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King Saul

Saul, meaning "asked for, prayed for", according to the Hebrew Bible, was the first king of the Kingdom of Israel and Judah. His reign, traditionally placed in the late 11th century BCE, marked a transition from a tribal society to statehood.

Saul's life and reign are described in the Hebrew Bible. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel and reigned from Gibeah. He fell on his sword (committing suicide) to avoid capture in the battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, during which three of his sons were also killed. The succession to his throne was contested by Ish-bosheth, his only surviving son, and his son-in-law David, who eventually prevailed. A similar yet different account of Saul's life may be given in the Quran. Neither the length of Saul's reign, nor the extent of his territory are given in the Hebrew Bible; the former is traditionally fixed at twenty or twenty-two years, but there is no reliable evidence for these numbers.


HOUSE OF KING SAUL

According to the Tanakh, Saul was the son of Kish, of the family of the Matrites, and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the twelve Tribes of Israel. It appears that he came from Gibeah.


Saul died at the Battle of Mount Gilboa, and was buried in Zelah, in the region of Benjamin. Three of Saul's sons - Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua - died with him at Mount Gilboa. Ish-bosheth became king of Israel, at the age of forty. At David's request Abner had Michal returned to David. Ish-bosheth reigned for two years, but after the death of Abner, was killed by two of his own captains.


SAUL AMONG THE PROPHETS

Having been anointed by Samuel, Saul is told of signs indicating that he has been divinely appointed. The last of these is that Saul will be met by an ecstatic group of prophets leaving a high place and playing the lyre, tambourine, and flutes. Saul encounters the ecstatic prophets and joins them. Later, Saul sends men to pursue David, but when they meet a group of ecstatic prophets playing music, they become possessed by a prophetic state and join in. Saul sends more men, but they too join the prophets. Eventually Saul himself goes, and also joins the prophets. (1 Samuel 19:24).


SAUL AND DAVID

After Samuel tells Saul that God has rejected him as king, David, a son of Jesse, from the tribe of Judah, enters the story: from this point on Saul's story is largely the account of his increasingly troubled relationship with David.


Samuel heads to Bethlehem, ostensibly to offer sacrifice and invited Jesse and his sons. Dining together, Jesse's sons are brought one by one to Samuel, each being rejected; at last, Jesse sends for David, the youngest, who is tending sheep. When brought to Samuel, David is anointed by him in front of his other brothers.


In 1 Samuel 16:14–23, Saul is troubled by an evil spirit sent by God. He requests soothing music, and a servant recommends David the son of Jesse, who is renowned for his skills as a harpist and other talents:


"a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him"


When word of Saul's needs reaches Jesse, he sends David, who had been looking after Jesse's flock, with gifts as a tribute and David is appointed as Saul's armor bearer. With Jesse's permission he remains at court, playing the harp as needed to calm Saul during his troubled spells.


The Philistines return with an army to attack Israel, and the Philistine and Israelite forces gather on opposite sides of a valley. The Philistine's champion Goliath issues a challenge for single combat, but none of the Israelite accept. David is described as a young shepherd who happens to be delivering food to his three eldest brothers in the army, and he hears Goliath's challenge. David speaks mockingly of the Philistines to some soldiers; his speech is overheard and reported to Saul, who summons David and appoints David as his champion. David easily defeats Goliath with a single shot from a sling. At the end of the passage, Saul asks his general, Abner, who David is.


Saul offered his elder daughter Merab as a wife to the now popular David, after his victory over Goliath, but David demurred. David distinguishes himself in the Philistine wars. Upon David's return from battle, the women praise him in song.


Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands, implying that David is the greater warrior. Saul fears David's growing popularity and henceforth views him as a rival to the throne.

Saul's son Jonathan and David become close friends. Jonathan recognizes David as the rightful king, and "made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul." Jonathan even gives David his military clothes, symbolizing David's position as successor to Saul.


On two occasions, Saul threw a spear at David as he played the harp for Saul.

David becomes increasingly successful and Saul becomes increasingly resentful. 


SAUL AS THE KING OF ISRAEL

In the Qur'an, Israelites demanded a King after the time of Musa (Moses). God appointed Talut as their King. Saul was distinguished by the greatness of his knowledge and of his physique; it was a sign of his role as King that God brought back the Ark of the Covenant for Israel. Talut tested his people at a river; whoever drank from it would not follow him in battle excepting one who takes in the hollow of his hand. Many drank but only the faithful ventured on. In the battle, however, David slew Goliath and was made the subsequent King of Israel.


The Qur'anic account differs from the Biblical account (if Saul is assumed to be Talut) in that in the Bible the sacred Ark was returned to Israel before Saul's accession, and the test by drinking water is made in the Hebrew Bible not by Saul but by Gideon. However, the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 14 has parallels to Qur'an 2:246-251, faithfully accounting for the sacred Ark and the fasting test.


HISTORICITY

The historicity of Saul's kingdom is not universally accepted and there is insufficient extrabiblical evidence to verify if the biblical account reflects historical reality. The notion of a United Monarchy of Israel and Judah is believed by some scholars to be a later ideological construct; statehood in Judah is thought, on the basis of archaeological evidence, to have emerged no earlier than the 8th century BCE.


Saul’s kingdom was not very large. It probably included Mt. Ephraim, Benjamin and Gilead. He also exerted some influence in the northern mountains in Judah and beyond the Jezreel Valley. His capital appears to have been basically a military camp near Gibeah. Archeology seems to confirm that until about 1000 BCE, the end of Iron Age I, Israelite society was essentially a society of farmers and stockbreeders without any truly centralized organization and administration.


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