Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

Pun from Judges 16

with one comment

The Old Testament is full of literary and rhetorical devices, most of which are only obvious if you know Hebrew. I’m still working on Hebrew so I don’t always notice these things when I’m reading through a text. But one such literary device that is usually recognizable is the “pun,” which in some cases adds tremendous interpretive weight to a passage. A pun is a play on words which at times yields funny results.

Consider the following passage from Judges 16 that Charles Halton pointed out in a recent article in JBL (“Samson’s Last Laugh” in JBL 128.1 [2009]: 61-64 ). This is, of course, the famous story of Samson and the Philistines. After being deceived by the promiscuous Delilah, Samson is tortured by the hands of his captors and forced to do hard labor. In 16:25-27 the Philistines desire to get one last laugh over  Samson, and it is here that we see the pun: “And when their hearts were merry, they said, ‘Call Samson, that he may entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he entertained them. They made him stand between the pillars . . . Now the house was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there, and on the roof there were about 3,000 men and women, who looked on while Samson entertained” [ESV].

Halton shows that the majority of English translations miss the significance of the pun. The verb “to entertain” can also be rendered “to crush,” since the only difference in the Hebrew root is a sin (which would mean, “to entertain”) and a shin (which would mean, “to crush”). These two letters are indistinguishable in an unpointed text, so Halton suggests that the author of Judges makes a play on words; that is, the italicized text above means both “entertain” and “crush” to communicate two different things. And, of course, we all know how the story ends. Halton concludes,

“The author of this pericope used the ambiguity of the verb in Judg 16:25, 27 to articulate two points of view. The masoretic tradents follow the perspective of the festive Philistines as they vocalized shq to convey the notion that Samson’s captors brought him into the temple in order to entertain them. The second point of view is that of the narrator. The narrator injects an element of dark comedy into this account stating that the Philistines summoned Samson in order to crush themselves. Like other figures in the Bible, Samson destroyed a pagan sanctuary and crushed the cultic idols to bits. This time, however, the crushed cultic objects were the Philistine men and women.”

Fun stuff! In a sick sort of way…

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Written by Josh Philpot

June 26, 2010 at 1:47 am

One Response

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  1. Interesting! I want to know more!

    Mom

    July 28, 2010 at 1:51 pm


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