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Samuel (/ˈsæm.j.əl/; Hebrew: שְׁמוּאֵל, Modern Shmu'el, Tiberian Šəmûʼēl; Arabic: صموئيل Ṣamuil; Greek: Σαμουήλ Samouēl; Latin: Samvel; Strong's: Shemuwel), literally meaning "Name of God" in Hebrew, is a leader of ancient Israel in the Books of Samuel in the Hebrew Bible. He is additionally known as a prophet and is mentioned in the second chapter of the Qur'an, although not by name.

His status, as viewed by rabbinical literature, is that he was the last of the Hebrew Judges and the first of the major prophets who began to prophesy inside the Land of Israel. He was thus at the cusp between two eras. According to the text of the Books of Samuel, he additionally anointed the first two kings of the Kingdom of Israel: Saul and David.



Biblical account



Samuel's mother was Hannah and his father was Elkanah. Elkanah lived at Rama-thaim in the district of Zuph. His genealogy is additionally found in a pedigree of the Kohathites (1 Chron. 6:3-15) and in that of Heman, his great-grandson (ib. vi. 18-22). According to the genealogical tables, Elkanah was a Levite - a fact otherwise not mentioned in the books of Samuel. The fact that Elkanah, a Levite, was denominated an Ephraimite is analogous to the designation of a Levite belonging to Judah (Judges 17:7, for example).

According to 1 Samuel: 1-28, Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children; Hannah did not. Nonetheless, Elkanah favoured Hannah. Jealous, Penninah reproached Hannah for her lack of children, causing Hannah much heartache. The relationship of Penninah and Hannah recalls that between Hagar and Sarah. Elkanah was a devout man and would periodically take his family on pilgrimage to the holy site of Shiloh. The motif of Elkanah and Hannah as devout, childless parents will reoccur with Zachariah and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist, and with Joachim and Anna and the birth of Mary.

On one occasion Hannah went to the sanctuary and prayed for a child. In tears, she vowed that were she granted a child, she would dedicate him to God as a Nazirite. Eli who was sitting at the foot of the doorpost in the sanctuary at Shiloh, saw her apparently mumbling to herself and thought she was drunk, but is soon assured of her motivation and sobriety. Eli was the priest of Shiloh, and one of the last Israelite Judges before the rule of kings in ancient Israel. He had assumed the leadership after Samson's death. Eli blessed her and she returned home. Subsequently Hannah becomes pregnant; her child was Samuel. Hannah's exultant hymn of thanksgiving resembles in several points Mary's later Magnificat.

After the child was weaned, she left him in Eli's care, and from time to time she would come to visit her son.


According to , Hannah named Samuel to commemorate her prayer to God for a child. Samuel is translated as heard of God or "God has heard" (from 'shama', "heard," and 'El', God). The Hebrew root of "Samuel" is "sha’al", a word mentioned seven times in 1 Samuel 1 and once as "sha’ul", Saul’s name in Hebrew (1 Samuel 1:28). Biblical historian Michael Coogan suggests that Saul’s birth narrative was transferred to Samuel by the Deuteronomist historians.


One night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Samuel was about 12 years old. He initially assumed it was coming from Eli and went to Eli to ask what he wanted. Eli, however, sent Samuel back to sleep. After this happened three times Eli realised that the voice was the Lord's, and instructed Samuel on how to answer. Once Samuel responded, the Lord told him that the wickedness of the sons of Eli had resulted in their dynasty being condemned to destruction. In the morning, Eli asked Samuel to honestly recount to him what he had been told by the Lord. Upon receiving the communication, Eli merely said that the Lord should do what seems right unto him.


During Samuel's youth at Shiloh, the Philistines inflicted a decisive defeat against the Israelites at Eben-Ezer, placed the land under Philistine control, and took the sanctuary's Ark for themselves. Upon hearing the news of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant, and the death of his sons, Eli collapsed and died. When the Philistines had been in possession of the Ark for seven months and had been visited with calamities and misfortunes, they decided to return the Ark to the Israelites.

