The Samson Cycle is primarily concerned with gutting the Samson narrative of any astrological meaning and make him an Israelite hero to inspire the Israelites against their enemies, the Philistines. If you’d like a less technical overview, please check out my podcast episode on the Samson Cycle. If you’re not familiar with the Northern Book of Judges and it’s cycles, be sure to check out all of the podcast episodes in that series. I used Tzemah Yoreh's work as the basis for my Northern Book of Judges Source.
Please note that the argumentation below is that of the opposing narrative that the Northern Book of Judges author (N) was addressing and is opposed to the N narrative itself.
Black: These statements are mirrors or echoes
Blue: These statements are an inferred cause/effect of a mirror/echo or connects two mirrors/echoes
Green: These statement have no corresponding mirrors or echoes but have supporting (e.g. alternates, denials) statements that imply them.
Orange: Words within a statement that could be variations of the opposing narrative
Italics are causal connectors (e.g. “because”)
[Brackets] are replacements for pronouns or changing tense for better flow.
For more information about mirrors, echoes, supporting categories and my methodology, please visit this post.
Aspect #1 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #1 N Response With Commentary
1. Samson is connected to the power of the sun or sun deity and draws his strength from having his origins in it. There are a number of sun and astrological related language in the Samson Cycle. Similar to N’s use of sexual language (see Deborah, Barak & Jael Cycle), some recognize the use of astrological language, and try to say that’s what the author was trying to communicate. Quite the opposite is true. Although the opposing narrative was trying to communicate astrological meaning, N is trying to reinterpret that language to mean something else in support of his agenda. N will counter the sun deity connection by having Yahweh be the source of Samson’s power.
Additionally, the story of Samson is set within the general vicinity of Beth Shemesh, a village whose name means "Temple of the Sun".
In August 2012, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of a circular stone seal, approximately 15 millimetres in diameter, which was found on the floor of a house at Beth Shemesh and appears to depict a long-haired man slaying a lion. The seal is dated to the 12th century BCE.
The Samson story is also very similar the the Greek myth of Heracles:
Likewise, they were both believed to have once been extremely thirsty and drunk water which poured out from a rock, and to have torn down the gates of a city. They were both betrayed by a woman (Heracles by Deianira, Samson by Delilah), who led them to their respective dooms. Both heroes, champions of their respective peoples, die by their own hands: Heracles ends his life on a pyre; whereas Samson makes the Philistine temple collapse upon himself and his enemies.
2. The appearance of a supernatural being to a woman, who is alone, is the type of situation that happens when a woman is impregnated by a supernatural being. Other sources that add to the Samson account later also seem to be dealing with this issue. Marc Zvi Brettler concludes:
This multi-pronged derogatory depiction of Manoah suggests that he, the slow-witted laggard, could not have fathered the great and strong Samson, and thus dovetails well with the depiction of the angel as his father.
However, N gives no indication of any sexual activity happening. N wants to make sure that readers don’t think that Samson is the son of a sun deity and tells how Manoah's wife immediately makes her husband aware of what happened. Manoah also encounters the supernatural being (the Angel of Yahweh according to N) and makes it clear that the supernatural being only “spoke” to his wife. Furthermore, N provides a reason for the supernatural encounter and subsequent birth of Samson: Manoah’s wife was barren.
N makes Samson’s father to be a human named Manoah, who is just a regular guy, a “certain man”, the same phrase Samson uses to refer to himself if he ever lost his strength. N also stresses the mortality of Manoah by having Samson buried in his tomb.
3. Samson’s father had ascended in flame or as a flame or somehow related to the fire of the sun. N changes this to the Angel of Yahweh ascending in a flame of a sacrifice offered to Yahweh.
4. The name “Samson” is associated with the sun:
Although names were chosen for a variety of reasons in biblical times, it is not clear what we are to make of the name Samson. It consists of the Hebrew word for sun, šemeš, with the diminutive ending, -ôn, hence Šimšôn, “little sun” [“sunny-boy!”]. A variety of explanations for the name have been proposed. It is tempting to give the name a positive spin as a celebration of the ray of light the birth of this boy represented in the dark days of the judges. Some have suggested it was given in anticipation of his “sunlike” strength. A more common view links the name with the solar cult, which provides the background for the Samson narratives. Strong support for this interpretation is found in the fact that Samson’s name incorporates the same element as Beth-Shemesh (lit. “house of Shemesh”), the name of an important town just a few miles from Zorah and Eshtaol down the Sorek Valley,290 once the focal point of sun worship. The interpretation of the Samson narratives as a whole as an adaptation of a solar myth seems forced, but it still seems best to find in the name a memory of the sun god, Shemesh.292 Theophoric names involving Shemesh/Shamash were common in the ancient Near East and are exemplified in the Old Testament by Shimshai in Ezra 4:8.
