The “veil” theme of Samson’s story
The pun-theme of Samson’s story is “veiling”, in the figurative sense: Our hidden rulers need to mask & disguise themselves at all times and pretend to be “little people”. If we knew them for the ultra-corrupt overlord parasites that they really are, all their schemes would come to naught, and they’d be run out of town with torches & pitchforks.
Since theater and its vocabulary had not yet been made public in Biblical times, most words for “mask” are translated as “veil”.
Samson’s story is all about this type of disguising “veil”. The author crammed as many “veil” puns into it as humanly possible:
- Samson’s name puns with “veil”, “locks”, “strength”.
- Samson’s locks pun with “veil”, see above.
- Samson’s title Nazir puns with “veil”.
- Samson’s riddle has the solution “covered leader”.
- Samson’s piles & donkey’s jawbone pun with “veil”.
- Delilah’s name puns with “tearing away” something, such as a veil.
- The Philistines pun with “perforating” something, such as a veil.
- Samson’s lost & regained eyes perhaps also pun with “veil”.
Samson’s name as a pun with “veil”, “locks”, “strength”
The name Samson, if written with Tsade instead of Shin, means “veil”, “locks”, “strength”. That’s why his locks are his strength. But what the spooks really mean is that veiling or masking their true identity is their strength.
For a full discussion, please see the entry about Samson’s name.
Hebrew ṣm = veil, locks; ˁṣm = strength, power
Samson’s Nazir title as a pun with “veiled”
Very early in the story, a messenger from God discloses that Samson will be a nazir from birth. That word is a Niph‘al reflexive form. It means something like “self-estranged” and would describe a monk or hermit. But if you change the spelling a little, from נזר n-zr to נאזר n-ˀzr, it means “self-veiled”, plus a number of other puns.
This word for “veil” also seems to one of the puns in the name Israel. That’s why it’s probably censored out of the dictionaries: it is attested very rarely, and only for Arabic.
For a full discussion, see Nazir.
Hebrew, Arabic n-zr = estranged, abstain, apart; n-ˀzr = girded, veiled
נזר nzr : to surround; to keep off; to set apart; to vow to be a Nazarite; to abstain; to impose the vow of abstinence; to renounce — Hebrew (Jastrow)
נאזר nˀzr : girded; Niph. part. of אזר (= to gird). — Hebrew (Klein)
ازار ˀzˀr izār : a veil of fine linen or muslin, which, in the East, flows from the ladies heads below the middle of the leg; any thing, in general, which covers the naked body; trowsers, breeches, drawers; the skirts of a tent — Persian (Johnson)
Samson goes to Timnah, as a pun with “covering”
In the story, Samson visits the city Timnah to find his bride. That word is a T-prefix nominalization meaning “territory”, but it also puns with “likeness”. If you strip away the T-prefix, the resulting word means “species”, but also “lying” & “fabrication”.
Hebrew t-mnh = Timnah; t-mwnh = likeness
תמנה tmnh Timnah : “territory,” two cities in Judah — Old Hebrew (Strong)
תמן tmn : to picture, depict; he pictured, depicted — Hebrew (Klein)
תמונה tmwnh : likeness, image; form; description; geometric figure; According to most scholars formed from base מין, מון (= to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie), with pref. תְּ◌ and first suff. ◌ָה. — Hebrew (Klein)
מין myn : to furrow, split; to invent, fabricate, lie — Hebrew (Klein)
מין myn : kind; species; sex; gender — Hebrew (Klein)
Samson’s riddle as a pun with “covering”
Samson’s famous riddle “sweeter than honey, stronger than a lion” seems to be about lions & bees. But these 2 animals taken together also form the phrases “words of atonement”, and “hidden leaders”!
For a full discussion, see Samson’s riddle.
Hebrew, Aramaic dbr = bee, word, leader; kpr = lion, atone, cover up
דבורה dbwrh : bee — Old Hebrew (Strong)
דבר dbr : speech, word — Old Hebrew (Strong)
דבר dbr : leader, guide — Aramaic (CAL)
כפיר kpyr kephir : lion, young lion — Old Hebrew (Strong)
כפר kpr : atonement — Old Hebrew (Strong)
כפר kpr : to bend, arch over, cover; to deny, withhold the truth by claiming ignorance; to ignore — Hebrew (Jastrow)
Samson’s prank with foxes
To provoke hostilities, Samson attacks the Philistines with foxes (Judges 15:4).
