AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title | Analysis | Sources | The Hebrew Text and the Septuagint


In the Hebrew Bible, I, II Samuel figured as one book, entitled "Samuel"; but originally the books of Samuel and Kings formed one whole. The division of each of these into two books was due to the Septuagint, in which the books of Samuel and Kings were together regarded as containing a complete history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In the Septuagint they appear as one historical work, entitled "Kingdoms" (Basileion), divided into four parts, viz. 1 "Kingdoms", etc. Jerome in the Vulgate followed this, with the difference that he called them Regum.

The division of these books that is familiar to us occurred first in the Hebrew Bible published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice 1517-18. Since then all printed Hebrew Bibles have followed this division.

Whatever may have been the reason for giving I, II Samuel the title of "Samuel" in the Hebrew Bible, there can be no question that it was an inappropriate one. And it is difficult to believe that it can originally have figured there as the title; for only in quite a few chapters does Samuel play any part, and about halfway through I Samuel he disappears entirely. Nowhere is there any indication of Samuel having been the writer of the book; indeed in I.Sam.xxv, his death is recorded (cp. I.Sam.xv.35). [After I Sam.xvi.13; the section xix.18-24, in which Samuel is mentioned, is a Midrashic element, and of much later date.)


There are three main divisions:

  1. i.Sam. i-xv;

  2. i.Sam.xvi-II.Sam.viii;

  3. ii.Sam.ix-xx.22. [Verses 23-26 are out of place; see below, p.87.]

  4. II.Sam.xxi-xxiv are added to these as an Appendix.

 After i.Sam.xvi.13: the section xix.18-24, in which Samuel is mentioned, is a Midrashic element, and of much later date.

These divisions may be analysed as follows:

i.Sam.i-xv: The story of Eli. The story of Saul to the time of his rejection by Samuel.
i-iii: Samuel's childhood.
iv-vii.1: The fall of the house of Eli. Philistine victory at Aphek. Loss of the Ark; its sojourn in Philistine territory; its return to the Israelites.
vii.2-: Establishment of the kingdom by Samuel; his retirement.
i-xv: Saul's battles against the Philistines; defeat of the Amalekites; rejection of Saul by Samuel ("Samuel came no more to see Saul").
i.Sam.xvi-ii.Sam.viii: Saul and David.
xvi: The anointing of David. An evil spirit troubles Saul. David is sent for; by his playing on the harp Saul is quieted.
xvii: David's combat with Goliath.
xviii.1-5: David's covenant of friendship with Jonathan.
xviii.6-16: Saul's jealousy of David owing to the victory of the latter over the Philistines.
xviii.I 7-xx: Saul's ineffectual attempts to get rid of David. The flight of David to Ramah. The friendship of David and Jonathan.
xxi: David flees to Nob; thence to Achish, king of Gath.
x: David flees to the cave of Adullam; thence to Moab . At Saul's command the priests of Nob are slain; Abiathar escapes and joins David.
xi: David's victory over the Philistines at Keilah; he flees from Saul into the wilderness of Ziph; thence to the wilderness of Maon. Saul pursues him, but gives up the pursuit owing to a Philistine attack.
xxiv: David surprises Saul in the cave of Engedi, but spares his life.
xxv: David and Nabal.
xxvi: David steals into Saul's camp; Saul's life again spared.
xxvii: David sojourns in the land of the Philistines.
xxviii: Saul and the witch of Endor.
xxix: David and Achish.
xxx: David and the destruction of Ziklag.
xxxi-ii.Sam.i: Saul's defeat and death at the battle of Gilboa; David's sorrow; the "Song of the bow."
ii.1-7: David king of Judah.
ii.8-iii.1: The war between David and Eshbaal. ("Ish-bosheth") The house of David and the house of Saul.
iii.2-iv.3: David and Abner; the latter is slain by Joab.
iv.4-12: Death of Eshbaal.
v.1-16: David is recognized as king of all Israel.
v.17-25: David's victories over the Philistines.
vi: The bringing up of the Ark to Jerusalem.
vii: Nathan's prophecy of the permanence of the house of David.
Viii: David's valiant deeds.
ii.Sam.ix-xx: A record of the events that happened after Jerusalem had become the capital. Davidic Narrative.
ix: David and Meribbaal, the last representative of the house of Saul.
x: David's wars against the Ammonites and the Syrians.
xi-: David and Bathsheba. Nathan and David.
i: Amnon and Tamar. Absalom's revenge; flight to Talmai.
xiv: Absalom is received into favour again.
xv-xx.22: Absalom's rebellion. David's flight; Absalom is hindered from immediate pursuit by Hushai; David is thus enabled to reach a place of safety east of Jordan, where he gathers forces. Absalom is defeated and slain in the ensuing battle. Sheba's rebellion; suppressed by Joab. Amasa appointed commander-in-chief of David's forces in place of Joab. Joab treacherously murders Amasa. Death of Sheba.
xx.23-26: A fragmentary list of some of David's officers.
xxi-xxiv: An Appendix consisting of a miscellaneous collection of literary pieces: xxi.1-14 is a record of a famine in the days of David; it is interpreted as being due to Yahweh's anger because of Saul's unavenged blood-guiltiness against the Gibeonites. David therefore delivers up the last of Saul's descendants; they are "hanged before Yahweh." In xxi.15-22 a brief reference is made to wars with the Philistines, and an account of the prowess of David's mighty men. The psalm contained in x appears in the Psalter as Ps.xviii. Another psalm, probably far more ancient, occurs in xi.1-7. In xi.8-23 there is a list of heroes and their valiant deeds; this is followed by another fragmentary piece (xi.24-39), also containing the names of mighty men. In xxiv the narrative of David numbering the people is given.

It should be pointed out here that this Appendix, together with xx.23-26, has been inserted in a very unfortunate place; and not less unfortunate is the division of ii.Sam from i.Kgs at this point; for i.Kgs.i-ii.11 forms part of the division which begins at ii.Sam.ix, i.e. the Davidic narrative. It is probable that i.Kgs.i-ii.11 was separated from the division to which it belonged because it seemed to be an appropriate introduction to the Solomon narrative. But this separation having once taken place there was nothing to prevent ii.Sam.xx.23-26 and the Appendix ii.Sam.xxi-xxiv from being added.

This very summary analysis is merely intended to give a general idea of the subject-matter of i, ii.Sam.; there are many subdivisions of which no notice has been taken. But it will be found, as soon as the book is read in detail, that there are two things about it, which must strike even a superficial reader. The first is that frequently the various sections follow one another without there being any connexion between them. The second is that in a number of instances the same narrative is told twice over. The explanation of these phenomena will be seen when we examine the sources of our book; for the present it will be well to give the most striking examples of duplicate narratives.

The account of the foundation of the monarchy occurs in two sets of passages: i Sam.ix.1-x.16; xi.1-11,15; and i Sam.viii.x.17-25a, . There are two accounts of the origin of the saying, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" viz. i.Sam.x.10-12, and i Sam.xix.18-24. Narratives of David coming to the court of Saul occur in i Sam.xvi.14-23 and in i.Sam.xvii.12-58. The rejection of Saul is dealt with in i Sam.i.8-15 and in i Sam.xv.10-26. There are two accounts of David's flight from Saul; the passages when gathered together are i Sam.xx.4-10, 12-17, 24-34; and xx.1-3, 11, 18-23, 35-42, David's sojourn among the Philistines is recounted in i Sam.xxi.10-15 and in i Sam.xxvii.1-12. The treachery of the Ziphites is recorded in i Sam. xi.19-28 and in i Sam.xxvi.1-3,25b ("So David went his way"). The narrative of how David spared the life of Saul when in his power is given in i Sam.1-22 and in i Sam.xxvi.4-25a. There are two accounts of the death of Goliath: a detailed one in i Sam.xvii.1-58, according to which he was slain by David, and another in ii Sam.xxi.19, where it is merely said that Elhanan "slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam". Contrast this with i Sam.xvii.45. The death of Saul is recounted in i Sam.xxxi.4-6, where it is said that he committed suicide, and in ii Sam.ii.8-10, which says that he was slain by an Amalekite. Finally, in ii Sam.xiv.27 the children of Absalom are said to be three sons and one daughter, while in ii Sam.xviii.18 Absalom is made to say, "I have no son to keep my name in remembrance."

These are the most striking duplicate accounts, but there are others. Their existence can be accounted for only on the supposition that i ii Samuel was compiled from more than one source. This subject must be considered next.


The main purpose for which i ii Samuel was compiled was to record the origin of the monarchy, the circumstances which led up, to its establishment, and its consolidation under David. In other words, apart from minor details, it is the beginnings of the history of the Israelite kingdom which is the outstanding theme of i ii Samuel. This is borne out by the title which, as we have seen, was given by the Septuagint to the compendium which we call the books of Samuel and Kings, namely "Kingdoms", i.e. Judah and Israel.

Now, in the nature of things, more than one historian would undertake the compilation of such a history, which for the people concerned was of profound interest and importance; and they would not necessarily be contemporaries. Among the records available some might be accessible to one historian, others to another, so that when the compiler of our book gathered the materials for his history, he found at his disposal more than one series of narratives. Thus the majority of modern scholars discern two or more sources that were drawn upon by the compiler, though considerable differences of opinion exist as to the respective sources to which the different parts of the book are to be assigned. Whether two sources were utilized by the compiler, according to some, or three, according to others, is a question extremely difficult to decide; all that can be said with certainty is that inasmuch as there are so many duplicate narratives there must have been more than one I source available. Sellin, following Wellhausen, Cornill, Budde, and Kittel, believes in a two-source theory, and assigns, in general, the following portions to the earlier source: a strand in i Sam.i,ii and in iv-vi; the whole of ix.1-x.16; xi.1-11,15; i.2-6,15-23; xiv.1-46,52; xvi. 14-23; parts of xviii and xx; the whole of x, xxiv, xxv, xxvii-xxxi (excepting xxviii.3-25) ; ii Sam.i.17-vi.23; ix-xx (in the main). To the later source are assigned: i Sam.i-iii in the main; a strand in iv-vi; the whole of vii.2-17; viii; x.17-25a; ; xv; xvii.1-xviii.5; xviii.6-30; xix; parts of xx, of xxi, and of xi.1-13,4-18; xxvi; xxviii.3-25; ii Sam.i.6-10,14-16. The following passages in the Appendix (i.e. ii Sam.xxi-xxiv) are assigned to the earlier source: xxi.1-4, 15-22, xi.8-39.