Block, D. I. (1999). Judges, Ruth (Vol. 6, pp. 416–418). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
5. Seven locks of hair was a feature of characters related to a sun deity:
One of the clues that Samson may be the sun and not a single constellation is the fact of his "seven locks" of hair upon his head. It would be difficult to argue that the outline of Orion provides any support for this detail in the Samson story. However, ancient sun-gods were quite frequently portrayed with seven radiant beams of light emanating from their head -- a clear parallel to the number of locks Samson possesses.
Here is an ancient statue of the sun-god Helios, with seven distinct rays coming from his head:
And here is an ancient mosaic depicting the sun-god Apollo with seven distinct rays as well:
6. Samson’s antagonistic character is also antagonistic to the sun:
Etymologically, the most likely explanation relates the name to Arabic dalla, “to flirt,” but the name may be an artificial punning construct consisting of d + lylh, “of the night.” By this interpretation the name may offer an intentional allusion to Samson’s blindness and fit in well with the motif of light and darkness that plays such an important role in the Samson narrative.
Block, D. I. (1999). Judges, Ruth (Vol. 6, pp. 453–454). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
7. Since Samson father had something to do with the sun deity, N responds by making him a regular guy, a “certain man” who we know is mortal because tells us that Samson is buried in his tomb.
8. Samson’s eyes were gouged out because he could burn things with them. The Eye of the sun god Ra was also associated with fire and was said to spit flames. Tzemah notes the eye association with the sun as well:
Delilah, is Samson's nemesis (here names is associated with לילה – night – whereas Samson's is associated with שמש – the sun). Note that two things are done to Samson to take away his strength, the first is cutting his hair, the second blinding him. The eyes symbolize Samson's association with the sun, since they are associated with light. N obfuscates the second association (to the sun) but doesn't take it out of the narrative completely, as is apparent in Chapter 13 when N employs sexual language in the meeting the angel (perhaps originally the sun god?) has with Samson's mother, but says nothing explicit. J, on the other hand inserts the prayer to the Lord' completely "Yahwizing" the narrative, making it clear that Samson's strength is completely dependent on the Lord.
Tzemah Yoreh. http://www.biblecriticism.com
9. Samson burned crops, but N puts the cause of the fire in the tails of foxes and not from Samson’s eyes.
10. Samson had burned his wife to be and her father but N blames it on the Philistines.
11. When Manoah asks what Samson is to do, the Angel of the Lord responds by saying that only Manoah’s wife needs to avoid wine and unclean food, implying that Samson doesn’t need to do anything. From this we infer that the opposing narrative did say that Samson was to do something. I’ve placed it here because I think it’s likely it had something to do with astrology, specifically Samson, as the sun, moving through the constellations. I speculate further that the purpose of Samson mirrored the purpose of the original opposing narrative. The astrological symbolism may be an attempt to explain the natural movement of the stars or to explain abnormal terrestrial issues impacted by the stars.
It is difficult to know for sure what the constellations were since the zodiac we know today was likely not the same of the original opposing narrative. However, some of the ancient zodiacs shared similarities and we see similarities in the Samson Cycle as well. Additionally, I think the original opposing narrative had Samson moving through the constellations in the order that the sun would, N does not have an impetus to do so and may have simply created a constellational soup to pour into the mold to support his agenda of de-astrologizing Samson and injecting Yahweh into the narrative. In other words, we shouldn’t expect N’s Samson to move through the constellations in the same order of the original opposing narrative, because N doesn’t see them as constellations at all.
12. Leo is one of the more obvious constellations in the Samson Cycle when he fights and kills a lion with his bare hands. The Greek myth of Heracles and the related Roman myth of Hercules also have a lion fighting episode. According to N, Samson was able to defeat the lion because the Spirit of Yahweh empowered him, not because of sun deity power.
13. The other of the more obvious constellations is Virgo: when Samson is to marry a virgin. Samson eventually burns the virgin, but N will blame this on the Philistines.
14. Water is associated with Aquarius but also with the Hyades star cluster (see item #15).
The opposing narrative may have originally had Samson splitting the rock, but N has Yahweh do it.
15. This is similar to the Pisces sign. Most versions of the Pisces legend speak of the tails of the fish being tied together to avoid losing each other. Obviously not the same as foxes, but both narratives may have been drawing from a common tail tieing narrative.
The equinoxes were associated with fire in myth around the globe, because at the equinoxes the fiery path of the sun crosses over the celestial equator.
16. The carrying of a gate may have been related to a constellation. N seems to relocate both the city where the gate was taken from (A Philistine city suits N purposes). Hebron may have been the city that it was taken from in the opposing narrative since it is 40 miles away (uphill) from where N says Samson took it.
