Shimshon and Shemuel

Introduction

The Shimshon and Shemuel narratives each open with a scene in which the leader's birth and future destiny is promised.  The two birth stories contain a significant number of plot similarities, buttressed by some linguistic allusions.  The similarities, though, mainly serve to highlight the many contrasts between the narratives and the difference in character between the protagonists.

Content Parallels

Both stories revolve around a barren woman who is promised a child who then grows up to be a leader of the nation.  There are many more specific parallels, which are summarized in the following table:

Mrs. Manoach and Channah
  • Barren – Both wives are introduced as being barren.
  • Dominant – Both Mrs. Manoach and Channah are the prominent characters in the narrative and are more dominant than their husbands.
  • No wine – Mrs. Manoach is told not to drink wine while Eli tells Hannah "rid yourself of your wine".
Shimshon and Shemuel
  • Nazir-like status – The angel states that a razor should not touch Shimshon's hair, and Channah promises the same regarding Shemuel.
  • Leadership – Both Shimshon and Shemuel becomes judges of Israel.1
  • Fight Philistines – Both leaders help save their nation from the Philistines.
  • Hashem with them – The verses state that both boys grow up "with Hashem" or "blessed" by Him. Moreover, Hashem grants each some level of Divine inspiration. By Shimshon we are told, "וַתָּחֶל רוּחַ ה' לְפַעֲמוֹ", and by Shemuel the verse says "נִגְלָה ה' אֶל שְׁמוּאֵל".
Male Figures
  • Husbands – Both husbands bring a sacrifice in the context of the consecration scenes.
  • Man of God – In each story there is a man of God (the angel in the Shofetim story and Eli in Sefer Shemuel) who plays a role in promising the birth of the child. The angel actively promises the couple a son, while Eli more passively tells Channah, "May Hashem grant your request that you asked of Him".
  • Missing something – Both Manoach and Eli are portrayed as knowing less than the females around them. Manoach is not privy to the original prophecy and erroneously believes that the angel's visit will cause death. Similarly, Eli is in the dark regarding Channah's true nature, accusing her of drunkenness until she corrects his mistake.

Literary Allusions

There are a handful of linguistic parallels as well:

EN/HEע/E
בשורת הולדת שמשון (שופטים יג)בשורת הולדת שמואל (ספר שמואל א' א-ב)
(יג:ב) וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִצָּרְעָה מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת הַדָּנִי וּשְׁמוֹ מָנוֹחַ (א:א) וַיְהִי אִישׁ אֶחָד מִן הָרָמָתַיִם צוֹפִים מֵהַר אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ אֶלְקָנָה
(יג:ה) וּמוֹרָה לֹא יַעֲלֶה עַל רֹאשׁוֹ כִּי נְזִיר אֱלֹהִים יִהְיֶה הַנַּעַר מִן הַבָּטֶן (א:יא) וּנְתַתִּיו לַה' כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו וּמוֹרָה לֹא יַעֲלֶה עַל רֹאשׁוֹ
(יג:כד) וַיִּגְדַּל הַנַּעַר וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ ה' (ב:כא) וַיִּגְדַּל הַנַּעַר שְׁמוּאֵל עִם ה'








 

Analysis

Contrasts

Despite the many similarities, there are several important points of contrast between the narratives.  These are summarized in the chart below:

Mrs. Manoach and Channah
  • Name – Despite the dominant character of both females, only Channah is named while Manoach's wife is not.
  • Active vs. Passive – While Mrs. Manoach passively receives news of her son's birth, Channah actively prays to have a baby.
  • Command vs. Promise – Similarly, while Shimshon's mother is commanded not to shave her son's head, Channah proactively promises this if her wish for a child is granted
Shimshon and Shemuel
  • Nazir-like Status – Shimshon is commanded to be a fuller Nazirite than Shemuel. He is prohibited from wine while Shemuel is under no such constraints.
  • Philistines – Hashem says that Shimshon will merely "begin to save the nation from the Philistines". By Shemuel, in contrast, we are told that the Philistines surrendered and "did not continue to come into the border of Israel".
  • Leadership
    • While Shimshon is disconnected from the people, abandoning them to live amidst the Philistines, Shemuel actively makes rounds amongst the nation, interacting with his flock.
    • Shimshon overpowers the Philistines with his physical strength and fights his battles alone to combat personal grudges. Shemuel's victories, in contrast, are spiritual. When the nation is in need, he motivates them to repent so as to merit salvation.
    • Though Shimshon at times prays for assistance, this is to save or avenge himself rather than the nation. In contrast, Shemuel prays on behalf of the people, to ensure that they (not he) will be saved.
  • Hashem – Shemuel achieves full prophetic status ("נֶאֱמָן שְׁמוּאֵל לְנָבִיא לַה'‏") while Shimshon appears to attain only that "the spirit of God beat within him".  When his head is shaved, Hashem is no longer with him at all.

Implications

The comparison of Shimshon and Shemuel serves to highlight how Shimshon does not appear to fully accomplish his mission, while Shemuel surpasses him in every respect:

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