views updated


SAMUEL (Heb. שְׁמוּאֵל), Israelite judge and prophet who lived in the 11th century b.c.e. His name is very close to that of the ancient Babylonian royal ancestor of Hammurapi, Sūmû-la-il, and similar in form to other *Amorite names such as Sūmû-Abum, Sūmû-Samas, and others (halot, 1438). Standing at the close of one era and the beginning of another, Samuel was instrumental in the painful, but necessary, transition from a loose confederation of Hebrew tribes to a centralized monarchy. He played a part in events which eventually saw his people completely freed from subjection to the Philistines and from the threat of the utter loss of national life.

The Biblical Account

The record of Samuel's career in i Samuel 1–16, which is intricately interwoven with that of Saul, the first king, involves many baffling questions. It tells a story about the birth of a "child of prayer" to Hannah and Elkanah in an Ephraimite home in Ramathaim-Zophim (1:1) or Ramah (1:19). His mother dedicated him to a Nazirite life in the important sanctuary of Shiloh (1:11, 28; 2:11; 3:1). Here the aged priest *Eli, whose sons were lewd and impious good-for-nothings, officiated (2:12–17, 22–25). A rare divine revelation came to the boy in the night, involving terrible judgment on the house of Eli; and this was the beginning of a career that marked Samuel as a "prophet of yhwh" (3:20). Chapters 4–6 recount the shattering defeat of the Hebrews by the well-equipped Philistines; worst of all, the ark of yhwh was captured, the immediate house of Eli wiped out, and, probably (Jer. 7:12, 14), the vital Shiloh sanctuary was permanently razed.

Samuel is next depicted as a "judge" (i Sam. 7), first in the sense of a charismatic deliverer in a battle of miraculous proportions (verse 13 seems to be highly idealized) and then as an arbiter of disputes, traveling over a considerable area covering Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and Ramah (7:16–17). Samuel was married and had two sons, Joel and Abijah, who acted as judges in Beer-Sheba (8:2; cf. i Chron. 6:13).

Two or more divergent accounts of the founding of the monarchy follow. One (9:1–10:16) is favorable to the kingship regarding it as the answer to the desperate needs of the hour. Another (7:3–8:22; 10:17–19; 12:1–25) reacts, sometimes violently, against such a move. Some think there is a third account (10:20–11:15; see *Samuel, Book of; see below, Critical Evaluation). One cannot be completely certain about Samuel's attitude toward the people's request for a king (cf. 10:1 with 10:19). It is clear, however, that the political crisis demanded a much more closely knit government if the Hebrews were to survive as an entity.

One account has an Ammonite attack on Jabesh-Gilead pushing the handsome Benjaminite Saul into a position where, after an impressive victory, he was publicly acclaimed as king (chapter 11). Another shows Samuel's gift of clairvoyance aiding Saul in locating his father's lost donkeys. Samuel then acted as priest at the local hill shrine and by divine revelation he anointed, the next morning, the surprised Saul as leader or prince (nāgid) of Israel to rescue her from her pressing foes. Shortly thereafter, in a public conclave at Mizpah, Samuel cast the sacred lot and Saul was chosen; then the older man delivered an address explaining the rights and responsibilities of a king, and a written record was made. An immediate clash with the Philistines followed; first a small-scale outpost skirmish, then a significant victory. However, in 7:3–8:22; 10:17–19; and 12:1–25, Samuel denounces the idea of monarchy as apostasy, since the Lord has always been the king and savior of Israel. Yet by divine revelation Samuel is directed to give grudging consent (8:22).

Chapter 15, a later account evidently based on earlier tradition, portrays a heartrending break between Samuel and Saul, a permanent and devastating rejection of the king (15:34–35; but cf. 19:24). This had already been foretold (e.g., 13:13–14). It is not clear whether the issue was simply the king's failure to obey the provisions of the *ḥerem of the holy war, or whether it was that Samuel surmised that Saul was aspiring not only to political but also to religious prerogatives. At any rate, except for his mention as head of a band of ecstatic prophets in 19:18–20, his death notice in 25:1, and a séance in which his ghost was brought back in chapter 28, Samuel permanently leaves the stage.

