Song of Hannah

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Hannah giving her son Samuel to the priest by Jan Victors, 1645. According to the biblical account, Hannah sang her song when she presented Samuel to Eli the priest.

The Song of Hannah is a poem interrupting the prose text of the Books of Samuel. According to the surrounding narrative, the poem (1 Samuel 2:1-10) was a prayer delivered by Hannah, to give thanks to God for the birth of her son, Samuel. It is very similar to Psalm 113.[1]

Contents and themes

Hannah praises Yahweh, reflects on the reversals he accomplishes, and looks forward to his king.

Verses 4-5 contains three reversals. Stanley D. Walters notes that one is a "reversal of macho male prowess", one a "reversal of female longing" and one is "gender-neutral and universal".[2]

There is a movement in this song from the particular to the general. It opens with Hannah's own gratitude for a local reversal, and closes with God's defeat of his enemies – a cosmic reversal.[3]

Through the theme of reversal, the Song of Hannah functions as an introduction to the whole book. Keil and Delitzsch argue that Hannah's experience of reversal was a pledge of how God "would also lift up and glorify his whole nation, which was at that time so deeply bowed down and oppressed by its foes."[4]

The reference to a king in verse 10 has provoked considerable discussion. A. F. Kirkpatrick argues that this does not imply a late date for the song, since "the idea of a king was not altogether novel to the Israelite mind" and "amid the prevalent anarchy and growing disintegration of the nation, amid internal corruption and external attack, the desire for a king was probably taking definite shape in the popular mind."[5]

Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Song of Hannah paves the way for a major theme of the Book of Samuel, the "power and willingness of Yahweh to intrude, intervene and invert."[6]

Identity of persons referred to in the song

The first 10 verses of 1 Samuel 2 record her song of praise to the Lord for answering her petition. The attribution of this song to Hannah distinguishes her among biblical personages. Her song is essentially a hymn of praise to God for good fortune, and includes many themes of Israel’s national culture. Fertility and childbirth are thus included as equal in importance to other motifs and worthy of Israel’s singers.[7]


According to some contributors to the Classical Rabbinical literature, the first half of the poem was a prophecy, predicting Samuel's later role as a prophet, that her great grandson would be a musician in the Jerusalem Temple, that Sennacherib would destroy the Kingdom of Israel, that Nebuchadnezzar would fall from power, and that the Babylonian Captivity would come to an end.[8]


Although the "king" of verse 10 is left unspecified, the blessing to the king and to the anointed forms a clear parallel with 2 Samuel 22, which finishes with Yahweh being a tower of salvation to his king, and showing mercy to his anointed (2 Samuel 22:51).


In Judaism the song of Hannah is regarded as the prime role model for how to pray, and is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah as the haftarah.

The poem has several features in common with the Magnificat, which was sung in early Christian circles and continues to be regularly sung or said in many Christian denominations. These common features include the themes, and the order in which they appear. A number of scholars believe that Luke used the song of Hannah for the basis of the Magnificat.[9] Charles Anang and others see Hannah as a "type" of Mary.[10] Both "handmaids" of God bore sons through divine intervention who were uniquely dedicated to God.[11]

The Song of Hannah is also known as the "Canticle of Anna", and is one of seven Old Testament canticles in the Roman Breviary. It is used for Lauds on Wednesdays.[12]

In the Revised Common Lectionary, which provides the appointed Scripture readings used by most mainline Protestant denominations, the song of Hanna is recited or sung as the response to the First Lesson (1 Sam. 1:4-20) for Proper 28 in Year B, for those churches following Track 1.


  1. David Noel Freedman, “Psalm 113 and the Song of Hannah,” in Pottery, Poetry and Prophecy: Studies in Early Hebrew Poetry (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1980) 243 – 261.
  2. Stanley D. Walters, "The Voice of God's People in Exile," Ex Auditu 10 (1994), 82.
  3. Walters, "The Voice of God's People in Exile," 76.
  4. C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Books of Samuel (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1872), 29.
  5. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The First Book of Samuel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911), 55-56.
  6. Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation; Louisville; John Knox, 1990), 21.
  7. Klein, Lillian. "Hannah: Bible", Jewish Women's Archive
  8. Targum Jonathan ben Uzziel
  9. Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R. and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 1994, ISBN 9780567434005
  10. Anang, Charles. "Hannah as a Type of Mary", Marian Library, University of Dayton
  11. Kaminsky, Joel S.; Lohr, Joel N. and Reasoner, Mark. The Abingdon Introduction to the Bible, Abingdon Press, 2014, ISBN 9781426751073
  12. Lauds, Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "article name needed". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>