Story of Samson: Had You Not Plowed with My Heifer!on January 8, 2016 at 1:50 pm
The Story of Samson – Book of Judges: Chapter 14
as re-told & illustrated by Nick Dupree
from 14.17 to 14.19:
Panel 1: 14.17 ‘and she told the riddle to her people.’
The woman of Timnath (Samson’s bride) sneaking ’round in cloak and under cover of darkness, purple and violent violet night sky, betrays the secret answer to the riddle to the mupoety Philistines…
Panel 2: ‘And the men of the city said to him on the seventh day, before the sun set, “What is sweeter than honey and what is stronger than a lion?”‘ 14.18
Same Philistines but we see them from the back as they face Samson with the answer. Samson towers over them afore a background of streaking grape-juicy fruit night skies.
Panel 3: 14.18 ‘And he said to them, “Had you not
Samson’s head, his eyes solar-flaring with anger, is framed in an inferno of flames o’ rage.
Panel 4: plowed with my heifer, you would not’ve found out my riddle.”‘
and I depict this as actual plow, actual cow, taking a plow from an Egyptian hieroglyphic comic panel and 3Dizing it. Extensive commentary on this most oddball of verses below.
Panel 5: 14.19 ‘And there rested upon him a spirit of the Lord,
the ruach HaKodesh (holy spirit) is bestowed on him. I depict this like a power-up: +ruach haKodesh.
Panel 6a: and he went down to Ashkelon, and killed of them thirty men,’
Slapping a man’s head off in the village’s center before a backdrop of greens and teals-day skx, sandy beach, palm trees and an ancient sand-brick house. Samson sends this Philistine head flying over his shoulder toward stage-right…
Panel 6b: and in the same village, Samson punching a Philistine’s head into pulp and splashing gore. SFX: BLOFF
The allegorical phrase in verse 14.18, essentially to plow with another’s cow is especially memorable, albeit quite vulgar. I dug deeper into the Hebrew with this concordance, and yes, the meaning truly is that crude and rude. The verb used is cheresh חָרַשׁ in its first sense: to plow, to engrave, to cut into (with a tool), to plot (agriculture) or to plot (as in DEVISE a plan). It seems even vulgier (more vulgar) when defined.
Re: the coarse verse 18, Everett Fox, noted Jewish translator of the Tanakh and chair of Judaic and Biblical Studies at Clark University, in his translation, says “The image of plowing had sexual connotations throughout the ancient world.” (Notes to Chapter 14, p. 22). This is certainly true, and the euphemism is used plenty in the Quran as well.
Robert Alter’s translation and commentary on Judges mentions the response rhymes in Hebrew, quite uncommon in ancient Hebrew texts. And that Samson is implying that his bride’s collaborating with the enemy before the official wedding night, even “has been unfaithful to him–perhaps, with thirty different men!” (p. 182)
The super rare rhyming Hebrew heifer line is perhaps most accurately expressed in English as something like “if you didn’t sow with my hoe.”
Our 19th century friend J.P. Lange, twice cited on page 5 of this humble webcomic, gives a different interpretation in his exhaustive 1872 work A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Joshua, Judges, Ruth. After noting the wife may’ve invented the Philistine death threats to retroactively excuse her betrayal (p. 201), Lange suggests a deeper meaning: the heifer can’t be credited for the “buried treasure” upturned by the plow, alluding to the Roman sage Tages, who “was fabled to have been thus ploughed up” to be birthed from a furrow busted by happenstance instead of a sliced womb (Julius Caesar emerging via Caesarian). The proverbial heifer knew “the right furrow” as she’d “been shown to it,” but “she solved nothing,” just gave to her people the unearthing of what already lay beneath. “The comparison is not very flattering to the traitoress, but is quite appropriate.” (p, 202, Johann Peter Lange, 1872)
One of the biggest elements lost in translation in Biblical Hebrew is the bluntness, unadorned earthiness, even crassness of the language, i.e. vulgar root verbs such as the aforementioned חָרַשׁ cheresh were more the rule than the exception.