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


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  • 1 Bristol Baptist College, UK


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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.


  • 2

     M. Henry, 1708. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, Logos Electronic edn, 1994 [original, 1708]), p. 359.

  • 3

     R. Ryan, Judges (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2007), p. 113.

  • 5

     J.L. Crenshaw, Samson: A Secret Betrayed, A Vow Ignored (London: SPCK, 1978), p. 122. See also U. Kim, ‘More to the Eye than Meets the Eye: A Protest against Empire in Samson’s Death?’ BibInt 22 (2014), pp. 1-19 (14).

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  • 8

     See, for example, U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1967); Y.S. Kim, ‘Lex Talionis in Exodus 21: 22-25: Its Origin and Context’, Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6 (2009), pp. 2-11.

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  • 9

     D. Daube, Studies in Biblical Law (Jersey City: Ktav, 1947).

  • 10

     A.T. Nissel, ‘Equality or Equivalence: A Very Brief Survey of Lex Talionis as a Concept of Justice in the Bible’, International Law: Routledge Critical Concepts 6 (2010), pp. 111-45; J. Burnside, ‘Imagining Biblical Law’, University of Queensland Law Journal 30 (2011), pp. 225-34.

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  • 11

     W.I. Miller, Eye for an Eye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 54-57.

  • 12

     M. Noth, Exodus; a Commentary (trans. J.S. Bowden; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), p. 182.

  • 13

     Kim, ‘Lex Talionis in Exod 21:22-25’, pp. 4-5.

  • 17

     D. Amram, ‘Retaliation and Compensation’, JQR 2 (1911), pp. 191-211 (193).

  • 19

     G.E. Mendenhall, ‘The “Vengeance” of Yahweh’, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), pp. 76-77.

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  • 20

     See also J.C. Exum, ‘The Theological Dimension of the Samson saga’, VT 33 (1983), pp. 30-45 (42).

  • 23

     R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981), p. 77.

  • 24

     R. Girard, Violence and the Sacred (trans. P. Gregory; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), pp. 145-49.

  • 27

     R. Girard, The Scapegoat (trans. Y. Freccero; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 33.

  • 31

     Girard, The Scapegoat, p.18.

  • 35

     J.C. McCann, Interpretation Bible Commentary: Judges (Louisville: John Knox, 2002), p. 106.

  • 36

     A.B. Mbuvi, ‘Samson’s Body Politic’, BibInt 20 (2012), pp. 389-406 (397-98).

  • 42

     M. Bal, Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 78.

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  • 43

     T. Schneider, Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry: Judges (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2000), p. 209.

  • 56

     J.A. Soggin, Old Testament Library: Judges (trans. J. Bowden; London: SCM, 1981), p. 233; Schneider, Judges, p. 202.

  • 67

     Girard, The Scapegoat, p.18.

  • 68

     R. Girard, Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World (trans. S. Bann and M. Metteer; London: Continuum, 1987), p. 26.

  • 72

     K. van der Toorn, ‘Judges XVI 21 in the Light of the Akkadian Sources’, VT 36 (1986), pp. 248-53.

  • 73

     S. Niditch, ‘Samson As Culture Hero, Trickster, and Bandit: The Empowerment of the Weak’, CBQ 52 (1990), p. 608-624 (617).

  • 74

     Richard S. Caldwell, The Origin of the Gods: A Psychoanalytic Study of Greek Theogonic Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 39 ; P.K. Chand, C.N. Kumar and P Murthy, ‘Major Self-Mutilations: Castration and Enucleation’ German Journal of Psychiatry 13 (2010), pp.164-170 (168).

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