Monarchical Period, Saul and Birth of Judaism

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Before the Jewish kingdom was formed, the Jews were led by officers known as judges. Among these were the warrior Gideon, the great judge Deborah, and Samson, known for his long hair and feats of strength Threatened by the Philistines and resolved to renew their relationship with God, the Israeli tribes were unified under Saul of the tribe of Benjamin around 1023 B.C. Saul helped build a powerful nation and won many victories. His reign ended when he and his son Jonathon were killed in a battle with the Philistines.

According to the BBC: “This was the beginning of Judaism as a structured religion The Jews, under God’s guidance became a powerful people with kings such as Saul, David, and Solomon, who built the first great temple. From then on Jewish worship was focussed on the Temple, as it contained the Ark of the Covenant, and was the only place where certain rites could be carried out.” [Source: BBC]

At first the Hebrew monarchy was very powerful. The height of ancient Israel was between 1000 and 930 B.C. when David and Solomon forged the Hebrew tribes into a small but strong state. Then the Hebrew monarchy was split into two weaker kingdoms — Israel and Judea — which were conquered and ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians. The Jewish kingdom returned again between 162 and 48 B.C., until they were surmounted again, this time by Romans.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Bible and Biblical History: ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Bible History Online Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; Books: “A Short History of Judaism” by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); “The Gift of the Jews” by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: “Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times” by Donald Redford; “Oxford Companion to the Bible” ; “Palestine Bible as History” by Werner Keller; “The Bible Unearthed” by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; “Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands” by K. Farrington

Major Events, Figures and Episodes from the Ancient Monarchical Period of Judaism

Major Periods of the Monarchical Period in Israel ca. 1000-587 B.C.: Monarchical period in Israel
ca. 1030-1010 B.C.: Saul (transitional king)
ca. 1010-970 B.C.: David conquers the Jebusites and makes Jerusalem his capital
ca. 970-931 B.C.: Solomon builds the First Temple on Mount Moriah
[Source: Jewish Virtual Library, UC Davis, Fordham University]

Saul and David by Rembrandt

Major Events, Figures and Episodes from the Ancient Monarchical Period of Judaism
Samuel, the seer-prophet.
Philistines battle the Hebrews.
the battle of Aphek, the loss of the Ark and the return of the Ark, the destruction of Shiloh.
The Ammonites attack and are beaten by Saul.
Saul is crowned king, the beginning of the kingdom. David enters Saul's court, Saul battles Philistines, David becomes an outlaw, Saul and Jonathan are killed.
Ishba'al becomes king in Israel.
[Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968,]

David becomes king in Judah.
David unites Israel and Judah.
David conquers Jerusalem.
David brings the Ark to Jerusalem.
David extends the boundaries of the kingdom.
Absalom revolts and is killed, Adonijah revolts and is killed

Solomon becomes co-regent until David's death.
Solomon builds the temple and palace, Jeroboam revolts and is exiled, The saga of the nation, the Davidic history and law codes are written down
Solomon dies.
Jeroboam returns from exile.

The kingdom splits in two.
Egypt is too weak from the war with the Sea People and the loss of Palestine to exercise much authority.
Egypt begins to grow in strength
Assyrian expansion begins under Tiglath Pileser I (ca. 1116-1078 B.C.); campaigns in Anatolia and Phoenicia.
Later, Assyrian power declines; Phoenicia begins to expand by sea.

