Pride and kingship
: A literary reading of 1 and 2 Samuel considering the role of the poetry in shaping the characterisation of the kings

  • Benjamin Thompson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The narrative of 1–2 Samuel describes the emergence of monarchy within the Israelite nation. However, it is well recognised that Samuel is not simply a political history but also a sophisticated literary work. It characterises its leading protagonists, namely Saul and David, with a complexity that hinders easy categorisation of one as the hero and the other as the villain. David is presented with serious flaws. Nevertheless, the prophet Samuel declares that Saul’s successor will be better than him (1 Sam 15:28). Literary scholars, with a synchronic approach to the text, have suggested a variety of ways of reconciling this apparent tension in the narrative. Against that backdrop, this thesis considers the role that the four main poems of 1–2 Samuel might play in providing a framework for the narrative, whereby both the superiority of David over Saul and the complexity of David’s characterisation are recognised as being integral to the narrator’s message. Chapter 2 of the thesis provides a survey of different literary readings of Samuel, before arguing that the four poems provide a macrostructure for the narrative with a clear hermeneutic function. This poetic macrostructure underpins the methodology of the thesis. Chapter 3 consists of a close reading of Hannah’s Prayer (1 Sam 2:1-10) arguing that it identifies humility as an essential characteristic of the king whom Yahweh will exalt. Chapter 4 then provides a reading of Samuel that is attentive to the presence of motifs and vocabulary introduced by Hannah’s Prayer. This chapter contends that, when viewed through the hermeneutic lens of Hannah’s Prayer, Saul begins with evidence of humility but ultimately proves to be proud, while David is characterised consistently by humility. Chapter 5 examines David’s Lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:19-27), arguing that it confirms both David’s presentation as a humble man and Saul’s as a monarch who failed to fulfil the portrait of ideal kingship presented in Hannah’s Prayer. Chapter 6 examines David’s Thanksgiving (2 Sam 22:2-51) and David’s Final Words (2 Sam 23:1-7), contending that these poems each highlight different aspects of the preceding narrative. David is shown to be a man who humbly submitted to Yahweh while under attack from his enemies and while waiting for the throne, but who failed to rule with the righteousness that exalts the humble and humbles the proud. Chapter 7 synthesises the results of chapters 2–6 to argue that the Samuel narrative both affirms and critiques David. Moreover, the narrative is shaped by the four poems to cast a vision, for the intended reading ii community, of ideal kingship that should imitate David’s humility before Yahweh whilst avoiding his failure to exercise justice in his kingdom.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorDesmond Alexander (Supervisor)

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