Critical Evaluation

Scholars (e.g., A. Weiser) have moved somewhat away from seeing completely mutually exclusive (pro-monarchical and anti-monarchical) accounts in i Samuel 1–16. The alternative is a series of varying concepts that developed in different circles, and existed side by side. Such traditions were finally strung together somewhat loosely without an attempt at reconciling them. Moreover I. Mendelsohn showed that the Israelites would have been quite aware of the dangers of oppressive monarchical government from what they saw around them in their own century. Thus Samuel 8:11–17 does not need to be a late reminiscence, as was once claimed. Nonetheless, one must allow for idealization in certain of the traditions. While many questions cannot be answered with certainty, it is clear that Samuel played a powerful part in the formation of the monarchy, and the titles of seer, prophet, judge, and priest are indicative of his influence, perhaps in different circles. As is true of Moses, so many roles are assigned to him that it is difficult to define the historical nucleus of the Samuel traditions. He was later claimed as a levite (i Chron. 6:12–13), as one of the founders, with David, of the system of gatekeepers of the Tent of Meeting (i Chron. 9:22), as a great intercessor comparable to Moses (Jer. 15:1), and as ranking with Moses and Aaron. According to Ps. 99:6, God spoke to Samuel along with Moses and Aaron in the Cloud Pillar. The Bible portrays Samuel as an incorruptible leader (i Sam. 12:3–5), and as the Lord's spokesman in guiding Israel, in critical days, from the old era into the new, and her greatest leader since Moses.

[John H. Scammon /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Even before his birth, "a heavenly voice went forth" and proclaimed the imminent delivery of a righteous man. When people observed his deeds, they were certain that he was this righteous individual (Mid. Sam. 3:4). Shortly before Samuel's novitiate in the sanctuary, Eli succeeded to the three highest offices in the land, those of high priest, president of the Sanhedrin, and ruler over Israel (Tanḥ. Shemini, 2). However, Eli's sons were not worthy to succeed him, but "Before the sun of Eli set, the sun of Samuel rose" (Gen. R. 58:2). The greatness bestowed on Samuel was not granted to any other king or prophet. No one ever challenged his authority and five terms of praise were applied to him: faithful, honored, prophet, seer, and man of God (Mishnat R. Eliezer, p. 151). He rebuked the people shortly before his death, refraining from doing so earlier lest people be embarrassed upon meeting their censurer (Sif. Deut. 2). Samuel was an incorruptible judge, who refused compensation even when he was legitimately entitled to it (Ned. 38a). He went on circuit to judge the people in order to spare them the trouble of coming to him. Accordingly, God spoke directly to Samuel, unlike Moses who first had to go into the tabernacle to receive the divine message (Ex. R. 16:4). He refused to enjoy hospitality at public expense, taking his personal requirements with him on his journeys (Ber. 10b). Despite the fact that his sons did not follow in his way, Samuel did have the satisfaction of seeing one of them mend his ways and become the prophet Joel (Mid. Sam. 1:6).

Samuel did not object to the appointment of a king in principle, since it was commanded in the Bible (Deut. 17:15). His objection was to the fact that the people demanded a king "that we may be like other nations" (Sanh. 20b). Samuel's failure to recognize David until he was revealed to him was a punishment for his arrogance in saying to Saul "I am the seer" (i Sam. 9:19; Sif. Deut. 17). Although Saul should have died immediately after his sin during the Amalekite war, Samuel interceded for him. He prayed that his life be spared at least for the duration of his own life, pleading that his action in anointing Saul be not destroyed before his eyes. God was hesitant to grant this request since the time of David's succession was rapidly approaching. In order to fulfill Samuel's request and to prevent the people from ascribing Samuel's death to his sins, Samuel was made to age rapidly, and though he was only 52 when he died, the people were under the impression that he died as an old man (Mid. Sam. 25:2; Ta'an. 5b). Samuel wrote only part of the book which bears his name. It was completed by Gad the seer and Nathan. He also wrote the books of Judges and Ruth (bb 15a).

[Aaron Rothkoff]

In Islam

In Sura 2:247–9 it is related that the people of Israel requested that the prophet appoint a king to rule them. However, when the prophet informed them that Allah had chosen Ṭālūt (Saul), they refused to crown him as their king. In post-Koranic literature it is said that this reference is to the prophet Samuel (Shamwīl); details are also related about his life and deeds, which are interwoven in the tales of Saul and David. It is noteworthy that the name Shamwīl is no longer used in the Arabic language and only the name of al-Samaw'al is to be found.

