Chapter 14

                                                              Samson’s first erotic escapade


Chapter 14 begins to describe Samson’s strange behavior. There are scholars such as Ehrlich who see Samson violating biblical laws. Others, such as Abarbanel and Radak insist he is acting properly. Abarbanel argues that while Samson violated Torah laws he did so for a meritorious purpose, to wreck revenge on the Philistines. Radak argues that every one of his acts was proper – for example, his Philistine wife converted to Judaism. He writes: “Chalilah (God forbid) that a judge in Israel should have sex with a Philistine woman and violate what the Torah forbids.”[1] The story of his first erotic escapade is told in chapters 14 and 15, with chapter 16 depicting his encounter with two additional Philistine women.

Samson sees a Philistine woman and tells his parents that he wants to marry her. They try to dissuade him from marrying “one of the uncircumcised Philistines.”[2] But the chapter continues, they “did not know that the Lord was doing this, seeking an opportunity against the Philistines, who were masters of Israel at that time.”[3]

Samson went down[4] to visit the Philistine woman three times, the third time to his wedding ceremony. While traveling to see her during one of his earlier visits, he is attacked by a lion and kills it with his bare hands.[5] The episode occurs far from the road and Samson tells no one what he did. During a later visit, he leaves the road to see the lion carcass and notices that a swarm of bees had entered the carcass and produced honey.

He comes to the wedding ceremony accompanied by thirty Philistines, who may or may not have been friends of his. This is obscure.[6] At the seven day wedding feast he proposes a riddle to them based on his killing of the lion: “Out of the eater food came forth, and out of the strong came sweetness.”[7] He challenges that if they can unravel the riddle, he will give each of the thirty a linen garment and a change of clothing. If they fail, they must give these items to him. They agree. They don’t realize that it is impossible for them to unravel the riddle because the answer is the episode that no one knows about.

Frustrated because of their inability to solve the riddle, the thirty threaten Samson’s wife that unless she persuades Samson to reveal the solution to her and tells it to them, they will kill her and her family. She uses feminine wiles and persuades Samson to reveal the secret, which she tells them. Samson rages when they give him the solution. He pays them the thirty linen garments by killing thirty Philistines and taking their clothes, and then leaves his wife rushes to his father’s house.[8] His wife is then “given to his companion, who was his friend.”


Obscurities that when interpreted can show Samson as pious or not

As previously noted, we could read the various episodes in this story as part of God’s plan to seek an excuse to inflict revenge on the Philistines for their persecution of the Israelites or as indications of Samson’s improper behavior. The following are some of them:

* The thirty Philistine companions, as previously discussed could have been Samson’s friends who he invited to his wedding, but there is no indication that he invited Israelites or even his parents. Did he not invite Israelites because he expected trouble? There is no indication of this in the chapter.

* Did Samson violate his Nazirite behavior at the wedding feast by drinking and eating unclean food?[9] The chapter does not say that he did, but if not what did he do while everyone else was drinking and eating non-kosher foods?

* Verse 4 states that Samson’s parents “did not know that it [Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman] was of the Lord, for he sought an occasion against the Philistines.” Should we (a) understand that this statement was added to the madcap behavior of Samson, including murder, to show that it was part of God’s plan, or (b) this language was in the original text to show that Samson was carrying out God’s will, or (c) the reference “he sought an occasion” does not refer to God, but it was Samson’s devious plan?

* Samson acquires the thirty garments to pay the companions by killing thirty Philistines and taking their clothes. Was this proper? Radak states that Samson was doing God’s will, so it must be right. Is he reading into the text what the text does not say?



Other obscurities

* The thirty companions answered the riddle: “What is sweeter than honey and what is stronger than a lion.” But is this the answer to the riddle? It would seem that the only answer would be a description of Samson’s struggle with the lion. Can we say that the chapter is only giving the introductory words of the solution, but the full solution is implied?[10]

* Verse 15 states that the companions threatened Samson’s wife on the seventh day, which seems to be a mistake since verse 16 states that she pressured him for seven days for the riddle’s resolution. The Greek Septuagint translation has fourth day. Rashi is similar when he states that “the seventh day” was not the seventh day of the feast, but Saturday. Is there a mistake in the text, as Erhlich and others claim, and Rashi’s interpretation only a clever attempt to becloud the problem?

* Samson loses the riddle contest to the thirty companions because he is overwhelmed by feminine whiles. This happens again with Delilah in chapter 17. Is the book telling readers that Samson’s strength, although from God, can be overcome by a woman? Is this a reflection on what Eve did to Adam?

