Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD (1Sam 1)

The first issue of the book of Samuel is with Samuel himself. What tribe was he from? Samuel was a Levite, something I never realized before reading this comment in the SAB. I'd always wondered how Samuel ended up where he did in life without being a Levite, but since he is one, no problem. Oh, how do I know? The verse here in 1Samuel never names the tribe of Ephraim, only the mountain of Ephraim. Levites lived all over the place, and Samuel's parents happened to live in Ephraim.

Now Samuel's father had two wives. The fact that the Bible mentions this without condemning it does not, in my mind, imply endorsement. In general, I stand on my previous statements on the matter, but recent political developments present me with an excellent example of the flaw in logic. I have recently written much on Proposition 8, the proposed amendment to the California Constitution banning same-sex marriage. In all my writing, I never endorsed either side of the issue. In failing to take a side, the logic here implies both (A) that I endorse same-sex marriage, and (B) that I endorse the banning of same-sex marriage. Clearly, I cannot endorse both and the fact is, I endorse neither. The Bible likewise by silence does not endorse any position on this matter.

As for the note on verse 5, I tend to think of a phrase like "the LORD had shut up her womb" as simply a colloquial way of saying "she had no children", which after all is what it boils down to. However, it may in fact be the case that God has made Hannah barren for the purpose of setting up the story we are about to see unfold. Samuel was one of the most important prophets in Israel's history, and without his mother's problems in procreating, his life might have been very different.

The story of Samuel's birth has some parallels to the stories of Samson and John the Baptist, and I call your attention to the former for my comments on long hair, which I think are implied to be applying in Samuel's case. The claim that Samuel's hair would never be cut implies that Hannah is dedicating him to the service of God.

The interchange between Hannah and Eli is an interesting one, because as a priest, Eli is supposed to be a representative of God*, and yet he keeps making largely baseless assumptions about Hannah without consulting God. First he assumes that she must be drunk because he sees her praying (huh?), and then in what I assume to be embarrassment, he more or less assures Hannah that God's going to grant her wish, without finding out what it was. This is why I tend to take it with a grain of salt when a person in the Bible says that such-and-such thing is the "will of God". Anyone, including Christians, can fall into the trap of setting too much store in such a statement. In this case, however, things turn out alright.

I honestly don't know what the SAB is on about with its last marginal note on this chapter. A married couple having sex is far from scandalous, so I guess the "sex" markup is just matter-of fact? The really interesting thing here in my mind (but I suppose it's not marked because it's not a contradiction or some such thing) is that after Samuel is born, Hannah tells Elkanah that she has dedicated Samuel with a vow. As mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, it's part of the Mosaic Law that a married woman's vow made without her husband's knowledge is not binding unless her husband allows it. Elkanah is really being quite kind to Hannah by ancient Israelite standards, allowing her vow to stand and essentially giving up his child. He would have been well within his rights in that culture to tell her she couldn't fulfill her vow, keep the kid and give him a haircut.

* There is an interesting and humorous facet to this story that's easy to miss. I know, because I missed it even this time reading it, despite already knowing about it. In the footnotes of Robert Alter's translation of Samuel, he points out that this is a typical "annunciation scene", also pointing out parallels between this story and those of the birth of Samson, Isaac, and John the Baptist. The weird bit is that when Hannah is sitting there praying for a son, it would be a typical time for an angel to appear and say, "Fear not, Hannah, for God hath heard thy prayer, etc..." Instead, a fat, half-blind, ineffective priest walks up to her and accuses her of being drunk. Eli has missed the fact that he's witnessing a moment of historical significance for the nation of Israel, and in doing so, he essentially flubs his lines.


Steve Wells said...

I honestly don't know what the SAB is on about with its last marginal note on this chapter. A married couple having sex is far from scandalous, so I guess the "sex" markup is just matter-of fact?

Oh, I think you know, Brucker.

It's true that husbands have sex with their wives now and then. But it's seldom talked about and it's rare when you read about it in literature or journalism (outside of pornography and the National Enquirer). When do you read that so and so fucked his wife last night and the LORD remembered her (so she got pregnant)?

You only find stuff like that in the Bible.

Brucker said...

I really couldn't figure out what you're on about, and had to read your message several times. Maybe I almost have it: Sex between a man and his wife yielding conception is a pretty everyday sort of occurence, so you wonder why the Bible should mention it?

If this is the case, I do have a thought. This is a story about Samuel and his origins, and among the things of note about Samuel is the manner in which he was conceived, because it was part of why and how he became the person he did. The Bible tends to talk about sexual incidents that have some historical significance to Israel's history. Note that we are not told about Saul or David's conception, because I assume there's nothing notable about it. In the book of 1Samuel, we hear about this sexual act for the reason I say above, and we hear about Hophni and Phinehas' sexual escapades because it explains why the house of Eli was treated to the fate it was. The major sexual incidents of 2Samuel are David sleeping with Bathsheba and Amnon raping Tamar, both of which have long-reaching implications politically and historically.

Stephen King's book Eyes of the Dragon comes to mind, in which King tells the story of both the nights that two brothers were conceived, because it actually has some bearing on the story of their fates as adults.

Steve Wells said...

Oh, I see. The Bible only talks about sex when God is trying to make a really good point.

Since you understand holy porn so well, what was in God's mind when he inspired Ezekiel 23:20?

Brucker said...

Seriously? You think a man having sex with his wife is porn? I mentioned on an earlier post's comments that I enjoy having sex with my wife, but I haven't noticed that the traffic here is reflecting the sort of numbers that porn sites enjoy. (Here, I gotta do this: BIBLE PORN! HOT HARLOT ON HARLOT ACTION! PROVERBRS XXX (+I)! That ought to get me some humorous traffic results.)

Ezekiel 23:20? Yeah, it's pretty nasty, isn't it? Might be the nastiest passage (sexually) in the Bible, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could supply me with one worse. What does that passage have to do with this one?

Steve Wells said...

No, a man having sex with his wife is not porn -- unless it's video taped and shown at Thanksgiving dinner. And most of us would think it in bad taste to describe sexual acts at a family dinner or even on a website. You may enjoy sex with your wife, Brucker, but I'd rather not hear about it.

I don't need to be told about the sexual acts of Hannah and Elkanah. If Hannah had a son, then we know there was also a man involved. When I introduce my son, I don't say: "This is my son, Nathaniel, my wife and I had sex the night he was conceived." That would be silly, gross, and disgusting. Just like the Bible.

Brucker said...

Ah, now I see your point. You're saying that excepting the case of the virgin Mary--in which case the lack of sex was notable--it seems excessive to note that a sexual act preceded conception. That's food for thought...

I'll think about it and see if I have any response.

Brucker said...

Well, I've been thinking about the matter for several hours, and all I can really come up with is that in the culture of ancient Israel, they simply weren't so squeamish about sexuality as we are. I have heard that it was standard practice in those days for a couple to consummate their marriage in a small tent in the middle of the wedding reception. Sometimes even religious folks today can be very frank and open about their sexuality: