Note: these are unedited notes.  My preference is that we cover this material as a class discussion rather than as a lecture, and discussion may head off in a very different direction.

Note also that in the the Hebrew Bible, Joshua, Judges I and II Samuel and I and II Kings are all included among the "neviim," the prophets.  These books are called the "former" prophets, while Isaiah, Jeremiah etc.,  are called the "latter" prophets.  In Christian Bibles, these books are included among the "histories."   Both classifications work.  I'd suggest, though, that I and II Samuel and I and II Kings might also be viewed as a series of tragedies. 

The "former prophets" designation certainly works.  There's something of the "thus saith the Lord" voice in these books as well.  Prophets like Samuel and Nathan are prominent in these books.  By the time we get to the 2nd half of I Kings, the focus had shifted to the prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha.

The history designation works too.  These books include many of the elements historians look for: chronology, accounts of change over time, exploration of cause and effect, and an exploration of human choices and their consequences.

In some ways, the "tragic" definition doesn't completely fit.  Aristotle specificially said a tragedy was supposed to in the form of dialogue, not of narration.  But  these books do have the other features Aristotle insisted were central to tragedy including characters of sufficient magnitude,themes of sufficient magnitude, heroes with tragic flaws, and (sometimes at least), a sense of catharsis.

When preparing the I Samuel--II Kings material for the exam, be sure to include your own thoughts on the readings.  Be sure to make it clear what *you* think is the best genre description of I and II Samuel.  Best viewed as history?  Prophecy?  Tragedies?  Elements of all three?

I and II Samuel
In the Douay version of the Bible, I and II Samuel are called I and II Kings.  This means that, what Protestants call I and II Kings are, in some Bibles, designated as III and IV Kings. Hebrew Bibles just have Samuel (I and II Samuel by Protestant reckoning) and Kings (I and II Kings by Protestant reckoning).  Watch out for potential confusion!

Both the "Kings" title and the "Samuel" titles are appropriate for I and II Samuel.  "Kings" calls our attention to the leadership question.  One of the central themes these books deal with is the question of government.  The writer, possibly the same man who wrote Judges, clearly sees the problem when men don't have a strong central government.  Judges talks about what happens when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  The result is a mess!  The writer recognizes a near-univeral  historical pattern.  Anarchy gives way to autocracy, the rule of one strong man.  Perhaps this is better than anarchy, but monarchy has plenty of disadvantages as well.  The writer here is giving us a treatise on monarchy (or, at least, on leadership in general), and the "Kings" title recognizes that. 

The "Samuel" designation works as well for two reasons. The spirit of Samuel dominates the two books--even though his death is toward the end of I Samuel and he doesn't appear in 2nd Samuel at all!  Also, Samuel's name means, "God hears,"  and, from first to last, there is a constant theme that God hears--and that he intervenes in human history.

Still, despite that fact that either title is appropriate, I'd be tempted to choose a different titles, e.g., "The Tragical History of Saul"  for I Samuel, "The Tragical History of David" for 2nd Samuel, or perhaps "The Tragical History of the Nation of Israel" for the two books together.  Except for the fact that they presented as narratives, they have many of the characteristics of tragedy including characters of sufficient magnitude brought low by "hamartia" (sin/tragic flaw), themes of sufficient magnitute, and catharsis, a kind of redemption for the tragic heroes and an inducement for the reader to have a change of heart.

I Samuel certainly has protagonists of sufficient magnitude.  These include:

Israel as a whole

In looking at I Samuel as tragedy, it's worth considering the following questions:
Questions about Hannah:
Questions about Eli:
Questions about Samuel:
The Tragedy of Saul:

While one could write a  tragedy featuring any of the the figures above, Saul really seems like the protagonists of Greek tragedy.  He has many strengths.  He has the physical appearance one would wnat in a King.  He's a humble man, and a dutiful son.  He respects religion.  He isn't ambitious for himself.  He comes up with a clever way of uniting Israel to save some of their fellow Israelites.  He shows mercy to those who didn't want him to be king.

Saul's mistakes are understandable.  He's been waiting for Samuel for a week.  His army is inhiding and falling apart.  Samuel is late: who knows if he'll ever show up?  So Saul makes the sacrifice himself.  Only then does Samuel show up--and immediately flies off the handle.  Poor Saul!