Why foxes? One possibility is that it’s because foxes also pun with a “veil” of sorts: The used Hebrew word for “fox” is שועל šwˁl shuol, which sounds like English “shawl”, derived from Persian شال šˀl shal. Strictly speaking, Persian loanwords shouldn’t yet appear in Samson’s “pre-Persian” episode, but they might’ve been known even then, and no one knows when it was written. The fox also puns with Hebrew שול šwl shul which means “rim of a robe”, so that could fit as well. Overall, I think it’s a possible pun.
Another possibility is a pun with שאל šˀl for “borrowing” (think “Saul”), which in Aramaic has the derivations “pretense” & “fakery”.
Why does Samson play a prank with foxes? Because the Aramaic spelling תעל tˁl for “fox” puns with תעלול tˁlwl for “prank” & “prankster”. That’s where foxes got the reputation of being sly tricksters, and where stories like Reynard the Fox and the Fantastic Mr Fox come from: In addition to the actual animal’s traits, it’s also a Semitic spook pun!
Hebrew, Persian, Aramaic šwˁl = fox; šˀl = shawl; šwl = robe; šˀl = pretense
שועל šwˁl : fox — Hebrew (Klein)
شال šˀl šâl : shawl; scarf — Persian (Wikt)
שול šwl : skirt of a robe; rim (at the bottom of a vessel); margin (in a book); Related to Arabic sawila (= it hung down, hung loose). — Hebrew (Klein)
שול šwl : that which hangs on, attachment; skirts; lower part of the body, abdomen, buttock; rim at the bottom; saucer attached; the bottom, rest; Arabic savila — Hebrew (Jastrow)
ܫܐܝܼܠܵܐ šˀylˀ šila : requested, inquired, asked, interrogated; borrowed, supposed, self-styled / alleged, false / mock / fake / forged, reputed, so-called, would-be, pseudo / fictitious — Syriac (AAF)
בשאילו bšˀylw : feignedly, in pretense — Aramaic (CAL)
Hebrew, Aramaic tˁl = fox; tˀlwl = prank
Piles with a donkey’s jawbone, as a pun with “veil”
In an iconic yet ridiculous scene, Samson smites and piles up a thousand men with just the jawbone of a donkey, at a place called Lehi, later renamed to Ramath-Lehi.
And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.
ויאמר שמשון בלחי החמור חמור חמרתים בלחי החמור הכיתי אלף איש
And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramath-Lehi.
ויהי ככלתו לדבר וישלך הלחי מידו ויקרא למקום ההוא רמת לחי
Whenever you encounter strong symbolism mixed with a nonsensical story, spooky punnery must be at work. We get some easy clues:
- The Hebrew words for “pile” & “donkey” are written & pronounced exactly the same: חמור ḥmwr hamor. (think “Homer Simpson”)
- The Hebrew word for “jawbone” is לחי lḥy lehi, just like the name of that battlefield Lehi.
- If the authors repeat the same words over & over, the words themselves and how they’re written must be more important than the story!
The rest wasn’t so easy, at least for me: What is supposed to be the meaning of this pun? How does this relate to Samson?
The words “pile” & “donkey” seem related: A donkey is a beast of burden, i.e. you pile items up on it. The word root: The root √ḥmr has more meanings about piling & pressing: “wine”, “stringency”, “asphalt”, “cook in a pot”.
I think the final clue is only found in Arabic this time: Arabic ḫmr also means “veil”, just like the names Samson & Simpson. If related to ḥmr, then this word for veil perhaps emphasizes covering by pressing it on top.
This root is strongly present in Arabic as √ḫmr with the meanings of “veiling”, “fermentation”, “wine”. In Hebrew & Aramaic which have fewer letters, the root is √ḥmr for “wine”, and √kmr for “covering” & “repeating”. The “veil” meaning is only present in Arabic though, as خِمَار ḫmˀr khimar for “woman’s veil”. Either it has been lost in Hebrew & Aramaic, or it was never present there. The Phoenician merchant overlords and their authoring staff must have known it though. In Biblical times they’d have spelled all these languages in the same Phoenician script anyway.
I’m not sure what the jawbone and Lehi are supposed to pun with. Perhaps 2 things:
- The word lḥy for “jaw” is derived from the root lḥḥ for “moist” & “soft”. The same word lḥy therefore also means “washing away” & “erasing”, even “so bad it must be erased”. The veil of our leaders is supposed to erase their corrupt behavior.
- The compound l-ḥyy means “to life!” and is a common form of toasting, and for saying “it’s OK” or “beautiful”. In the literal sense, the veils of our leaders must also be matched “to life”, i.e. when they play their false role, it must be life-like.
- The renaming of Lehi to Ramath-Lehi is the (frequent) pun of rwm for “height” with rmh for “deception”. “Life-like” becomes “deceptively life-like”.
