... Simson een half-god?
Een interessant artikel op 'Torah.com' onderzoekt of het mogelijk is dat
onder/achter/in de Simson-sage misschien een oude mythe aanwezig is
over een zonnegod. De naam Simson/Samson is in het Hebreeuws een
verkleinwoord van : sj-m-sj = zon (sjemesj), tevens de naam van een semitische
zonnegod (sjamasj). Dus 'zonnetje' of 'zoon van de zon'. De mythe zou dan die
zijn van Sjamasj die een sterveling (Manoah's vrouw)
heeft bezwangerd met als gevolg dat Simson een halfgod zou
zijn. Het verhaal van zijn conceptie (Richteren 13) laat tekstueel deze lezing
toe, dan wel: suggereert dit zelfs (middels een andere vocalisering van dezelfde
tekst). Tegelijk hoeft het ook niet en kan het verhaal gewoon 'profaan' gelezen
worden. Een ander element is Simsons bovennatuurlijk kracht die meteen aan
Hercules/Herakles doet denken. Ook zijn er twee verhalen in de Simson-cyclus waarin die kracht gekoppeld is
aan een grote gestalte. De poorten van Gaza vastpakken en uit hun lid
tillen en de zuilen van de tempel van Dagon 'omarmen' om de tempel te doen
instorten: Dat veronderstelt een reus? Op sommige afbeeldingen is hij
ook zo afgebeeld (bijv. gelijk Atlas). Dus zo vreemd is het nu ook weer niet. Dr. Naphtali
Meshel analyseert het allemaal voor u ... in het Engels.
Samson the Demigod?
Samson’s conception story may be read subversively as the result of a union
between a divine being and a mortal woman, making Samson a demi-god with
superhuman characteristics. At the same time, the text keeps open the more
mundane possibility that his father is Manoah and his powers are simply a gift
Dr. Naphtali Meshel
depicted as Atlas with the earth on his shoulders. From Sefirat HaOmer (plus
Mincha-Maariv) Siddur, Baruch Ben Shemaria (Amsterdam, 1795) Braginsky
Judges describes Samson as a man with superhuman
attributes. At one point, he tears a full grown lion in half with his bare hands
(Judg 14:5–6) and at another he kills three thousand Philistine warriors with
the jawbone of a donkey (Judg 15:14–16). In a later escapade, Samson spends the
night with a prostitute in Gaza while Philitine warriors are hiding on the other
side of the city wall to kill him. The text describes how he escapes:
שופטים טז:ג …וַיָּקָם בַּחֲצִי
הַלַּיְלָה וַיֶּאֱחֹז בְּדַלְתוֹת שַׁעַר הָעִיר וּבִשְׁתֵּי
הַמְּזוּזוֹת וַיִּסָּעֵם עִם הַבְּרִיחַ וַיָּשֶׂם עַל כְּתֵפָיו
וַיַּעֲלֵם אֶל רֹאשׁ הָהָר אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי חֶבְרוֹן.
Judg 16:3 … At midnight he got up, grasped
the doors of the town gate together with the two gateposts, and
pulled them out along with the bar. He placed them on his shoulders
and carried them off to the top of the hill that is near Hebron.
In addition to his great strength, the text here implies, though it does not
state definitively, that Samson is a giant: his arms spanned at least as wide as
a large city gate, allowing him to tear the entire structure off its gateposts
and carry it on his shoulders. Interpreting the verse, a baraita in
the Babylonian Talmud makes this point explicitly (b. Sotah 10a):
תניא, א”ר שמעון החסיד: בין כתיפיו של שמשון ששים אמה היה, שנאמר…
וגמירי, דאין דלתות עזה פחותות מששים אמה.
It was taught: R. Simon the Pious said: “The span of Samson’s
shoulders was sixty cubits, as it says [quotes Judges 16:3]… and we
have a tradition that Gaza’s city gates were never less than sixty
[about 100 feet] cubits wide.”
This giant size is implied again in Samson’s final act of suicide. After he is
captured and blinded, the Philistines take him out of his prison in Gaza into
the Dagon Temple there, in order to poke fun at him during a celebration. Samson
asks a lad to lead him to the two pillars that support the structure, which
would generally be too far apart for a regular sized person to touch both. This
gives Samson an idea:
שופטים טז:כט וַיִּלְפֹּת שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶת
שְׁנֵי עַמּוּדֵי הַתָּוֶךְ אֲשֶׁר הַבַּיִת נָכוֹן עֲלֵיהֶם
וַיִּסָּמֵךְ עֲלֵיהֶם אֶחָד בִּימִינוֹ וְאֶחָד בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ. טז:ל וַיֹּאמֶר
שִׁמְשׁוֹן תָּמוֹת נַפְשִׁי עִם פְּלִשְׁתִּים וַיֵּט בְּכֹחַ
וַיִּפֹּל הַבַּיִת עַל הַסְּרָנִים וְעַל כָּל הָעָם אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ
Judg 16:29 He embraced the two middle
pillars that the temple rested upon, one with his right arm and one
with his left, and leaned against them; 16:30 Samson
cried, “Let me die with the Philistines!” and he pulled with all his
might. The temple came crashing down on the lords and on all the
people in it….
