The Narrative-Geographical Shaping of 1 Samuel 7:5–13 -- By: John A. Beck

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 162:647 (Jul 2005)
Article: The Narrative-Geographical Shaping of 1 Samuel 7:5–13
Author: John A. Beck


The Narrative-Geographical Shaping of 1 Samuel 7:5–13

John A. Beck

John A. Beck is Associate Professor of Hebrew, Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin.

Biblical authors crafted their stories and employed language to entertain and shape their readers. In accomplishing this the authors, writing under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, employed a variety of literary conventions, including the mention of geographical sites in the storytelling process.

This artful use of geography is called narrative geography. Study of it is related to the study of physical and historical geography but distinct from them. Physical geography investigates the land through the lenses of topography, geology, hydrology, climate, forestation, land use, urbanization, and transportation.1 Historical geography examines the role such physical geography plays in the shaping of history and culture.2 Narrative geography, however, analyzes the literary function of geographical references within a story. It acknowledges that the author may strategically use geographical references to impact the reading experience. Of course the authors’ choices of settings were influenced by the locations of the reported events. Nevertheless “these authors controlled the selectivity of detail in the description of settings, requiring the reader to pay close attention to these textual signals.”3 As Bar-Efrat concludes, “Places in the narrative are not merely geographical facts, but are to be regarded as literary elements in which fundamental significance is embodied.”4 Previous investigation has

demonstrated that biblical authors may employ geography as a narrative tool to shape the plot,5 to develop characterization,6 and even to highlight irony in a story.7

First Samuel 7:5–13 is filled with geographical references. In only nine verses mention is made of water and thunder and a number of place names including Mizpah, Beth Car, Shen, and Ebenezer. These geographical references are woven into the story that records Samuel’s leading the Israelites through a time of national repentance. They denounced Baal and pledged their allegiance to the Lord during a national worship service at Mizpah, which was interrupted when the Philis...

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