Sunday, October 18, 2015

Talmud Circle 1
Book is Koren Talmud Bavli, Vol. 1 Berakhot. 
First Samuel
Starts with origin story of Samuel—Hannah’s prayer to the Lord to overcome infertility.
Samuel 1 & 2 Notes From Oxford Annotated

First Samuel and Second Samuel were originally a single work narrating the beginning of the monarchy and the reigns of its first two kings, Saul and David. [Note: although David’s is an epic story, there is no “Book of David”] They were divided into two books in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint), and were named after Samuel, who plays a prominent role in the first half of the work, and were even attributed to his authorship. The name is not entirely appropriate, however, since Samuel dies before 1 Samuel ends ( 25.1 ).

First Samuel has three sections built around its principal characters, Samuel (chs 1–7), Saul (chs 8–15), and David (chs 16–31). Samuel is a transitional figure—the last of the judges and the prophet who anoints Saul and then announces his rejection by the Lord and anoints David in his place. 

[Peretz: the people beg Samuel to find them a king. Samuel thinks it’s a bad idea; kings are a bad idea. They grab everything and misbehave. But the people won’t hear it. So Samuel appoints Saul—who turns out to be a disaster. This is followed by David, who is a big success politically—messy personal life, not a paragon of virtue. David turns out to manifest all the bad traits that Samuel predicted kings would have]

Saul is a tragic figure—plucked from obscurity and thrust into a position of power for which he ultimately proves unfit. David is the focal figure of 1 Samuel, for whom both Samuel and Saul pave the way. Like Saul, he is presented as humble and without personal ambition for kingship. However, while Saul was initially the divinely designated ruler, in the end he fell out of divine favor and “the Lord was with David”—a major theme in the book.

Most scholars view 1–2 Samuel as part of a larger original composition called the Deuteronomistic History, which encompasses the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings and relates Israel's history from the conquest under Joshua to the end of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (see pp. 310–11 hb ). The Deuteronomistic History is a theological history; it evaluates Israel's past according to the principles of the book of Deuteronomy, with which it begins. It stresses such matters as obedience to the law and God's choice of Jerusalem as the central place of worship for Israel and of David and his descendants as its kings.

The Deuteronomistic History was composed by one or more nameless “Deuteronomists,” probably in the exile, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 bce, though some scholars date its initial edition to the reign of King Josiah in the late seventh century. The Deuteronomist(s) edited various traditions into a single, running historical account. They occasionally inserted speeches or commentary in their own distinctive Deuteronomistic style into the narrative. Examples of Deuteronomistic style in 1 Samuel are 8.8 (the Exodus), 8.12 (the people crying out), and 12.14–15 (the review of Israel's history and the command to “heed the voice of the Lord”).

First and Second Samuel are a literary masterpiece, but they may also contain genuine history. While they were written hundreds of years after the events they describe, they seem to contain older source material. Some scholars have suggested that an old “Ark Narrative” underlies 4.1–7.1 , that a cycle of stories about Saul and his reign is behind chs 8–15, and that chs 16–31 are based on a “History of David's Rise.” These documents are theoretical reconstructions, and the exact nature of the sources used by the Deuteronomistic remains uncertain.

The central character of the Deuteronomistic History is David. The Deuteronomistic(s) explained the long duration of the Davidic dynasty theologically as the result of a divine promise to David himself (see 2 Sam 7 ). David may also have been viewed as the model for the restoration of the monarchy after the crisis of the exile. The pro‐Davidic tone of 1 Samuel is evident. While Saul falters at every step, David can do no wrong. God abandons Saul but is constantly with David. At some stage in its development the section dealing with David's rise seems to have been designed as an “apology” or defense of David and his kingship. The charge that David usurped the throne to which he had no hereditary right and did so through multiple assassinations is subtly and effectively addressed in 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. The reader, who may draw closer to actual history by asking whether Saul was really as bad and David as innocent as their portraits in 1 Samuel indicate, is aided in answering such questions by materials presented in the Deuteronomistic History.

