M. J. Evans, 1 and 2 Samuel.
(New International Biblical Commentary, Old Testament Series, Volume 6; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), xiv, 267 pp. Paperback. ISBN: 1-56563-215-X. $11.95
Reviewed by Cynthia Edenburg
The Open University of Israel

As stated by the editors’ forward, this series is intended for a Christian audience, whose readers may find the God of the Old Testament a relative stranger “compared to his more familiar New Testament counterpart” (p. ix). “Believing criticism” is the approach proposed by the editors as an alternative to understanding the text “apart from belief in the meaning it conveys” (p. x). In the present volume this approach entails viewing the narratives in their widest context in Scripture, which includes not only the whole of the Deuteronomistic History and Chronicles, but also the prophetic books and “the accounts of the New Testament arising from the coming of another of David’s descendants, Jesus Christ” (p. 2, compare p. 170 on 2 Samuel 7). Other forerunners of Christ are found in Jonathan (pp. 9–10) and the faithful priest of 1 Sam 2:35 (p. 25).

While Evans reaffirms the widely held view that the “final compilation” of Samuel and Kings reflects common “Deuteronomic editing,” the detailed narratives in Samuel lead her to the conclusion that contemporary witnesses left records utilized by the later authors. These sources may have included “official accounts from Shiloh, or even Samuel’s own records” (p. 4). The thematic unity within the books of Samuel is due, according to Evans, to the interweaving of three areas of interest: politics, people and preaching; these three concerns together build the overall theme of power and authority. The ensuing commentary is dedicated to recapitulating and highlighting the narratives, accompanied by brief discussion of select textual, editorial and historical matters in the additional notes at the end of each section.

Most of the commentary deals with the surface narrative and characterization to the detriment of questions of purpose, ideology and intertextual relations. For example, Evans repeatedly comments on Saul’s deranged, paranoid behavior as well as the equivocal nature of David’s motives, but the question why the characters are so portrayed is never raised. Even if one postulates near contemporary sources for Samuel, such as the History of David’s Rise (HDR) and the Succession Narrative (SN), it is self-evident that such portrayals are purposeful applications of an author’s craft, and not objective reporting.

Evan’s concern with the surface narrative is evident in another instance, in which she calls attention to the remark on the monument (yad) erected by Saul at Carmel in 1 Sam 15:12. Evans sees here a show of self-aggrandizement and refusal to recognize God as the primary cause of his success” (p. 74). However, such an interpretation of the biblical text cannot be upheld if one holds that the text reflects its ancient Near Eastern cultural and literary context, for while royal monuments undoubtedly served as visual affirmations of royal claims and rights, their ideological basis was invariably attributed in the accompanying inscriptions to divine initiative. In this case, Evans might have noted that the remark contributes little to the movement of the narrative in chapter 15, but does invite the reader to make intertextual comparisons with Nabal of Carmel as well as with Absalom’s monument.

Cursory mention is made in the commentary and the additional notes to current scholarly concerns such as the Deuteronomistic History, the HDR and the SN. However, relatively little is done to clarify to the lay reader what is implied by these scholarly concepts, neither with regard to thematic concerns, purpose, tendentiousness or editorial structuring.

The concerns of this commentary may be illustrated by the treatment of one of the key texts —the dynastic promise in 2 Samuel 7. Evans emphasizes that despite the royal ideology which sprang up around Davidic kingship, the view presented in the dynastic promise (especially in v. 14) is realistic. Citing P. R. Ackroyd,1 she states that

the Davidic dynasty will endure, but it is to be a ‘dynasty under discipline’. The intimate father-son relationship between God and the king will necessarily include chastisement” (p. 169).

This is the only reference made to the unconditional nature of this dynastic promise, and to the divine adoption theme. Undoubtedly, it can be a greater challenge to write a concise commentary, which also presents current scholarly concerns to a lay audience, than a multi-volume discussion of the latest critical views—and yet Evans might have remained concise and still have discussed the ideas implicit in the biblical text in greater depth and breadth, by limiting the extent to which she “retells” the narratives.

In summation, this commentary is likely to appeal to lay readers unfamiliar with the books of Samuel, seeking a guide to reading Samuel in the light of contemporary cultural and religious assumptions.


[1] P. R. Ackroyd, The Second Book of Samuel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 78.