The Triable Affiliation of Samuel

The Triable Affiliation of Samuel

Yoel Halevi No Comments

It is not unusual to find contradictions between different historical reports about events in the Hebrew Bible. One such contradiction comes in the form of the tribal affiliation Samuel has. In one source (1 Sam 1:1), Samuel comes from a family well embedded in the hills of Efraim. The description gives no place for any other tribe than Efraim. On the other hand, 1Chro 6:18-23 describe a person called Samuel who has the same genealogy as Samuel in 1Sam. However, this Samuel belongs to a Levitical family from the line of Qehat.

In this article I want to examine the information about Samuel and see if he was a Levi or not and if so, is there a contradiction between the two sources?

1Sam 1:1

We start with the older and more important description of the genealogy. I say older and more important because it is a well-established fact that the writer of Chronicles used sources such as Sam-Kings for his historical descriptions.

We find the following description:

וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִן הָרָמָתַיִם צוֹפִים מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן יְרֹחָם בֶּן אֱלִיהוּא בֶּן תֹּחוּ בֶן צוּף אֶפְרָתִי.

There was a man from Ramatayim-Tzofim, in the hills of Efrayim, whose name was Elkanah the son of Yerocham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tochu, the son of Tzuf, from Efrat (CJB).

Ἄνθρωπος ἦν ἐξ Αρμαθαιμ Σιφα ἐξ ὄρους Εφραιμ, καὶ ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ελκανα υἱὸς Ιερεμεηλ υἱοῦ Ηλιου υἱοῦ Θοκε ἐν Νασιβ Εφραιμ.

There was a man of Armathaim Sipha, of mount Ephraim, and his name [was] Helkana, a son of Jeremeel the son of Elias the son of Thoke, in Nasib Ephraim.

The verse describes three distinctive family affiliations:

  1. הָרָמָתַיִם- Hārāmātayīm is a dual form of the nameרמה which was a city northeast of Jerusalem near ‘aṭarot. This city belonged to the tribe of Efraim but sat close enough to Benjamin that sometimes it looks like it was part of Benjamin and not Ephraim. 
  2. צוֹפִים- ṣofim is a place name with a gentilic suffix which translates as “Tzufites”. Some translations place this word as part of the name of the city “Ramatayim-Tzofim”. This translation means that the writer is distinguishing the city of Ramah from other places with the same name. It is also possible to understand the םsuffix as a copiest mistake where the Mem of מֵהַר was duplicated at the end of צוֹפִים. This would mean the original text read צופי מהר which means a Tzufite from the mountain of Efraim. 
  3. אֶפְרָתִי- efrāti, probably the most unclear term of all the three. This term appears two more times in Judges 12:5, 1 Kings 11:26 with the meaning of belonging to the tribe of Efraim. In two more cases the term appears as something else in 1 Sam 17:12 where David is called by this name, and in Ruth 1:2. In these cases the term probably refers to the city of Efrat which was south of Jerusalem in the tribe of Judah. It is possible that this word was used to indicate two different affiliations even though they had the same name. This is not unusual due to the fact that the word Efraim and Efrat begin with the same letters. Rashi (11th century) suggested that it means “Nobleman”. This interpretation works well with the idea that Elqannah, Jeroboam, and Elimelekh were noblemen. Abarbanel (15th century) suggested that the term in our case means that he lived in Efraim but was not from the tribe of Efraim but from Levi. This interpretation does not follow suit with the use of affiliation used in the Bible. An example of this can be found in Judges 17:7 where a Levi is living in a territory, he is affiliated with but is not of the tribe. 

The geographical description and the family affiliations leave no doubt that the family of Samuel was of the tribe of Efraim. The only thing that can be used against this identification is the Efrati name which is used 3 out of 5 times in the bible to describe someone from Efraim. 

1Chro 6:18-23

וְאֵלֶּה הָעֹמְדִים וּבְנֵיהֶם מִבְּנֵי הַקְּהָתִי הֵימָן הַמְשׁוֹרֵר בֶּן יוֹאֵל בֶּן שְׁמוּאֵל. בֶּן אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן יְרֹחָם בֶּן אֱלִיאֵל בֶּן תּוֹחַ. בֶּן ציף [צוּף] בֶּן אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן מַחַת בֶּן עֲמָשָׂי. בֶּן אֶלְקָנָה בֶּן יוֹאֵל בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה בֶּן צְפַנְיָה. בֶּן תַּחַת בֶּן אַסִּיר בֶּן אֶבְיָסָף בֶּן קֹרַח. בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי בֶּן יִשְׂרָאֵל

