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image of Biblical Interpretation

Judges 13-16, the saga of Samson, is a text that, in popular imagination, is typically described as depicting the exploits of the heroic Samson against the Philistine barbarians. But, in fact, as commentators have often pointed out, Samson, although endowed with superhuman strength in this tale, is otherwise something of a fool and a boor: posing an unfair riddle at his wedding feast, engaging again and again in acts of violent destruction, and revealing the secret of his uncut hair to Delilah even though she has made clear that she intends to summon the Philistines to seize him after rendering him powerless. Yet however stupid Samson and however forthright Delilah are depicted as being in their interactions together, popular imagination again has almost always remembered Delilah as the evil seductress who leads the helpless Samson astray. Philistine interpreters, though, might well have remembered Delilah as an equivalent of the Israelite hero Jael: as a woman who, in terms of ethnicity, seems to stand outside of the dispute in which she plays a role; as a woman who is not necessarily a part of the household of a father or husband; and as a women depicted in terms of erotic imagery that is primarily maternal in nature. From a Philistine point of view, that is, Delilah might well bear the epithet Israelite tradition awards to Jael in Judg. 5:24: "most blessed of women."

Affiliations: 1: Dartmouth College


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