May 19, 2015 Samuel 1-2 (19)

Today we move into Samuel which is the prelude to the era of kings of Israel. It is the intermediate place between the era of judges and kings. Mark indicated that this probably occurred sometime around 1020 BCE but was not written down until the seventh century BCE  The books of Samuel are part of the Deuteronomistic history, a series of books, namely, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings that constitute a theological history of the Israelites. Jewish tradition was supposedly written by Samuel but was composed in the period 630-540 by combining a number of independent texts of various ages. Samuel was the last of the judges and it is interesting that he is a descendent of Korach who led a revolt against Moses. It, of course, did not succeed and Moses crushed it modestly. There was not a real revolt against Samuel other than the people demanding a king ultimately. In some sense, you could say that Samuel put Israel together after years of just being separate tribes each going their own way. Samuel’s father was Elkanah who was one of the most wealthy and respected members of the Levite tribe. His mother Hannah was childless for many years and was a modest and god fearing woman. She was a prophetess and made a promise that if God gave her a child, she would dedicate him to God. He would grow up as a nazarite, not unlike Samson’s mother had done. When she became pregnant she prayed the wonderful prayer of praise that appears in Samuel chapter 2. Samuel came at a critical time in Jewish history. During the period of the judges, the people in the 12 tribes were divided and were sometimes fighting each other, witness what we read about how the tribe of Dan was disciplined in Judges. The Philistines, the enemies of the Jews, took advantage of the situation and attacked the Jews. The holy town of Shiloh where the sanctuary was located was destroyed. As we read in Judges, the people did what they wanted to without much regard for Israel and they adopted the Gods of the people like the Philistines. This took them away from God. Islam discusses the judge prophet Samuel, but not by name and says that he was influential in naming Saul as king of Israel. Elkanah had two wives and Hannah was childless. She was scorned by his other wife who made things very difficult for Hannah. We discussed the whole issue of childless women today and in some sense how sensitive the writers at that time were to the plight of Hannah. Today, there is much more acceptance of women who either choose not to have children or who may not be able to have children, but in the days of Samuel, it was important for many reasons for women to have children, not the least of which was the economic reasons. It seems that there are lots of themes that get carried out in this Deuteronomist tradition, one of them being that women are childless until God decides to give them a child who will become an important leader, witness, Sarah and Abraham, Samson, John the Baptist, and not Samuel. We had a short discussion about religions and Tom noted that about 1/3 of the world’s population are Christians, while 1/5th of them are Muslim. Supposedly, Christians hold the largest amount of wealth, about 55%, while Muslims hold about 6%. To repeat Mark’s point about who does the publicity for someone, Samuel had some devoted people that did a good job of enhancing his role in the life of the Israelites.

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