What is interesting is that the Greek version of this text reads differently (LXX 6:31-38):

καὶ οὗτοι οἱ ἑστηκότες καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτῶν ἐκ τῶν υἱῶν τοῦ Κααθ· Αιμαν ὁ ψαλτῳδὸς υἱὸς Ιωηλ υἱοῦ Σαμουηλ υἱοῦ Ελκανα υἱοῦ Ηδαδ υἱοῦ Ελιηλ υἱοῦ Θιε υἱοῦ Σουφ υἱοῦ Ελκανα υἱοῦ Μεθ’ υἱοῦ Αμασιου υἱοῦ Ελκανα υἱοῦ Ιωηλ υἱοῦ Αζαρια υἱοῦ Σαφανια υἱοῦ Θααθ υἱοῦ Ασιρ υἱοῦ Αβιασαφ υἱοῦ Κορε υἱοῦ Ισσααρ υἱοῦ Κααθ υἱοῦ Λευι υἱοῦ Ισραηλ. 

“And these [were the men] that stood, and their sons, of the sons of Caath: Aeman the psalm singer, son of Joel, the son of Samuel, the son of Helcana, the son of Jeroboam, the son of Eliel, the son of Thoas, the son of Suph, the son of Helcana, the son of Maath, the son of Amathi, the son of Helcana, the son of Joel, the son of Azarias, the son of Japhanias, the son of Thaath, the son of Aser, the son of Abiasaph, the son of Core, the son of Isaar, the son of Caath, the son of Levi, the son of Israel.”

Both the Hebrew and the Greek texts describe Samuel as being a descendant of the family of Qehat and that the family of Tzuf is from the family of Qorach and Yitzhar. 

When examining the name list in this text one must notice the use of repetitive names such as Samuel, Elqanah, and Yoel in the Qehat family line. This is unusual because we do not find such a practice in other Levitical families. This is a duplication that can raise issues with the lists.

Erlich (1969, pp.435-436) suggested that the writer of these verses found a problem with the descriptions of Samuel working in the temple and sacrificing and needed to reconcile this information with the sacrificial laws of Leviticus. Kochman expanded on this argument and claimed that the entire description of Levitical singers is artificial and was created by the writer to prove the legitimacy of the singers at his time (Kochman, 1996, pp.100-102). 

Laato agrees with the idea presented by Kochman that the list is fabricated but has several objections.  Laato claims that the list itself represents an older tradition of specific families that considered themselves the only legitimate singers (Latto, 1994, p.90). However, Latto also shows that the placing of Samuel in the duplicate list of vs.18-23 was done in secondary editing which associated Samuel as a seer the same way Heman was a seer too in the court of David. This shows that the list is artificial and superimposed into the genealogy. Latto’s position is that the genealogy is older than Chronicles but reflects a fabricated connection between Samuel and the Levitical lines to legitimize the common practices of the time. 

However, this argument cannot be proven from any source and we might be looking at a list fabricated by the writer. Another possibility is that there was an ancient tradition about Samuel being a Levite of the mere fact that he worked in the temple. This may be an indicator of flexibility in terminology. One was considered a לוי if they serve in the temple even if they were not from the actual tribe. This may explain the idea of dedicating oneself to YHWH making one legible for temple service. 

This fits into the general argument made about Chronicles that the writer had an agenda to prove the common practices of his time. This also includes the re-affiliation of different biblical characters to groups to which they did not belong, including people who are described as belonging to very specific families (Japhet, 1977, pp.237-264). Hence, the writer harmonized the information by claiming a genealogy from Qehat for Samuel. By doing this the writer invented a new line of Levites which were unknown before his time.

Other Issues

There are several questions that need to be asked besides the genealogy:

  1. Why do we not find Elqanah or his family serving in the temple? Elqanah is presented as visiting the temple four times a year, but in none of the descriptions does he serve in the temple. 
  2. Why does Hannah need to dedicate Samuel to the temple if all Levites were given to Aharon and his sons (Numbers 8:14-19)? There seems to be a redundancy if he needs to be dedicated. 
  3. We do not find that Samuel served near the altar in Shiloh. He is described as a na’ar-young servant (2:18) but not as a Levi or Kohen though he does wear an ephod. We can understand the context of na’ar from the other mention of this word in 2:15 where the servant of the Kohen only deals with the meat after it was given back to the person offering the sacrifice. 

How did Samuel sacrifice?

