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In Search of a King: Saul and the Ark of God. Textual, Literary, and Ritual Elements in a Foundational Biblical Story

Christophe Lemardelé

Pages 311 - 328


The story of King Saul fills most of the first book of Samuel. Saul first appears in chapter 9, and in chapter 31, he and his sons die. The end of his reign is already mentioned at the end of chapter 14; the rest of the story, as told after this note, is a story of disaster. The account insists on Saul's belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of Israel's tribes, most likely to diminish his importance. One would expect a more prestigious origin of the first ruler of the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel.

Our fresh look at the textual and literary problems of 1 Samuel 1–14 leads to a new view of what the original story of King Saul was like. In the first chapter of the book, Saul has been replaced by Samuel, and his story was originally linked to the Ark of God. The original narrative portrayed the first king of Israel as a great personality, rather than a dubious, impious one. The article considers the characters that “oppose” Saul – David, Jonathan and Samuel –, examines the “Ark Narrative” in order to show that the story of the god of Shiloh is also the story of a young hero who became a king, and, finally, suggests that the topography of this ancient story differs from that of its latest redactional layer.


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