[H. Z. Hirschberg]

In the Arts

Treatment of the prophet Samuel in the arts generally involves the two kings of Israel whom he anointed, Saul and David, although Samuel himself does figure independently in some works, particularly in art. Literary interest in the subject has been somewhat restricted. In the English verse epic Davideis (1656) by Abraham Cowley, Samuel expresses the writer's own antagonism toward the concept of monarchy during Oliver Cromwell's republican Commonwealth. The theme later inspired Pieter t'Hoen's Dutch novella, Samuël de Profeet; of De Joodsche regeering hoe langer hoe erger (1796), but interest thereafter lapsed until the 20th century. Samuel then makes a dramatic appearance in D.H. Lawrence's play David (1926), and is denigrated in Samuel the Kingmaker (1944), one of the English writer Laurence Housman's fiercely anti-biblical Old Testament Plays (1950), which makes the prophet a spiteful, jealous impostor. This treatment finds a contrast in the respectful approach of Abraham l'hébreu et Samuel le voyant (1946), a biblical verse epic by the French Jewish writer Emmanuel *Eydoux. A related subject is treated in two 20th-century plays about Eli, Samuel's priestly guardian and mentor: Beit Eli; o Aron ha-Elohim Nilkehah (1902), a Hebrew drama by Meir Foner, and Silo is krank… (1956), a drama in Afrikaans by the South African writer Daniel François Malherbe.

In Christian art, Samuel's attributes are the lamb he offered in sacrifice (i Sam. 7:9) and his horn of unction. Figures of Samuel with the lamb are found on the Gothic cathedrals of Chartres and Rheims; at Chartres he is placed between Moses and David. The presentation of Samuel to Eli by his mother Hannah, who dedicated him to God (i Sam. 1:24–28) is a subject found in the third-century c.e. murals of the synagogue at *Dura-Europos. It also occurs in medieval wall painting and manuscripts, including the 13th-century St. Louis Psalter, the 14th-century Queen Mary Psalter, and the 15th-century German Second Nuremberg *Haggadah (Schocken Library, Jerusalem). There are a number of examples from the 17th-century Dutch school, including a painting by *Rembrandt (Bridgewater Collection, London) and one by his pupil, Barent Fabritius (Art Institute, Chicago). A touching study of Samuel and Eli was painted by the U.S. portraitist John Singleton Copley (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut) whose painting of Samuel denouncing Saul is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The English artist Sir Joshua Reynolds painted studies of Samuel as a child and the infant Samuel in prayer (i Sam. 3:4); these are at Dulwich College and in the National Gallery, London. Samuel's slaying of Agag, whom Saul had failed to kill (i Sam. 15:32–33), appears in a 13th-century Hebrew manuscript from France (British Museum Miscellany, add. 11639) and in a mural in the Basle town hall by Hans Holbein (1497?–1543). The anointing of David by Samuel (i Sam. 16:13) appears in the murals of Dura-Europos. This subject has also been popular in Christian art, where David is regarded as the "anointed one" par excellence, the type and ancestor of Jesus. The scene appears in medieval frescoes, carvings from the Gothic cathedrals, and in Byzantine and Western manuscript illumination. Samuel's posthumous appearance before Saul on the latter's visit to the witch of Endor (i Sam. 28:8ff.) was a rare subject in the Middle Ages. It later received melodramatic treatment from the 17th-century painter Salvator Rosa (Louvre); and there is a watercolor by William *Blake in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Musical works in which Samuel is the main figure are few; they include Andreas Hammerschmidt's songs to a play by Keimann, Samuel (1646); Anton Cajeta Adlgasser's oratorio, Samuel und Heli (= Eli; 1763); a Spanish oratorio by José Duran, Samuel presentado al Templo (1765); Simon Mayr's oratorio, Samuele (1821); an early American oratorio, Samuel, by Homer Newton Bartlett (1845–1920); and Die Jugend Samuel's, an oratorio by Victor *Hollaender (1866–1940). A recent work is the *Inbal troupe's The Boy Samuel.

