Birth and Calling of the Prophet Samuel: A Literary Reading of the Biblical Text


Birth and Calling of the Prophet Samuel: A Literary Reading of the Biblical Text

Publication Type

Journal Article

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Bibliographic Citation

Olsen, Steven L. "Birth and Calling of the Prophet Samuel: A Literary Reading of the Biblical Text", Vol. 56. 2017:7-44.


Chapters 1–3 of 1 Samuel describe the miraculous origins and auspicious upbringing of the first major Hebrew prophet since Joshua, who by all measures lived centuries before Samuel. The biblical account of Samuel’s beginnings forecasts the exceptional ministry of the man who served as Israel’s last complete sovereign. By faithfully filling the crucial roles of prophet, priest, and judge, Samuel helped to transform the House of Israel from a collection of weak and often warring tribes to a relatively permanent and somewhat stable nation in the contentious ancient Middle East. Thus, Samuel is rightly considered to be one of the preeminent personalities of the Hebrew Bible, and his remarkable ministry makes the brief narrative of his birth, childhood, and divine calling worthy of serious examination.
The present study argues that the literary craftsmanship of the text is as expressive of its meaning as are its descriptive contents. Indeed, its author’s meaningful intentions may be revealed more in the account’s rhetorical and poetic than in its documentary qualities. In short, this study adopts the perspective of the eminent historian Alan Heimert: “To discover the meaning of any utterance demands what is in substance a continuing act of literary interpretation, for the language with which an idea is presented, and the imaginative universe by which it is surrounded, often tell us more of an author’s meaning and intention than his declarative propositions.” While it may not be possible to determine with complete certainty the author’s specific purposes for crafting this account, there is great value in making an attempt.

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