Identity Crisis: Assessing Samson’s Birth and Career -- By: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 166:662 (Apr 2009)
Article: Identity Crisis: Assessing Samson’s Birth and Career
Author: Robert B. Chisholm Jr.


Identity Crisis: Assessing Samson’s Birth and Career

Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

Robert B. Chisholm Jr. is Chair and Professor of Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.

Samson is one of the most intriguing characters in the Bible. Was he a hero of the faith who defeated Israel’s Philistine oppressors or a tragic failure who died in the rubble of a pagan god’s temple? Perhaps the truth lies in the middle. In addition to this fundamental question the story presents numerous other interpretive challenges related to Samson’s identity. This article discusses three of these. Who was Samson’s father and when was Samson conceived? What was Samson’s understanding of his role in life? What was the nature of Samson’s Nazirite calling?

Who Was Samson’s Father and When Was Samson Conceived?

Judges 13 tells how Yahweh’s angel appeared to Manoah’s barren wife and announced she would bear a son (vv. 3, 5). The angel instructed her to follow a strict diet fit for a Nazirite (cf. Num. 6:3-4), for her son would be consecrated to God as a Nazirite from birth. The angel also made it clear that the child’s primary task would be military—he would “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines” (Judg. 13:5).

The precise timing and nature of Samson’s conception are unclear. The rendering “you will conceive” (vv. 5, 7) assumes that Samson’s mother would conceive sometime after her encounter with the angel, presumably after having marital relations with Manoah. In this view the predicate adjective הָרָה in verse 5 is understood as future (equivalent to וַהָרִית in v. 3).1 The syntactical

structure of verses 3-5 may favor this interpretation. Elsewhere when הִנֵּה נָא (v. 3) is collocated with וַעֱתָּה (v. 4), הִנֵּה נָא introduces the logical basis for an argument, while וַעֱת...

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