Tomb of Samuel

Traditionally sited on al-Nabī-Samwīl, the highest mountain overlooking Jerusalem. Theodorus Lector records that the Byzantine emperor, Arcadius, in 406 removed the bones of Samuel to Constantinople where he built a church next to the Hebdomon (Eccles. Hist., 2:63). The 10th-century geographer, al-Muqadasi, mentions a monastery at al-Nabī-Samwīl. Ramah of the Bible was later identified with *Ramleh and consequently Samuel's grave was located there (cf. i Sam. 25:1; 28:3). The Karaites had a synagogue at Ramleh in 1013. Benjamin of Tudela records in 1173 that the crusaders had removed Samuel's remains from there to al-Nabī-Samwīl (A. Asher, The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela (1927), p. 42).

In 1099 the site was named by the crusaders Montjoie (Mons Gaudii) because it was from there that they caught their first sight of Jerusalem; among the Jews and the Latins al-Nabī-Samwīl was generally called *Shiloh (Silo) through mistaken identity. Baldwin ii (1118–31) gave the hill and surrounding land to the Premonstratensian order who built a church on the site in 1157 on the hill al-Burj, south of al-Nabī-Samwīl. In 1187 the church was captured and ruined by Saladin. Muslims and Jews turned the ruins into prayer houses. Jewish pilgrims also identified the site with the graves of Hannah, Elkanah, and his two sons as well as with the mikveh of Hannah. On the 28th of Iyyar (the traditional date of Samuel's death) thousands of Jews gathered in medieval times at the shrine from all over the Diaspora and Ereẓ Israel to light lamps there, offer charity, and pray. It was so usual for them to drink wine at these festivities, that owing to excesses a takkanah was passed by the Jerusalem rabbi forbidding "those under the influence of drink from going to al-Nabī-Samwīl" (Zikhron bi-Yrushalayim, 503). Pantaléo de Aveiro reports that in 1560 Jews went to the grave every eight days to light candles and had obtained the right of residence on the site from the sultan (Itinerarioda Terra Sancta (1927), 424) and an English traveler in 1601 reported that the Jews cut their hair there (The Travels of John Sanderson (1931), 100). From other sources it appears that fathers took their sons there to trim their hair as an offering. The Karaites also spent two days of Passover on the site singing special hymns to Samuel.

In the 18th century Jews used to bring money, clothes, and jewelry there and burn them there as an offering, but about 1730 the Turks closed up the cave, built a mosque and prayer house there, and forbade the Jews to enter. After this few Jews went, and they had to pay for entrance. The land around the shrine was acquired by the group Naḥalat Israel Ramah in 1887 but attempts to settle there failed. The mosque and tower were almost completely destroyed in World War i and later rebuilt. Few Jews pray there now owing to the doubtfulness of the site's authenticity.


Noth, Hist Isr, 168, 175; Bright, Hist, 165–6; W.F. Albright, Samuel and the Beginning of the Prophetic Movement (1961); G. Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 1 (1962), 324–7. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 65–70; 6 (1928), 215–37. in islam: Ṭabarī, Ta'rīkh, 1 (1357 a.h.), 329–30; idem, Tafsīr, 2 (1323 a.h.), 378–9; ʿUmāra, Ms. fol. 39r–39v; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 227–9; Kisā'ī, Qiṣaṣ (1356 a.h.), 250–8. In the Arts: R. Wischnitzer, Samuel Cycle in the Wall Decoration of the Synagogue at Dura-Europos (1941; repr. paajr, 11 (1941), 85–103); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), index. tomb of samuel: M. Benveniste, The Crusaders in the Holy Land (1970), index; Z. Vilnay, Maẓẓevot Kodesh be-Ereẓ Yisrael (1951), 153–62. add. bibliography: B. Birch, The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy: The Growth and Development of i Samuel 7–15 (1976); J. van Seters, In Search of History (1983); idem, EncRel, 12 (2005), 8099–8100; G. Ramsey, abd, 5:954–57; A. Brenner (ed.), Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings (2000). See also bibliography to *Samuel, Book of.


views updated


SAMUEL (twelfth century bce), or, in Hebrew, Shemuʾel, was a judge and prophet of Israel. The story of Samuel's birth and the account of his youth present him as a Nazirite, dedicated to God's service through his mother's vow and raised in the sanctuary at Shiloh to be a priest (1 Sm. 12). While still a youth in this priestly service he is called to be a prophet to deliver a message of judgment to the house of Eli, and in one scene (1 Sm. 19:1824) he appears as the head of an ecstatic band of prophets and the protector of David in his flight from Saul. The prophetic role predominates in the rest of the narratives about him. In addition, however, Samuel is considered by the author of 1 Samuel to be a judge and is included in his scheme of a succession of judgescharismatic leaderswho ruled in Israel before the rise of the monarchy (1 Sm. 7:1517, Jgs. 2:1619). As such Samuel is depicted as a transitional figure, the last of the old order and the one who consecrates the new. This variety of roles in the tradition makes it difficult to reconstruct his historical role in early Israelite society.

