Author Archives: Andre Lemaire

Andre Lemaire

About Andre Lemaire

Andre Lemaire is director d'etudes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, History and Philology Section, of the Sorbonne, in Paris.

King Saul

The following article is reprinted with permission from
Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple
, edited by Hershel Shanks (Biblical Archaeology Society).

The Bible depicts Saul as a study in contrasts. Although he was Israel’s first king, he was ultimately rejected (1 Samuel 15:10-11). His dark, fitful personality suffers by contrast with the two legendary figures between whom he seems wedged–Samuel the prophet-priest and David, Saul’s hero-successor. 

Facing the Philistines

The Bible describes Saul rising to the throne in the face of the Philistine military threat. The Philistines are known both from the Bible and from the extrabiblical sources. Egyptian inscriptions mention them as one of the so-called Sea Peoples. Apparently, they originally came from the Aegean area or from southern Anatolia [?]

The Sea Peoples settled in various parts of the Egyptian province of Canaan, probably with Egypt’s agreement. The Philistines occupied the coastal plain between Gaza and Jaffa? 

king saul's death

Elie Marcuse’ Death of Saul

Eventually, the Philistine military expansion near Aphek brought the Philistines close to the territory occupied by the Israelite confederation. The Philistines were apparently skilled warriors who used the most advanced military equipment of their time. Their weapons were made of both bronze, the predominant metal until about 1200 B.C.E., and iron, which was becoming increasingly available.

The Choice of Saul

Facing these dire circumstances, the Israelite tribes determined that they must have a king. The story of the choice of Saul as king appears in three different traditions: In the first, Saul is looking for his father’s lost she-asses when he meets Samuel, who anoints him prince (nasi) over Israel (1 Samuel 9:3-10:16). In the second tradition, Saul is hidden among baggage at Mizpah when Samuel casts lots to choose the king (1 Samuel 10:17-27).

In the third and probably most reliable tradition, Saul, at the head of the Israelite columns, has rescued Jabesh-Gilead from an Ammonite attack, and the people, with Samuel’s agreement, proclaim their allegiance to Saul at Gilgal (1 Samuel 11-15). In each of these accounts, Saul is installed and anointed as king by Samuel, now an old man.

The Many Faces of King David

The following article is reprinted with permission from Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, edited by Hershel Shanks (Biblical Archaeology Society).

A Model King

The Bible tells the story of David’s reign in detail (1 Samuel 16 to 1 Kings 2:11), reflecting its importance as well as its length. David “reigned over Israel for forty years, seven and a half in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem” (c. 1009/1001-969 B.C.E.). His long reign was later regarded as Israel’s “golden age”; David himself was seen as the model king.

David’s later glorification may seem paradoxical in light of the fact that he was a Bethlehemite, from the tribe of Judah, and not from any of the original, northern tribes (Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin). Furthermore, David was one of Saul’s adversaries, who had been banned because he was considered the personal enemy of the first Israelite king. Moreover, at the time of Saul’s death, David was serving as a mercenary in the army of the Philistines, Israel’s bitter enemy.

David and Saul

According to 1 Samuel 16:1-13, David was the youngest son of Jesse. The prophet-priest Samuel “anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

The Bible offers two accounts of how David became part of Saul’s household. In the first, Saul takes David into his service as his “armor-bearer” (1 Samuel 16:14-23). In the second version David, having killed the Philistine champion Goliath in single combat (1 Samuel 17), is officially presented to Saul as a hero. The biblical account of David’s rise to power may well represent an amalgamation of different traditions concerning the early relationship between David and Saul.

king david of israel

In any event, with the support of his friend Jonathan (Saul’s son), David was “made…a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him: (1 Samuel 18:13-14.).