The problem here is that Saul is uusing the outward aspects of religion for secular purpose, thinking that getting outward forms right is going to lead to success.  Remember also that God is speaking through Samuel, and that, perhaps, makes a difference.  Samuel had seen sons of Eli using their religious poition for their own selfish ends, eventually taking the Ark into battle.  A guarantees of victory, right?  No.  This leads to their deaths, to the deaths of Eli and the loss of the Ark.  His daughter-in-law names her baby Ichabod: glory has departed.

And then there are Samuel’s own sons. Who also used religious externals for their own purpose.  Saul seems to be following same path! No wonder Samuel is angry, just as Tiresias gets angry with Oedipus and Creon.  Here I think Samuel could have handled things more gently: but he doen't know how.

 Note that Saul can’t seem to let go of the idea that religous externals are the key to success.  Note his vow that all are to fast to guarantee victory. A good idea, right?  We fast, God will bless us!  Well, no.  Notice that Saul is ready to kill his own son because he is *so* convinced the externals must be adhered too--but they are externals of his own making!!

 And then there's Saul's disobedience with the Amelekites..  Why does Saul spare Agag and the oxen?  It's religious externals of his own making once again.   Look at the great sacrifice we make!  God will be on our side for sure!  What’s wrong with this policy?  Well, think back to Gideon's ephod--and to the Danites in the book of Judges.

 Note Saul’s excuse (16:24) “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.”  What’s wrong with that as a principle of leadership?

 Saul insists that Samuel stay and worship.  “Honor me before the people.”  And Samuel does!  Then he abandons Saul—but goes away mourning until the day of his death.  *Why?

 Now the tragedy of Saul really unfolds.  The Lord depart from him an an "evil spirit from the Lord" troubles him.  The "evil spirit from the Lord" is a bit of a puzzle.  The Hebrew word is "ra'ah" and it simply means "bad."  We might say Saul is in a bad mood.  But  there seems to be something more. Saul is perhaps being driven by the "evil" sprit into doing what's very hard to do--give way to another leader graciously.

Note the potential healing for Saul.  David's harp soothes his spirit. David also helps Saul be defeating Goliath.  Great!  Jonathan and David are great friends. What should Saul’s reaction to David be?  Support him, and, eventually, step aside.  But Saul can’t--or at least doesn't.

Note how close Saul comes to making the choices that would have been good for himself, his kids, and Israel as a whole.  Merab, Saul's daughter, loves David.  And Saul starts to arrange a match.  His grandkids would be on the throne?  But Saule doesn’t follow through.

And then Michal, his other daughter, wants David.  Saul follows through this time: but then (18:28)  Saul saw and knew that the Lord was with David, and that Michal Saul’s daughter loved him.  And Saul was yet more afraid of David, and Saul became David’s enemy. He throws a javelin at his son for siding with David! He kills priests for siding with David! Instead of fighting the Philistines and Amalekites, Sayk wastes energy hunting David!  And, particularly cruel to both his daughter and her husband, Saul takes Michal from David and gives here to Phaltiel!

Twice David spares Saul's life, and yet still Saul can’t quite let go though in the end he blesses David and realizes David will prevail (26: 25). But David despairs: deserts to Philistines.

Saul is left alone.  No voice of God.  Neither by umim or thumim will God answer. Saul wants Samuel--so despartely than he turns to necromancy.  Note Samuel’s answer: why turn to me when the Lord is departed from you?  You’re doomed: and not only that, you’ve destroyed your people along with you.

And Saul almost gets it right.  He won’t eat.  This time not doing things just for outward appearances.  Falls on his face to pray.  But he’s persuaded to get up and eat.  And once more he fights the Philistines.  Entirely under his own strength—and he loses.  Jonathan too dies.

"How are the mighty fallen," mourns David--a theme Aristotle particularly associates with tragedy.

And that brings us to the traged of David.

The story of David at first reads much like a fairy tale.  David is a poor shepherd boy, youngest son of a large family.  He does many brave deeds and wins the love of a princess, Michal, daughter of King Saul.

The king, however, is jealous of David and sets him an impossible task. You want to marry Michal?  Fine.  Bring me a hundred foreskins of the Philistines as a bride price.  David welcomes the challenge and soon produces the required foreskins.  Saul grudgingly consents to the marriage, and Michal and David live happily ever after.

Well, not quite.  Saul, now even more jealous, tries again and again to kill David.  Michal, risking her father's displeasure and her own life, contrives to help David escape.  Then Saul does the cruelest thing he could possibly do to David.  He takes David's princess bride and gives her to someone else, Phalti the son of Laish.