The story of Samuel's birth follows a common folktale pattern of explaining a hero's name and future destiny from the circumstances of his birth. Yet because the story seems to involve a wordplay upon the name Saul (see Ackroyd, 1971 and McCarter, 1980) it has often been taken as a story about the birth of Saul that was later transferred to Samuel. The difficulty with this view is that none of the story's details fits with Saul's known origins, nor does the birth announcement presage a royal destiny. Instead, the announcement leads directly into the account of Samuel's youth, so that 1 Samuel 13 must be taken together. In this vita of Samuel's birth, dedication, and prophetic calling, the historian marks out Samuel as one of the major figures of his history.

In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel is a spokesman of religious reform, calling the people to repentance. At the same time, as judge he saves the people from their enemies, not by feats of military prowess but by intercessory prayer and sacrifice. When the people raise with Samuel their desire for a king to replace the institution of judgeship (1 Sm. 8), the author of the book uses the speeches of Samuel to express his own feelings of ambivalence about the monarchy, both as a source of social and religious sins (1 Sm. 8, 12) and as a divinely instituted political order (1 Sm. 10:1727, 11:1215).

In the folktale of Saul's search for his father's donkeys (1 Sm. 910:16) Samuel is only a local seer with clairvoyant powers. But the historian has transformed his role by adding an account of the secret anointment of Saul by Samuel, identifying him as the divinely chosen king in anticipation of his later public acclamation. In a similar fashion, Samuel anoints David (1 Sm. 16:113) and thus assures his destiny.

Samuel is also a prophet of judgment to Saul. The scene of Saul's secret anointment is linked directly to an act of disobedience in which Samuel announces God's rejection of Saul's kingship in favor of another, David (1 Sm. 13:815; cf. 1 Sm. 10:8). In a second episode (1 Sm. 15), in which Samuel commands Saul to exterminate the Amalekites, Samuel again declares God's rejection of Saul, this time for not completely carrying out all of the prophet's instructions; this episode leads directly to the account of the secret anointment of David as Saul's replacement. This rejection scene also anticipates the final episode of Samuel's appearance, as a ghost (1 Sm. 28), at which point rejection is reinforced and Saul's imminent death along with that of his sons is predicted.


Two important studies that deal with major parts of the Samuel tradition are Bruce C. Birch's The Rise of the Israelite Monarchy: The Growth and Development of 1 Samuel 715 (Missoula, Mont., 1976) and Artur Weiser's Samuel: Seine geschichtliche Aufgabe und religiöse Bedeutung (Göttingen, 1962). Two helpful commentaries are Peter R. Ackroyd's The First Book of Samuel, "The Cambridge Bible Commentary" (Cambridge, 1971), and P. Kyle McCarter, Jr.'s I Samuel, vol. 8 of the Anchor Bible (Garden City, N.Y., 1980). See also my book In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History (New Haven, 1983).

New Sources

Brenner, Althalya, ed. Samuel and Kings. Sheffield, U.K., 2000.

Dietrich, Walter. Samuel. Neukirchen-Vluyen, 2003.

Evans, Mary J. 1 and 2 Samuel. Peabody, Mass., and Carlisle, U.K., 2000.