Divisions Within the Hebrew Kingdoms

Jewish history was shaped almost as much by internal rivalries as it was by threats from the outside. Gopnik wrote in The New Yorker: The southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel, which we might have imagined as agreeable sister kingdoms, were, in the centuries around 900-700 B.C., warring adversaries, though a single deity, one of many names, was shared between them. The oldest deity, El — “Israel” is usually interpreted to mean “One who struggles with God” — got replaced over time by the unnameable deity Yahweh, who originally had a female companion, and then by a more metaphysical maker, Elohim. [Source: Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, August 21, 2023; Book: “Why the Bible Began,” by Jacob L. Wright]

In his book “Why the Bible Began,” the scholar Jacob L. Wright traces the narrative rivalries and divisions that formed the Hebrew Scriptures. Wright stresses the extent of the disruption that occurred when Israel was subjugated by the Assyrians while Judah maintained self-rule for more than a century afterward. (A blink in Biblical time, perhaps, but it’s an interval like the one that separates us from the Civil War.) It was during this period, he argues persuasively, that a fundamental break happened, leaving a contrapuntal discord in the Bible between the southern “Palace History” and the “People’s History” of the dispossessed northern scribes. The Palace History conjured up Saul and David and Solomon and the rest, still comfortably situated within a “statist,” dynastic Levantine court; the People’s History, by contrast, was aggressively indifferent to monarchs, real or imagined, and concentrated instead on popular figures, Moses and Miriam, the patriarchs and the prophets. The Jewish tradition of celebrating non-dynastic figures of moral or charismatic force — a practice mostly unknown, it would seem, in the rest of the ancient world — begins in the intersection of dispossessed Israelites and complacent Judaeans.

The northern and the southern narratives were, Wright says, constantly being entangled and reëntangled by the Biblical writers, as a kind of competition in interpolation. So, for instance, Aaron the priest is interpolated latterly as Moses’ brother in order to align the priestly court-bound southern caste with the charismatic northern one. Again and again, what seems like uniform storytelling is revealed to be an assemblage of fragments, born from defeat and midwifed by division.

Monarchy and Law

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The successful management of any organization of people must proceed according to rules, and the government of a nation requires law that provides means to prevent anarchy and to guarantee justice to the people. No royal edicts and no promulgations by legal councils are found in the Bible. Nor have any law codes from ancient Palestine been found to date. Yet Saul, and more particularly David and Solomon, must have had some legal precedents to govern the land. The role of the king as arbitrator in difficult cases is hinted at in Nathan's parable (II Sam. 12), in the case of the woman of Tekoa (II Sam. 14) and in Absalom's contentions (II Sam. 15:1-5). It seems probable that Hebrew administrative policy and law was built upon existing Canaanite precedents, although no such codes are known to us. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,”1968, ]

“Many laws are contained within the Pentateuch but just when and how these laws developed is a moot question. A basic principle to be remembered in the study of the history of law is that legal rulings do not precede the conditions they seek to control. Law develops out of situations, not before them. Therefore, laws pertaining to problems of settled culture cannot be of Mosaic origin but, being in existence in Canaan when the Hebrews entered the land, were adopted and adapted. To argue that Moses prescribed for conditions which the Hebrews would encounter upon entering the land ignores the variations that occur in the laws ascribed to Moses, and the disarrangement of the laws indicates that the legal prescriptions developed over a period of time and were not uttered at one moment. As Johs. Pederson has put it: "When everything authoritative is Mosaic, then every generation will naturally lend to the time of Moses its own manner of living and thinking."

“The discovery of Oriental codes much older than those of the Bible, yet prescribing laws similar to those found within the Bible, has helped scholars to understand better the nature of Hebrew law. The Imperial law code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, coming from the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries, was discovered by the French in 1901-02. Hammurabi's laws were not an original creation but reveal development, for it can be demonstrated that the Hammurabi code is related to the law code of King Lipit-Ishtar of the city of Eshnunna who lived in the nineteenth century B.C. Behind Lipit-Ishtar's law code, it can be assumed that older formulations of law stand, extending back into Sumerian times.27 Both the Hammurabi code and the Lipit-Ishtar code indicate that the laws had divine sanction. The stele upon which the Hammurabi laws were inscribed depicts, in a relief, the monarch receiving authority to enact law from Shamash, the sun god and patron of justice. In like manner King Lipit-Ishtar, in the prologue to his law code, indicates that he was summoned by the god Enlil to establish justice in the land which he proceeded to do in accordance with the divine command.28 Just how the laws were supposed to have been imparted to the monarchs is not revealed, but the point was that the directions or laws for the guidance of human affairs were given by the gods and therefore were superior to the intentions and desires of any single human being. In the same way, the Hebrew people declared that their laws came from Yahweh and were to be obeyed.

