Book: The Hunt for Ancient Israel
Chapter: A Masterpiece of Early Hebrew Storytelling: The Seance at En-Dor (1 Samuel 28)
This contribution investigates the literary history of 1 Sam 28 and its contexts in religious history. Contrary to recent models postulating a late Deuteronomistic origin of the narrative, it shows that the literary core of 1 Sam 28 was drafted much earlier, namely in the era of the Northern Israelite monarchy. This core mirrors practices of ancestral cult and necromancy that were an important field of ancient Israelite religion, including the religion of the court, closely related to Ancient Near Eastern and particularly North-West Semitic traditions. At the same time, the original narrative proves a masterpiece of early Hebrew literature, depicting king Saul compassionately as a tragic hero and in no way criticizing him. Only several additions change Saul’s picture according to Deuteronomistic ideas, and the failing king becomes more and more criticized for turning to idolatrous religious practices instead of trusting in Yahweh.