Well, yeah. It’s been a while. But good things are worth waiting for, right? Let’s finish up Judges with the story of one of the Bible’s really big-time low-watt bulbs, Samson. Let’s begin at the beginning.
“Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord…” – Judges 13:1
So, Tuesday. It doesn’t specify, from what I can tell, exactly what they did, but it was probably something awful. Then again, given how incredibly evil God is in this book, it’s entirely possible someone sneezed on the Sabbath or something.
Anyhow, it seems that there’s this barren woman who wants to have a baby. An angel comes to her and tells her to expect one soon and to forgo wine during the time she’s pregnant. He also tells her that when the baby boy is born, she should make sure to never cut his hair. Then as he’s leaving, people ask him his name.
“And the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?’” – Judges 13:18
Oh, goodie. The Bible is back to not making any sense. I think this is some reference to the stupid concept that names have power, but I’m not absolutely certain. It’s also just a bizarre way of phrasing things.
Anyhow, Samson is born and proves to be…well, many things, but heroic isn’t one of them. Let’s start with his fascination for foreign women, something God has been against.
“So he went up and told his father and mother saying, ‘I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now, therefore, get her for me as a wife.’
“Then his father and mother said to him, ‘Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?’ And Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me, for she pleases me well.’” – Judges 14:2 – 3
I love the flow of logic here. “I have seen this woman, therefore get her to marry me.” Charming. I also find the whole, “What, you’re too good to marry a nice Jewish girl?” thing to be vaguely amusing.
Things get weird from here. First, while on the way to the wedding, Samson kills a lion with his bare hands. Shades of Heracles, there, which really makes me wonder which story came first. I understand there’s also some overlap with the story of Enkidu, which certainly predates much of the Bible. This is just a guess, but I do find myself wondering if the Jews picked up in that story while in Babylon and that’s how Samson came to be? An influence is certainly possible, and I’m not alone in thinking this.
Anyhow, Samson decides to try and show that he’s smart in addition to strong, and tells a riddle to some of the wedding guests. They spend several days agonizing over it, then finally threaten to kill his wife if she doesn’t find out what the answer is. She finds out, passes it on to them, they solve it, he thinks they screwed his wife in order to get the information (’cause women are totally like that), and then kills thirty people. Charming.
This leads to a series of back-and-forth retaliations, where Samson does something, the other side does something (including a bizarre scene where he ties burning branches to the tails of three-hundred foxes so they will set things afire for him. Something I swear I read about in Greek mythology), and bodies pile up. Eventually Samson takes the jawbone of the donkey and uses it to kill a thousand men. Sturdy bone, that. Also, I imagine that would be very thirsty work, especially in a desert climate.
“Then [Samson] became very thirsty…” – Judges 15:18
Samson has ditched his old wife and has a new one. But, well, men are men, and he winds up sleeping with a woman named Delilah. The Philistines are very pleased about this and set her upon a task: find out the source of Samson’s strength.
“So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you.’” – Judges 16:6
Ah, well, naturally if I were Samson I’d be suspicious of this request and lie, just to see what happens next. Indeed, that’s what he does.
“And Samson said to her, ‘If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
“So the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven fresh bowstrings, not yet dried, and she bound him with them.
“Now men were lying in wait, staying with her in the room. And she said to him, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he broke the bowstrings as a strand of yarn breaks when it touches fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.” – Judges 16:7 – 9
Well, Delilah is clearly screwed. Given what we’ve seen of Samson so far, it’s logical to assume he kills her, then wipes out her entire nation. Strangely, this is not what happens. From what I can tell, he doesn’t punish her at all.
“Then Delilah said to Samson, ‘Look, you have mocked me and told me lies. Now, please tell me what you may be bound with.’
“So he said to her, ‘If they bind me securely with new ropes that have never been used, then I shall become weak, and be like any other man.’
“Therefore Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them, then said to him, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And men were lying in wait, staying in the room. But he broke them off his arms like a thread.” – Judges 16:10 – 12
Ok, I think I’ve figured out his little game. Clearly Samson is aware that she’s trying to betray him and is having fun pretending he doesn’t know. Bit of a dick move, but ok. Let’s see what happens next.