“Within the Old Testament two different kinds of law are to be found. The first, known as casuistic law, presents the ruling in a conditional formula beginning "If a man . . ." or "When a man . . ." etc. (cf. Exod. 22:lf., 10f.). This pattern of presentation is found in codes throughout the ancient Near East and in the Bible probably reflects laws current among the pre-Hebrew inhabitants of the land.29 The other form of law, called apodictic law, sets the ruling in a terse statement of prohibition or command: "You must not . . ." or "You shall not . . ." or "You shall . . ." (cf. Exod. 23:18, 19). While apodictic law is found in other ancient law codes, it does appear in far greater measure in the Old Testament than elsewhere. It is therefore proper to suggest, as many scholars have done, that these laws, particularly those involving the name of Yahweh, represent original Hebrew law,30 although it is impossible to know just when these laws may have originated.

“Within the Bible one of the oldest collections of law is embodied in what is known as "The Covenant Code," which has been given a literary setting in the midst of a covenant ceremony involving Moses and Yahweh (cf. Exod. 20:22-23:33). Quite obviously, the editors sought to give divine sanctions to these laws. As these laws reflect festivals relating to an agricultural economy, they cannot be earlier than the Hebrew invasion of Palestine and most probably reflect an ancient Canaanite code which was Hebraized. Such laws of the harvest festival as the law of the firstfruits (Exod. 22:29b-30), the law of the Sabbath (Exod. 23:12), the festival laws related to the feasts of the unleavened bread, the firstfruits and the ingathering (Exod. 23:15-19a) are listed with other early rulings such as the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother's milk (Exod. 23:19b).31 How many other laws belong to a very early period is a matter of debate, for the setting in which they now appear is late and reflects the work of editing.


Saul (c. 1029-1005 B.C.) was a successful military leader, but his quarrels with Samuel and his melancholy disposition led to fits of depression that were relieved by music. A young harpist named David was often summoned to play for him. David's popularity after the the of the Philistine giant Goliath and his marriage to Saul's daughter Michal, and his friendship with Saul's son Jonathan drove Saul mad with jealousy rather than giving him joy. Saul’s suspicion that David was out to usurp his throne drove Saul into rage, and he tried to kill David, forcing him to flee. Saul met an ignominious end when a force of Philistines defeated the armies of Israel and the wounded Saul took his own life. The victorious Philistines displayed his beheaded body on the wall of the Israelite city of Beth-Shan.[Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s]

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The Deuteronomic history of Israel continues with the stories of Samuel and Saul which form the records of the beginnings of Hebrew kingship. Some sources are designated, such as "The Book of the Acts of Solomon" (I Kings 11:41), "The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel" (I Kings 14:19, 15:31, 16:5) and "The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah" (I Kings 14:29, 15:7, 22:45), but multiple traditions may be discerned in contradictions and doublets. There are three separate descriptions of the origin of the monarchy, two favorably disposed toward kingship and the third hostile (compare I Sam. 7-8, 9-10, 11). Saul's death is reported twice (I Sam. 31, II Sam. 1), and there are other indications of composite authorship.1 Some scholars attempt to analyze sources according to Pentateuchal patterns, developing a documentary hypothesis. A simpler and sounder solution is recognition of the principle of progressive interpretation by which the earliest source in Samuel was expanded by those who, without altering the words of the earlier tradition, added other points of view and new interpretive material, thus altering the major thrust of the earlier writing. The final stage in this process is the editing by Deuteronomists.

“The earliest source in I Samuel begins in Chapter 4 with the account of the continuing struggle between powerful Philistine city-states and Hebrew communities. There seems to be little reason to question the historicity of this information. Indeed, as the early source is read, the impression grows that an objective witness, someone personally familiar with events described, produced the record. Once the Hebrew kingdom came into being, royal records, from which some of the material may have been drawn, would be made. The early source in Samuel is one of the best and earliest examples of accurate historical writing known to us, and it forms the core of what was to become the record of the Hebrew kings.”

Early Chapters of the Bible on the Ancient Hebrew Monarchy

Gerald A. Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The first three chapters of Samuel are late additions explaining how the extraordinary role that the prophet Samuel played in Hebrew history could be traced to his miraculous birth, the consecration of his life to Yahweh's service, and to the divine summons and commission. The psalm or prayer of Hannah in Chapter 2 is, in reality, a royal psalm composed to honor the king and may be as late as the post-Exilic era (note references to the messianic king in Verse 10) and, apart from Verse 5, has little to do with joy in the birth of a child. Later this song was to serve as a prototype for the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Interesting worship customs are reflected in the opening chapters: the father performs the ritual on behalf of the family (I Sam. 1:4, 21) and the priest appears to be little more than the keeper of the shrine, receiving payment by sharing in the offerings (I Sam. 2:13 ff.). The vocational summons that came to Samuel from Yahweh occurred in the temple during sleeping hours, suggesting a rite of incubation. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Samuel blesses Saul

“The earliest account begins with the report of the battle of Aphek, a strategically located Hebrew city at the edge of Philistine territory that had been captured by Joshua (cf. Josh. 12:18). Ebenezer, the locale of the Hebrew encampment, has not been discovered. The Hebrews, defeated in the first skirmish, sent to Shiloh for the sacred ark3 of Yahweh Saba'oth ("Yahweh militant" or "Yahweh of hosts"). The presence of this sacred emblem brought a moment of panic to the Philistines and a surge of confidence to the Hebrews.4 Despite the presence of the ark, the Hebrews were defeated and the ark captured and placed as a trophy of war in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod.5 A plague attributed to the ark encouraged the Philistines to return it to the Hebrews and it was sent to Beth Shemesh and deposited in a field belonging to Joshua of Beth Shemesh. The Hebrews made no attempt to move it into the city; instead they sacrificed before it in the field. A later writer explained that the Levitical priests attended the ark in the field (6:15).6 The death of seventy men (possibly from the plague) was explained on the basis of the holiness of the ark, for holiness could benefit or injure. Ultimately, the ark was sent to Kireath-Jearim, and remained in the possession of a certain Abinadab until David removed it to Jerusalem. The Old Testament does not explain why the ark was not returned to Shiloh, but archaeological excavation of Shiloh has revealed that the city was destroyed about this time, and it has been suggested that perhaps the Philistines, continuing their forays, had sacked it.

“Suddenly the ark stories cease and a cycle of traditions pertaining to the kingship begins. The amount of reliable data in the ark traditions has been questioned, but they constitute all of the literature that we possess describing a period that has received but meagre assistance from archaeological studies so far.

Different Versions of the Saul Story

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “It has been noted that three different accounts tell of Saul's assumption of the kingship. The one best fitting the cultural context and presumed to be earliest is in Chapter 11:1-11, 15, recording the siege of Jabesh-Gilead in Transjordan by the Ammonites under Nahash. Unable to cope with the powerful enemy and hopeful of preventing destruction of the city, the Jabesh-Gileadites offered to surrender themselves and enter into a covenant of slavery (11:1). Nahash agreed, demanding that, as a symbol of servitude, the right eyes of the inhabitants be gouged out. In the period of grace before the sealing of this humiliating and painful contract the story reached Saul and, in violent anger experienced under divine seizure (thus designating his charismatic role), Saul summoned the tribes on the threat of violent retaliation and delivered the beleaguered city. Saul's military prowess led to his coronation at the Yahweh shrine of Gilgal. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“A different tradition describes Samuel's selection of Saul. Searching for lost asses, Saul consulted Samuel, who is described as a seer or clairvoyant. Having been informed by Yahweh that Saul was the divine choice for savior of the people, Samuel anointed God's man in a private ceremony.7 After leaving Samuel, Saul met a band of ecstatic prophets and experienced divine seizure, demonstrating, thereby, charisma. Saul's selection is part of a divine plan. This tradition, generally believed to be later than the one discussed previously, may contain a solid historical core in the report of Saul's seizures. The description of the ecstatic prophets of Gibeath-elohim is probably accurate and contributes to the study of early Hebrew prophecy. Perhaps this story comes from a prophetic circle desirous of emphasizing the role played by one of their profession in the selection and anointing of the king.

“Another account expressing a completely different point of view states that, in their desire to be like other nations, the people demanded a king. Samuel's speech, reflecting an era familiar with the harshness of monarchic despotism under Solomon and his successors, warns of the dangers. Selection was by sacred lot, and Saul, hiding in the baggage, was chosen. Here, the writer's attitude is that acceptance of a human ruler was tantamount to rejecting Yahweh as king (8:7). Those preserving this tradition believed in a theocratic state and looked back to the old independent tribal structure (idealized in their thinking) as the time when reliance upon divine leadership was customary. The way of kingship was the way of Canaan.

“Several small units of traditions were added. Chapter 7:5-17 is an etymological legend explaining how Ebenezer got its name. Chapters 10:25-27 and 11:12-14 record how resistance to Saul's leadership was quashed when he won the battle of Jabesh-Gilead. An interesting reference to the use of shrines as repositories for records (10:25) may point to the sources of the sanctuary legends utilized by Bible editors.

Saul’s Rise

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Saul's story which began in Chapter 11 is picked up again in Chapter 13. How much has been lost from the early account can be seen by the sudden introduction of Saul's son, Jonathan, as a young warrior (13:2). No traditions of Saul's marriage and home life remain, and even the details of his age and length of reign have been lost (13:1). The Philistine struggle continued, interrupted by a note designed to prepare the reader for the fall of the house of Saul (13:7b-15a; cf. 10:8). Once Saul and Jonathan had only 600 men under their command, but a later editor heightened the odds, listing Philistine forces as 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen (13:5), unlikely numbers for the hill country of Michmash, and dramatized the inequality of arms, suggesting that within the entire Hebrew army only Jonathan and Saul possessed weapons of war (13:22)! [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

Saul and the Witch of Endor

“When an earthquake put the Philistine camp in an uproar (14:15), Saul sought an oracle from the sacred ark8 but received no answer. To ensure divine support for an attack, Saul vowed that none of his men would eat that day until the Philistines were routed. Unwittingly Jonathan violated the oath (14:27).

“In the evening Saul's exhausted and hungry men began to kill sheep and cattle. Killing for food had ritual significance. The blood, which in Hebrew thought was believed to contain the life power, had to be poured out, signifying its return to the deity. Hungry Hebrew soldiers ignored this ritual. A huge stone was rolled into place and animals were slain at this spot, presumably with the blood being poured on or beside the rock (14:33 f.). The text says "Saul built an altar, to Yahweh." Whether or not the stone itself served as the altar, or whether Saul built a separate altar for burnt offerings, cannot be determined. The writer of this account, unlike the writer in 13:8 and following verses, finds nothing objectionable in what might be termed Saul's priestly role.

“When Saul again sought an oracle from Yahweh, and again received no response, he surmised that the deity had been offended and vowed that the guilty party would die. Again, the concept of corporate personality is demonstrated: the actions of one individual affected the well-being of the entire group. Sacred lots, named, according to a tradition preserved in the LXX, "Urim" and "Thummin" were consulted. What techniques were used are not known, but Jonathan was identified as the offender (14:42). Saul's vow to kill the guilty party was not fulfilled, for the troops voted against the killing of the popular prince. What is implied in the note that Jonathan was "ransomed" is not clear and perhaps someone died in his place. Deuteronomic editors close this portion of Saul's story with a summary of his activities and a few words about his family.

