SHMUEL-BUKH (Sefer Shemuel), 16th-century Yiddish epic. Considered the masterpiece of Old Yiddish midrashic epic, the narrative expertly reworks the biblical book of Samuel by means of an intimate knowledge of both post-biblical Jewish traditions (particularly those concerning the primary heroic characters Samuel, Saul, and David) and the conventions of the medieval German "minstrel epic," recasting the whole as an heroic epic. The text comprises 1,792 four-line stanzas of two rhyming couplets (aabb) (plus a colophon), each line divided rhythmically into two half-lines of three primary accents each (derived from the stanza characteristic of the Middle High German Nibelungenlied). The melody to which the poem was performed became famous and was used for many other Yiddish poems of the period. While the issue of the author's identity has not been definitively resolved, Moses Esrim ve-Arba ("of the twenty-four books," i.e. a biblical scholar) named as author at the end of one early manuscript is now generally identified with an emissary from Jerusalem to Turkey in 1487, which accords with the conventional scholarly dating of the text (based on language use and topical references) to the late 15th century. The text is preserved in a complex tradition of 16th- and 17th-century manuscripts and printed editions (editio princeps, Augsburg, 1544) that precludes the construction of a critical edition.
M. Weinreich, Bilder fun der Yidisher Literatur-Geshikhte (1928), 68–111; F. Falk and L. Fuks (eds.), Das Schmuelbuch des Mosche Esrim Wearba, 2 vols. (1961; facsimile of Augsburg, 1544]; Ch. Shmeruk, Prokim fun der Yidisher Literatur-Geshikhte, 182–99, J.C. Frakes (ed.), Early Yiddish Texts: 1100–1750 (2004), 218–46; J. Baumgarten, Introduction to Old Yiddish Literatur (2005), 140–52.
[Jerold Frakes (2nd ed.)]