More to the Eye than Meets the Eye

A Protest against Empire in Samson’s Death?

In: Biblical Interpretation
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  • 1 Hartford Seminary, USA

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The patriarchal authority is undermined from the beginning of Samson’s story when Manoah is depicted as playing no role in Samson’s birth. The erosion of patriarchal authority is augmented by an assault on male identity when Samson is forced to play the role of a woman, or rather to become one. Samson’s story thus far may reflect anxiety and fear among men who have lost their male identity and authority in the exile. But the story takes an intriguing and unexpected turn when it questions whether it is fair for the Philistines to gauge both of Samson’s eyes. Perhaps the Philistines meted out more than what Samson deserves. If so, how do we account for the extra suffering he endured? The unnecessary violence to Samson’s other eye attests to the empire’s cruelty and abuse. In Samson’s death, the victims have their say. The people acknowledge their sins but also protest against the collective violence of empire. 


  • 1

    See T.C. Römer, The So-called Deuteronomistic History: A Sociological, Historical, and Literary Introduction (London: T&T Clark, 2007), for an elaboration of this strategy.

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  • 2

    R.A. Horsley (ed.), In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008); and M.G. Brett, Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008).

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  • 5

    J.C. McCann, Judges (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002), pp. 96-97.

  • 6

    Boling, Judges, p. 224.

  • 7

    M.Z. Brettler, The Book of Judges (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 45.

  • 8

    R.B. Chisholm Jr., “Identity Crisis: Assessing Samson’s Birth and Career,” BSac 166 (2009), pp. 147-62.

  • 9

    Chisholm, “Identity Crisis,” p. 150.

  • 10

    L.R. Martin, “Power to Save!? The role of the Spirit of the Lord in the Book of Judges,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 16 (2008), pp. 21-50.

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  • 11

    Martin, “Power to Save,” p. 43.

  • 14

    Rowlett, “Violent Femmes,” p. 112.

  • 15

    Quoted in Rowlett, “Violent Femmes,” p. 111.

  • 16

    Rowlett, “Violent Femmes,” p. 111.

  • 18

    R. Ryan, Judges (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007), p. 106. Ryan sees Samson as the initiator of conflict between the Philistines and Samson (Israel): “I argue that he seeks the company of Philistine women in order to enter their society in order to create conflict opportunities” (Judges,p. 127).

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  • 23

    Rowlett, “Violent Femmes,” p. 106.

  • 24

    S. Niditch, Judges (The Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp. 167-71.

  • 25

    S. Niditch, Judges (The Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 144.

  • 26

    S. Niditch, Judges (The Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 145.

  • 27

    S. Niditch, Judges (The Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 171.

  • 29

    Stone, “Gender Criticism,” p. 196.

  • 31

    Rowlett, “Violent Femmes,” p. 111.

  • 33

    Niditch, Judges, p. 166.

  • 34

    R.B. Salters, Lamentations (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2010), p. 339.

  • 35

    R.B. Salters, Lamentations (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2010), p. 360. See also, Karel van der Toorn, “Judges XVI 21 in the Light of Akkadian Sources,” VT 36 (1986), pp. 248-53.

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  • 36

    Boling, Judges, p. 250.

  • 37

    Niditch, Judges, p. 171.

  • 43

    G.J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (trans. D.E. Green; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), vol. 3, pp. 195-208.

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  • 44

    Exum, “Feminist Criticism,” p. 82.

  • 46

    Van der Toorn, “Judges XVI 21 in the Light of Akkadian Sources,” p. 249.

  • 47

    Van der Toorn, “Judges XVI 21 in the Light of Akkadian Sources,” p. 249.

  • 48

    Van der Toorn, “Judges XVI 21 in the Light of Akkadian Sources,” p. 252.

  • 49

    J. Neusner (ed.), The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (trans. J. Neusner and T. Zahavy; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009). CD-ROM.

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  • 50

    Matthews, Judges & Ruth, p. 152.

  • 52

    A. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 149.

  • 53

    A. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 151.

  • 55

    Gunn, “Samson of Sorrows,” p. 245 (Gunn’s translation).

  • 56

    Gunn, “Samson of Sorrows,” p. 247. Gunn juxtaposes Judg. 16:30 and Isa. 53:9-10.

  • 57

    Gunn, “Samson of Sorrows,” p. 246.

  • 58

    R. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (trans. J.G. Williams; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), especially Chapter 9 (“The Uniqueness of the Bible,” pp. 103-120).

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  • 59

    R. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (trans. J.G. Williams; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), especially Chapter 9 (“The Uniqueness of the Bible,” p. 118).

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  • 60

    R. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (trans. J.G. Williams; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), especially Chapter 9 (“The Uniqueness of the Bible,” p. 108).

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  • 61

    R. Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (trans. J.G. Williams; Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), especially Chapter 9 (“The Uniqueness of the Bible,” p. 109).

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