According to Bruce C. Birch, Samuel was a key figure in keeping the Israelites religious heritage and identity alive throughout Israel's defeat and occupation by the Philistines. "[I]t might have been possible and necessary for Samuel to exercise authority in roles that would normally not converge in a single individual (priest, prophet, judge)."

After 20 years of oppression, Samuel, who had gained national prominence as a prophet (1 Samuel 3:20), summoned the people to the hill of Mizpah, and led them against the Philistines. The Philistines, having marched to Mizpah to attack the newly amassed Israelite army, were soundly defeated and fled in terror. The retreating Philistines were slaughtered by the Israelites, which the Bible portrays positively. The text then states that Samuel erected a large stone at the battle site as a memorial, and there ensued a long period of peace thereafter.


Samuel initially appointed his two sons as his successors; however, just like Eli's sons, Samuel's proved unworthy. The Israelites rejected them. Because of the external threat from additional tribes, such as the Philistines, the tribal leaders decided that there was a need for a more unified, central government, and demanded Samuel appoint a king so that they can be like additional nations. Samuel interprets this as a personal rejection, and at first is reluctant to oblige, until reassured by a divine revelation. He warns the people of the potential negative consequences of such a decision. Samuel was a known chozeh, a seer believed to be endowed with true spiritual insight, in contrast to the false prophets, enchanters and magicians of the neighbouring nations. When Saul and his servant were searching for his father's lost asses, the servant suggested consulting the nearby Samuel. Samuel recognised Saul as the future king.

Just before his retirement, Samuel gathered the people to an assembly at Gilgal, and gave them a farewell speech in which he emphasised how prophets and judges were more important than kings, how kings should be held to account, and how the people shouldn't fall into idol worship, or worship of Asherah or of Baal; Samuel threatened that God would subject the people to foreign invaders should they disobey. This is seen by a few as a deuteronomic redaction; after archaeological finds indicate that Asherah was still worshipped in Israelite households well into the sixth century. Notwithstanding the Bible says in 1 Kings 11:5, 33, and 2 Kings 23:13 that the Israelites fell into Asherah worship later on.

When Saul in preparing to fight the Philistines, Samuel denounces him for proceeding with the pre-battle sacrifice without waiting for the overdue Samuel to arrive. He prophesies that Saul's rule will see no dynastic succession. During the campaign against the Amalekites, King Saul spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and the best of their livestock. Saul tells Samuel that he spared the choicest of the Amalekites' sheep and oxen, intending to sacrifice the livestock to the Lord. This was in violation of the Lord's command, as pronounced by Samuel, to "... utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Samuel 15:3). Samuel confronts Saul for his disobedience and tells him that God made him king, and God can unmake him king. Samuel then proceeded to execute Agag. Saul never saw Samuel alive again after this.

Apparition of the spirit of Samuel to Saul, by Salvator Rosa, 1668.

Samuel then proceeds to Bethelehem and secretly anoints David king. He would later provide sanctuary for David, when the jealous Saul first tried to have him killed. Samuel died and was buried in Ramah. According to classical rabbinical sources, this was at the age of fifty-two.

Saul later had the Witch of Endor conjure Samuel's ghost in order to predict the result of an up-coming battle. This passage is ascribed by textual scholars to the republican source. Classical rabbinical sources say that Samuel was terrified by the ordeal, having expected to be appearing to face God's judgement, and had therefore brought Moses with him (to the land of the living) as a witness to his adherence to the mitzvot.

