Today we begin a study on a series of books that were at one time a single unified work. However in our modern Christian (mainly Protestant) Bibles that only combined work became divided into four books. We’ll examine all 4, in order, and the book we’re going to examine first is called 1st Samuel; 2nd Samuel follows this book immediately, then 1st and 2nd Kings.
So beginning with the basics, let’s expand a bit on the opening statement that there is a difference between the ancient Hebrew manuscripts and our modern bibles as to the divisions of this section of the Bible.
The first division performed on this extensive work was to separate it into two books loosely called Samuel and Kings by our current criteria. This division occurred, interestingly enough, with those translators based in Alexandria, Egypt and it was part and parcel with the translation of the Hebrew into what we call today the Greek Septuagint (the common scholarly designation for the Greek Septuagint is the Romans numeral LXX).
Centuries later other bible versions such as the Vulgate (a Latin translation) adopted this method of dividing the original book into several books and around the 16th century even the modern Hebrew bibles accepted it.
Upon its division into two books, they became referred to as The Books of Kingdoms with what is today called 1st and 2nd Samuel then called “Kingdoms” and the final two books called “Kings.”
While the title of each book and its divisions is hardly an important matter, nor should we ever think of this division process as a corruption of the original because it has no effect on the content. It’s nice to know that they were originally one large document so that we understand that from the author’s mind this was a unique extensive and connected history that was recorded.
Thus just because we move from one book to the next in this four book series, we’ve shouldn’t hit our mental “reset” buttons when we finish one and begin the next, as though the previous book is unconnected to the next in the series.
The information is intertwined: following facts of the stories are dependent on previous events, and the later stories often expand on information given in the previous stories.
Now as for the author of these books: it was not Samuel himself, except that he certainly contributed a portion of the material for some of the opening chapters of the book of 1st Samuel.
There is no doubt that more than one hand was involved in the creation of this four book series and that the title of the book of Samuel was not named for its author but rather for its central character.
Samuel died before David ruled a united Israel, and so everything in this series of 4 books that refers to King David (at least from about the time of his coronation) was written by someone else, edited a little bit later on, and possibly even added to (to the degree that’s very difficult to substantiate or prove).
The book of 1st Chronicles in chapter 29 tells us that some of the information about King David’s reign comes from documents that are now lost to us, entitled, “Samuel the Seer,” “Nathan the Prophet,” and “Gad the Seer.”
In other words, the greatest portion is a compilation of various records from the eras of Samuel, King Saul, and King David as written by many historians. And then those records were used as a source of information by some other and later anonymous editors (plural) who wrote the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings as they appear today in our Bibles.
Thus just like for the Gospel writers of the New Testament, the writers of the 4 Books of the Kingdoms were NOT (so far as we know) eyewitnesses to the events they wrote about (or perhaps they personally witnessed but a part of what they wrote about). Rather they acted somewhat like journalists, librarians, and documentarians who interviewed eyewitnesses or reliable people who knew the eyewitnesses and also researched historical records that earlier historians had created.
And then from all this information they created a summary account that now appears as holy writ in our Bible.
Most books of the Bible were compilations from other records (oral or written) and only sometimes were written by the namesake of the book or even by someone who was present from beginning to end of the events described in that book, it doesn’t harm their accuracy or bring suspicion upon the inspired nature of what was written.
First, understand that I’m not giving you some new or modern age academic take on the creation of the various books of the Bible. What I’ve explained to you was common knowledge among the Hebrews, and when we give it some thought, we could quickly imagine that it couldn’t possibly have been any other way.
Just as with the Torah where a good portion of it takes place after Moses’ death, it apparently could not have been written entirely by Moses.
And the entire book of Genesis took place enormous periods of time before Moses’ birth so most of what Moses’ knew and wrote about the epoch of Genesis was either a direct oracle from the Lord or had been handed down by word of mouth (and almost certainly what we read today is a combination of the two).
Second, since we are studying the Old Testament, and there has been a particular bigotry against it by gentiles since about the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine forward, and then in a few more centuries an outright denial that the texts were even valid any longer, there has developed over the last 200 years some questioning of its veracity.
And the question of veracity is often because a major portion of many OT books was written well after the fact, edited and re-edited, and therefore some commentators claim that this means the information is not reliable as compared to the New Testament.
But the truth is that both Testaments are cut from the same cloth. As I mentioned the best examples of that rather standard process of creating the books of the Bible are the New Testament Gospel accounts, which were NOT all written by eyewitnesses (especially the Synoptic Gospels).
In fact, the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke weren’t even called by those names until the late 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd century AD. Rather they were written anonymously and only later (because there were multiple Gospel accounts in circulation within the early Church) were names finally (and somewhat arbitrarily) assigned to the various Gospels so as to distinguish them one from the other.
Third, it is undeniable that there are some differences in the biblical accounts of this section we call Samuel and Kings between the oldest Hebrew manuscripts and the oldest Greek manuscripts.
It has become rather traditional among Christian Bible researchers to say that where there are differences, the problem automatically lies with a corrupted Hebrew script and that the Greek Septuagint is the more accurate; and this is not without good reason.
The reality is that until recently, the oldest OT manuscripts known to us were written in Greek, not Hebrew. The Septuagint was written about 250 B.C., and we have copies of the Septuagint that date probably to somewhere between 50 B.C. and 150 AD (right around the time of Christ).
The oldest Hebrew manuscripts we had, however, are called Masoretic texts, and they were written around 1000 AD. So it was certainly not unreasonable to assume that a book (in whatever language) that was written full millennia before the next latest one is the better and is probably closer in content to the original.
Thus the Greek Septuagint has usually been considered (at least by gentile scholars) as the more authoritative biblical source for serious study and research.
But that theory has been severely challenged by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940’s. Here was a Hebrew manuscript (and some Greek manuscripts as well, by the way) of the Old Testament that was written at about the same time as our oldest known Greek manuscripts.
And while not all the work that has been done on the Dead Sea Scrolls is yet published, what can be ascertained from what has been published is that there is precious little difference between the Hebrew Masoretic Texts of 1000 AD and these Hebrew Bible scrolls discovered at Qumran from perhaps 100 BC.
So now we have evidence that the Septuagint is not quite as faithful to the original writings as we once thought, and that perhaps the Hebrew Texts should be regarded as the best source that we currently have. And what were once believed to be corruptions in the Hebrew Text may not be corruptions at all.
Bottom line: the account of the four books originally called “Kingdoms” beginning with 1st Samuel were not strikingly different in the manner of their creation than any of the other books of the Bible, including many of the New Testament books.
So we can trust them even though it is in vogue among modern Christian scholars to say that the books of Samuel and Kings are so corrupted as to be of little worth.
In my next blog post, we will discuss these so-called corruptions in detail.