Finally, Samson’s verb nkh for “slaying” his enemies also means “paralyze” & “scoundrel”. So it may allude to merely “fooling” your own subjects, not actually smiting them.
We may conclude that Samson’s exclamation could mean something like this:
With a beautiful, life-like, self-erasing mask, through compassion and practicing, I can finally fool and paralyze a thousand men!
And he abandoned his actual life, and restyled it as a “deceptively life-like” mask.
Those vain, hollow spooks!
Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic ḫmr, ḥmr, kmr = veil, cover, hide, pile on
خِمَار ḫmˀr ḵimār : veil, cover of women — Arabic (Wikt)
خمار ḫmˀr khimar : a woman’s veil or head-dress — Arabic (Catafago)
خَمَرَ ḫmr ḵamara : to cover, to hide, to conceal; to brew to ferment, to leaven, to cause to rise chemically — Arabic (Wikt)
כמר kmr : to pile on, do again; to cover something to keep it hot; to hide, keep safe; to do something again and again; to be turned around; to be returned; to have compassion — Aramaic (CAL)
כמר kmr : to hide, keep warm; to shrink, be wrinkled; to feel compassion — Hebrew (Jastrow)
Arabic, Hebrew ḥmr = donkey
Hebrew, Aramaic lḥy = jaw, wash away; l-ḥyy = all right / to life
Hebrew nkh = slay, paralyze, scoundrel
Samson & Delilah as puns with “veil” & “unveiling”
Samson is eventually captured through betrayal by his mistress Delilah. She is the punny counterpart to Samson:
- Samson’s name puns with “strength” & “veiling”. The word roots are ˁṣm and ṣm / ṣmṣm, possibly loosely related.
- Delilah’s name puns with “weakening” & “tearing away” (the veil). In Delilah’s case, it’s clearly the same word root: dl / dll / dldl.
Just as her name says, she has Samson’s locks cut. Since Samson’s pun-root ṣmṣm means both “locks” & “veil”, that alludes to a “tearing away” of his “veil”, which “weakens” him.
For a full discussion, see Delilah.
Hebrew, Aramaic dl, dll, dldl = weaken, detach, lift up, tear away, take off
Delilah : The mistress of Samson who betrayed him to the Philistines; Borrowed from Hebrew דְּלִילָה (d’līla, “[she who] weakened”). — English (Wikt)
דיל ; דלדל dldl; dyl : to reduce, weaken; to loosen, detach; loosely connected, hanging down, detached; overty-stricken, beggarly; to become thin, sparse; to be reduced; to be detached, loosely connected, disarranged, parted into shreds; to be disregarded — Hebrew (Jastrow)
Samson’s Philistine enemies as a pun with “uncovering”
It’s also not a coincidence that the enemies of Samson (and of the Biblical heroes in general) are the Philistines. The word Philistine is derived via “migration” from the roots פלש plš and בלש blš with the basic meaning of “rotating” & “digging”, and derived meanings of “breaking through” & “detection”. The Philistines symbolize detection which the spooks seek to avoid at all costs.
For a full discussion, see Philistines.
Hebrew, Aramaic plš, blš = Philistine, rolling, penetrating, perforating, detecting
פלשת plšt : Philistia, a region of Syria; From palash, rolling, i.e. migratory — Old Hebrew (Strong)
פלש plš : to break through; to break into a secure place; to inquire; to aim at; to dig through; to perforate; to be dug through; broken into; to be open — Aramaic (CAL)
בלש blš : to search, examine, investigate, detect — Hebrew (Klein)
Samson’s eyes as a pun with “veil”?
In addition to cutting his locks, Samson’s enemies also gouge out his eyes. Nasty! Why did the authors have to include that? Perhaps because it’s yet another “veil” pun, though a weak one: The Semitic word for “eye” is עין ˁyn ayin. That puns with Semitic ˁnn / gn / jn for “clouds” & “covering” (think Djinn). It’s also a rare word for “veil”, once again. That’s why the eye-gouging crept into Samson’s story.
Semitic ˁyn = eye; ˁnn, gn, jn, jnn = cloud, cover, veil
עין ˁyn : eye — Hebrew (Wikt)
ענן ˁnn : cloud — Hebrew (Klein)
ענני ˁnny : covering — Aramaic (CAL)
גני gny : to hide, to be hidden; to hide, to be hidden; to be absent; to have hidden; to remove; to close; to retain; to hide oneself; to remove oneself; to refuse; to be in mourning — Aramaic (CAL)
جَنَّ jn janna : to cover, to hide, to conceal, to veil — Arabic (Wikt)
جُنَّة jnʰ junna : thing which veils, conceals, hides, covers, or protects; a type of hijab or veil — Arabic (Wikt)