Posts Tagged ‘Samuel’

I decided to read Robert Polzin’s Samuel and the Deuteronomist alongside my own reading of 1 Samuel. He argues that contemporary biblical studies concerned with the Deuteronomistic author (Dtr) recognizes the creativity of that author of the text. Contemporary scholarship, however, sees the “real text” (as opposed to hypothetical pre-texts), as fraught with redactions, harmonizations, contradictory themes, etc. that obscure the brilliant work of Dtr. He addresses Noth, Cross, and Van Seter’s work on the Deuteronomistic history. What he says of Van Seters represents what he thinks of the others:

The price he has to pay for calling his pre-text ‘a literary work of superb accomplishment’ is his corresponding contention that the real text, the present form of the Deuteronomistic History in general and the present books of Samuel in particular, is in fundamental ways and strategic places an incoherent mess.

Polzin says that these types of studies may (or may not) be legitimate in reconstructing the texts and histories behind the real text. They do, however, compromise the study of the only real text we have. Instead, he aims his study at the task of adumbrating the artistic genius of the present text despite some of its deficiencies caused to the hands of later redactors. I look forward to his final form reading of 1 Samuel.

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I just want to jot a few notes down on my initial impressions of the beginning of 1 Samuel.

First, it begins with ויהי איש אחד. The ויהי can mark the beginning of a new narrative, or it can just be the normal “to be” verb. In the case of the former, the ויהי would be translated as “And it was.” The translation for this verse, however, would be something like: “There was one man” or “Now a certain man was.” Thus, the ויהי is probably just regular narrative continuation wayyiqtol. Leviticus begins with the same kind of wayyiqtol (ויקרא), so the situation in Samuel is not unique. The author does, however, seem to view his story as a continuation from Judges. “Now a certain man was…” appears two times at the end of Judges. First, in connection with Samson’s parents in Judges 13, and in connection with Micah in Judges 17. By itself, the phrase is not an indicator of dependence or connection, but it is our first indicator of connection.

Second, the characters are an interesting choice to begin this storied account. A faithful man, Elkanah, has two wives. The most loved wife, Hannah, is barren. The other wife, Peninnah, has many children. Peninnah tortures Hannah for her lack of children. Elkanah comforts Hannah by saying that he’s worth “ten sons” to Hannah. I’m not sure if Elkanah’s comfort speech meant to highlight the extent of Hannah’s discomfort – the gifts and love of her husband aren’t enough bring her comfort – or to highlight a character flaw on Hannah’s part – she wants children so much she refuses to be comforted by the love of her doting husband. Eli is another interesting character. We find out that his sons are priests by the third verse of chapter 1. We find out they are wicked priests in chapter 2. Eli upbraids Hannah for being drunk in the temple; meanwhile, his sons are desperately wicked. Irony to say the least.

Third, the etiology for Samuel’s name involves the Hebrew word שׁאל and the pual participle שׁאול not the Hebrew word שׁמע. Samuel’s name means something like “God hears,” but שׁאל means requested. שׁאל is more fitting word Saul’s name (שאול).

Finally, Hannah responds to God’s gift of Samuel with a hymn to the LORD’s salvation. Her hymn praises God for lifting up the lowly and bringing down the proud. The hymn praises God for his salvation and portrays Yahweh as a king. Again, this response may strike me as odd because I read the narrative with  21st century eyes. Why does the giving of a child evoke a hymn about God’s salvation? Oh, and by the way, the hymn also makes a reference to Yahweh’s king. No king in Israel at this time. Is she referring to Saul (שאול), David, or the ideal king?

All these elements help set the theological agenda of the book. God’s saves the lowly. He hears the cries a barren woman and comforts her in a way that only he can do. He does this act not because of anything desirable on her part. She made a request, that’s it. God heard and answered and showed mercy. From this narrative emerged a hymn which demonstrates the kind of God who would hear and answer a barren woman. This God is the same God that Israel rejected time and again. The book also deals with real people with real trials. God deals with the everyday man or woman not just with kings and priests.

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