a. Elkanah and His Two Wives (1:1–3)
1 There was a man, one of the Zuphites from Ramathaim,
from the hill country of Ephraim;
his name was Elkanah,
son of Jeroham, son of Elihu,
son of Tohu, 7 son of Zuph
2 He had two wives:
the name of the first was Hannah
and the name of the second was Peninnah;
Peninnah had children,
but Hannah had no children.
3 This man used to go up from his city annually 8
to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh,
were [acting as] priests for the Lord.
1–3 In terms of discourse grammar the first three verses constitute the SETTING. While vv. 1–2 introduce the major dramatis personae, Elkanah and his wife Hannah, v. 3 explains what this man used to do and where. The mention of Shiloh and the priestly family of Eli as well as the Lord of Hosts, the hidden but ultimate agent of the events, foreshadows the entire narrative to come.
1 Like the stories of Saul and of Samson, the story of Samuel starts with the expression: There was a man (cf. 1 Sam. 9:1, “There was a man from Benjamin,” and Judg. 13:2, “There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites”). The MT ’îš ’eḥād is usually translated as “a certain man” (NRSV; NASB; NIV; REB) as in 2 Sam. 18:10. But with this translation, the plural of ṣôpîm (Zuphite) cannot be explained satisfactorily. Hence, most scholars take the pl. mem of ṣôpîm as dittography of the following m and read ṣwpy mhr ’prym: for example, “a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from …” (REB). 11 Another suggestion is to take ṣôpîm without emendation as plural and to connect it with Ramathaim: for example, “Ramathaim-zophim” (KJV; NASB); 12 “Ramathaim of the Zuphites” (JPS). However, it is also possible to see here an instance of the AXB pattern, in which AB: ’eḥād ṣôpîm (one of the Zuphites) is interrupted by the insertion of X: min-hārāmātayim (from Ramathaim) while keeping the relationship between A and B; hence, X modifies A … B as a whole; see “Introduction” (Section VII, C). With this explanation, the pl. form of ṣôpîm causes no problem, and the phrase is translated one of the Zuphites from Ramathaim.
This man is described as one of the Zuphites, a description in harmony with the son of Zuph an Ephrathite of the end of this verse. It is also in keeping with 1 Sam. 9:5, which places Samuel’s home town in “the land of Zuph.” Zuph is the ancestor of a local clan, while Ephraim is the tribal ancestor. 13
The location of Ramathaim is a matter of dispute. McCarter identifies it with modern Rentis, about 16 miles east of Tel Aviv on the western slope of the hills of Ephraim 14 . Later in the book it is called Ramah (1 Sam. 1:19; 2:11; 8:4; 25:1; 28:3), the usual name for Samuel’s home town (7:17), which is presumably “the city where the man of God was” (9:10), the Zuphite Ramah (9:5). Eusebius associated it with Arimathea of the NT and identified it with the village of Rempthis, whereas Jerome located it in the region of Timnah, about 9 miles northwest of Bethel. On the identification of Ramah, see on 1:19. The city was called Ramathaim (lit. “two hills”) probably because there were two hills associated with it; one for the city itself and the other for a high place. According to 1 Samuel 9, the high place, which was presumably on a hilltop (see 9:25), was located outside the city, which was itself on the top of a hill (see 9:11f.).
Elkanah (“God created”; cf. Gen. 14:19) must have been from a well-to-do family (see on 1 Sam. 1:24), as suggested by his pedigree and his dual marriage. 15 The phrase “the Ephrathites” can refer either to “those hailing from Ephrath” (i.e., Bethlehem) or “Ephraimites,” members of the northern tribe of Ephraim (Judg. 12:5; 1 K. 11:26). 16 According to Haran, ’eprāt or ’eprātāh is an “appellative” of the city Bethlehem (Gen. 35:16; 48:7; Ruth 4:11; Mic. 5:2; etc), whereas the gentilic ’eprātî denotes either a member of the tribe of Ephraim (Judg. 12:5; 1 K. 11:26) or an inhabitant of Bethlehem (1 Sam. 17:12; Ruth 1:2). 17 Elkanah might have been of Bethlehemite stock rather than being an “Ephraimite,” even though he dwelt in the hill country of Ephraim.
2 In the ancient Near East, having an heir was very important, for lacking an heir meant the end of one’s “house.” For example, King Keret of the Ugaritic epic, though he had gold and silver, lost all his male children and so his dynasty was about to be extinguished. 18 It was common in real life for a well-to-do man to take a second wife if the first did not bear him an heir. Sarah, of course, advised Abraham to take her slave-girl Hagar as his second “wife” (NEB; or concubine) so that he might have an heir (Gen. 16:1–6). One can easily guess that there was tremendous tension because of jealousy and enmity in a household where a man had two wives. In the light of the above, the term ’aḥat in this context probably means first. 19 The construction the first … the second.. . appears in Gen. 4:19; Exod. 1:15; Ruth 1:4; cf. 1 Sam. 8:2; 25:3.