According to this, Samson’s arm-span was great enough to allow him to lean on,
possibly even “grasp” (וילפת can be interpreted both ways) the two supportive
pillars of an enormous temple simultaneously. In fact, at least one
fifth-century Galilean mosaic in Huqoq unmistakably depicts him as a giant.
taken from Haaretz, courtesy
of G. Laron, Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology
A Minor Solar Deity
Samson’s name, Shimshon, recalls the common noun used for “sun,” (šemeš),
as well as the proper noun that serves as the name of a solar deity in several
Semitic languages, such as the Akkadian sun god Šamaš. As the ending sound “ōn”
is a diminutive, his name means something like “little sun” or, if he is meant
to be a demigod, “son of the sun.”
A faint but unmistakable echo of this name-link is found in the Babylonian
Talmud (b. Sot.10a):
וא”ר יוחנן: שמשון על שמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא נקרא, שנאמר: כי שמש
ומגן ה’ אלהים וגו’.
R. Yohanan said: “Samson was named with a name of the Holy One,
blessed be he, as it says (Ps 84:12), ‘For the Lord God is sun and
This evidence has suggested to many scholars that underlying the biblical Samson
story is a myth about a solar deity impregnating a mortal woman and giving birth
to a demigod. In
fact, hints of Samson’s semi-divine origin can be seen in the opening story
about his conception (Judg 13), which insinuates the possibility of impregnation
by a divine male figure.
A Visit from a Divine Being
The annunciation narrative begins by telling us that Manoah’s wife was barren
and without child (Judg 13:2), and then moves on to the angel’s visit:
שופטים יג:ג וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ יְ־הוָה
אֶל הָאִשָּׁה וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ הִנֵּה נָא אַתְּ עֲקָרָה וְלֹא
יָלַדְתְּ וְהָרִית וְיָלַדְתְּ בֵּן.
Judg 13:3 An angel of YHWH appeared to the
woman and said to her, You are barren, and have not given birth, but
become pregnant and bear a son.
Here we first encounter the enigmatic angel’s suggestive grammatical prowess:
וְהָרִית, refers to a future conception, either imminent or distant. In verse 4,
the angel instructs the woman to refrain from consuming certain substances that
would conflict with the in
utero naziritehood of her son:
שופטים יג:ד וְעַתָּה הִשָּׁמְרִי נָא
וְאַל תִּשְׁתִּי יַיִן וְשֵׁכָר וְאַל תֹּאכְלִי כָּל טָמֵא.
Judg 13:4 Now, guard yourself, and do not
drink wine or alcoholic beverages, and do not eat anything impure.
This phrasing implies that her pregnancy is immanent and, in the very next
verse, the angel refers once again to her pregnancy, this time employing not the
so-called “converted perfect” tense as in verse 3, but a participle, הִנָּךְ
הָרָה, which often refers to the present, as
well as the word.הנה
שופטים יג:ה כִּי הִנָּךְ הָרָה
Judg 13:5 For you are (going to be) pregnant
and will bear a son…
Admittedly, such participles used in this way can denote imminent or near future
events (e.g., Exod 10:4), but it is notable that the description of her status
shifted in just two verses, from והרית (“you will become pregnant” v. 3) to הנך
הרה (“you are pregnant” v. 5). Thus, a number of scholars have argued that the
text means to imply that she got pregnant in the interim, leaving little room
for the imagination as to what we are to envision having happened.
One rabbinic tradition, acutely sensitive to the shift in the angel’s grammar
but certainly not prepared to suggest that the angel was Samson’s biological
father, offers an ingenious solution, simultaneously retaining the elements of
divine impregnation and Manoah’s biological fatherhood (Numbers
Rabbah, Nasso, 10:5):
“כי הנך הרה וילדת בן”: מכאן שהיתה השכבת זרע של הלילה שמורה ברחמה
ולא פלטתה, וכיון שאמר לה המלאך (פס’ ג’) “והרית וילדת בן”, אותה
שעה קבלה הרחם אותה טפה לשם.
“For you are pregnant and will give birth to a son”—from here we
learn that the semen from the previous night remained in her womb
and had not yet been expelled. Once the angel said to her “you will
become pregnant and give birth to a son,” at that moment her womb
accepted the drop of semen into it.
Clearly, the suggestion here is not what the text implies, but it encapsulates
the question that the ambiguity posed by the grammar: whose son is Samson?
Pel’i the Playful Angel
It is easy to imagine that Manoah would be at least as troubled as some modern
readers of the Samson narrative about his son’s paternity. Like the readers, he
does not know for sure what happened in the field when his wife met the “man of
God” other than what she tells him:
שופטים יג:ו אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים בָּא אֵלַי
וּמַרְאֵהוּ כְּמַרְאֵה מַלְאַךְ הָאֱלֹהִים נוֹרָא מְאֹד וְלֹא
שְׁאִלְתִּיהוּ אֵי מִזֶּה הוּא וְאֶת שְׁמוֹ לֹא הִגִּיד לִי. יג:ז וַיֹּאמֶר
לִי הִנָּךְ הָרָה וְיֹלַדְתְּ בֵּן וְעַתָּה אַל תִּשְׁתִּי יַיִן
וְשֵׁכָר וְאַל תֹּאכְלִי כָּל טֻמְאָה כִּי נְזִיר אֱלֹהִים
יִהְיֶה הַנַּעַר מִן הַבֶּטֶן עַד יוֹם מוֹתוֹ.
Judg 13:6 “A man of God came to me; he
looked like an angel of God, very frightening. I did not ask him
where he was from, nor did he tell me his name. 13:7 He
said to me, ‘You are going to conceive and bear a son. Drink no wine
or other intoxicant, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy is to be a
nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death!’”
As noted by Zakovitch and others, the phrase “came to me” בא אלי, can also be
translated as “came unto me,” a common euphemism for intercourse.
To Manoah’s great chagrin, only his wife was visited by the holy man—it takes
Manoah a long time to figure out he is a divine being despite his wife’s
description of him. Manoah has no part in the preparatory acts for the
miraculous birth, as the angel’s instructions are only for his wife.
Consequently, Manoah prays to God,
שופטים יג:ח …בִּי אֲדוֹנָי אִישׁ
הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַחְתָּ יָבוֹא נָא עוֹדאֵלֵינוּ וְיוֹרֵנוּ מַה נַּעֲשֶׂה לַנַּעַר
Judg 13:8 …“Oh, my Lord! Please let the man
of God that You sent come to us again,
and let him instruct us how weare
to act with the child that is to be born.”
Note the triple use of the plural, emphasizing how Manoah is trying to include
himself in the message. The angel indeed comes a second time, but once again
only to his wife, who runs to fetch her husband. Manoah, as if unable to bring
himself to repeat in the presence of the man/angel what he had said when he
prayed to God in private, simply says,
שופטים יג:יב … עַתָּה יָבֹא דְבָרֶיךָ
מַה יִּהְיֶה מִשְׁפַּט הַנַּעַר וּמַעֲשֵׂהוּ.
Judg 13:12 …May your words soon come true!
What rules shall be observed for the boy?
The angel’s response is a seemingly straightforward reiteration of what he had
said to the woman previously, and the angel even says as much (vv. 13–14). A
broad consensus of ancient and modern scholars understands the angel as
basically ignoring Manoah’s request to be included in the instructions. And
yet, this is not the whole story, since the angel uses different verbal patterns
in his instructions this time around.
Identical Verb Forms with Different Meanings
In Biblical Hebrew, the forms of the second person masculine singular (2ms) and
third person feminine singular (3fs) of the yiqtol (performative)
verb coalesce: morphologically, they are indistinguishable. This allows for
ample opportunity for ambiguity and wordplay based on person:
3rd fem. sg.
2nd masc. sg.
מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי אֶל הָאִשָּׁה תִּשָּׁמֵר.
מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִגֶּפֶן הַיַּיִן לֹא
תֹאכַל וְיַיִן וְשֵׁכָראַל
תֵּשְׁתְּ וְכָל טֻמְאָה אַל
תֹּאכַלכֹּל אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִיהָתִּשְׁמֹר.
From all the things against which I warned her she
must abstain. She must not eat anything
that comes from the grapevine, she must not drink
wine or other intoxicant, and she must not eatanything
unclean. She must observe all
that I commanded her.
From all the things against which I warned her you
must abstain. You must not eat anything
that comes from the grapevine, you must not drink
wine or other intoxicant, and you must not eatanything
unclean. You must observe all
that I commanded her.
