of a copper engraving by Lucas Van Leyden (1494–1533), it was mainly *Rembrandt who depicted Saul with a degree of pathos and drama. There is an early painting by Rembrandt in the Staedel Institute, Frankfurt, and a later one in the Hague Museum. In the latter work the angry king, moved to tears, hides his face behind a curtain while David is absorbed in his music. There is a modern treatment of the theme by the Dutch artist Jozef *Israëls. In recent times, the lives of David and Saul were treated in a series of 41 lithographs by the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka.
Earlier musical compositions on the theme include a choral work by Heinrich Schuetz, Saul (for three choirs and instruments); the second of Kuhnau's "Biblical Sonatas" (1700), Der von David mittelst der Musik curierte Saul, for keyboard instrument; and Bononuni's anthem for the funeral of the Duke of Marlborough, When Saul was King over Israel (1722). Occasionally Jonathan is the main figure, as in Caldara's oratorio, Gionata (1728; libretto by Zeno). Handel's oratorio, Saul (text by Charles Jennens), was first performed at the King's Theater, London, in January 1739 and the "Death March in Saul" has entered the repertoire of standard funeral marches. Another English work was Samuel Arnold's The Cure of Saul (oratorio, 1767). A. Salieri left an unfinished oratorio, Saulle; and other works of the period were operas, oratorios, and melodramas by Seyfried (1798), Rolle (1776), and a pastiche, Saul, for which the music was "mixed" by Kalkbrenner and Lachnith from works by Mozart, Haydn, Cimarosa, and Paisiello (Paris, 1803). At the same time, Gossec also composed an oratorio, Saul. The Italian Jewish composer Michele *Bolaffi composed an opera, Saul, which was not staged. Byron's three poems on Saul (in Hebrew Melodies) were first set to music by Isaac *Nathan. There were later settings by many others, including Moussorgsky's King Saul (a translation by Kozlov of Warriors and Chiefs), song with piano, later arranged for orchestral accompaniment by Glazunov and for tenor or alto, mixed choir, piano or orchestra, trumpet, and side drum by Lazare *Saminsky (1929). Two other 19th-century compositions were Rossini's oratorio, Saul (1834), and a successful opera by Antonio Buzzi (1843). Among musical treatments of the late 19th century were Ferdinand Hiller's oratorio, Saul (1857); another by Hubert Parry, King Saul (1894); and Georges Enesco's cantata, La vision de Saül (1896). Works of the 20th century include Carl Nielsen's oratorio-like opera, Saul og David (1902); Arthur Honegger's incidental music to André Gide's Saül (1922); an orchestral work, Saul en David by Johann Wagenaar (1862–1941); and the opera Saul by Hermann Reutter, with libretto after A. Lernet-Holenia (1928; revised 1947). For Max Zweig's drama, Saul, in a Hebrew translation by J. Horowitz, performed by Habimah in 1949, the incidental music was written by Emanuel *Amiran. Three later compositions are The Lamentation of Saul by Norman dello Joio (1954) for baritone and orchestra, based on D.H. Lawrence's play, David; Josef *Tal's concert-opera, Saul at Endor (première at Ramat Gan, 1955); and Mario *Castelnuovo-Tedesco's opera, Saul (1960).
Bright, Hist. 164–74; Tadmor, in: H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael bi-Ymei Kedem (1969), 93–97; Albright, in: aasor, 4 (1924), 160ff.; Mendelsohn, in: basor, 143 (1956), 17–22; Bardtke, in: bor, 25 (1968), 289–302 (Ger.); R. Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (1929, 1968). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in islam: Tabarī, Tafsīr, 2 (1323 a.h.), 377–87; idem, Taʾrīkh, 1 (1367 a.h.), 330–8; ʿUmāra ibn Wathīma, Ms. fol. 40r–42v; Thaʿlabī; Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h., 223–31; Kisāʾī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 250–8; A. Geiger, Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (1902), 44, 53–54; M. Gruenbaum, Neue Beiträge zur semitischen Sagenkunde (1893), 185–9; J.W. Hirschberg (ed.), Der Diwan des as-Samauʾal ibn Adijā… (1931), 25, 60; H. Speyer, Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran (1961), 364–71. in the arts: J. Mueller, König Saul in Sage und Dichtung (1891); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), index. add. bibliography: D. Edelman, in: abd, 5:989–99; idem, King Saul in the Historiography of Judah (1991); K. van der Toorn, in: vt, 43 (1993), 519–42; S.D. Sperling, The Original Torah (1998), 121–34; A. Rainey and R. Notley, The Sacred Bridge (2006), 145–47.