This is a crushing blow to a man's ego.  When the woman he loves ends up in bed with another man, something goes haywire in his mind, and while on the whole David is a good man, he cannot escape the consequences of this deep hurt.

Notice that one of the first things David does while he is fleeing from Saul is to find another wife.  He chooses Abigail, a beautiful and clever woman, who should have been able to take Michal's place in David's life.  But David is clearly not content.  He soon takes another wife, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess.  Still not enough.  II Samuel 3 lists four more wives, Maacah, Haggith, Abital and Eglah.  

But are David's problems really the result of losing Michal? Absolutely.  Notice David's conduct during the civil war that followed Saul's death.  David little by little had gained the upper hand in this long war, but Saul's son Ishbosheth, backed by the very able commander Abner, was putting up a fierce and determined resistance to Davidian rule.  Finally, however, Abner had had enough of Ishbosheth and decided to make overtures to David.  David's reply to Abner's message is fascinating, "Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal, Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face."  To Ishbosheth himself David is equally insistent, "Deliver me my wife Michal
which I espoused to me for a hundred foreskins of Philistines."

There is a civil war going on.  David has a chance to end it and consolidate his rule.  But he won't even negotiate unless he gets his wife back first.  Poor diplomacy, but very much in accord with what lies deepest in a man's heart.

David does finally get his wife back, but not to live happily ever after.  David's ego had been too badly wounded for the relationship to survive.  This is clear in the next exchange the Bible records between Michal and David.

David has brought up the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Michal has seen him dancing joyfully at the head of the procession and for some reason finds David's display of emotion embarrassing.  She greets David with stinging words, "How glorious was the King of Israel to day who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamefully uncovers himself."  In other words, "David, you made a fool out of yourself."

David, not surprisingly, is angry, and insists that his dancing was for the Lord.  The writer of II Samuel concludes this episode by telling us that because of this "Michal had no child unto the day of her death."

Most infer from this that God punished her with childlessness as a result of her rebuke to her husband.  It seems to me more likely that it is really David who punished her by refusing ever to sleep with her again.  And yes, men are so touchy, and their egos are that fragile.

But David was not finished with his cruelty to Michal.  On a later occasion, it was necessary for David to choose for execution some of Saul's descendants to settle a blood debt.  David could have chosen whomever he wanted, but five of the seven he chose were children Michal had been raising for one of her relatives.  Again, it's clear that David is going out of his way to hurt Michal.  And yes, men are so vindictive, and their egos are that fragile.

And then there's the story everyone knows, the story of David and Bathsheba.  David, no doubt still hurting as a result of the problems with Michal, sees Bathsheba bathing.  He sends for her, gets her pregnant, tries to deceive her husband into thinking the child is his own, and then, failing in this, arranges the death of the husband.

Through all this, David doesn't even seem to realize he's doing anything wrong. Nathan the prophet drives it home.  He appears before David with a story.  There were two men, one rich, one poor.  The rich man had many flocks and herds, while the poor man had only one ewe lamb which he loved as a daughter.  A traveler arrived at the rich man's house, and since the rich man didn't want to kill any of his own animals to provide for the guest, he took the poor man's lamb and slaughtered it.

As David heard the story, he became furious.  "The man who has done this thing ought to die!" he shouted.

Nathan turned on him and simply said, "Thou art the man."

And David wakes up to the appalling thing that he has done.  Why did he do it?  It seems to me clear that the root cause is the bad bruise to his ego when he lost Michal.

Now David differs from Saul here. He (finally) recognizes his sin, and goes to God directly.  But he can’t escape consequences!  The Amnon/Tamar story and David's failure to do anything about it. Shows one problem.  And this leads to the conflict with Absalom.  Once again, there's a theme similar to the Samuel/Saul story.  David loves Absalom, but he keeps himself distant, ends up alienating his son.  He almost loses both throne and life, and the civil war which follows ends only with the death of his son.  More war after than as well.

Any catharsis?  Well, two things it seems to me. 

There's the  beautiful Psalm in II Samuel 22 with these words:

Thou also hast lifted me up on high above them that rose up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and I will sing praises unto thy name. He is the tower of salvation for his king: and sheweth mercy to his anointed, unto David, and to his seed for evermore.

And then there's this from II Samuel 23:

The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain. Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.
Note the standard of what a ruler should be like, David's admission that he *hasn't* been what he should have been, and that fact that God is faithful anyway. 

In addition to David, there are some relatively minor characters, important to overall theme.  The stories of Absalom, Ishbosheth, Abner, Joab, and Ahithophel might (if elaborated) make for good tragedies.