Hannah

How she waited and prayed patiently for a child and was rewarded.

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Hannah's Prayer

At Shiloh, the scene of her acute isolation and Peninnah's tormenting, Hannah turns to God in the temple. She prays fervently, vowing that if God will grant her a male child, she will give that child back to God after weaning him. The desperation of Hannah's vow indicates that merely bearing a male child would establish her in the community; she would forgo the joys of raising him. Her vow does assume that within the social structure of early Israel, when women made vows, their husbands had to uphold them.

Hannah's prayer is observed by Eli the priest, who presumes her moving lips indicate that she is drunk; thus Hannah is wrongly accosted (and this time wrongly judged) by a second male character in the story. At a time when prayer was said aloud, Hannah's personal and private prayer was an innovation and regarded skeptically by the priest.

Her muted voice may represent the "muted" position of women: she retreats from the control of religious and social authorities--husband and priest--into herself, to offer a prayer that they can neither hear nor understand. She assumes that God can hear and respond to a woman's prayer. Hannah answers Eli humbly and poignantly. In response, the priest offers no apology--merely trite phrases.

Granted a Child

Hannah & Samuel

Hannah's prayers are answered by God, who "remembers" her (1:19), much as he remembered Rachel, suggesting that women's wombs are controlled by the deity, who acts upon them by closing or opening. Upon birth, it is Hannah who chooses a name for her son, for women's authority over children was often expressed by their naming of their offspring. She calls him Samuel, because she asked God for him. Elkanah is not mentioned in this action.

At the time of the next pilgrimage to Shiloh, strengthened by the self-assurance of motherhood, Hannah chooses to remain at home until the boy is weaned. Hannah's exchange with her husband on this occasion takes on an entirely different tone. She initiates the dialogue and establishes the conditions under which she will resume travel (when the boy has been weaned), and Elkanah offers a mere confirmation of her words.

When Hannah finally does relinquish her son to God, she brings him to Eli, with significant sacrifices to God; and she reminds the priest of her earlier prayer. The earliest translation and transmission traditions (Septuagint and 4Qsama) show "patriarchalizing" of the text in removing Hannah's agency in performing the sacrifice, depriving her of a cultic role that legitimately belongs to her. In the Hebrew text, Hannah presents the child and also the sacrifices.

Song of Hannah

A poem of thanksgiving, the Song of Hannah (2:1-10), (and a brief digression concerned with Eli's sons) interrupts the narrative. The attribution of this poetic utterance to Hannah distinguishes her among biblical personages. Her song is essentially a hymn of praise to God for good fortune, and the theme of reversal includes reference to a previously barren woman. The song also includes many themes of Israel's national culture: defeat of enemies and creation, battle and God's relationship to Israel's leaders, wisdom and storm-god images. Fertility and childbirth are thus included as equal in importance to other motifs and worthy of Israel's singers.

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Lillian Klein (Abensohn) received her Ph.D. in English literature from University of California, Irvine Campus, and her M.S.B.A. from Boston University. She taught literature, specializing in Bible, at the University of Maryland, Munich Campus, for twenty years before returning to the United States to teach at American University. She is the author of The Triumph of Irony in the Book of Judges and From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible as well as many articles published in A Feminist Companion to the Bible.