17. The jawbone is associated with a constellation:
“Now, Lehi in Hebrew means jawbone, and water in Greek is hyades. If we look up in the winter night sky, we find the group of stars known as the Hyades located in the jawbone of Taurus the Bull. Nearby is the mighty warrior Orion. Thus, the historian of science Giorgio de Santillana gives the following interpretation of the biblical account: the hero of the original story must be Orion, and that rigmarole about the jawbone of an ass and drinking water out of the hollow of Lehi is simply a mnemonic device for finding the relative positions of the constellations Orion and Taurus and the group of stars called the Hyades.”
Shu, Frank. The Physical Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy (p. 4).
N uses it as a tool to kill Philistines. This also provides an alternative explanation for the name of the location where it happened: Lehi.
18. The Beehive Cluster is an open cluster in the constellation Cancer.
19. The death and rebirth of the sun is sometimes a theme in sun related myths. This takes place at winter solstice but may have been at summer solstice and spring and fall equinox. Samson may have died and been resurrected multiple times to reflect this.
20. The opposing narrative has Delilah kill Samson, but N, once again, will blame the Philistines, using Delilah only as an accomplice. However, N does allude to the opposing narrative when he says that Delilah killed Samson becasause she nagged him “to death”.
21. Samson reviving and his spirit returning may have been a death/resurrection that N explains as simply satisfying his thirst.
22. The opposing narrative had Samson weakening/dieing in multiple ways: bind with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, bind with new ropes that had not been used, weave the seven locks of Samson’s head with the web and make it tight with the pin and shave off the seven locks of Samson’s head. N re-explains this by saying that the four ways were cumulative, and only when Delilah has the “whole truth” is she able to weaken Samson.
23. The 7 locks of hair symbolize the rays of the sun and would have suggested the death of the sun and the sun would return after the hair grew back. N says that even after Samson’s hair grew back, he still needed Yahweh to re-empower him.
24. The death of the sun (lack of sunlight) has a death like effect on nature but N provides an alternative explanation by saying that Samson’s death caused so much death because he brought the house down on so many Philistines.
Aspect #2 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #2 N Response With Commentary
1. The opposing narrative made Samson out to be a violent individual. If Samson was to be an Israelite hero, this would need to be changed slightly. N either shifts the blame for violence or is sure to give justification for each of Samson’s violent episodes while having them committed against N’s main villain, the Philistines.
2. N has Samson’s wife given away, which justifies his violence of burning the crops of the Philistines. Samson says “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.”
3. N shift the blame for the burning of Samson’s wife, from Samson to the Philistines.
4. N justifies Samson’s killing of 30 Philistines by having it be in retaliation for cheating to solve his riddle.
5. N justifies Samson’s killing of 1000 Philistines by having it be an act of revenge. Samson says “I swear I will not stop until I have taken revenge on you."
6. N justifies Samson’s carrying of the gates by making it an escape from the Philistines, who wanted to kill him.
Aspect #3 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #3 N Response With Commentary
1. According to N, Samson was absolutely an enemy of the Philistines, making him out to be the Philistine’s worst nightmare. It’s not clear weather Samson had a specific enemy in the opposing narrative, but the Philistines are one of N’s main opponents, so he utilizes the narrative to make Samson an Israelite hero who terrorizes the Philistines. It is in Philistine cities where Samson commits his violence, and it is they who seize Samson in the end. N has the Philistines themselves say “...our enemy into our hand, the ravager of our country, who has killed many of us.”
Aspect #4 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #4 N Response With Commentary
1. It’s not clear whether the opposing narrative gave Samson a national identity, but N is sure to make him an Israelite. This is primarily done by giving him an Israelite father, originating him from an Israelite location and burying him in an Israelite location.
Aspect #5 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #5 N Response With Commentary
1. There are a number of factors that indicate that Samson was gay in the opposing narrative. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any indication as to why this was a feature in the original narrative or what astrological symbolism there may have been. Most likely, since the sun doesn’t reproduce, then Samson wouldn’t either.
2. N provides an alternative explanation by saying that it only seemed like Samson didn’t love women because he wouldn’t tell his wife the answer to the riddle, and he wouldn’t tell Delilah what would make him weak. N will show that Samson did love women including having him visit a prostitute, as well as falling in love with Delilah.