Each and every one of the five primary verbs in
the angel’s injunctions to Manoah during the angel’s second visit can read in
two different ways. Morphologically, each of these could be interpreted as a
2ms, thus referring to Manoah, who is now being enjoined to keep strict food
taboos in preparation for his son’s birth (which we imagine might please Manoah,
indicating that he has an important role in the birth of their child) or as 3fs,
referring to Manoah’s wife alone keeping the food-taboos (which might be less
welcome news to Manoah, indicating that he has no not part in this miraculous
We can imagine the poor husband eagerly following the words of the angel,
sentence after sentence, verb after verb, anxiously expecting a disambiguating
verb, which never comes. Not a single verb has helped Manoah understand his own
position. Of course, we don’t know what Manoah’s emotional response to the
angel’s instructions was, and it is possible to imagine that Manoah chose to
understand the list of ambiguous verbs in his favor. Regardless, the
“nail-biting” reading should affect readers, even if not Manoah himself.
Thus, the angel, who is characteristically enigmatic, leaves the characters
guessing, just as the omniscient narrator leaves us readers guessing—we never
find out for sure whether Manoah was to observe the food-avoidances, i.e.,
whether he can know for certain that he has a part in the biological
constitution of this supernatural son.
The lack of disambiguation is a key feature of the story of Samson. Just as we
do not know whether the angel impregnated the woman, so
too do we not know what Manoah’s role is to be. Why does the narrative remain
It could be that the author felt uneasy stating explicitly that Samson is a
demigod. Alternatively, he could be asserting a hierarchy of knowledge—namely,
presenting the unnamed mother as privy to precious knowledge that is known only
to her and to the divine being, but not to any of the other characters or to the
only one who really knows for certain who Samson’s father was—aside from the
divine being—is his mother
The use of ambiguous language is particularly apt for a riddle-like story (and a
character particularly drawn to riddles, see Judges 14:14). The playfulness of
the biblical text suggests that the ambiguity is central. This tendency toward
grammatical enigma in the story may serve as a hermeneutic guide, urging us to
read with an eye toward the subversive and hidden meanings within the text.
Naphtali Meshel is a senior lecturer in Hebrew University’s Departments
of Bible and Comparative Religion. He holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew
University, and was previously an Assistant Professor at Princeton
University. Meshel did post-doctoral studies in India, studying Sanskrit
literature on ritual. He is the author of The “Grammar” of
Sacrifice: A Generativist Study of the Israelite Sacrificial System (Oxford).
 “New Huqoq Mosaics,” Biblical Archaeological Society, < https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/new-huqoq-mosaics/>
 J. Alberto Soggin, Judges:
A Commentary, Old Testament Library, trans. from Italian, John S. Bowden
(Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 231–232. The link is even
clearer considering LXX Sampsōn,
which reflects the vocalization šamšôn rather
than šimšôn (cf.
Gk. pascha vs.
The euphonic “p” is irrelevant, merely a case of consonant epenthesis (also
called excrescence), i.e., the addition of a consonant to ease pronunciation.
 This claim has been most eloquently made in recent years by Yair Zakovitch
Life of Samson (Jerusalem: Magness Press, 1982).
 Niditch 2008:141 (OTL)
 See Marc Brettler, “Who
Was Samson’s Real Father?” TheTorah.com (2017).
 Incidentally, the conventions assumed by the author suggest that Nazirites
were to refrain not only from corpse-impurity (as in Num 6), but also from other
impurities that can be transmitted to food (e.g., from carcasses of certain
animals, including lions and donkeys).
 Yair Zakovich, חיי
שמשון [The Life of Samson] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1983).
 One would imagine that Manoah would be reassured if he were told that he,
too, is to refrain from eating impure foods, or drinking alcoholic beverages,
from this point until the birth of the young boy, either because Ms. Manoah is not
yet pregnant, or because Manoah believed, as many did in
antiquity, that the husband’s contribution to the formation of the embryo is
accumulative, continuing, through sexual relations, throughout pregnancy.
 See Abarbanel’s commentary on Judges, ad
loc and Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, The
Jewish Study Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),
 This does not include the two 1cs verbs which are in the subordinate
 Unlike Gen 6, which states unambiguously that demigods were born of unions
between divine male creatures and female earthlings.
 See, for example, Yairah Amit, “‘Manoah Promptly Followed His Wife’ (Judges
13:11): On the Place of the Woman in the Birth Narratives,” in A
Feminist Companion to Judges, ed. Athalia Brenner-Idan (Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 146–156 and J. Cheryl Exum, “Mother of Samson,”
in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the
Apocryphal/Dueterocanoncial Books, and the New Testament, ed. Carol Meyers
et. al. (Grand Rapids: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 245–246.
 Lest one think that this feminist reading of the Samson narrative is the
product of modernity, the Babylonian Talmud (Berachot 61a)
and the late medieval commentator Abravanel (Judg 13) make similar claims—that
Manoah’s wife is worthy of divine revelation and is the one guiding Manoah.