‘Revenge for My Two Eyes’: Talion and Mimesis in the Samson Narrative

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Helen Paynter1
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The Samson narrative is notable for its cycles of violence and revenge. Sometimes this has been understood to be an expression of lex talionis(‘an eye for an eye’); indeed, Samson appears to assert as much, though his actions do not match up to the ideal. This paper argues that while the narrator permits Samson to make this claim, he demonstrates that a far more sinister dynamic is at work: namely, Girardian mimesis and scapegoating. At the centre of the rivalry between Israel and the Philistines is Samson, ‘monsterised’ by both sides, and represented in hulk-like terms. His sexual rivalry with his Philistine ‘companions’ embodies the rivalry between the two nations. Using a Girardian hermeneutic reveals how the cycles of violence are, in fact, an escalating form of mimesis, which twice approach crisis, but conclude with Samson escaping from the scapegoating role by taking matters into his own hands.

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