Two versions of stories in the book of Samuel
There are scholars who are convinced that the book of Samuel includes two versions of the story of the prophet Samuel’s rejection of King Saul, one in I Samuel 13 and another in I Samuel 15. There is some support for this view. This is just one example of more than several times that two versions of a story appear in Samuel.
- In chapter 13, Samuel tells Israel’s first king Saul with great anger that his kingdom will not continue and that God has found another man after God’s own heart and appointed him as king (verse 14). Then Samuel goes home in anger presumably determined not to see Saul again (verse 15).
- During the chapter 13 encounter, Samuel states that God rejected Saul because he did not wait for Samuel to arrive. This seems to be the end of the relationship between Samuel and Saul.
- This conclusion of an end of the relationship is supported by 14:49-52 that, like all endings, tells us about Saul’s family and tells, as we would expect in an ending, about what happened later – such as the familiar “they lived happily ever after.” These four verses seem to indicate that the story of the Samuel-Saul relationship is finished. It ends: “And there was great war against the Philistines all the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he took him to himself (to serve in his army).”
- This statement in 14:52 that “when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he took him to himself” is a perfect lead-in the chapter 16 where Saul sees David as a mighty and valiant man and takes him to serve in his army. Chapter 15 interrupts the flow and seems to be a variant tale that differs with the tale in chapters 13 and 14.
- Chapter 15, which interrupts between the end of chapter 14 and the beginning of 16 is a variant story about Samuel’s encounter with King Saul. It is as if what has been previously described in chapter 14 never happened, including God’s rejection of Saul, God choosing another king, and Samuel abandoning Saul. In chapter 15, Samuel appears to Saul and says, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord.” And Samuel sends him on a mission to fight Amalek.
- Because of what occurs after the war, God tells Samuel that he is now rejecting Saul as king, as if he did not already reject Saul in chapter 14. And the reason for the rejection in this section is not, as in 14, that he did not wait for Samuel to appear before offering sacrifices, but what he did concerning Amalek: he saved the cattle of Amalek although Samuel told him to kill the cattle.
In short, there are two stories about Samuel’s rejection of King Saul, Samuel telling Saul that God no longer wants Saul’s dynasty to continue. In chapters 13 and 14, Samuel rejects Saul because he did not wait for Samuel to arrive before offering sacrifices. Samuel leaves Saul in anger apparently determined not to see him again. Chapter 14 ends with a statement that whenever Saul found a person who was fit to serve in his army, he drafted him. Chapter 16 continues this idea for in it Saul drafts David.
Chapter 15 interrupts the narrative and tells a story that ignores the events of chapters 13 and 14. It is a variant version of the final Samuel-Saul encounter. In chapter 15, Samuel comes to Saul, tells him God chose him as king and gives him a mission to destroy the tribe of Amalek and all its cattle. When Saul saves the cattle, saying he wanted to offer them as sacrifices to God, Samuel is infuriated and says that God is rejecting him for not killing the cattle, as if Saul had not been rejected previously.
In his commentary to these chapters, Arnold Ehrlich supports the view that there are two versions here, just as there is two versions of creation in Genesis 1 and 2; of the killing of Goliath in I Samuel 17 and II Samuel 21; of who sold Joseph and to whom in Genesis 37; whether two or seven pairs of animals were brought into Noah’s ark in Genesis 6 and 7, and just as there are two versions concerning how and when Saul met David in I Samuel 16 and 17. According to chapter 16, Saul met David the first time when he came to Saul when Saul was depressed and played music for him, while in 17 it was when David came to Saul’s camp and slew Goliath. During this “second” meeting, Saul did not know who David was even though chapter 16 states that David played music for Saul whenever Saul was filled with an “evil spirit” and Saul loved him and told him to stay with him.
And there are more duplicate versions in the Torah.