The Books of Samuel, also referred to as [The Book of] Samuel (Hebrew: שְׁמוּאֵל), are (two) books in the Hebrew Bible (Judaism's Tanakh and originally written in Hebrew) and the Old Testament of Christianity.
In Hebrew bibles, the two books of Samuel are often considered as just one "Book of Samuel" (Sefer Shmuel).
The contents of the books
The first book comprises a period of about a hundred years, and nearly coincides with the life of Samuel. It contains
- the history of Eli (1-4)
- the history of Samuel (5-12)
- the history of Saul, and of David in exile (13-31).
The second book, comprising a period of perhaps fifty years, contains a history of the reign of David. Samuel does not appear in it.
- David's reign over Judah (1-4), and
- David's reign over all Israel (5-24), mainly in its political aspects, and including his second temporary exile during Absalom's coup.
The last four chapters of Second Samuel may be regarded as a sort of appendix recording various events, but not chronologically. The death of David and enthronement of Solomon, while belonging to the Books of Samuel based on its narrative style, is found at the beginning of the First Book of the Kings.
These books do not contain complete histories. Frequent gaps are met with in the record, because their object is to present a history of the kingdom in its gradual development, and not of the events of the reigns of the successive rulers.
It is noticeable that the section (2 Sam. 11:2-12: 29) containing an account of David's sin in the matter of Bathsheba is omitted in the corresponding passage in 1 Chr. 20.
Traditionally, the authors of the books of Samuel have been held to be Samuel, Gad, and Nathan. Samuel is believed to have penned the first twenty-four chapters of the first book. Gad, the companion of David (1 Sam. 22:5), is believed to have continued the history thus commenced; and Nathan is believed to have completed it, probably arranging the whole in the form in which we now have it (1 Chronicles 29:29).
The Books show a surprisingly balanced and psychologically believable view of the time they describe. Saul's and David's heroism and strength, their development and their friendships, but also their doubts, sins, and failures are described; this is unique and unprecedented in historical writings at the time they were penned, a time when all-positive or all-negative portraits of rulers were the norm.
Later Greek and Latin translators
The Greek Septuagint translators regarded the books of Samuel and the Kings as forming one continuous history, which they divided into four books, which they called "The Books of the Kingdoms." The Latin Vulgate version followed this division, but styled them "The Books of the Kings." These books of Samuel they accordingly called the "First" and "Second" Books of Kings, and not, as in most modern Christian versions, the "First" and "Second" Books of Samuel.
The Qur'an also contains elements of the books of Samuel. The stories of David and Goliath and the appointment of King Saul are told (see Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an).
Modern criticism regards this view as untenable, and the books are thought not to have reached their final written form until the 7th or 6th century BC, whereas the events they describe come from around the year 1000 BC. They do of course preserve a detailed older (oral or written) tradition to which the traditional authors may have contributed; it seems certain from the books' level of detail that that tradition did indeed originate during the time the books describe.