HANNAH (Heb. חַנָּה; "graciousness, favor"), wife of Elkanah, of the family of Zuph from Ramathaim-Zophim in the hill country of Ephraim; mother of the prophet
. Hannah appears in the Bible in connection with the birth of Samuel. Together with Elkanah and her co-wife Peninnah, she used to make the pilgrimage annually to the Temple in Shiloh to offer sacrifices (I Sam. 1:2–7; 2:19; the Septuagint and a fragment from Cave 4 at Qumran in 1:24). Though the favored wife of her husband, she was unhappy because she was childless for many years and taunted about it by her co-wife. As she once stood in the Temple, pouring out her bitter anguish inaudibly, with only her lips moving, and vowing to dedicate any son born to her to the Temple and the service of God,
the high priest at Shiloh observed her and chided her for her apparently drunken behavior. On ascertaining its true cause, however, he added his blessing to her pleas. Hannah gave birth to a son, Samuel, and after weaning him brought him to the Temple, offered a sacrifice and a song of thanksgiving, and left him with Eli to serve in the Temple for life. Each year she would return
to bring him a small cloak, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. Eli blessed her and Hannah bore three more sons and two daughters (I Sam. 2:21).
The story of Hannah and the birth of Samuel is one of the most charming in the Bible. It is similar to other stories of barren mothers who late in life bore sons destined to be leaders of the nation, and to the story of
who was also the favored wife of her husband. Hannah's pledging her son before his birth is similar to the action of Samson's mother (Judg. 13), who pledged him as a
. This was a common practice of the period (although it was later forbidden – "a woman shall not pledge her son as a nazirite," Naz. 4:6). Amos 2:11–12 refers to prophets and nazirites jointly. It is worth noting that according to the Septuagint and the fragment from Qumran, 4QSama, Hannah dedicates her son specifically "as a nazirite for all time" who is forbidden to partake of wine and spirits (similarly in Ecclus. 46:13; Jos., Ant., 5:347). According to R. Nehorai (Naz. 9:5; Maim. Yad, Nezirut, 3:16) Samuel was a nazirite like Samson. Hannah's prayer served as the model for Mary's prayer in the New Testament (Luke 1:46–55), famously referred to as "Magnificat," its opening Latin word.
In the Aggadah
Hannah was one of the seven prophetesses (Meg. 14a). It was at her instigation that Elkanah took a second wife after 10 years of marriage without children (PR 43, 181b). Once Peninnah had given birth, however, she ceaselessly taunted Hannah (cf. I Sam. 1:6), constantly reminding her of her childlessness (PR 43, 182a–b). The expression "O Lord of hosts" (I Sam. 1:11), which she was the first to use, implies: "Of all the hosts You have created, is it so hard to give me one son" (Ber. 31b), and to have contained the suggested criticism of God: "To which host do I belong? If the heavenly, then I will never die; if the mortal, then I should be able to give birth" (PR 43, 179b). The triple repetition of the phrase "thy handmaid" refers to her contention that she had not transgressed any of the three transgressions for which women die in childbirth (Ber. ibid., cf. Shab. 2:6). Hannah was so assured of the righteousness of her case that not only did she "hurl words at God" (ibid.) but she even volunteered to feign adultery, so that she would have to undergo the ordeal of water, after which, according to the Bible, "she will be cleansed and shall conceive seed" (Num. 5:28; Ber. ibid.).
H.P. Smith, Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Books of Samuel (ICC, 1899), 3–19; M.Z. Segal, Sifrei Shemu'el (19642), 1–20; Cross, in: BASOR, 132 (1953), 15–26. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Bar-Efrat, I Samuel (1996), 53.
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