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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Samson

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SAMSON (LXX [Note: Septuagint.] and Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] ; Heb. Shimshôn ; probably derived from shemesh , ‘sun,’ either as a diminutive, or better ‘sun-man’). Mentioned in OT in Judges 13:1-25 ; Judges 14:1-20 ; Judges 15:1-20 ; Judges 16:1-31 , and in NT in Hebrews 11:32 .

1. The story need not be recapitulated, but certain details require explanation. Judges 13:25 seems to be the prelude to a first exploit, now lost. Judges 13:14 is not clear as it stands; probably ‘his father and his mother’ in Judges 13:5-6 b, Judges 13:10 a are glosses introduced to avoid the appearance of disobedience. He goes down alone, meets the lion alone, returns to his home after his visit to his bride ( Judges 13:8 ‘to take her’ being another gloss); then after an interval he goes back to celebrate the marriage he has arranged; Judges 13:10 a is particularly absurd as it stands. The ‘thirty companions’ of Judges 13:11 are the ‘friends of the bridegroom,’ chosen on this occasion from the bride’s people (see below, § 4); the companion of Judges 13:20 is their leader, ‘the best man.’ The ‘linen garments’ of Judges 13:12 are pieces of fine linen, costly and luxurious ( Proverbs 31:24 , Isaiah 3:23 ); ‘the changes’ are gala dresses. The Philistines give up the riddle ‘after three days’ ( Judges 13:14 ), and appeal to the woman on the seventh ( Judges 13:15 ; LXX [Note: Septuagint.] Syr. ‘fourth’); yet she weeps for the whole week, imploring Samson to tell her ( Judges 13:17 ). Perhaps the figures of Judges 13:14-15 are interpolations, the Philistines giving up at once. ‘Before the sun went down’ ( Judges 13:18 ) is ungrammatical in Heb., with a rare word for ‘sun‘; with best modern edd., read by a slight alteration ‘before he went into the bridal-chamber’ (cf. Judges 15:1 ). In ch. 16, words, variously represented by LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , have fallen out between Judges 15:13 and Judges 15:14 ; the sense is ‘… and beat them up with the pin, I shall become weak, So while he was asleep she took the seven locks and wove them into the web, and beat them tight with the pin,’ etc. We are to imagine an upright loom with a piece of unfinished stuff; Delilah weaves the hair into this, and heats it tight with the ‘pin.’ Samson pulls up the posts of the loom by his hair which is fastened to the web. For Judges 13:21 , cf. the blinding of captives as shown on Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] monuments; to be put to the mill was a frequent punishment of slaves. Nothing is known of the worship of Dagon (cf. 1 Samuel 5:1-12 ); the etymology ‘fish-god’ and the connexion with the Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] god ‘Dagan’ are uncertain.

2. Origin and nature of the story . ( a ) The narrative seems to belong entirely to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , the Judæan source of the early history of Israel; there are no traces of a double source, as in other parts of Judges. It has been but slightly revised by the Deuteronomic editor. Ch. 16, though an integral part of the original cycle of stories, was apparently at one time omitted by the compiler; see the repeated note in Judges 15:20 ; Judges 16:31 . Perhaps it gave too unfavourable a picture of the hero’s love-affairs. ( b ) Though it is said that Samson ‘judged Israel twenty years’ ( Judges 15:20 ), and that he should ‘begin to deliver’ his nation from the Philistines ( Judges 13:5 ), there is no hint of his ever having held any official position, nor does he appear as a leader of his people; on the contrary, he is disowned by his neighbours of Judah ( Judges 15:11 ). His exploits have only a local significance, and are performed single-handed in revenge for his private quarrels. The story evidently belongs to the class of popular tales, common to every country-side. Every people has its hero of prodigious strength, to whom marvellous feats are ascribed, and it becomes a hopeless task to discover the precise historical basis of the legends, which in this case are undoubtedly of great antiquity. ( c ) It is not necessary to look for a further explanation in the theory of a ‘solar myth.’ The name ‘Samson,’ and the existence of a ‘Beth-shemesh’ (‘house of the sun’) near his home, offer an obvious temptation to such a theory, but it is entirely unnecessary and is now generally abandoned. ( d ) It is more probable that in ch. 15 we find the workings of folk-etymology (‘ætiological myth’), i.e. stories suggested by the fancied meaning of names. Ramath-Lehi (‘the height of Lehi’) is taken to mean ‘the casting away of the jawbone’; En-hakkore (‘Partridge spring’), ‘the spring of him who called’; and incidents are suggested to explain the supposed meanings. ( e ) The parallels with other popular stories, especially the exploits of Hercules, are obvious, e.g . the killing of the lion, the miraculous satisfying of the hero’s thirst, and his ruin at the hand of a woman. For the lion episode, cf., further, the stories of Polydamas, David ( 1 Samuel 17:34 ), Benaiah ( 2 Samuel 23:20 ); for the sacred hair or lock, cf. the story of Nisus. Ovid ( Fasti , lv. 681 712) has a remarkable parallel to the burning of the corn by the foxes (or jackals?); at the Cereaila, foxes with lighted torches tied to their tails were let loose in the Circus; he explains the custom as originally due to the act of a mischievous boy, who burned his father’s corn in the same way. The conclusion to be drawn from such parallels is not necessarily identity of origin, but the similar working of the mind and imagination under similar conditions.