John van Seters (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated


SAMUEL (Mar or Samuel Yarhina'ah ; end of second century to mid-third century), Babylonian amora. Samuel was born at Nehardea and studied with his father, *Abba b. Abba ha-Kohen (Zev. 26a) and also with Levi b. Sisi (Shab. 108b),who had emigrated to Babylonia from Ereẓ Israel. His principal teachers, however, are unknown. From the story that Samuel cured Judah ha-Nasi of an eye ailment (bm 85b) some scholars infer that he attended the latter's bet midrash in Ereẓ Israel, and that Judah ha-Nasi was his main teacher. This is not conclusive evidence; Samuel could have sent the medicine to Judah ha-Nasi by a messenger. In any event, Samuel quotes no halakhot which, it may be asserted, he would have heard from Judah ha-Nasi, nor does he report any custom he saw in the latter's home, although this was a practice of the scholars of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. D. Hoffmann contends that Samuel studied in Ereẓ Israel under Ḥanina b. Ḥama, inasmuch as both used the drawing of a palm branch as their signatures (tj, Git. 9:9, 50d) and prescribed identical cures. However, there is no conclusive evidence for this assertion, as the same was true of different people living in widely separated areas.

Samuel's sons died in their youth (Shab. 108a; mk 18a), two of his daughters were taken captive and later ransomed in Ereẓ Israel (Ket. 23a), and another daughter married a non-Jew (who was subsequently converted to Judaism: see Rashi, Ber. 16a). His economic circumstances were extremely good, his father having left him fields (Ḥul. 105a) and plantations which were cultivated by tenant-farmers and laborers (bk 92a), and the household chores were attended to by maidservants (Nid. 47a).

Samuel was the head of an important bet midrash-bet din at Nehardea in the middle of the third century (Git. 36b). He was the outstanding authority of his day in civil law (Bek. 49b), in which sphere later generations accepted his pronouncements as decisive (ibid.). Samuel was the author of the momentous principle that in civil matters "the law of the state is the law [for its Jews]" (bk 113b), which has influenced the entire Diaspora. Other principles of his are: "The obligation of producing proof rests on the claimant" (ibid. 46a) and "In pecuniary cases we do not follow the majority" (ibid. 46b). His concern for orphans led him to rule that their money may be lent out on interest (contrary to the rule that money was not to be lent to Jews on interest; bm 70a). As a dayyan he was on his guard against even the slightest taint of bribery. Thus, he refused to act as a judge in the case of a man who had put out his hand to assist him in fording a river on a board (Ket. 105b). His integrity is revealed in other instances. He refused to take advantage of a seasonal scarcity to obtain higher prices for his products (bb 90b), and he vigorously opposed those who arbitrarily raised prices. When after Passover the merchants, reacting to an increased demand, raised the prices of pots (the Babylonian Jews not using those in which leaven had been cooked before the festival), Samuel warned that, unless they took fair prices, he would permit the use of the old pots (Pes. 30a). Similarly, when those who sold myrtle branches (for the Four Species in the Festival of Tabernacles) charged exorbitant prices, Samuel warned that, unless they asked a reasonable price, he would declare permissible even such myrtle branches whose tips were broken off (Suk. 34b). The great authority enjoyed by his bet din was entirely owing to his prestige; only his bet din and that of Rav at Sura were allowed to write a prosbul (a declaration, made in a bet din, that the limitation of the Sabbatical Year shall not apply to the loan about to be made; Git. 36b). He held that in certain cases dayyanim were entitled to use their discretion in judging (bb 35a, and Tos. to ibid.), and he would order lashes (Er. 44b), as well as arrest and detention in prison (Nid. 25b), indicating his great authority.

Samuel had many contacts with his distinguished colleague, Rav, who appreciated his erudition (Ḥul. 59a), showed him every respect (Meg. 22a), and, when on a visit to Nehardea, observed the customs instituted by Samuel (Er. 94a). After Rav's death in 247 c.e., Samuel became the preeminent authority and was recognized as such by all the Babylonian sages (Iggeret Rav Sherira Ga'on, ed. by B.M. Lewin (1921), 81), whereas during Rav's lifetime the Jews of Sura and its neighborhood had adopted the usages laid down by Rav, while the Jews of Nehardea and its neighborhood adopted those of Samuel (Ket. 54a).

