The (Non-)Reception of Samson's Riddle in Anglo-Saxon England

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Although many of the riddles that survive from Anglo-Saxon England appear to be original, there is also clearly a delight in retelling and reshaping old riddles. The number of riddle collections produced by clerics, most notably Aldhelm, Tatwine, and Eusebius, has led Steen to insist that the enigma as a genre “stems ultimately from biblical enigmata” (Steen 90). Of course, this is exactly what we should expect to find in early England, and yet, in fact, curiously enough, biblical riddles are conspicuous by their absence. Here I will consider one particularly puzzling absence: the most famous riddle in the Bible, Samson’s riddle. Although the Bible has several references to riddles (Sebo), there are few explicitly articulated riddles and even fewer riddle contests. Samson’s riddle (Jud 14:12–19) is the most accessible and transmittable of them. Unlike the riddle contest between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (1 Ki 10:1; 2 Ch 9:1), it is not merely hinted at—it is told in full including the text of the riddle itself. Unlike the Writing on the Wall episode in the Book of Daniel (5:1–31), it does not rely on culturally specific information or puns in ancient Levantine languages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-208
Number of pages4
JournalAnq-a Quarterly Journal of Short Articles Notes and Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date15 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019


  • Samson
  • riddles
  • Anglo-Saxon


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