Source Criticism

National prophet, local seer

Some authors see the biblical Samuel as combining descriptions of two distinct roles:

  • A seer, based at Ramah, and seemingly known scarcely beyond the immediate neighbourhood of Ramah (Saul, for example, not having heard of him, with his servant informing him of his existence instead). In this role, Samuel is associated with the bands of musical ecstatic roaming prophets (Nevi'im - neb'im) at Gibeah, Bethel, and Gilgal, and a few traditional scholars have argued that Samuel was the founder of these groups. At Ramah, Samuel secretly anoints Saul, after having met him for the first time, while Saul was looking for his father's lost donkeys, and treated him to a meal.
  • A prophet, based at Shiloh, who went throughout the land, from place to place, with unwearied zeal, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting the people to repentance. In this role, Samuel acted as a (biblical) judge, publicly advising the nation, and additionally giving private advice to individuals. Eventually Samuel delegates this role to his sons, based at Beersheba, but they behave corruptly and so the people, facing invasion from the Ammonites, persuade Samuel to appoint a king. Samuel reluctantly does so, and anoints Saul in front of the entire nation, who had gathered to see him.

Source-critical scholarship suggests that these two roles come from different sources, which later were spliced together to form the Book(s) of Samuel. The oldest is considered to be that which marks Samuel as the local seer of Ramah, who willingly anoints Saul as King in secret, while the latter is that which presents Samuel as a national figure, who begrudgingly anoints Saul as King in front of a national assembly. This later source is generally known as the republican source, after here, and elsewhere, it denigrates the actions and role of the monarchy (particularly those of Saul) and favours religious figures, in contrast to the additional main source – the monarchial source – which treats the monarchy favourably. Theoretically if we had the monarchial source we would see Saul appointed king by public acclamation, due to his military victories, and not by cleromancy involving Samuel. An Additional difference between the sources is that the republican source treats the shouters as somewhat independent from Samuel () rather than having been led by him ().

The passage in which Samuel is described as having exercised the functions of a (biblical) judge, throughout an annual circuit from Ramah to Bethel to Gilgal (the Gilgal between Ebal and Gerizim) to Mizpah and back to Ramah, is foreshadowed by Deborah, who used to render judgments from a place beneath a palm between Ramah and Bethel. Source-critical scholarship considers it to be a redaction aimed at harmonising the two portrayals of Samuel.

The Book(s) of Samuel variously describe Samuel as having carried out sacrifices at sanctuaries, and having constructed and sanctified altars. According to the Priestly Code/Deuteronomic Code only Aaronic priests/Levites (depending on the underling tradition) were permitted to perform these actions, and simply being a nazarite or prophet was insufficient. The books of Samuel and Kings offer numerous examples where this rule isn't followed by kings and prophets, but a few critical scholars look elsewhere seeking a harmonisation of the issues. In the Book of Chronicles, Samuel is described as a Levite, rectifying this situation; however critical scholarship widely sees the Book of Chronicles as an attempt to redact the Book(s) of Samuel and of Kings to conform to later religious sensibilities. Since a large number of of the Biblical law codes themselves are thought to postdate the Book(s) of Samuel (according to the documentary hypothesis), Chronicles is probably making its claim based on religious bias. The Levitical genealogy of isn't historical, according to modern scholarship.

The Deuteronomistic Historians' Portrait of Samuel

The Deuteronomistic Historians, who redacted the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings), idealised Samuel as a figure who's larger than life like Joshua. Samuel's father, Elkanah, is described as having originated from Zuph, specifically Ramathaim-Zophim, which was part of the tribal lands of Ephraim, while the Books of Chronicles state that he was a Levite. Samuel is a judge who leads the military like in the Book of Judges and additionally who exercises judicial functions. In 1 Sam 12:6-17, the Deuteronomic Historians composed a speech of Samuel that puts him as the judge sent by God to save Israel. In 1 Samuel 9:6-20, Samuel is seen as a local “seer.” The Deuteronomistic Historians preserved this view of Samuel while contributing him as “the first of prophets to articulate the failure of Israel to live up to its covenant with God.” For the Deuteronomistic Historians, Samuel was extension of Moses and continuing Moses’ function as a prophet, judge, and a priest which made historical Samuel uncertain. Adrian Zindi,argued that Samuel was prophet of God.

