Manoah's Wife

March 2022
“and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her.” Judges 13, 9
Manoah's Wife "and the angel of God came again unto the woman as she sat in the field; but Manoah her husband was not with her." Judges 13, 9

The mother of Abraham, Amatlai, daughter of Karnevo.

The story of Samson’s mother’s transition joins the stories of the matriarchs in the Bible – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Hannah, and the Shunammite woman. The common theme among all of them is the birth of a male child. In the story of Samson’s birth, motifs characteristic of encounters with angels are interwoven: the annunciation, the refusal or hesitation, the feast, the sign, the fear of revelation, and so on.

“And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bore not. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her: ‘Behold now, thou art barren, and hast not borne; but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son. Now, therefore, beware, I pray thee, and drink no wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing. For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.'” Judges 13 2-5

In the story of Samson’s birth, the angel of the Lord appears to Samson’s mother, who is barren, and informs her that she will conceive and bear a son. Additionally, he gives her instructions and warnings regarding her behavior during her pregnancy, what she is allowed and not allowed to eat. He repeats his prophecy to her, confirming that she is indeed pregnant and expecting a son, and adds further instructions that no razor shall touch his head because the child is destined to be a Nazirite of God from the womb, and this son is expected to deliver Israel from the Philistines, their enemies.

The woman recounts to her husband what happened to her, saying, “Then the woman came and told her husband, saying: ‘A man of God came unto me” (Judges 13:6), informing him of her pregnancy and the instructions she received regarding the child’s future as a Nazirite from birth until the day of his death. Manoah asks God to allow him to meet the man of God, and God grants his request. However, the angel appears again in front of the woman, “The angel of God came again to the woman as she sat in the field, but her husband Manoah was not with her” (Judges 13:9). Manoah’s wife desires to call her husband, Manoah, who wants to inquire again about the instructions, and the angel of God stays to listen to his words.

The story invites us to delve into several intriguing aspects:

The revelation of the angel and his prophecy occurs specifically in front of the woman. The angel, who announces to Samson’s mother, comes to her when she is alone, and returns to reveal himself to her for the second time when she is alone, emphasizing the location of the encounter in the field, a place associated with calamity. “Then the woman came and told her husband, saying: ‘A man of God came unto me… For he found her in the field; the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.” (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).

The editor’s choice to use the root ‘בוא’ – ‘come to’:

“‘A man of God came unto me” Judges 13 6

“let the man of God whom Thou didst send come again unto us” Judges 13 8

“and the angel of God came again unto the woman” There, 9

The Hebrew root “בו”א” – ‘come to’ is well known in its meaning of “intercourse” or “sexual relations”, referring to a woman’s impregnation. It appears in various biblical verses such as: “And Sarai said unto Abram: ‘Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her.’ And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” (in Hebrew Bible it uses the root ‘come to’)(Genesis 16:2-4), “And the first-born said unto the younger: ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth.” (Genesis 19:31), “And Jacob said unto Laban: ‘Give me my wife, for my days are filled, that I may go in unto her.'(in Hebrew again ‘come to’ her) ..And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her.” (Genesis 29:21-30), “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘And Judah said unto Onan: ‘Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother unto her, and raise up seed to thy brother.'” (here again in the Hebrew version it uses the word “בו”א” – ‘come to’) (Genesis 38:8) and so forth.

The sages of the Talmud (חז”ל) who were aware of the complexity of this story dealt with the issue through Midrashim. In Numbers Rabbah 10:5, it is explained as follows: “For behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son” (Genesis 13:5) From here, it can be understood that the semen deposited in the womb during the night remained preserved and did not escape. And once the angel said to her, “You shall conceive and bear a son,” at that very moment, the womb accepted that drop for conception.

The Midrash explains that a drop of semen from the previous night’s intercourse was left in the womb, seeking to eliminate any thought or doubt about any other seed besides Manoah’s. The story plays with the root “בו”א” and its different meanings, not coincidentally but to confront and negate the death tradition that the divine comes upon the mother, and it is he (Samson) – a hero, a giant (perhaps) of many feats resulting from this intercourse, rather than establishing a miraculous story of an angel impregnating a barren woman.