The main reason most think Samuel was a Levite is that he officiated in several sacrifices during his life. We find him sacrificing in 1 Sam 7:9, 7:17, 9:13 when he meets Saul, 10:8 at Gilgal, and 16:5 when he meets David. During this era, we also find the people and Saul sacrificing outside of the temple such as 16:15 (this sacrifice is done by Levites), 11:15 at Gilgal, 13:9, and Saul building an altar in 14:35. 

As can be seen, sacrificing was not limited only to the temple or its officiants, and it was common for public figures to sacrifice outside the temple. This practice may seem strange to the common modern reader due to the laws in Leviticus, but it does not seem to be a problem in ancient times. This practice caught the eye of early Jewish thinkers, and an answer has been given in the form of exegeses presented in the Mishnah presented in Zevachim 112b:

עד שלא הוקם המשכן היו הבמות מותרות ועבודה בבכורות ומשהוקם המשכן נאסרו הבמות ועבודה בכהנים… באו לגלגל הותרו הבמות…באו לשילה נאסרו הבמות ולא היה שם תקרה אלא בית אבנים בלבד מלמטן והיריעות מלמעלן והיא היתה מנוחה …באו לנוב וגבעון הותרו הבמות …באו לירושלים נאסרו הבמות ולא היה להן היתר והיא היתה נחלה.

Until the Tabernacle was established, private altars were permitted and the sacrificial service was performed by the firstborn. And from the time that the tabernacle was established, private altars were prohibited and the sacrificial service was performed by the priests…When they arrived at Gilgal private altars were permitted When they arrived at Shiloh, private altars were prohibited. And there was no roof of wood or stone there rather there was only a building of stone below and the curtains of the roof of the Tabernacle were spread above it. And the period characterized as “rest”… when they arrived at Nov Gibeon,  private altars were permitted… When Jerusalem and private altars were prohibited, private altars did not have a subsequent period when they were permitted. And it was characterized as “inheritance”.

In a similar way, modern critical commentators have taken the same idea but from a different angle. One of the first to present a different outlook on the sacrificial practices was the 19th-century German scholar Wellhausen who suggested that the sacrificial system was open to the general public and was not limited to the Kohanim. He presented this argument based on the above verses in 1 Sam and on the description of sacrifices done on Genesis. Though these arguments are rejected by religious circles, he did present his arguments based on the simple readings of the text. In the same way, many scholars have followed in this way of thinking. Haran has presented a full reconstruction of what he believed to be the way sacrificial work was done n Israel before the establishment of the one temple in Jerusalem.

It has been argued based on archaeological findings that even in Judea it was not uncommon for people to do sacrifices of different sorts even when the temple of Jerusalem was standing. Though the Hebrew bible presents this type of activity as negative, it is probably done from a very specific perspective. As far as we can tell, the sacrificial activity in Arad and Beer Sheva was done in honor of YHWH and no other god. Hence, is it possible that we are seeing the subject presented in the bible from a Jerusalem-centric ideology that does not represent the rest of Judea? The answer might be yes, but it is an assumption that we cannot prove completely because it is an attempt to reconstruct the thoughts and mindset of people who lived thousands of years ago. And yet, we do find loyal people to YHWH who sacrificed outside the temple during the days of Samuel. 

An anti-Sarmatian Agenda 

Another possible explanation has to do with the context of temple competition at the time. It is possible that the need to present Samuel as a Levite was a polemic against the Samaritan temple on Gerizim. Because we do not know exactly when things were written this theory is somewhat difficult to correlate with historical events. The idea standing behind this theory is that the Samaritan temple staff were not from the tribe of Levi. Because Samuel was not a Levite it could be used as an argument to prove that temple service could be done by non-Levites. This issue also goes back to the statement made in 1 Kings 12:31 where Jeroboam creates servants for his high places from the elite of the people. Hence, the writer of Chronicles covers two issues, the problem with the northern sins and the problem of the Gerizim temple. 


  1. Samuel came from the tribe of Efraim and was dedicated to YHWH which included a period of service in the temple of Shiloh and later as a prophet. 
  2. Samuel was not a Levite and Chronicles has a list that is utilized to make him into a Levite as part of the general ideas of the book. The writer of Chronicles may have used an ancient list that had some names resembling the family of Samuel and interpreted this as proof of Samuel being a Levite.
  3. A clash with the common law of the Torah prohibiting sacrifices not done by a Kohen from the line of Levi led to questions about Samuel’s function in the temple and hens after leading to an old interpretation that he was a Levi.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join My Group Bible Class TODAY!

The class is done in a virtual class room with multiple participants. We meet on Sundays at 11:45am US eastern, or 6:45pm Israel time. You do not need to know Hebrew for this class, and you also receive a recording of the classes every month. For the link and how to join, click the More Info Button to email us.