Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

“Eli instructing Samuel,” by the Dutch painter Gerrit Dou (1613–1675). The young Samuel, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson and the Shunammite woman’s son were born to previously barren women. While four of the sons faced death at an early age, Samuel and Samson did not. This apparent anomaly, according to author Susan Ackerman, can be explained by a common theological motif that underlies all six stories: The child granted to a barren woman is a gift from God, and God therefore has a claim on the life of that child. In the case of Samuel and Samson, that claim expresses itself in the two boys being dedicated to God’s service as Nazirites.