In the myth of the birth of Heracles, Zeus approached the human woman Alcmene while her husband was not with her but away in a battle, and from this union, Heracles was born, just as Zois appeared before Alcmena (the mother of Heracles) when her husband was not with her. The myths of the ancient nations are full of stories of divine beings coming to human women and giving birth to giants or heroes. Just like the story in Genesis (6:1-4), which tells of the sons of God who came to the daughters of men, and from them, the ‘Nephilim’ was born, who were the sons of the gods (Job 1:6, 38:7).

However, in the story of the birth of Samson, it is possible to identify the struggle with the myth. Manoah’s wife stands at the center of the story, and not Manoah. The angel appears to the woman when she is alone, just as Zeus appeared to Alcmene when her husband was not with her. 

The narrative plays with the root “בו”א” and its different meanings intentionally, seeking to confront and negate the death tradition that the divine comes upon Samson’s mother, and it is he (Samson) – a hero, a giant (perhaps) of many feats resulting from this intercourse, rather than establishing a miraculous story of divine intervention in impregnating a barren woman by an angelic messenger.

Flavius Josephus -Yosef Ben Matityahu, in the ‘Antiquities of the Jews addresses the confusion surrounding Manoah and attributes to him the sexual understanding of his wife. He writes in his expansion of the story:

“And he loved his wife to madness and jealously without measure, out of his love for her… And when she told him what she had heard from the angel, and her mouth was filled with praise for his beauty and stature, Manoah was overwhelmed by his jealousy, falling from admiration into great fear and suspicion that arose from such emotions. She wanted to dispel her husband’s groundless sadness and pleaded before God that He would send the angel again so that her husband could also see him. And when they were on the outskirts of the city, the angel returned, by God’s grace, and appeared to the woman when she was alone and her husband was not present. She asked him to wait until she brought her husband. When she went to fetch Manoah, he came and did not cease his suspicions.”

Josephus explains the recurring appearance of the angel in Manoah’s suspicion and jealousy and explains his investigation by Manoah and his efforts to prove his authenticity through the offering. Only after all these tests proved the opposite, and the angel even ascended in his heavenly chariot, suspicion and jealousy replaced with awe and fear of the divine sight. Marking adds to the question of Manoah’s paternity, noting that unlike other birth stories (such as 1 Samuel 1:19), here there is an absence of a written statement that Manoah knew his wife, and instead, it is explicitly stated: “And the woman bore a son” (verse 24).

The narrative of Samson’s birth, as it appears in the Book of Judges, seems to confront an ancient tradition that portrays Samson as a son of God who has contact with a human woman, similar to the tradition of the sons of God and the daughters of men. Just as the story of the sons of God and the daughters of men explains the birth of the giant Nephilim, the Bible hints at the supernatural dimensions of Samson in the story of the tearing of the lion in Gaza. Zakovitch and Shinan in their book, ‘Thats not what the good book says,’ raise this issue and explain that the text is aware of this suspicion and confronts it while making an effort to explain that there was no sexual encounter between Manoah’s wife and the angel but rather a prophecy. Manoah will ask the man of God to return and appear before him and his wife, thereby reinforcing the negation of the sexual connotation.

The editor chose specifically to use this root to describe the encounter between Samson’s mother and the angel, the description of the second encounter when Samson’s wife is alone in the field, and the clarification that there was no sexual encounter between Manoah’s wife and the angel, most likely in dealing with a mythical tradition that Samson was born as a result of a union between his mother and an angel. The editor who grapples with this perception ‘testifies’ that there was indeed a meeting between Manoah’s wife and the angel, but the meeting was a revelation only and not a union.

I chose to dress Manoah’s wife in attire reminiscent of the classic painting of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with its colors of blue, red, and white. By doing so, I aim to express the interpretation that refers to the question of Samson’s father as it relates to the biblical narrative.