Judges 14-16

 

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he Samson cycle Richard Elliott Friedman in The Hidden Book in the Bible attributes to J, remarkably because the word ‘hate,’ sânê’, of which Delilah accuses Samson of harboring for her, shows up frequently in J documents (Gn 24.60; 26.27; 29.31, 33; 37.5, 8; Nm 10.35). This is the problem with Friedman’s attributions: he seizes on a word and it is the word’s frequency in various texts that determines for him the authorship of word-linked texts. This is not to say words do not come to bear in the evaluation of authorship, for certainly they do; but words are not the only factor; the underlying unity of texts is the deciding factor. While Delilah’s accusation of Samson’s hatred is the work of J, there is no reason to link the authorship of the Jgs 16 Samson to the authorship of the Jgs 14-15 Samson. There is no unity within the Samson Jgs 14-15 story to other J stories. Yes, the Lord announces a barren woman will conceive, as God tells Abraham (Gn 18) in J, but Sarah laughs at the announcement that God could cure her husband’s impotence; in Jgs 14 the angel of the Lord tells Manoah’s wife directly, and she is afraid. These are hardly comparative stories. Discreet from Abraham’s offering of a calf to the angel in J (Gn 18), Gideon offers a kid to the angel of the Lord (Jgs 6), and Manoah, Samson’s father, offers a kid to the angel of the Lord (Jgs 14). In J Abraham offers a calf because to have offered a kid to the angel would have been a betrayal of Asherah, whose attribute animal is the goat. That Gideon and Manoah offer kids distinguishes these texts as other than J. Rebekah instructs Jacob to slaughter a goat for the harvesting of its pelt to imbue Jacob with Esau’s scent, Esau, the goat, one of Asherah’s attribute animals. Joseph’s brothers kill a goat to stain Joseph’s robe. The goat’s blood on Joseph’s robe signifies atonement of the brothers through Asherah. The J scribes certainly would not have offered Asherah’s attribute animal to an angel of the Lord, as Gideon does, and as Manoah does. Jgs 14 does not belong to J. The Gideon and Samson stories belong to E, a source earlier than J.

Certainly Jgs 15 does not belong to J for its depiction of a powerless woman to whom Samson refers as his heifer; a woman who not only is extorted to open Samson’s riddle with the threat of death by fire to herself and her father and who, for discovering the riddle and exposing.it, is set on fire along with her father. In J women are tricksters who triumph, like Rachel, who hides her father’s gods beneath her; like Tamar, who deceives Judah into giving her children; like Rahab, who persuades the gullible spies into believing the king of Jericho is fearful of Israel; like Achsah, who seduces her husband into asking her father, Caleb, for land so that she would not have to subjugate herself to him. In J women are victims of culture who triumph by their wits. Other women in J are victims, but they are not wholly victims, like Lot’s daughters who, to retaliate their father’s offering of them as rape victims, rape their father one after the other. Dinah is a victim, but before Shechem raped her she went out of her own agency. Women have agency in J. Samson’s first wife, however, is a victim from beginning to end; her life and death is the work of a patriarchal writer who hated women and regarded them as disposable pawns. Jgs 15 cannot be attributed to J.

And yet because in J the word ‘hate,’ sânê’ frequently appears, Friedman assumes the same author composed the entire Samson cycle. One word does not for reckless extrapolation make. In Jgs 14 Samson loves a woman who is a victim of extortion, and she suffers a horrible death in Jgs 15. In Jgs 16 Samson loves a woman who is the opportunist of a handsome bribe, and she makes good. Samson’s two loves could not be more unlike. Having the E myth before them, the J scribes retaliate. In E Samson’s prospective wife pleases his eyes (Jgs 14.3). In J Samson’s eyes are put out (Jgs 16.21). Take that male gaze! In E Samson rules Israel for twenty years. In J Samson brings his own death down upon his head to avenge the Philistines for his two eyes. Jgs 16 is clearly a feminist document; Jgs 14-15 are obviously patriarchal. That Friedman cannot distinguish between the two has never been more apparent than in his attribution of Jgs 14-15 to J.

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