Apparition of Samuel. —Biblical Data:

A necromancer consulted by Saul in his extremity when forsaken by Yhwh, and whose ordinary oracles (dreams, urim, and prophets) had failed him. The story is found in I Sam. xxviii. 4-25. After Samuel's death and burial with due mourning ceremonies in Ramah, Saul had driven all necromancers and adepts at witchcraft from the land. But the Philistines gathered their forces and encamped in Shunem, and to meet them Saul mustered his army on Gilboa. The Israelitish king, terrified at the sight of the enemy's numbers, inquired of Yhwh, but received no answer. In this strait the monarch inquires for a woman , "who possesses a talisman" (Smith, "Samuel," p. 240) wherewith to invoke the dead, and is informed that one is staying at Endor. Disguised, Saul repairs to the woman's lodgings at night and bids her summon for him the one whom he will name. The witch suspects a snare, and refuses to comply in view of the fate meted out to her class by royal command. Assured, however, of immunity, she summons Samuel at Saul's request. At the sight of Samuel she cries out with a loud voice, and charges the king, whom she immediately recognizes, with having deceived her. Saul allays her fears and makes her tell him what she has seen. She saw "a god ["elohim"] coming up out of the earth"; "an old man . . . wrapped in a cloak." Before the spirit (unseen) Saul prostrates himself. Samuel complains at being disturbed, but Saul pleads the extremity of his danger and his abandonment by Yhwh. Samuel, however, refuses to give any counsel, but announces the impending downfall of the king and his dynasty. Saul faints, partly from physical exhaustion due to lack of food. The witch attempts to comfort him, and invites him to partake of her hospitality. Saul at first refuses, but is finally prevailed upon by the combined entreaties of the woman and his servants. He eats and departs to his fate.

—In Rabbinical Literature:

While in the Biblical account the woman remains anonymous, the rabbinical Midrash maintains that she was Zephaniah, the mother of Abner (Yalḳ, Sam. 140, from Pirḳe R. El.). That a supernatural appearance is here described is inferred from the repeated emphasis laid on the statement that Samuel had died and had been buried (I Sam. xxv. 1, xxviii. 3), by which the assumption that Samuel was still living when summoned, is discredited (Tosef., Soṭah, xi. 5). Still he was invoked during the first twelve months after his death, when, according to the Rabbis, the spirit still hovers near the body (Shab. 152b). In connection with the incidents of the story the Rabbis have developed the theory that the necromancer sees the spirit but is unable to hear his speech, while the person at whose instance the spirit is called hears the voice but fails to see; bystanders neither hear nor see (Yalḳ., l.c.; Redaḳ and RaLBaG's commentaries). The outcry of the woman at the sight of Samuel was due to his rising in an unusual way—upright, not, as she expected, in a horizontal position (comp. LXX. ὄρϑιον in verse 14).

—Critical View:

The story throws light on the prevailing beliefs of primitive Israel concerning the possibility of summoning the dead and consulting them. Discussions concerning the historical veracity of this report, and attempts to reconcile its contents with natural laws by assuming that the woman palmed off some fraud on the excited king exhausted by previous fasting, miss the point of the Biblical account. The scene is really a satire on King Saul,and the summoning of the dead is introduced only incidentally. He, the destroyer of the necromancers, forsaken by Yhwh, himself repairs to a witch's house, but has only his pains for his trouble. Samuel refuses to help, and reiterates what Saul's fears had anticipated (Grüneisen, "Der Ahnenkultus und die Urreligion Israels," pp. 152-154, Halle, 1900). used to be interpreted as meaning the ghost with which the witch was possessed, but this does not appear to be the ancient conception.

  • Commentaries on Samuel by Smith, Klostermann, Thenius, and others;
  • Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, i. 425, 504;
  • König, Offenbarungsbegriff des Alten Testaments, 1882, ii. 150;
  • Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidenthums, in his Skizzen und Vorarbeiten, iii. 126, 135 et seq.;
  • Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode, passim.
E. G. H.
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