Early Relationship Between Saul and David

Saul and David

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The next cycle of stories describes the decline of Saul's power and the rise of the Davidic line. The account of Saul's failure to destroy everything and everybody in the Amalakite war, thereby offending Yahweh (ch. 15), makes the transition from the previous material. The story of the divine choice and secret anointing of David (16:1-13) is late. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“The earliest tradition of David's coming to Saul's court begins in I Sam. 16:14-23. A mental illness, diagnosed as an evil spirit sent by God, troubled Saul. Music soothed him, and David, a skilled musician, was brought to play the lyre. As a member of the royal household, David won Saul's affection (16:21), became a bosom friend of Jonathan (18:3 ff.), and married Saul's daughter Michal (18:20 ff.). Participating in the military forays against the Philistines, David excelled as a warrior and became, to the women of Israel, a popular hero and the subject of a chant:

Rivalry Between Saul and David

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: "Saul has slain his thousands, But David his ten thousands." - I Sam. 18:7: Such repute evoked jealous hostility from Saul who recognized in David a potential rival for the kingship. One tradition suggests that David's marriage to Michal was sanctioned by Saul because the king saw a way to get rid of David by demanding a marriage price10 of 100 Philistine foreskins (18:25 ff.). A later editor explained that David presented 200 foreskins, not the required one hundred. Thwarted in his attempt to eliminate his rival, Saul sought to kill David on the night of the wedding but Michal's clever ruse saved David's life (19:11-17). David, with the band of guerrilla warriors, fled to the wilderness (23:6-15). [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“A later and completely different record of the development of David's warrior reputation and early relations with Saul, preserved in Chapter 17, tells of the slaying of the Philistine giant, Goliath. But even here, two traditions are merged. In one David is described as leaving Saul's court to do battle (17:1-12, 32-54) ; in the other David had not yet met Saul but brought provender for his brothers in Saul's army. Troubled by Goliath's taunts, David killed the giant with a stone from his sling.11 Only then was he introduced to Saul (17:12-30, 55-58; 18:1-2; 17:31 is a transitional verse). Another popular folk tale credits one of David's soldiers, Elhanan, with killing Goliath (II Sam. 21:19), leading some scholars to speculate that perhaps the hero David usurped a title of "giant killer" rightfully belonging to another.

Saul attempts to kill David

“Traditions blackening Saul and enhancing David's reputation expand the story of David's marriage into Saul's family (18:10-19) and the tradition of Jonathan's affection for David (19:1-10; 20:1-42).12 The approval and protection of David by the prophets is recounted in 19:18-24. Saul's reputation suffers further in the story of the flight of David's parents to Moab (22:1-5). Even the expanded accounts of David's wilderness adventures and his merciful action in saving Saul's life13 magnify David's heroic stature (23:15-24:22). The section closes with an editorial report of Samuel's death (25:1).

“The early tradition continues in Chapter 25 with the story of Nabal ("fool" - see 25:25). David, with his armed guerrillas, guaranteed protection from plunder if material support for himself and his men was promised (25:21). Nabal refused to pay and David prepared to raid his holdings. By taking goods to David's camp, Nabal's wife, Abigail, saved the situation (25:23 ff.). Abigail's presentation speech has been expanded by later writers (verses 28-31 were probably additions). Upon learning of his wife's action Nabal suffered a paralytic stroke and soon died; David married Abigail. Meanwhile, Saul gave Michal, David's first wife, to another man, Palti. David acquired still another wife, Ahinoam (25:43 f.).