The story of the birth of Samuel is set during the settlement period. Post Joshua. Clan family groups. Religious practice is centered around the three great agricultural festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, Sukhot.  It consists of burnt offerings that are consumed communally with the priests (Cohens) and the family. Eli the priest “sat upon a seat by the gate post of the temple of the Lord.” But there is no temple. The priests, Eli and his sons, are at Shilo and preside over a slightly elevated mound with a wall around it to mark it and to hold the animals offered as offerings for slaughter by the priests. There were lots of these throughout ancient pre-kingdom Israel. Women and children are in attendance. Offerings are made during the three festivals, and as needed. Everyone celebrates together. A meal is shared. There are alcoholic beverages. 

Practice is centered on the earth, land and women. The Cohanim were not a privileged class; to the contrary, they were a burdened class with restrictions. E.g. they could only receive offerings, they could not own land and livestock; they were restricted in whom they could marry, what they could do. No special benefits were conferred on them. 

Song of Solomon is full of Canaanite religion. 

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy are focused on obedience—rule following. So the first text children are exposed to in Yeshivas is Leviticus.  “Eat this, don’t eat that.” By contrast, Genesis is theology. It may have been drafted later. In other words, although the story of Sarah predates the Jewish conquest of Canaan, the story of Hanna may have been on the bookshelf first!  [Compare: the infertility story of Sarah and the infertility story of Hanna. Sarah speaks directly to God; Hanna petitions God and is assisted (?) by Eli the priest who also puts in a good word. Both stories center around God’s promise (to make the people fruitful if they kept the law), the promise not working for Sarah and Hannah, and God honoring his promise after appeal]

There are other parallels between the birth of Samuel story and the Abraham/Sarah story. The phrase “and they rose up in the morning early” is prominent here with Elkanah and Hanna rising up early, worshipping before the Lord, and procreating; just as Abraham and Isaac “rose up early” on the awful day when the Lord tested Abraham’s faith.  Similarly, in the Abraham story, Hagar and Ishmael taunt Sarah for her barrenness, just as Pennina “provoked (Hanna) bitterly, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb.” 

Arc of the story: “Give us a king,” say the people to Samuel. He counsels them against it. “You don’t want a king because they will abuse their power.” People ignore the advice. So Samuel finds Saul—who turns out to be a terrible king. This leads to King David, who is wildly successful: conquers territory, gets wealthy, brings prestige, power, and statehood. Kingdom is founded. 

But soon things go badly. There is strife between the tribes, there is conquest by outside forces, expulsion. 

“Machud” means sovereignty. “Melech” means sovereign. It’s what the Egyptians also called their sovereigns.  [The term “Pharaoh” was derogatory name used by Israelites to refer to the Egyptian melechs] 

Peretz: Saul is a disaster, but David is a great success, but does all the bad things that Samuel predicted a king would do. People get the government they want. 

By the time of the writing of the Babylonian Talmud, women were relegated to the background. This introduces a tension in the literature because women are front and center in the early writings. 

Prayer.  In Samuel 1, Hanna was “in bitterness of soul, and she prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly.” Samuel 1:10.  This is the first mention of prayer to God.  She promises if the Lord gives her a male child she will “give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.” [Nazarite vow?] 

Question: is Samuel 1 an innovation with respect to prayer, or are prayer and petition (“asking for free stuff”) part of the tradition from the beginning? 

What is the nature of Hannah’s prayer? How does she approach the Lord?  Hanna both opens herself up with all her vulnerability (with “bitterness in her soul” and with tears) and she manages to ask for a very specific thing—a son. She “pours out her soul” before the Lord. 1:15.  She moves her mouth but no sound comes out. 1: 13. She makes promises (to consecrate her son) and asks for favor in return (a male child).  She has both grief and a complaint. 1:16

The Talmud portion addresses the manner in which Hanna approaches God and what that means. 

Roland Nikles 


  1. Roland, I for one appreciate your detailed notes and salute you attempt to get a handle on all of this!