3. The Narrative Obstrusion of Judges 14:4
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3 The Narrative Obstrusion of Judges 14:4 The narrator’s foray into the story of Samson in Judg. 14:4 is a good example of narrative obtrusion in the Hebrew Bible, because the verse breaks frame at a key structuring point in the book of Judges and contains examples of both omniscience and obtrusiveness. The opening verses of chapter 14 recount Samson’s desire to marry a Timnite woman. When his parents object, Samson proclaims that this girl is the only one for him. In spite of the fact that his parents have previously received divine revelations, such as an angel foretelling Samson’s birth to them, they lack an important piece of information for understanding their son’s motivations. The narrator interrupts the scene to explain Samson’s choice of a bride by writing, “(a) But his father and his mother did not know that it was of the Lord. He was seeking an occasion/pretext against the Philistines, (b) for at that time the Philistines were ruling over Israel.”1 While the storyteller communicates omniscient information in 14:4b, the commentary in 14:4a is an obtrusion in which the narrator breaks the frame of the story to add the theme of divine control into the text. This intrusion, however, raises several additional questions for the reader as the history of interpretation reveals. To recognize the implications of the obtrusive narrator, I examine the break frame of Judg. 14:4 by showing what the interruption adds and takes away from the story in terms of its characterization of Samson and Yahweh as well as its effect on reader response. I apply the methodology introduced in the previous chapter to Judg. 14:4 to distinguish general omniscience from obtrusiveness, by examining the reader’s implied questions and assumptions, and by seeking to determine whether the comment is essential. Along the way, 1. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own. I have deliberately placed the terms “occasion” and “pretext” side by side since some of the commentators I will discuss later make their case for which term they feel is more appropriate. 69 I highlight the troublesome nature of this verse in the history of interpretation and consider the possible motives of the narrator. Samson as an Interloper in Judges A number of reasons make the Samson saga optimal for studying narrative obtrusiveness and omniscience. A succinct block of material set in the larger framework of the book of Judges, chapters 13–16 make up part of the Deuteronomistic History. The story lends itself to a study of omniscience because Samson’s life and deeds revolve around acquiring and hiding knowledge. The narrator displays this command of omniscience by withholding or omitting information in the text. In spite of the promising possibilities for studying omniscience and obtrusiveness, some scholars find the placement of the Samson story within Judges troublesome. Some even view Samson’s saga as an obtrusion in the book of Judges as well as in the larger corpus of the Deuteronomistic History. Gregory Mobley recounts Martin Noth’s and Wolfgang Richter’s misgivings about the text. He points out that Noth wavered between declaring Samson a part of the Deuteronomistic work or “a post-Deuteronomic interpolation.” Noth based his claim on the list of judges from 1 Sam. 12:1, which includes Jerubbaal, Barak, and Jephthah but fails to mention Samson.2 Similarly, Richter viewed the Samson saga as the final element added to the book of Judges, even though he deemed the stories very old.3 Richter’s analysis of the text opens up the possibility that the narrator reworked these stories to better incorporate them into the larger framework of Judges. Cheryl Exum finds Samson’s placement within this framework problematic because the narrator’s characterization of Samson deviates from the profile of the other judges: “Neither judge nor military leader, he acts alone against the Philistines in what appear to be personal vendettas. Moreover, he does not succeed in delivering Israel from the Philistine oppression.”4 Samson’s unfulfilled potential arises early in the story when the angel of the Lord tells 2. Gregory Mobley, Samson and the Liminal Hero in the Ancient Near East (Library of Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament Studies 453; New York: T&T Clark, 2006), 3. See Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (2nd ed.; JSOTSup 15; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991). 3. Wolfgang Richter, Traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen zum Richterbuch (Bonner biblische Beiträge 18; Bonn: Peter Hanstein, 1963). See also Richter, Die Bearbeitungen...