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After Samuel anointed Saul, he sent him home with a few signs that will be fulfilled in 1st Samuel 10:9-13 (NJPS):

As [Saul] turned around to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart; and all those signs were fulfilled that same day. And when they came there, to the Hill, he saw a band of prophets coming toward him. Thereupon the spirit of God gripped him, and he spoke in ecstasy among them. When all who knew him previously saw him speaking in ecstasy together with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What’s happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul too among the prophets?” But another person there spoke up and said, “And who are their fathers?” Thus the proverb arose: “Is Saul too among the prophets?” And when he stopped speaking in ecstasy, he entered the shrine.

It sounds like the people didn't think Saul was the sort of man would would be caught up in prophetic ecstasy, which is why they asked if he were among the prophets. He was acting out of character. But why do they ask "And who are their fathers?" about the other prophets? Were they assuming Saul hired these fellows to "make a good show"? What's going on here?

And what is the meaning of the proverb: "Is Saul too among the prophets?" Is it along the same lines as Jeremiah 13:23 (NJPS):

Can the Ethiopian change his skin,
Or the leopard his spots?
Just as much can you do good,
Who are practiced in doing evil!

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Note that the people wondering at Saul’s prophecy called him “the son of Kish”; i.e., they were wondering, “how can it be that the son of such an ordinary man is suddenly ‘among the prophets’?”

The answer to their question is simple: Look at the other prophets; did they inherit this position from their fathers? Some, perhaps—but where did their fathers get this gift from? (Rashi is characteristically pithy and explains, “Is prophecy then a legacy?”)

The basic lesson, which became the proverb “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?”, is to look at the person himself for his spiritual value, not at his ancestry.

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Let me rephrase so that I can be sure I understand: One group saw Saul and, because Kish was not a prophet, wondered that he was prophesying. Then someone else pointed out that not all prophets are sons of prophets. Therefore, the proverb speaks against a sort of caste or inherited social class system. Ironically, Saul himself was the first step in the establishment of the dynastic monarchy that David began. Is that a good summary? –  Jon Ericson Feb 16 '12 at 21:01
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Close enough, except it is specifically prophecy that is excluded from inheritance; purely social rankings such as kingship — and priesthood — are inherited. Prophecy, being related to personal righteousness, cannot be inherited, although it is likely that a prophet would raise his children to be worthy of this gift. (Which is why the impression that it was inherited might have grown up.) –  J. C. Salomon Feb 16 '12 at 21:04
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In the books of Kings, there is a group of prophets called "the sons of the prophets." They are mentioned in 9 verses (1 Kin 20:35; 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1). We don't know much about them except that Elisha and Elijah both interacted with them and never condemned them as false prophets.

Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them [Elisha and Elijah] stood by the Jordan (2 Kin 2:7, NASB).

Note this is all speculation as so little is known about the sons of the prophets. It's possible that these men were part of the group that became the "sons of the prophets" a couple of centuries later. It's also possible that this group is the first gathering of the sons of the prophets. I wonder if the group even took the name because of the question at this event.

As to the proverb "is Saul too among the prophets?" I would interpret that as a question to be asked when someone does something unexpected in their nature. It doesn't mean that they will never do so again but it also doesn't imply that it will become a habit. So, it would be similar to the proverb about the leopard.

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Reading Anne Rice's rather intriguing Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana, I came across this interpretation which was put in the mouth of a 12-year-old Yeshua bar Joseph:

It was an insult from those who had never known ecstasy or the power of the Spirit, those who envied the ones who did. The man who mocked was saying, 'Who are you, Saul, and what is your right to be among the prophets?'

...

Men scorn what they can't grasp. They suffer in their longing for it.

(For those interested it can be found in Chapter 11 on page 120 of the print edition and location 1421 of the Kindle edition.)

According to this theory, the standard answer was "prophets had to come from families of prophets, and that Saul did not, and so it was natural for someone to ask this question." In either case, the question “And who are their fathers?” implies a certain level of skepticism and that Saul might be faking the manifestations of the spirit gripping him.

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