3. Historical value . Regarded as a picture of early conditions and customs, the narrative is of the greatest significance. Politically it takes us to the time when Dan, perhaps weakened by the departure of its 600 men of war ( Judges 1:34 ; Judges 1:18 ) acquiesces in the rule of the Philistines; Timnah is in their hands. There is no state of war between the two peoples, but free intercourse and even intermarriage. As already pointed out, Samson is in no sense the leader of a revolt against the foreign dominion, and his neighbours of Judah show no desire to make his private quarrels an excuse for a rising ( Judges 15:11 ); there is no union even between the tribes of the south. None the less, his exploits would be secretly welcomed as directed against the common foe, and remembering that Judges 17:1-13 ; Judges 18:1-31 ; Judges 19:1-30 ; Judges 20:1-48 ; Judges 21:1-25 is an appendix, we see how the narrative paves the way for the more defined efforts of Saul and David in 1Samuel to shake off the foreign yoke. Sociatly the story gives us a picture of primitive marriage customs. Ch. 14 is the clearest OT example of a sadika marriage (see Marriage, § 1). We get a good idea of the proceedings, essentially the same as in the East to-day. The feast lasts for a week, and is marked by lavish eating and drinking, songs, riddles, and not very refined merriment. The whole story gives us a valuable insight into the life of the people; we note the grim rough humour of its hero, so entirely natural (ch. 14, the three deceptions of ch. Judges 16 ; Judges 16:28 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ).

4. Religious significance . Samson is a popular hero, and we shall expect the directly religious interest of the story to be subordinate. It appears in the account of his birth, perhaps hardly a part of the original cycle, but added later to justify his inclusion among the Judges. As a child of promise, he is in a peculiar sense a gift of God, born to do a special work; an overruling providence governs his acts ( Judges 14:4 ; Judges 16:30 ). The source of his strength is supernatural; at times it is represented as due to a demonic frenzy, an invasion of the spirit of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ( Judges 13:25 , Judges 14:6 ; Judges 14:19 , Judges 15:14 ), but in 13, 16 it lies in his hair; he is a Nazirite of God. The rules for the Nazirite are given in Numbers 6:1 ; those in Judges 13:1-25 are the same, with the general prohibition of ‘unclean’ food. The essence of the conception lay in a vow to sacrifice the hair at a sacred shrine, the life-long vow being probably a vow to do so at stated periods. The hair, like the blood, was regarded as a seat of life, and was a common offering not only among the Semites, but in all parts of the world. In Arabia the vow to leave the locks unshorn was particularly connected with wars of revenge ( Deuteronomy 32:42 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] , Psalms 68:21 ). As soon as a vow was taken, the life of the votary became a continuous act of religion; particularly must the body, which nourishes the hair (now the property of the deity), be kept clean from all defilement; the taboo of the vine and its products is esp. common (cf. Amos 2:11-12 ). In the story itself no stress is laid on any such precautions on the part of Samson ( e.g . in Judges 14:8 he eats from a carcase), and hence no doubt the taboos were transferred to his mother ( Judges 13:4 ). There is unfortunately little basis for the religious feeling with which Milton has invested the character of Samson. He is a popular hero, and the permanent value of the story is to be sought in its ethical lessons . It is true, its morality is on a low level; revenge is Samson’s ruling idea, and his relations with women have been a stumbling-block to apologists. But once we recognize the origin of the story, we shall not feel bound to justify or explain away these traits, and the lessons stand out clearly. The story emphasizes the evils of foreign marriages ( Judges 14:3 ), of laxity in sexual relations, and of toying with temptation. It teaches that bodily endowments, no less than spiritual, are a gift from God, however different may be our modern conception of the way in which they are bestowed, and that their retention depends on obedience to His laws. But if Samson stands as an example ‘of impotence of mind in body strong,’ he also stands, in Milton’s magnificent conception, as an example of patriotism and heroism in death, to all who ‘from his memory inflame their breast to matchless valour and adventures high.’

C. W. Emmet.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Samson'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/s/samson.html. 1909.

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