Hannah, the central figure in this chapter, appears for the first time. C. Meyers even suggests that “the narrative of Samuel’s birth could just as well be called the Hannah Narrative.” 20 The names Hannah (“favor [with God?]”) and Peninnah 21 appear in chiastic order, that is, Hannah — Peninnah — Peninnah — Hannah. However, the focus here is on Hannah.
Elkanah went annually to Shiloh to perform the seasonal sacrifice (see 1 Sam. 1:21). The three annual festivals — the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths (see Exod. 23:14–17; Lev. 23:15–20) — are not mentioned in 1 Samuel. Elkanah’s visit to Shiloh was made only once a year (1 Sam. 1:7, 21f.), and according to Haran his annual sacrifice was “a family or clan feast, confined to the family and celebrated by all its members, women and children included.” 23 1 Sam. 20:6 also refers to “a yearly feast … for the entire family” of David; see on “a family feast” in 1 Sam. 20:29. 24
Elkanah’s visit could have been connected to the feast of the Lord in Shiloh mentioned in Judg. 21:19. About this feast there are two opposing views: one view takes it as the autumnal vintage festival; 25 the other view denies any connection with such a festival. 26 The view that sacrifices were offered to the dead at Shiloh with the assistance of the priest Eli is, however, sheer speculation. 27 Regardless of the exact origin of this feast, Elkanah’s annual visit to Shiloh may well have had a historical significance for a member of the covenant people.
The phrase the Lord of Hosts (YHWH ṣebā’ôt) is a construct chain, with a proper noun as the first noun in status constructus like the Ugaritic DN il brt “El of covenant” (KTU 1.128:14–15) and il dn “El of judgment” (128:16). Such a genitival explanation can be supported by the phrases “Yahweh of Teman” and “Yahweh of Samaria” in the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions. 28 The “hosts” (ṣebā’ôt) can refer to heavenly bodies (Judg. 5:20; Isa. 40:26), angelic beings (Josh. 5:14f.), the armies of Israel (1 Sam. 17:45), or all creatures (Gen. 2:1). The noun (f.pl.) has probably an abstract meaning such as “plentifulness, numberlessness” and is intensified by plural form. Hence, it refers to numerous entities such as heavenly bodies and earthly armies. As 1 Sam. 1:3, 11 imply, “the original connection was evidently with worship rather than with battles, in which case the ‘hosts’ were angelic beings.” 29
This is the first occurrence in the Bible of the phrase. 30 It may originally have been specially connected with the Shiloh sanctuary (also v. 11; 4:4). Mettinger goes further and even hypothesizes that the phrase refers to the heavenly king who sits on his cherubim throne in the temple and that the notion of the Lord as king was seemingly current among the priests at Shiloh. Moreover, he makes the assumptions that the designation “originated in connection with the meeting of religions in Canaan” and that the original form of the name was ’el ṣebā’ôt. 31 However, it is not easy to see exactly how and when this “meeting” happened. Similarity in matters of language and symbolism is not necessarily the result of a religious syncretism or influence. 32 Mettinger’s view is highly conjectural, 33 though his view that the kingship of Yahweh was seemingly current in the Shilonite cult might be supported in view of Hannah’s song; see “Introduction” (Section IX, A).
Shiloh, the modern site Khirbet Seilun [MR177–162], is situated 1.5 miles east of the Jerusalem-Nablus (Arabic name for Shechem) road and 20 miles north of Jerusalem. The first occurrence of this name in the OT is Josh. 18:1. As A. Mazar notes, “Shiloh seems to have been a sacred place long before the Iron Age, and perhaps this tradition led to its choice as the religious center of the Israelites during the period of the Judges.” 34 It remained so during the period of tribal history (e.g., Josh. 21:2; Judg. 21:12), and a yearly feast of the Lord was held there (Judg. 21:19–21). Its destruction in the eleventh century B.C. is later mentioned in Jer. 7:12–14 and Ps. 78:60, and traces of the destruction have been discovered in excavations. 35
The Hebrew phrase kōhănîm laYHWH (lit., “priests of the Lord”) appears only in this verse. Usually the phrase kōhănê YHWH “the priests of Yahweh” (1 Sam. 22:17, 21; Isa. 61:6; 2 Chr. 13:9) is used. The author may have had reservations about accepting them as “the priests of Yahweh”; hence, the translation [acting as] priests for the Lord may be preferred here. R. P. Gordon sees already at this stage the narrator’s “ominous note in relation to the ensuing narrative.” 36
7 PN tōḥû; tôaḥ in 1 Chr. 6:19 is simply a shorter variant. See the variation of *thw and *twh, both meaning “desert” (D. T. Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Analysis [JSOTSS 83; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989], p. 17, n. 3).
9 “Eli” is possibly a short form of yḥw‘ly (Samaria Ostracon, 55:2) “May the Exalted One preserve alive” (?); see RSP 3 (1981), p. 457; also on a Hebrew seal, N. Avigad and B. Sass, Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1997), no. 181. See 1 Sam. 2:10 on ‘lw, which might be a divine epithet, “the Exalted One.” However, the divine element usually drops from theophoric names like Nathan, Baruch, etc.
