Samson appears in the book of Judges as a man who will deliver the Israelites from their enemy, the Philistines. He is known for having astonishing strength, which is linked to having hair that has never been cut. Vision is an important theme in
How was sight understood in the ancient world?
In the ancient Near East, there were multiple theories of sight, which differ from how people understand sight in the contemporary West. The most popular theory was extramission; this is the theory that light is emitted from the eye and goes out into the world, interacting with objects and bringing back knowledge of them to the one who sees. In this model, sight is an active process, not a passive one.
Sight is especially linked to the erotic in these contexts. When a man looks at a women, he is understood as desiring and in some way sexually engaging with her. This is the case throughout the Samson narrative; for example, when Samson looks at a woman from Timnah, he desires her and demands her for his wife (
What does this mean for understanding the story of Samson and his blindness?
Samson was a nazirite, a special type of religious person who could not cut his hair, eat anything unclean, or drink wine or strong drink (see
It is fitting, therefore, that Samson is blinded by the Philistines; his punishment reflects typical ancient Near Eastern punishment. Blinding marks prisoners as captive (see, e.g.,
Samson’s blindness is often spiritualized by scholars who suggest that he did not trust God in his sighted state but has insight and depends on God when he is blinded. But in many ways Samson is the same as before he is blinded—he seeks retribution and entreats God to meet his desires. Samson’s disability is a physical one that removes his ability to be affected by and to effect the world around him through vision. Sighted Samson is led by his eyes; blinded Samson is led by the hand of another.