3. N counters the claim of Samson not having a wife, by saying that he actually did have a wife but that his wife was given away by her father. There are a couple of instances that don’t sit well in the N narrative. It’s odd that the riddle would have been impossible for the guests to solve without inside knowledge. This is because it was not the original intended meaning of the riddle. The riddle has sexual connotations:
“On another level, the riddle suggests copulation. Such erotic thoughts naturally accompanied wedding festivities, and consequently posed the biggest snare for the Philistines. A veiled allusion to the sex act, the riddle uses the ciphers “eater” and “strong one” for the groom. Similarly, “food” and “sweetness” signify semen, which is sweet to the bride who “eats” the sperm. From man proceeds sperm which nourish woman; from a strong man goes semen that is pleasant to a wife.
Crenshaw, James L. Samson: A Secret Betrayed, a Vow Ignored (p. 115).
This is similar to the Deborah, Barak and Jael Cycle, in that sexual language from the opposing narrative is used, but N is reinterpreting it to support his agenda.
Samson’s response to the Philistines is also sexual in nature, suggesting that his wife-to-be was unfaithful.
The protasis, or conditional clause, contains two ciphers (plowed and heifer). We can therefore turn this half of his statement into a familiar riddle: What fertile field is plowed, but not with oxen?
One would be hard put to discover a more apt description of the sexual act. For this reason, the metaphor occurs in cultures as diverse as the Canaanite fourteenth century population known to us from the Amarna tablets, Mesopotamian, and Israelite.
In a letter from Rib-Addi of Byblos he writes that “My field is like a woman without a husband, on account of its lack of cultivation” From the land of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers we read:
“...As for me, my vulva is a hillock, - for me,
I, the maid, who will be its plower?
My vulva is...wet ground for me,
I, the queen, who will station there the ox?”
“Lady, the king will plow it for you,
Dumuzi, the king, will plow it for you”
“Plow my vulva, my sweetheart”
Crenshaw, James L. Samson: A Secret Betrayed, a Vow Ignored (p. 119).
In the opposing narrative, Samson knew or suspected the infidelity of the bride, so he posed the riddle to expose those involved in the infidelity. Samson’s response reflects this.
The second item is the wager of 30 robes. It would make more sense if the wager had been made before the wedding since it was the responsibility of the groom’s family to provide wedding garments for everyone. With this in mind, we could speculate that in the opposing narrative, Samson was never married because the wager took place before the wedding, and the solving of the the riddle was an excuse for Samson to burn his wife-to-be (see also Aspect #1, item #13 and Aspect #2, item #3).
4. There were men in Samson’s inner chamber, the place where sexual activity would normally take place. The opposing narrative said it was because Samson was a homosexual. N provides an alternative explanation by saying that it was the Philistines waiting to capture him.
5. Similar to #2, N provides an alternative explanation by saying that it just seemed like he mocked women because he wouldn’t tell his wife and Delilah what they wanted to know.
6. I suggest that the phrase “standing between two pillars” is a sexual euphemism for homosexual sex between to males. The word for “pillars” is used in the Song of Solomon to refer to the legs of a male. N provides an alternative explanation by saying Samson literally stood between two pillars in order to kill Philistines.
7. More speculatively, the opposing narrative may have said Samson held hands with his male lovers. N reinterprets it by saying that he held that hand of a male because he was blind.
8. “Grinding the mill” was likely a sexual euphemism. In the book of Job it says “then let my wife turn the millstone for another man, and may other men have sexual relations with her.” The Talmud recognizes this, but I believe interpret the passage wrongly:
“R. Johanan said: 'Grind' means nothing else than [sexual] transgression; and thus it is stated: Then let my wife grind unto another.11 It teaches that everyone brought his wife to him [Samson] to the prison that she might bear a child by him [who would be as strong as he was].”
Talmud - Mas. Sotah 10a
This takes “grinding the mill” to be a heterosexual act for the male. I don’t believe so and believe it would be used as a homosexual act for a male for two reasons: 1. Typically it was the woman who ground the mill (in the literal sense), and we see it use metaphorically for a woman in Job as well. 2. The reason this is used in reference to women with a male is because the basis of the euphemism has to do with seed. The woman takes the seed of a man sexually. For a male to grind the mill would infer the he is taking the seed of a male, a reference to a homosexual act. N reinterprets the phrase in the literal sense, simply as as labor to be performed for punishment.
Aspect #6 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #6 N Response With Commentary
1. N injects Yahweh into the Samson narrative by having the supernatural being who appeared to Manoah’s wife be the Angel of Yahweh. Samson is an Israelite, and he serves and derives his strength from Yahweh. The god, Dagon, is described as the god of the Philistines so as not to promote him as a god of the Israelites.
Aspect 7 Opposing Narrative
Aspect #7 N Response With Commentary
1. Although this issue doesn’t seem to me addressed directly by N, given that it is a major theme in his other cycles, I think Samson serves as a hero to convince the Israelites that they are strong at war.
The spreadsheet embedded below is a list of verses used to compose the argumentation above. For further information about how these statements were categorized, please visit this post.