Samuel was close to the exilarch and his officials (tj, Ta'an. 4:2, 68a) and would sit in front of Mar Ukva, the exilarch, when the latter judged a case (mk 16b). He was also personally acquainted with Sapor, the king. Samuel's extensive knowledge of medicine and astronomy assisted him in the establishment of various halakhot. He discovered a salve, known as "killurin de-Mar Shemu'el," for curing eye ailments (Shab. 108b), and asserted that he could cure all maladies except three (bm 113b). He was known as Samuel Yarḥina'ah ("Samuel the Astronomer": bm 85b), and such was his knowledge of *astronomy that he declared: "The paths of heaven are as familiar to me as the streets of Nehardea" (Ber. 58b). Though his knowledge of this science enabled him to fix and draw up a calendar (rh 20b), according to his own testimony he did not devote much time to its study (Deut. R. 8:6). It may have been his knowledge of astronomy which brought him into contact with non-Jewish Babylonian scholars, with one of whom, Avlet, he dined (Av. Zar. 30a) and discussed nature (Shab. 129a, 156b). Samuel also met non-Jewish scholars in the Bei-Avidan (ibid. 116a, and Rashi ibid.). But because his chief activity centered on his industrious acquisition and dissemination of the knowledge of the Torah, he was called shoked (tj, Ket. 4:2, 28b) or shakud (tb, ibid. 43b), that is, "the industrious Torah scholar."

He ruled that it was forbidden to deceive non-Jews as well as Jews (Ḥul. 94a), and that whoever puts a slave to shame must compensate him accordingly (Nid. 47a). Samuel made some interesting observations on the past and future of the Jewish people. He traced the ascendancy of Rome and the subsequent destruction of the Temple to Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter, who introduced idolatry into Jerusalem (Shab. 56b). In his view the Messiah will come only after the Jewish people will have suffered cruel persecutions (Ket. 112b), and he maintained that the only difference between present and messianic times will be freedom from oppression by foreign powers in the latter period (Ber. 34b). Samuel was opposed to a life of mortification (Ta'an. 11a) and declared even those who imposed restrictions upon themselves in fulfillment of a vow to be wicked (Ned. 22a). He favored the enjoyment of the things of this world (Er. 54a), provided that it is preceded by the appropriate blessing (Ber. 35a).

Rav and Samuel were accorded the honorable title of "our rabbis in Babylonia" (Sanh. 17b) or "our rabbis in the Diaspora" (tj, Shab. 5:4, 7c).


G. Bader, Jewish Spiritual Heroes, 3 (1940), 78–90; D. Hoffmann, Mar Samuel (Ger., 1873); Bacher, Bab Amor, 37–45; Halevy, Dorot, 2 (1923), passim; Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 2 (1893), 354–61; Hyman, Toledot, 1120–31; Weiss, Dor, 3 (19044), 146–56.

[Moshe Beer]


views updated


An Old Testament figure whose story is recounted essentially in 1 Sm 116. His birth and early life are covered in 1 Sm 17; his involvement with Saul is told in 1 Sm 812 (Saul's anointment as king) and 1 Sm 1315 (Saul's rejection); his involvement with David is limited to David's anointment (1 Sm 16) and a brief story of David, in flight from Saul, taking refuge with Samuel (19:1824). Subsequent mentions recount his death (25:1), and Saul's desperate attempt to seek counsel from Samuel's ghost (28:325). Samuel is an important personage, but transitional: he represents the best of the old order of judgeship, which proved itself incapable of adequately governing Yahweh's people, and points forward to the new order of monarchy by anointing Saul and David, the first kings of Israel.

Narratively, the character of Samuel is complex. The account of his birth and early life culminates in his assumption of all the standard leadership offices in ancient Israel: he is a Nazirite (1:11); a prophet (3:194:1); a priest (7:910, 17), despite not being from the priestly tribe of Levi; and a judge (7:1517). He, or Israelite forces under his leadership, subdue the Philistines (7:1014, but contrast 13:515), but he cannot control his own sons (8:13). He is reluctant to anoint a king until Yahweh approves (8:49); he warns the people about royal abuses (8:1118), then gives the king carte blanche (10:7); he condemns Saul when he takes decisions Samuel deems disobedient (13:814), and yet grieves when Yahweh rejects Saul from the kingship (15:3516:1). He embodies the conflict of Israelite enthusiasm and hesitation before the irrevocable step of political transformation to autocracy, the ambivalence of cultic and charismatic leaders toward a dynast who will relieve them of both civil power and military responsibility, and even the obliquity of a deity whose motives are not always entirely clear (compare 1 Sm 10:2324 with 16:78).

