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Samson's Moment of Truth

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Samson gives away the secret of his strength, the story says, because Delilah nags him. Since only an incredibly stupid person could have failed to recognize her plan to betray him, Samson has been tagged as a musclebound lamebrain ever since. But nothing else in the story suggests that he is stupid—quite the opposite, in fact. The problem, then, is not Samson's intelligence but the narrator's weak explanation for Samson's moment of truth. Elevating Samson's complex characterization—and bracketing the "nagging"—reveals a Samson who has powerful reasons for allowing Delilah to cut his hair. Moreover, two retellings of the Samson tale, Milton's Samson Agonistes and DeMille's film Samson and Delilah, diminish or eliminate the "nagging" explanation and find far more satisfying alternative explanations for Samson's actions. The biblical nar rator, we may conclude, has misread the story or attempted to engineer an unsatis factory interpretation and is thus "unreliable", though in a way rather different from the modern critical understanding of the unreliable narrator.

Affiliations: 1: Bentley University, Waltham, MA


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