SAUL , or, in Hebrew, Shaʾul, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, was the first king of Israel (c. 1020 bce). The beginning of the monarchy under Saul, and with it the creation of a national state out of a loose association of tribes and clans, is attributed in the tradition to external threats from east and west. Saul's kingship is presented in 1 Samuel as a transition from the time of the judges, temporary charismatic leaders of individual tribes or regions, to that of a more unified and permanent military rule.
Saul's ability to rally support from the Israelite tribes in order to relieve Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonite siege and achieve a victory for the Transjordanian tribes (1 Sm. 11) was the actual occasion in the oldest tradition for making him king. In subsequent military activity his forces also had some success against the Philistine garrisons in the central hill country (1 Sm. 13–14), but in a major encounter between the two armies Saul and his sons lost their lives in battle (1 Sm. 31).
The length of Saul's reign (cf. 1 Sm. 13:1) and the exact extent of his domain are not known. His authority probably did not include Judah. His residence, in Gibeah of Benjamin, did not include an elaborate court. Yet he did much to pave the way for David's later success (1 Sm. 14:47–51).
The older traditions about Saul's monarchy, including a folktale about his youth (1 Sm. 9–10:16), have been expanded by the historian of Samuel and Kings in order to depict the prior divine election and designation of Saul as king (1 Sm. 9:15–17, 10:1, 17–27) and his later rejection (1 Sm. 13:8–15; cf. 1 Sm. 15) through the prophet Samuel. The author also expresses his ambivalence about the monarchy as both a divinely sanctioned institution and a possible source of religious waywardness, injustice, and corruption (1 Sm. 8, 12). Finally, in his account of David's rise to power, the rejected Saul is used as a foil for the virtues of David, God's chosen successor.
For the history of Saul's reign, see John Bright's A History of Israel, 3d ed. (Philadelphia, 1981). For a discussion of the text of Samuel with a review of the critical problems, see P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.'s I Samuel, vol. 8 of the Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y., 1980). A more detailed treatment of my own views can be found in my book In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History (New Haven, Conn., 1983), chap. 8.
Nicholson, Sarah. Three Faces of Saul: An Intertextual Approach to Biblical Tragedy. Sheffield, U.K., 2002.
John van Seters (1987)
The first king of Israel, Saul (reigned ca. 1020-1000 B.C.) was a man of valor who brought the virtues of modesty and generosity to his office.
The youngest son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin, Saul was a modest shepherd boy, a resident of Gibeah, when the prophet Samuel, after a chance meeting, secretly chose and anointed him king of Israel. It was a period of national humiliation, for the Philistines had defeated the Israelites at Shiloh and captured the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized the presence of God in their midst. This calamity convinced the Israelites that they must either strive for national unity with a king as leader or face complete and permanent subjugation.
Saul succeeded in freeing Israel of its enemies and extending its boundaries. He fought successfully against the Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, Arameans, and Amalekites. He also succeeded in drawing the tribes of Israel into a closer unity.
Saul's initial conflict with Samuel occurred after Saul offered a sacrifice to God, thereby assuming Samuel's office. Samuel rebuked Saul and proclaimed that Saul's dynasty would not be continued on the throne of Israel. Their second disagreement took place after Saul retained the war booty of the defeated Amalekites, Israel's traditional enemy, and spared the life of their king, Agag. Samuel publicly pronounced Saul's deposition from the throne. Saul fell into a state of melancholia that developed into an emotional disorder.
Saul's fits of depression and his moody, suspicious temperament caused him to attack the lad David, who had been brought into his household to soothe him by playing music. Jealous of David, Saul persecuted him, attacked him, sent him on perilous expeditions, and finally made him into an outlaw.
The Philistines then renewed their attack on Israel. Without David's support and depressed by the feeling that God had deserted him, Saul consulted a witch of Endor, seeking to recall the spirit of the dead Samuel. He was reproached and advised of his impending doom. In a battle against the Philistines Saul fought valiantly but vainly. His forces routed and his three sons slain, Saul died by his own hand. The tragic tale is told by David in an exquisite elegy lamenting the death of Saul and Jonathan. It is one of the most beautiful poems in the Bible.
The affection in which Saul was held is reflected in the action of the men of Yabesh-gilead, whose city he had saved in his first act as monarch. They risked their lives to rescue his body from the Philistines and gave it an honorable burial.
Although there is no single authoritative biography of Saul, there are numerous volumes of fiction, making it difficult to distinguish between historical and legendary accounts. An excellent short essay on him is in Rudolph Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (trans. 1929). For historical background the following works are recommended: William Foxwell Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1940; 2d ed. with new introduction, 1957); Max I. Magolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People (1944); Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, vol. 1 (2d ed. 1952; 2d rev. ed. 1969); and Martin Noth, The History of Israel (trans. 1958; 2d ed. 1960). □