The Book of Samuel:
Religion, Politics, and the Longing for Order
The Book of Samuel tells many of the seminal stories from ancient Israel’s political history. In this course, Dr. Micah Goodman will take you on a journey through Samuel’s dramatic narrative, showing how it provides answers to some of humanity’s most enduring challenges and comments powerfully on the meaning of religion and sacrifice.
Explore our other courses
Click here to view of all Tikvah’s current online course offerings.
Micah Goodman is an author and intellectual who was named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in 2017 and by Liberal Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Israelis in 2019. Goodman is the author of six bestselling books; his first three—Moses’s Final Speech, The Dream of the Kuzari, and The Secrets of the Guide for the Perplexed—explore classical Jewish thought, and his most recent three—The Wondering Jew, Catch 67, and The Attention Revolution—explore contemporary Israeli issues and ideas. Goodman is a founder of Beit Prat—Israeli Midrasha, a Research Fellow at the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and, along with Efrat Shapira Rosenberg, hosts the popular Israeli podcast “Mifleget Hamachshavot,” which is produced by Beit Avi Chai.
The Book of Samuel begins with Samuel's childhood in Shiloh, led by his guardian and Shiloh's priest, Eli. In this episode, Professor Goodman examines the distorted, sinful worldview of Shiloh. He argues that Shiloh committed four major sins: attributing power to the Ark of the Covenant rather than to God; prioritizing ritual over ethics; letting religion bury religiosity; and believing in the power of the Sanctuary rather than the power of the Almighty. Shiloh's example sets the stage for the Book of Samuel's perspectives on religion and politics.
In this episode, Professor Goodman analyzes the rise of Saul. Before he was made king, Saul was shy; he didn't want power. But by the end of his reign, he was willing to do almost anything to keep his power. Just as the power of the Ark of the Covenant turned against the Philistines and the Israelites, so too did the power of kingship turn against Saul. His example illustrates one of Samuel's enduring themes: power changes those who possess it.
Early in the Book of Samuel, the Israelites demand a king. The prophet Samuel is against it, but God reluctantly tells him to accept the people's demand. He does and finds—to his surprise—that even though he is anti-monarchy, he has a positive view of the new monarch, Saul. Samuel believes that Saul's insecurity will make him obedient to God. But after Saul defies God's command, Samuel realizes his error in judgment and once again sours on the idea of monarchy.
In this episode, Professor Goodman analyzes the conflict between Saul and David as well as David's early reign as king. By trying to get kill David and protect his power, Saul begins to lose his grip, and lifts up David in the eyes of Israel. Yet, when David becomes king, he too commits many sins. After laying with Bathsheba, David has her husband killed. David also has a dispute with his son, Absalom, who stages a rebellion against him and drives him out of Jerusalem. But David also recognizes, as Professor Goodman notes, that if he accepts his punishment and repents—which Saul never did—God will forgive him and he will return to his capital. In this way, David exemplified the notion of teshuva, repentance.
Towards the end of 2 Samuel, David prevents a national plague. In this episode, Professor Goodman explains how this story, along with the tale of the Binding of Isaac, illuminates the meaning and the importance of the Temple and of religion itself. Where Abraham is willing to sacrifice everything for God, David is willing to sacrifice everything for his people.