Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Exciting Stories of Raging Samson: Judges 16

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Samson's in trouble again (of course). Fortunately, the spirit of the Lord is still with him (also of course). So he continues to behave like a villain from a children's cartoon (except for the whores, I guess).

One day, Samson visits Gaza and sleeps with a prostitute. For some reason the people of Gaza hate him so they decide to kill him in the morning, but Samson leaves the brothel in the middle of the night. For some reason, instead of fighting them, he simply walks to the town gate, tears away the doors and gateposts, and carries the whole mass on his shoulders up to the top of a nearby hill. There's no apparent reason for the author to even include this brief little anecdote, except I guess to prove that Samson still possesses his monstrous strength, and is basically addicted to foreign women (so much for the obeying the laws of Moses).

A while later, Samson meets another Philistine woman named Delilah, frm the valley of Sorek. This one is a honeytrap: the Philistine rulers offer her an enormous pile of silver in exchange for seducing Samson and getting him to tell her "the secret of his great strength." Samson lies - and lies badly - by claiming that if he's tied up by seven bowstrings he'll lose all of his strength. Delilah tells the Philistines and then ties him up while he's asleep, but Samson snaps the ropes.

You'd think this would be enough for Samson to dump Delilah, but apparently the "spirit of the Lord" has made him stupid. Instead, it's Delilah who's angry at this turn of events: she accuses him of lying to her. So Samson tells her another lie: that he must be tied with virgin ropes. So Delilah ties him up again, calls the Philistines, but Samson snaps the ropes again. Rinse and repeat: Delilah is angry, Samson comes up another strange lie (that his hair must be woven into fabric by a loom while he sleeps), and she "captures" him again. This time, Samson wakes up and lifts the entire loom up off the ground by his hair.

Finally, Samson tells Delilah the truth. You have to wonder why he'd bother at this point, but Delilah promptly has his hair cut off while he sleeps, and this time, Samson really is captured.

The Philistines gouge out Samson's eyes and set him to forced labour, but for some reason they let his hair grow back. One day they hold a great festival for their god Dagon and bring out Samson, but he walks to the side of the Philistine temple, pushes it over, and crushes three thousand people, including himself. This is the one and only time Samson is recorded praying with any sort of humility, but he's still blatantly self-interested: "let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes." Basically Samson is the first suicide bomber. He shows no interest whatever in actually liberating Israel from Philistine rule; he's just continuing his personal vendetta.

Where before the Israelite military was an unreliable instrument claiming divine blessing, now that divine blessing is reduced to an absurd magic strength charm. Samson doesn't even pretend to serve God. He spends more time with the Philistines than his own people, and his entire life (at least as described here) revolves around chasing down one woman or another. He doesn't care about Israel, and if God cares about him, it's only because he doesn't cut his hair. My Man's Bible valiantly tries to draw moral lessons from this story about how pride causes "great men" like Samson to fall into sin, but Samson was never particularly great at anything except killing men and (apparently) sleeping with women.

Aside from the obvious fact that the author of Judges is seemingly contemptuous of holy violence, divine intervention, and even the Nazirite vows in this story - all of them come off looking quite ridiculous, after all - I think the story of Samson, more than any other in Judges, has to be enough to make it foolish to take this book as some sort of literal account of Israelite history.