Judges 15:16: Samson's Song

Verse 16:[1] And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps (Heb. a heap, two heaps[2]), with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.



[And he says, With the jawbone of an ass, with the mandible of the colt of asses] This interpretation of Jerome appears to be preferred, 1. because it is not necessary that anything be understood; 2. because חֲמוֹר/chamor rarely signifies a heap, but everywhere an ass (Bonfrerius). A heap is expressed as חֺמֶר/chomer, not as חֲמוֹר/chamor (Malvenda). But this version is not able to be endured, because חֲמ֖וֹר חֲמֹרָתָ֑יִם would be an ass of two asses, supply, a colt;[3] which explanation who would offer? (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:15:199). [But Malvenda explains it in his own way:] An ass (says he) of two asses he appears poetically to call an ass enormous and most robust, as if two she-asses were necessary for suckling it (Malvenda). By the jawbone of an ass, an ass of asses. The ass is called asinine[4] in the same manner as we noted that a goat is called caprine,[5] and an ox bovine,[6] and just as in Judges 5 a girl is called girlish, that is, a girl;[7] the repetition is elegant, especially in epigrams. It is not satisfying to follow the Jewish Rabbis here, who interpret חֲמוֹר as heap. For thus the epigram would be imperfect and less elegant; and that word is not written with the same vowels when it signifies heap, except in this place, if we believe them. But, since it is ambiguous, it is not able to be adduced for a testimony: neither does proper interpretation give place to forced interpretation (Castalio).


[בִּלְחִ֣י הַחֲמ֔וֹר חֲמ֖וֹר חֲמֹרָתָ֑יִם] [Others translate it:] In, or with, a jawbone, or, by that jawbone, of an ass, a heap, two heaps (Pagnine, similarly Montanus, Junius and Tremellius). With the jawbone of an ass (understanding, I slaughtered) a heap, nay, two heaps (Tigurinus), so that it is a correction: for, since with a jawbone he was slaughtering enemies (through the midst of whose column he appears to have broken through [Malvenda]), pressing in on both sides, two heaps were made of them, on this side and on that side (Junius). One heap and another, of corpses, that is, of dead men, understanding, was made (Vatablus). Into a heap I gathered them (Munster). It is likewise translated heap here by Jonathan, the Syriac, the Arabic, and all the Hebrews. The Vulgate alone has a colt of asses (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:15:199). He played with the ambiguity of the term חֲמוֹר, which signifies both a heap and an ass (Drusius); evidently, from the bearing of heaps (Malvenda). חֲמוֹר/ass is derived from חֺמֶר, a heap, or a measure that is called a כֹּר/cor, and contains thirty modii;[8] for this was the burden of asses (Lapide). There is elegance in the allusion, as if one should say in Latin, maxilla cervi, acervum acervos, with the jawbone of a stag, heaps and heaps (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:15:199). It is Paronomasia[9] (Malvenda). Moreover, this was a song, or a small part or the beginning of one (Menochius out of Lyra); or this was an intercalary verse (Serarius out of Tostatus).


With the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men: This, though it might seem difficult, yet is not at all impossible or incredible; especially seeing the learned affirm of the asses of Syria, that they were larger and stronger than ours, and so consequently were their bones. And withal, it must be acknowledged that there was something extraordinary and miraculous in this, as there was unquestionably in Samson’s strength, and so all the difficulty vanisheth.

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֔וֹן בִּלְחִ֣י הַחֲמ֔וֹר חֲמ֖וֹר חֲמֹרָתָ֑יִם בִּלְחִ֣י הַחֲמ֔וֹר הִכֵּ֖יתִי אֶ֥לֶף אִֽישׁ׃


[2] Hebrew: חֲמ֖וֹר חֲמֹרָתָ֑יִם.


[3] That is, an ass, the colt of two asses.


[4] Latin: asinus asinarius.


[5] Latin: caprum caprinum.


[6] Latin: bovem bovinum.


[7] Judges 5:30a: “Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two (רַ֤חַם רַחֲמָתַ֙יִם֙)…”


[8] That is, roughly sixty gallons, or six and a quarter bushels dry.


[9] That is, word play.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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