Historically, we can say unfortunately little about Samuel. With no external evidence about him from archaeology or non-biblical documents, we are restricted to conjectures based on the biblical text. That a transition from tribal confederacy to monarchy took place is virtually certain; that one or more individuals were pivotal in that transition is highly probable. That the artistically constructed narrative of those events has inherited and preserved, through several centuries of oral tradition and written elaboration and editing, authentic memories of one of those individuals is not impossible. But contemporary scholars' growing hesitation about the historical reliability of the biblical accounts of Israel's earliest days, and our increasing appreciation of the depth, richness, and sophistication of ancient Israel's genius for literary creativity, together urge caution about moving too readily from narrative characterization to historical reconstruction.

The Chronicler mentions "The Chronicles of Samuel the Seer" as one of several sources for the life of David (1 Chr 29:29), but no such book has come down to us. That remark may be the source of the later Jewish legend that gave the Books of Samuel their name and attributed them to his authorship, but the legend is certainly without historical foundation.

Bibliography: l. m. eslinger, Kingship of God in Crisis (Bible and Literature; Sheffield: 1985). g. w. ramsey, "Samuel," in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York 1992); 5:95457. See also the commentaries on 1 Samuel under "Samuel, Book (s) of."

[j. t. walsh]


views updated


The prophet Samuel (ca. 1056-1004 B.C.) was the last judge of Israel and the first of the prophets after Moses. He inaugurated the monarchy by choosing and anointing Saul and David as kings of Israel.

Samuel was the son of Elkanah and Hannah, and he was born at Ramathaim-zophim in the hill country of Ephraim. Brought to the Temple at Shiloh as a young child to serve God in fulfillment of a vow made by his mother, he succeeded Eli as the high priest and judge of Israel. Because the Philistines had destroyed Shiloh, Israel's religious center, Samuel returned to Ramah, making it the center of his activity.

Samuel made annual circuits through the cities of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, judging the people, exhorting them to stop worshiping idols, and using his influence to hold the tribes together. He seemed able to penetrate the future, and the people looked upon him as a prophet.

Israel at this time was subjected to Philistine domination, constant threats from the Ammonites, and disunion among its own tribes. The people lacked respect for Samuel's corrupt sons, Joel and Abijah, whom he appointed to judge Israel in his stead. The elders urged Samuel to seek a forceful national leader to become king. Samuel acceded and chose Saul, son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin, and he took an active role in Saul's coronation.

Samuel later broke with Saul because Saul twice disobeyed him. Samuel then proclaimed that Saul was rejected as king of Israel and that his dynasty would not continue on the throne. The prophet transferred his support to David, selecting him and secretly anointing him king of Israel. Samuel's last days are obscured by the conflict between Saul and David. The Bible makes a brief reference to his death and to his burial at Ramah.

Samuel, though counted among the greatest of the judges, like Moses, is also numbered among the prophets. He was not a warrior but, like Moses, was a hero who rallied the spirit of his people in the midst of oppression, keeping alive their hope and faith.

Further Reading

Although there is no single authoritative biography of Samuel, there are numerous volumes of fiction, making it difficult to distinguish between the historical and the legendary. The best short essays are in Rudolph Kittel, Great Men and Movements in Israel (trans. 1929), and James Fleming, Personalities of the Old Testament (1939). The best treatment of Samuel is, of course, in the Holy Scriptures, with commentaries published by each of the major religious groups. Recommended for the historical background are Max I. Margolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People (1944); William Foxwell Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1940; 2d ed. with new introduction, 1957); 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). □


views updated

Samuel Ninth and tenth books of the Old Testament. Through the stories of Samuel, the prophet and judge, and of Saul and David, Israel's first two kings, they describe the transition of Israel from a collection of tribes under separate chiefs to a single nation ruled through a monarchy. Historically, the events belong roughly to the 11th century bc.


views updated

Samuel (c.11th cent. BCE). Israelite prophet and judge. Samuel's activities are to be found in 1 Samuel 1–16. His (traditional) tomb on Mount al-Nabi Samwīl, overlooking Jerusalem, was a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.


views updated

Samuel in the Bible, a Hebrew prophet who rallied the Israelites after their defeat by the Philistines and became their ruler; either of two books of the Bible covering the history of ancient Israel from Samuel's birth to the end of the reign of David. It was Samuel who anointed Saul as king of Israel.

About this article


All Sources -
Updated About content Print Topic