10 The son’s names are probably Egyptian names; see Y. Muchiki, Egyptian Proper Names and Loanwords in North-West Semitic (SBLDS 173; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), pp. 211, 222.
11 E.g., P. K. McCarter, Jr., I Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes and Commentary (AB 8; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980), p. 51; also Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry, vol. IV, p. 558.
13 See on 1 Sam. 10:21 for the relationship: “people” — “tribe” — “clan” — “family.”
14 On Ephraim, see S. Herrmann, “Ephraim,” in ABD, II, pp. 551–53.
18 See D. T. Tsumura, “The Problem of Childlessness in the Royal Epic of Ugarit,” in Monarchies and Socio-Religious Traditions in the Ancient Near East (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1984), pp. 11–20.
20 C. Meyers, “An Ethnoarchaeological Analysis of Hannah’s Sacrifice,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom, ed. D. P. Wright, D. N. Freedman, and A. Hurvitz. (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), p. 80; also C. Meyers, “Hannah and Her Sacrifice: Reclaiming Female Agency,” in A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings, ed. A. Brenner (Feminist Companion to the Bible 5; Sheffield: Sheffield Acadmenic Press, 1994), pp. 93–104.
21 The etymology of the name Peninnah (“the fruitful woman”?) is not certain; see HALOT, p. 946.
22 This form, wqtl, expresses “habitual aspect in story-past”; also vv. 4, 6. G. Long, “The Written Story: Toward Understanding Text as Representation and Function,” VT 49 (1999) 180. For this “frequentative” meaning of <waw + pf.>, see also 1 Sam. 2:20, Gen. 2:6; J. Joosten, “Biblical Hebrew weqātal and Syriac hwā qātel Expressing Repetition in the Past,” ZAH 5 (1992) 1–14; also R. E. Longacre, “Weqatal Forms in Biblical Hebrew Prose,” in Biblical Hebrew and Discourse Linguistics, ed. R. D. Bergen (Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 1994), pp. 50–98. See also S. R. Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Books of Samuel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), p. 11.
24 For dynastic monthly rituals held in the royal palace of Ugarit, which are a more “private” family cult than those held in the national temples, see D. T. Tsumura, “Kings and Cults in Ancient Ugarit,” in Priests and Officials in the Ancient Near East, ed. K. Watanabe (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1999), pp. 215–38.
27 See E. M. Bloch-Smith, “The Cult of the Dead in Judah: Interpreting the Material Remains,” JBL 111 (1992) 220–21.
28 As discussed by J. A. Emerton, “New light on Israelite religion: the implications of the inscriptions from Kuntillet ‘Ajrud,” ZAW 94 (1982) 2–20; R. P. Gordon, p. 331, n. 8. On the Kuntillet ‘Ajrud inscriptions, see J. Renz and W. Röllig, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik I (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995), pp. 59–64; also J. M. Hadley, “Kuntillet ‘Ajrud: Religious Centre or Desert Way Station?” PEQ 125 (1993) 115–24; also see “Introduction” (Section IV, C, 2, c).
30 See M. Tsevat, “Yhwh Ṣeḇa’oṯ,” in The Meaning of the Book of Job and Other Biblical Studies: Essays on the Literature and Religion of the Hebrew Bible (New York: Ktav, 1980), pp. 119–29.
31 T. N. D. Mettinger, “YHWH SABAOTH — The Heavenly King on the Cherubim Throne,” in Studies in the Period of David and Solomon and Other Essays: Papers Read at the International Symposium for Biblical Studies, Tokyo, 5–7 December, 1979, ed. T. Ishida (Tokyo: Yamakawa-Shuppansha, 1982), pp. 126, 130, 134; also pp. 109–38; “Yahweh Zebaoth,” in DDD, pp. 1730–40.
32 See D. T. Tsumura, “Ugaritic Poetry and Habakkuk 3,” TynB 40 (1988) 24–48. Since the title the Lord of Hosts, which appears more than 280 times in the OT, does not occur in Ezekiel, T. N. D. Mettinger (The Dethronement of Sabaoth: Studies in the Shem and Kabod Theologies [Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1982]) advocates the theory that the older “Yahweh-Sabaoth” designation was dethroned from its place in temple tradition in later periods and replaced by “Name” in the Deuteronomistic historical work and “Glory” in Ezekiel or the Priestly tradition. As for the so-called “Name Theology,” see Wilson’s recent work (I. Wilson, Out of the Midst of the Fire: Divine Presence in Deuteronomy [SBLDS 151; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995]), which says “the claim that the Deuteronomic cult envisages Yahweh as being only in heaven” should be modified.
33 See R. P. Gordon, p. 72. Compare Jerusalem as “the city of the Lord of hosts” (Ps. 48:8).
34 A. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000–586 B.C.E. (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1990, 1992), p. 348; also D. G. Schley, Shiloh: A Biblical City in Tradition and History (JSOTSS 63; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989); I. Finkelstein, Shiloh: The Archaeology of a Biblical Site (Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, 1993).
35 See A. I. F. Kempinski, “Shiloh,” in NEAEHL, pp. 1364–70.