Why Did They Write the Book of Samuel?

If you grew up in a Baptist church like I did, you probably reached an important time in your life when you asked, “Can I have another doughnut?” And the resulting sugar rush inspired you to ask more interesting questions such as, “Are 1 and 2 Samuel really one book and was the author inspired by the Apology of Hattusili, king of the Hittite Empire in the 13th century B.C.?” And that’s when your first grade Sunday school teacher started drinking at church.

The history of the book of Samuel before it became part of the Bible as we know it is actually quite complicated (and therefore not something I’ll talk about today). But in a nutshell, Samuel wasn’t divided into two books in the Hebrew Bible until 1517. When the Jews in Alexandria translated their Scriptures into Greek (the process began in the late 200s B.C.), they regarded the books of Samuel and Kings as one literary work, but divided it into 1 – 4 Kingdoms. This is how you would have experienced the book of Samuel in the early church (if you spoke Greek or Latin). Jerome (d. 420) retained this arrangement in the Vulgate. During the Reformation, Protestant translations of the Old Testament followed the Hebrew texts, and so returned to the designation of 1 – 2 Samuel.

Part of the book of Samuel (1 Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 5) tells the story of David’s rise from his anointing by Samuel to the establishment of his rule over all Israel at Jerusalem. This section resembles a Hittite text from the 1200s B.C. called the Apology of Hattusili. The Apology recounts Hattusili’s devotion to the goddess Ishtar and his ascension to the Hittite throne because of Ishtar’s favor. Hattusili was the youngest son of his father, a successful military commander, the object of intense jealousy from other officials, and he eventually usurped the throne by revolting against the king. Presumably, Hattusili composed his Apology to defend his actions and legitimize his own kingship as sanctioned by Ishtar.

While the events of Hattusili’s Apology do not match up exactly with David’s circumstances, David did have some explaining to do in order to win over the northern Israelite tribes (Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin). He became king at the expense of Saul and his family. Saul had declared David an outlaw. David spent time as a Philistine mercenary, and the Philistines killed Saul and several of his sons. Some of David’s soldiers were Philistine mercenaries. David was implicated in the deaths of both Abner and Ishbosheth. Since the Apology of Hattusili predates David by more than 200 years (David lived ca. 1000 B.C.), the author of Samuel could easily have borrowed Hattusili’s example in order to show how YWHW had chosen David as king over Israel. The presence of Ahimelech in 1 Samuel 26 and Uriah in 2 Samuel 11 – 12 (both are Hittites) raises the possibility even further. So why did they write the book of Samuel? It appears that at least one section of it originally served as a kind of campaign speech.

You can read the Apology here. The Hittite languages were written in cuneiform characters, and this site vocalizes “Ishtar” as “Sausga.”

Info on Hattusili and the Hittites

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *