Bible Review 5:3, June 1989

Saul & David

Crossed fates

By Jan P. Fokkelman

In ancient times history-writing and storytelling were two faces of the same coin. The reporting of facts was inseparable from their interpretation and from the utilization of narrative art to tell and interpret the facts.

In what follows, I want to understand Israel’s first king, Saul, by what the biblical narrator tells us through his narrative art and the structure of his story. His text, which has come down to us in 1 Samuel, is a piece of verbal art that presents Saul as a tragic hero. I suggest that we should listen to and respect its literary fullness, instead of stripping its message to the minimum based on what some scholars regard only as the reliable historical core.

Saul’s story, or history, commences in 1 Samuel 9 when the unknown young man from the tribe of Benjamin is called by the prophet/priest Samuel and is instantly elevated to a position of national prominence and importance. When the Bible introduces us to Saul, he is searching unsuccessfully for his father’s stray asses. He returns with a very different kind of find—he has been made king over all of Israel, the first person ever to hold this position. He searched for asses and found a kingship.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.