First Samuel is a national autobiography of the Hebrew people. David Jobling reads 1 Samuel as a story that is complete in itself, although it is part of a much larger narrative. He examines it as a historical document in a double sense: firstly, as a document originating from ancient Israel, and, secondly, as a telling of the past. Organizing the text through the three interlocking themes of class, race, and gender, Jobling asks how this historical—and canonical—story relates to a modern world in which these themes continue to be of crucial importance.
While drawing on the resources of biblical “narratology,” Jobling deviates from mainstream methodology. He adopts a “critical narratology” informed by such cultural practices as feminism and psychoanalysis. He follows a structuralist tradition which finds meaning more in the text’s large-scale mythic patterns than in close reading of particular passages, and seeks methods specific to 1 Samuel rather than ones applicable to biblical narrative in general.
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Powerfully written, emotionally charged, and abounding in daring, unconventional interpretations, it is both captivating and rewarding. Many of Jobling’s hypotheses are unlikely to change very many minds outside his interpretive community, but even struggling with them can prove a fascinating experience.
—Serge Frolov, Claremont Graduate University
In this contribution to a fascinating commentary series, Jobling examines 1 Samuel according to T. Eagleton’s triptych of class, race, and gender. It explores the tension between 1 Samuel as a book in itself and as a part of a larger whole. Jobling’s approach to 1 Samuel as Israel’s national autobiography is a summation of the course of his own academic career. The 1970s saw him engage structuralism and feminism, while poststructuralism and ideological criticism marked his career in the 1980s. In the 1990s, he turned to new historicism and psychoanalysis. All of these methods come together in an analysis that affords Jobling personal reflection on his own career in a seminary with a high percentage of female students.
—James R. Linville, post-doctoral research fellow, University of Alberta