Neither of these sources, as Sellin is careful to point out, is a unity

"in the sense that it can have been written down at first in the form in which we now have it."

On the contrary, as he adds, both sources include earlier material of varied origin. [Introduction to the Old Testament, p.109 (English Edition, 1923).)

It should also be noted that these two sources show close affinities with the J and E elements, respectively, recognizable in the Hexateuch; the earlier with J, the later with E. Some scholars go so far as actually to assign them to these documents, and the symbols K and Ke have at times been used to indicate them. (This has been thoroughly discountenanced by Kittel, Das erste Buch Samuel in Kautzch-Bertolet i.408 (1922).)

Eissfeldt has recently championed a three-source theory; he discerns three strands of narrative running throughout i ii Samuel; but, speaking generally, in i Sam, they are largely interwoven, while in ii Sam., they are written consecutively. [Die Komposition der Samuelisbucher (1931).]

Eissfeldt makes out a strong case for his thesis, which is handled with conspicuous ability; his three strands of the narrative of the foundation of the monarchy are certainly convincing, as will be seen if the following sets of passages be read separately:

  1. i Sam.x.21b-27; xi.1-5,6b-I5.
  2. ix; x.1-16.
  3. viii; x.17-21b; .

But it is questionable whether the three-source theory can be sustained throughout in, spite of Eissfeldt's most careful analysis. [Op. cit., pp.56-62. See also Hylander, Der literarische Samuel-Saul-Komplex i.Sam.i-xv (1933).]

Further, apart from the sources, there can be no shadow of doubt that the book has undergone more than one redactional process. That opinions vary to some extent as to the precise passages that belong to the different redactions is inevitable. A certain amount of subjectivity is bound to come into play here. Broadly speaking, however, it may be said that

  1. the book has been considerably worked over by the Deuteronomists, probably more than one scribe of this school is to be discerned; the Deuteronomistic; revision is evident in i Sam.ii.36; iv.8b; vi.15; vii.3, 4, 13, 14; .10, 12; xiv.47-51; ii Sam. v.4, 5; vii.13; viii; and possibly elsewhere;
  2. and that later, post-exilic additions include ii Sam.xxi-xxiv; i Sam.ii.1-10 (Hannah's Song); ii Sam.x.1-51 (David's thanksgiving), and ii Sam.xi.1 -7 (the "Last words of David"); though with regard to "Hannah's song", many authorities claim an earlier date.



It is recognized on all hands that, with the exception of the books of Ezekiel and Hosea, no book of the Old Testament contains so many textual corruptions as i ii Samuel. For some reason that cannot now be known, the MS, or MSS, of our book used by those who constructed the Massoretic text were in a particularly corrupt state. (See above, pp.13 f.)

The Septuagint translator, on the other hand, had before him a MS. that in numberless cases contained a purer form of text. It happens, therefore, over and over again that the form of the Hebrew text as we now have it presents corruptions, which can be rectified by means of the Greek text. Many of these rectifications may not be of much importance, but they certainly often make the meaning of a text clearer.

An example occurs in i Sam.i.9, where the Revised Version reads:

"So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk".

[The impossible form of the Hebrew as it now stands cannot, of course, be realized by the English paraphase.]

The Septuagint has, it is true, "in Shiloh", which should be emended to "in the feast chamber", attached to every sanctuary where the sacrificial Meal took place (see i Sam.ix.22). [The two words are very similar in Hebrew, and would easily have been confused by a copyist.]

With this emendation added, it reads,

"And Hannah rose up after they had eaten in the (feast) chamber, and stood up before the Lord"

(i.e. to pray, as the words which follow show). Or, again, in i.Sam.iv.13 the Hebrew has:

"Eli sat upon his seat by the way side watching" (RV),

but it is not clear as to what he was watching. The Septuagint reads:

"Eli sat beside the gate, looking along the road",

i.e. looking out for the messenger from the field of battle, which is more graphic. At times the Septuagint has passages that have fallen out of the Hebrew.

Thus in i Sam.iv.1 before, "Now Israel I went out against the Philistines to battle",

which reads as though the Israelites were the attackers, the Septuagint has:

"And it came to pass in those days that the Philistines were gathered together against Israel to war",

which shows that the Philistines were attacking, and that is in accordance with the conditions of the times. The Septuagint supplies other important omissions in the Hebrew text. On the other hand, passages are sometimes missing in the Septuagint, which are preserved in the Hebrew, the most notable examples of which occur in i Sam.xvii, xviii.

It is, therefore, quite clear that i ii Samuel cannot be studied without constant reference to the Septuagint; at the same time, the Septuagint is by no means always reliable, and caution is always needed in making use of it.