Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: A note on sources

1 Samuel 7 is just another version of the Groundhog Day story that constitutes most of the previous Book of Judges. A leader emerges who rallies the people to return to exclusive veneration of Yahweh, and he rewards them with victory in battle. As I need say no more about that, let me say something about the document we are reading.

I have from time to time mentioned the Septuagint and the Masoretic text. The Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek, that is the Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean world from the 4th Century BC and many centuries thereafter. The Masoretic text is the authoritative Hebrew Tanakh, used in Judaism today. It was canonized by rabbinical scholars in the 10th and 11th Century CE, but the documents on which it is based, and their history, are lost. 


The Septuagint is so-called because the legend is that Pharaoh Ptolemy II commissioned 70 (or 72) Jewish scholars to create it for his library at Alexandria in the Third Century BCE. The truth is that various books were translated by different people at different times over the course of a century or so, centering on the reign of Ptolemy. The reason is simply that few people spoke Hebrew any more: a vernacular Bible was needed. The Septuagint includes several books that are not included in the Masoretic text, and they differ on many other points. 


Ancient fragments of the Tanakh, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls (which were created around 300 BCE) differ in respects from both, but are closer to the Masoretic text. The important point is that the books of the Hebrew Bible were not entirely standardized until the Rabbinical period. There is a legend that one or more "Gold Standard" copies were kept in the Second Temple, but if this is true it didn't work. Not surprising since books had to be copied out by hand and there was always the possibility of both mistakes and deliberate editing.

The Catholic Old Testament is based on the Septuagint and contains six books which are not included in the Masoretic text, which Catholic scholars believe are referenced in some way in the New Testament, although this is disputable  as the references are not explicit. The Masoretic text is the main source for Protestant versions of the Old Testament, and that's what we're reading here. (Notably, the 10 Commandments are somewhat different in the Septuagint and Masoretic versions, and hence the Catholic and Protestant 10 Commandments are different.)  'Nuff said. 

So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.

Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader[a] of Israel at Mizpah.

When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,[b] saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16 From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 17 But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord.


  1. 1 Samuel 7:6 Traditionally judge; also in verse 15
  2. 1 Samuel 7:12 Ebenezer means stone of help.

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