“Saul continued his pursuit of David. At one point David could have killed the king, but fear of the taboo of killing Yahweh's anointed prevented him (ch. 26). David's speech to Saul on this occasion reflects the belief that Yahweh could only be worshiped within his own territory (26:19), indicating that religious belief of this period was monolatrous rather than monotheistic.14

Rise of David, Decline of Saul

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “Convinced that Saul would not cease in the attempt to destroy him, David joined the Philistines. His adventures are recorded in Chapters 27; 28:1-2; 29; 30. His Philistine allies believed he raided Judaean towns (in reality he was plundering desert tribal groups) and gave him the city of Ziklag (location unknown). Meanwhile David courted the Hebrews, sharing booty with Judaean cities. A tense moment came when the Philistines prepared to attack the Hebrews at Mount Gilboa and included David in the forces. Fortunately, certain Philistine leaders distrusted him and insisted that he be sent back to Ziklag (ch. 29). Meanwhile Ziklag had been raided by the Amalakites and the inhabitants, including David's two wives, had been led away as captives. David pursued and rescued his people (ch. 30). [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“The end of Saul's leadership in the Hebrew kingdom was at hand and the tragic decline of the first monarch in Israel is movingly portrayed in his desperate search for supernatural guidance (ch. 28:3-25, where Samuel's death is reported once again). Rejected by Yahweh, unable to receive an oracle through regular channels or communication with the deity (28:6), Saul turned to a necromancer - one who consorted with the dead. The prophet Samuel was raised (visible only to the medium) and Israel's defeat and Saul's death were foretold. The story, probably more interpretive than factual, indicates belief in the continued existence of the individual in Sheol, the place of the dead, but the nature of this existence is not clear.

Death of Saul at the Battle of Gilboa

“The battle of Mount Gilboa is briefly reported (ch. 31). Saul's sons were killed, and Saul, to prevent capture and torture, committed suicide. His decapitated body and the bodies of his sons were nailed to the wall of the city of Beth Shan as a final token of Philistine derision and defilement. Saul's head was sent throughout the Philistine kingdom as a proof of the monarch's death. The people of Jabesh-Gilead, remembering perhaps their earlier deliverance by Saul, rescued the bodies and provided proper burial for the members of the royal family. Thus Saul's regal career ended as it had begun, with the people of Jabesh-Gilead.

A slightly different report of Saul's death is put in the mouth of the Amalakite courier who informs David of the death and presents Saul's crown and personal amulet as verification. David's lament, which the editor notes is taken from the Book of the Upright (Jashar) - a work unfortunately lost to us - is generally conceded to be one of the oldest fragments of Hebrew literature in the Bible, and there seems to be no reason to question its authenticity as a Davidic song. The poem displays strong emotion, particularly concerning Jonathan's death (II Sam. 1:25b-26).

Lack of Fleshing Out of the Saul Character

Larue wrote in “Old Testament Life and Literature”: “The figure of Saul never emerges clearly from the limited information provided by the early tradition. There is no record of his early years or of his family life, and he is introduced as a grown man of immense stature, a well-known figure who tilled his family estates. There can be no question of his leadership ability, for time and again he united the Hebrew people to fight against superior armies and weapons, and led them to victory. Long after he had been succeeded by David there remained a group fearlessly loyal to his memory. Clearly Saul was given to violent emotional expression. His vehement response to the news of the siege of Jabesh-Gilead, his violent anger against the priests of Nob, his moods of deep depression and his brooding hatred of David, provide some insight into the intensity of his feelings. His devotion to Yahweh never waned, and when he realized that he had been abandoned by his god, he emerges as a most tragic figure, desperately seeking some means to restore relationships. [Source: Gerald A. Larue, “Old Testament Life and Literature,” 1968, ]

“The powers inherent in the kingship did not, apparently, encourage him to exploit the people. His capital city of Gibeah, a few miles north of Jerusalem, has been excavated (assuming Tell el-Ful is Gibeah),15 and a fortress often identified as Saul's palace appears to have been little more than a large two-story dwelling constructed on the foundations and outline of an earlier Philistine building. The structure was about 115 by 170 feet, and the largest room about 14 by 23 feet. Pottery found in the ruins was similar to that in common use in Saul's day. The usual household equipment - spinning whorls for making yarn, grinding querns to produce flour, storage jars for oil, wine and grain, a game board, some sling-stones, and two bronze arrowheads - would seem to indicate, in the absence of other evidence, that Saul's monarchical headquarters were simple indeed.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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