“Delilah said to Samson, ‘Until now you have mocked me and told me lies. Tell me what you may be bound with.’ And he said to her, ‘If you weave the locks of my head into the web of the loom-’
“So she wove it tightly with the batten of the loom, and said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled the batten out of the web from the loom.” – Judges 16:13 – 14
Wow. Delilah is either really persistent or really stupid. Either way, she must be great fun in the sack, or I don’t see why Samson would continue to hang around with her. I also find it odd that at no point does it mention him killing the men who were lying in wait for him.
Anyhow, Delilah decides to give it one last try.
“Then she said to him, ‘How can you say, “I love you,” when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.’
“And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, that his soul was vexed to death,
“that he told her all his heart, and said to her, ‘No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazarite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall be weak, like any other man.” – Judges 16:15 – 18
Wow. Just…wow. I’m really confused here. Let’s consider this:
1. Samson knows Delilah is out to betray him to the Philistines
2. He gets great amusement from telling her lies about his powers, and her efforts to remove them
3. After she bugs him enough, he finally tells her the truth
The only way this makes sense to me is if he doesn’t put two and two together, and thinks that all these nightly attacks are a sheer coincidence. But if that’s the case, he’s possibly the stupidest man who ever lived.
Anyhow, not surprisingly, Delilah gives Samson a shave and a haircut (two shekels!), and the Philistines come along, blind him, tie him up and great ready to sacrifice him to their god, Dagon. But then they delay and delay, and his hair has time to grow back. In the end, he winds up bringing down their temple on top of himself and everyone else, killing three-thousand people. Thus ends the story of Samson.
I know this sounds like me being snarky, but seriously, nothing about Samson or his story makes any sense. Why did he not kill Delilah, or at least send her away, after the first attack? Why did he keep stringing her along? Was she that great in bed? If so, couldn’t he find someone else who would be at least close to as good but wouldn’t try to betray him on a nightly basis? Failing all that, when she starts nagging him daily, why didn’t he just send her away then? And finally, why the fuck did he finally tell her what his weakness was? I could understand this story if it were some sort of parable against hubris (careful, Icarus), or some exhalation to keep it in your tunic, but there’s no clear moral here that I can get at all.
I had been under the vague impression, before reading this, that the story was about Delilah the crafty woman who is able to seduce men to her will. But frankly she’s just about as stupid as Samson, and there’s nothing clever in a: asking straight out three times, and b: then whining until you get the right answers.
Samson doesn’t even seem like some hero to God. He marries outside the faith, and the only time he seems interested in God is when he wants to kill everyone else in the temple before they kill him. There is nothing good, decent or admirable about this man and I truly do not understand the point of him or his story.
The rest of the book seems to concern some weird little thing about Micah and some temple to other gods, and then we get an odd story about a Levite and his concubine. It seems that while they’re visiting a neighboring town, something very unpleasant happens.
“As they were enjoying themselves, suddenly certain men of the city, perverted men, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They spoke to the master of the house, the old man, saying, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house, that we may know him carnally!’
“But the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, ‘No, my brethren! I beg you, do not act so wickedly! Seeing this man has come into my house, do not commit this outrage.
“‘Look, here’s is my virgin daughter and the man’s concubine; let me bring them out now. Humble them, and do with them as you please; but to the man do not do such a vile thing!’
“But the men would not heed him. So the man took his concubine and brought her out to them. And they knew her and abused her all the night until morning; and when the day began to break, they let her go.” – Judges 19:22 – 25
Well, wow. Shades of Sodom and Gomorrah, eh? I can conclude from these stories that apparently gangs of men were prowling the Levant looking for people to rape back in the day, and that throwing your virgin daughter to them was a good, noble idea.
Things get worse from there. It turns out the concubine dies from her injuries, and the man cuts her body into twelve parts, then sends them out through the territory. This naturally leads to a war, where it turns out southpaws are special.
“Among all his people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.” – Judges 20:16
Nice! It seems like being left-handed was, for some reason, something good when you’re trying to use a sling. I have no idea why this would be the case, but that’s quite neat. Of course, it doesn’t explain why, through the centuries, being left-handed was regarded as a terrible, horrible, evil thing that needed to be beaten out of children. Perhaps a Catholic can explain this to me?
That’s largely it for the book. There’s some bits about the war, but nothing terribly interesting. Frankly, Judges peaks with the story of Samson and goes downhill from there. And I still don’t get why he’s in the story as anything other than a villain.
Next time, the book of Ruth! Yes, a book about a woman. I’ve no doubt this won’t be blood soaked or unpleasant in any way.