* Verse 18 states that the companions gave Samson the solution to the riddle “before the onset (or coming) of ha’charsa. Rashi and others translate ha’charsa as “the sunset,” suggesting that they gave the solution before the day ended at sunset. However, Rashbam  states that according to the Bible, the day starts and ends at day break, and the change to evening occurred when the Judeans adopted the Babylonian custom during their exile in Babylonia.[11] Without mentioning Rashbam, Ehrlich notes that charas is only used once in Scripture to mean sunset, and that is in a poem in Job 9:7; and our verse is not poetry. He, Moore, and others suggest that there is a scribal error here and the original word was ha’chedra, “the bedchamber.” The companions waited until Samson was about to lay with his wife before they surprised him with the solution.[12]

* The winner of the bet was supposed to be given a linen garment and a change of clothing, but verse 19 states that he only gave them the changes of clothing. Should we infer that he gave both or that in his rage he only paid half what was owed?

* Verse 20’s asher rei’ah lo could be translated “who had been his friend,” as most commentators render it. However, Ehrlich understands rei’ah as “rival,” as it is used in I Samuel 15:28. His wife was given to a man who had been Samson’s rival for her affection prior to his marriage to her.



[1] In Deuteronomy 7:3. This verse only prohibits marrying among the seven Canaanite nations, but the rabbis extended the prohibition to any non-Jew.

[2] Some rabbis claim she converted prior to the wedding and went through a proper Jewish wedding ceremony. However the plain meaning of the text is that she remained a Philistine. In fact, conversion most likely did not enter Judaism until around 150 BCE. If conversion existed at the time, there would have been no reason why Samson’s father would have disapproved of the marriage.

[3] Some scholars are convinced that this sentence was added to the story in an attempt to show that Samson’s acts were what God wanted. They point out that the story itself does not show divine intervention and, most importantly, God does not need an excuse or opportunity to act; if God wanted Samson to harm the Philistines, God could have directed him to do so based on the persecution they inflicted on the Israelites.

[4] Radak notes that the rabbis derived a homiletical lesson from the phrase “went down”: Judah went up to Timnnah in Genesis 38 and the result was good. Samson “went down” and there was catastrophe.

[5] Tales about conquering lions appear in I Samuel 17:34-37, II Samuel 23:20, and about the mythical Gilgamesh and Hercules.

[6] There are several possibilities: (1) These Philistines were long-time friends of Samson, showing that he had somewhat assimilated into the Philistine culture. Ehrlich describes Samson as being overly attracted to women and he had no interest in harming the Philistines. His relation to the Philistines changed when he saw how they treated him at his wedding. (2) They were people his proposed in-laws selected to join him in a kind of batchler party to enhance his joy. (3) The Greek Septuagint translation has a different wording: instead of the Philistines “seeing” Samson approaching them, they “fear him” because of his physical strength and they appoint thirty Philistines to join him to make sure he causes them no trouble (Ehrlich).

[7] Kaufman, Olam Hatanach, and many others note that Samson acted improperly; this riddle was impossible to unravel. The solution Samson was seeking was for the thirty companions to tell him how he killed the lion and later found honey in its carcass. Chapter 14 states that no one knew about the episode, so it was impossible for the Philistines to solve it. We have no idea why Samson acted as he did. Was this mischief or an example of his disdain of the Philistines or something else?

[8] How could the bride’s father give Samson’s wife to another man; she was married to Samson? Since Samson abandoned her, it was clear that he was angry at her, possibly even thinking she committed adultery with one of the companions, and the abandonment constituted a divorce (Olam Hatanach). Abarbanel saw the suspicion of adultery in Samson’s excited utterance to the companions “you plowed with my heifer,” although others understood he only meant “you secured the riddle’s solution from my wife.”

[9] The Hebrew word for feast, mishte, is derived from a root that means drinking because drinking was the prime element of a feast.

[10] It would seem that the true answer would have had to be, “you are referring to when you killed the lion and later found honey from bees in its carcass.” Instead they answered what is stronger than a lion and sweeter than honey. Some commentators say they did not want to answer the riddle exactly so as not to reveal that they forced Samson’s wife to secure the answer from him. However, it is possible that the chapter did not give us their full statement; this was only the beginning of their response.

[11] Rashbam highlights this in his commentary on Genesis 1:5. The Torah states that God performed certain acts on the first day; then there was evening and then morning when the first day ended, and God began new activities for the second day. Apparently, the Jews changed the biblical practice during their exile in Babylon during the sixth century BCE. The temple ritual, however, did not change; sacrifices continued to start during the morning during the second-temple period.

[12] Ehrlich suggests that they waited to the last possible moment so that Samson should not think they acquired the answer from his wife. However, it is possible that they waited until this important moment – the consummation of his wedding – to aggravate Samson. Moore cites scholars, including Josephus, who understand the chapter to be saying that Samson had not consummated his marriage until this time. Moore adds that this is the only instance in the Hebrew Bible “in which the bride remains in her father’s house, and the husband lives with her or visits her there.”