The Literary History of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1: The Main Problems and Issues


From the rise of critical study of the Hebrew Bible, the Samuel narrative has long been a focus of literary and historical investigation. Spurred on by its unforgettable prose stories and the widespread assumption that it may contain some of the oldest Hebrew narrative in the biblical canon, scholars have advanced various theories to explicate the tensions, contradictions, and repetitions in the text, resulting in the identification of distinct compositional layers ranging from early sources to later editorializing and redaction.


With the seminal publication of his Überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien in 1943, Martin Noth introduced the idea of a Deuteronomistic History into the discussion, which quickly became widely accepted as a pivotal construct for explaining the formation of Samuel as well as the rest of the Former Prophets.[1] For Noth, the Samuel narrative reached its present form at the hand of a Deuteronomistic redactor/author, who as part of a much larger historiographical project constructed the text from various older traditions in order to serve his literary and theological agenda. Writing from a post-monarchic perspective, his undertaking was broad in scope, to trace the history of Israel from the post-settlement period to the end of the monarchy and to explain how the demise of Israel-Judah came about. The enduring contribution of Noth’s theory was that it successfully integrated a wide body of material and revealed structural, stylistic, and thematic continuity pointing to unified redaction/authorship.


Yet in recent decades scholars have become increasingly skeptical of the notion of a coherent Deuteronomistic history stretching from Joshua to Kings along the lines suggested by Noth. The literary development of this collection of material has been shown to be considerably more complex than Noth assumed and the identification of Dtr editing or authorship even more controverted and problematic. As a result, the relationship of the Samuel narrative to a broader Deuteronomistic history has been called into question, just as has its own redactional and literary history.[2] What were the sources used in the creation of the Samuel narrative? How were they transformed and adapted in the process of being taken up into the larger historiographical narrative that until recently was subsumed under the Dtr label? Can a coherent Dtr layer in Samuel be identified? Can post-Dtr layers?


The following paper represents a preliminary investigation into the literary history of a small and well-defined portion of the Samuel narrative, 1 Sam 1:1-4:1a, in order to clarify the main problems and issues at the level of individual passages and pericopes as a necessary first step to attempting a full reconstruction. The narrative is examined piecemeal with the aim of identifying compositional and redactional boundaries, distinguishing the narrative’s basic stages of development, and reconstructing the earliest recoverable forms of the text based on textual and literary-critical criteria. No particular theory for the development of Samuel is assumed a priori, but only that a Dtr history in the broadest sense existed, i.e. a historiographical narrative incorporating material from Joshua to Kings characterized by some distinctive language and ideology closely related to Deuteronomy, and that a Dtr author had a prominent hand in shaping Samuel, most easily identified in a number of well known texts that reflect Dtr language and ideology and create links with the broader Dtr narrative (e.g. 1 Sam 8; 12; 2 Sam 7).


The methodology I will follow will be to identify the various literary components of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1, starting from larger structural units and then moving to smaller ones. The textual examination will not be fully comprehensive, but will only treat those elements that have a significant bearing on recovering the major literary stages of the prehistory of the present form of the Samuel narrative.



1 Sam 1:1-4:1*


1 Sam 1:1-4:1a constitutes an identifiable block of the Samuel narrative complex, distinguished from the material that follows by its thematic focus on Samuel’s birth and rise to prophethood and the peculiar literary structure that envelopes 2:11b-4:1a: a number of closely related notices mentioning Samuel’s growth and service in the priesthood of Yahweh (2:11b; 2:18; 2:21b; 2:26; 3:1; 3:19). In 1 Sam 4:1b the narrative transitions abruptly into an account of the travels and vicissitudes of the ark of Yahweh in Philistine lands, where the figure of Samuel is completely absent.[3]


The material contained in the block nevertheless reflects a long history of compositional development and can be separated into a number of smaller units of divergent origins, beginning with the identification of three major subdivisions:


1 Sam 1:1-2:11a*

1 Sam 2:11b-36*

1 Sam 3:1-4:1a*



[1] For the history of scholarship, see Thomas Römer and Albert de Pury, “Deuteronomistic Historiography (DH): History of Research and Debated Issues,” in Israel Constructs its History: Deuteronomistic Historiography in Recent Research (ed. A. de Pury, T. Römer, and J.-D. Macchi; JSOTSSup 306; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 24-141.

[2] Cf. the contributions in Is Samuel Among the Deuteronomists: Current Views on the Place of Samuel in a Deuteronomistic History (ed. Cynthia Edenburg and Juha Pakkala; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013).

[3] For the identification of 1 Sam 1:1-4:1a as a literary unit, see P. Mommer, Samuel: Geschichte und Überlieferung (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991), 6-7; H. J. Stoebe, Das Erste Buch Samuelis (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1973), 86; H. W. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel (OTL; London: SCM Press, 1964), 43-44; R. Klein, 1 Samuel (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), xxx, 35.

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