HANNAH AND HER PRAYERS
This essay, dedicated to my friend and colleague, Yehoshua Gitay, discusses the story of Hannah, with emphasis on the speeches and on Hannah's two prayers, the prose prayer embedded in the narrative and the poetic prayer that follows it. The two prayers are compared in terms of their rhetoric and their function. Hannah is a barren mother. That is, her story, like those of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Samson's mother, employs the motif of a woman who is barren for a long while and then gives
... and then gives birth to a child of special destiny. As in the case of Sarah and Rachel, another woman is involved, a co-wife named Peninah, who is fertile while Hannah is not, and who feels superior to Hannah for that reason. Peninah is a wife of equal status to Hannah, not a slave woman like Hagar but a full-status wife like Leah. Since Hannah is listed before Peninah, we may assume that she was Elkanah's first wife. In any case, as we soon see, she is clearly his favorite. The first thing we are told about the women is that Peninah had children and Hannah did not. The juxtaposition of Peninah's children with Hannah's lack of children immediately alerts the reader to trouble ahead; there is inequality between two equals. Hannah is inferior, a failed wife, in her own eyes and in the eyes of society. The second thing we learn, also background for the main plot, is about the dynamics of this family, as they play out year after year during the pilgrimage to Shiloh, the local sanctuary where sacrifices were conducted. Note that what transpires is in public view; the family is not at home but at the local religious center. The sacrifice was accompanied by a festive ritual meal at which some of the sacrificial meat was eaten. At these meals, Elkanah would give Hannah a special portion, most likely a double portion, 1 because, as the text says, 1. On אפים אחת מנה see Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives, 273 n. 15.