Perspectives on Samuel

Grave of the Prophet Samuel, Jerusalem, the Levant.


According to the Book of Jeremiah, and one of the Psalms (), Samuel had a high devotion to God. Classical Rabbinical literature adds that he was more than an equal to Moses, God speaking directly to Samuel, rather than Samuel having to attend the tabernacle to hear God. Samuel is additionally described by the Rabbis as having been extremely intelligent; he argued that it was legitimate for laymen to slaughter sacrifices, after the Halakha only insisted that the priests bring the blood (cf , Zebahim 32a). Eli, who was viewed negatively by a large number of Classical Rabbis, is said to have reacted to this logic of Samuel by arguing that it was technically true, but Samuel should be put to death for making legal statements while Eli (his mentor) was present.

Samuel is additionally treated by the Classical Rabbis as a much more sympathetic character than he appears at face value in the Bible; his annual circuit is explained as being due to his wish to spare people the task of having to journey to him; Samuel is said to have been quite rich, taking his entire household with him on the circuit so that he didn't need to impose himself on anyone's hospitality; when Saul fell out of God's favour, Samuel is described as having grieved copiously and having prematurely aged.


For Evangelical Christians Samuel is considered to be a Prophet, Judge, and wise Leader of Israel, and treated as an example of fulfilled commitments to God. On the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar, as well as the Lutheran calendar, his feast day is August 20. He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30. In the Coptic Orthodox Church, the commemoration of the departure of Samuel the Prophet is celebrated on 9 Paoni.

Herbert Lockyer and others have seen in Samuel's combined offices of prophet, priest, and ruler a type of Christ.


Mosque of the Prophet Samuel, Jerusalem, Al-Sham.

Samuel is seen as a Nabi (Arabic: نَـبِي‎‎, Prophet) and seer in the Islamic faith. The narrative of Samuel in Muslims' literature focuses specifically on his birth and the anointing of Saul. Other elements from his narrative are in accordance with the narratives of additional Prophets of Israel, as exegesis recounts Samuel's preaching against idolatry. Although he's mentioned in the Qur'an, his name isn't given but he's instead referred to as "a Prophet". According to Islamic history, the Israelites, after the time of the prophet Moses, wanted a king to rule over their country. Thus, God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king for the Israelites. The Qur'an states:

Have you thought of the elders of Israel after Moses, and how they said to their apostle: "Set up a king for us, then we shall fight in the way of God?" He replied: "This too is possible that when commanded to fight you might not fight at all." They said: "How is it we shouldn't fight in the way of God when we have been driven from our homes and deprived of our Sons?" But when they were ordered to fight they turned away, except for a few; yet God knows the sinners.

— Qur'an, sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayah 246

The Qur'an goes on to state that a Malik (Arabic: مَـلِـك‎‎, King) was anointed by the prophet, whose name was Talut (Saul in the Hebrew Bible). Notwithstanding it states that the Israelites mocked and reviled the newly appointed king, as he wasn't wealthy from birth. But, in sharp contrast to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an praises Saul greatly, and mentions that he was gifted with great spiritual and physical strength. In the Qur'anic account, Samuel prophesies to the children of Israel, telling them that the sign of Saul's Kingship will be that the Ark of the Covenant will come back to the Israelites:

And when their prophet said to them: "God has raised Saul king over you," they said: "How can he be king over us when we have greater right to kingship than he, for he doesn't even possess abundant wealth?" "God has chosen him in preference to you," said the prophet "and gifted him abundantly in wisdom and stature; and God gives authority to whomsoever He will: God is infinite and all-wise."
Their prophet said to them: "The sign of his kingship will be that you'll come to have a chest (tabu't) full of peace and tranquillity (Sakina) from your Lord and remainder of the legacy of the children of Moses and the children of Aaron, carried over by the angels. In this certainly shall be a sign for you if you really believe."

— Qur'an, sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayahs 247–248


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