Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
May 1st, 2015 by Joel Watts

Samson

Samson Captured by the Philistines

Samson Captured by the Philistines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

notes. not edited. notes. 

In attempting to decide whether or not to place him and his self-inflicted death as a devotio, I examined his status before death (explained in chapter ____ below) as well as the intent. The story of Samson, I maintain, does not fit easily into our already too-gray categories. Because of that, I will place Samson first in the category of self-inflicted death and examine him as such, but will use him in a later chapter as a type of devotio.[1] Before Samson’s life begins, it is announced via the angelical proclamation (Judges 13.2–20); however, there is nothing divine about him as a person. He does have great strength and a great mind, but this is due more to his vows than to a seminal merger of human and divine. After years of success against the Philistines, he succumbs to a trick by Delilah. Sometime later:

וְסַרְנֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֗ים נֶֽאֱסְפוּ֙ לִזְבֹּ֧חַ זֶֽבַח־גָּד֛וֹל לְדָג֥וֹן אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֖ם וּלְשִׂמְחָ֑ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ נָתַ֤ן אֱלֹהֵ֨ינוּ֙ בְּיָדֵ֔נוּ אֵ֖ת שִׁמְשׁ֥וֹן אוֹיְבֵֽינוּ׃

This is another event in Judges where a Jew dies in a contest between God and some foreign but cosmic adversary. In this case, the point is made clear when the mocking of the God of the Israelites precedes the death of Samson (Judges 16.23–24).[2] If we compare this to the other suicides presented herein, it is the only one bearing the marks of a narrow definition of suicide. It is pre-mediated and planned. He is led out and is placed between two pillars, feigning weakness – which should lead us against the notion of a noble death. After imploring God’s help for vengeance against those who had blinded him, he says begs that his death be counted amount the Philistines:[3]

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֗וֹן תָּמ֣וֹת נַפְשִׁי֮ עִם־פְּלִשְׁתִּים֒ וַיֵּ֣ט בְּכֹ֔חַ וַיִּפֹּ֤ל הַבַּ֨יִת֙ עַל־הַסְּרָנִ֔ים וְעַל־כָּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֑ וַיִּהְי֤וּ הַמֵּתִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֵמִ֣ית בְּמוֹתֹ֔ו רַבִּ֕ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר הֵמִ֖ית בְּחַיָּֽיו׃

While the blindness may be symbolic here, it should be noted the revenge motive is rather personal. He dies not to save Israel or as an action devoted to God, but as a way to kill others for the wrong that had been enacted against him.[4] The whole of Samson’s story is rather important because it not only summarizes the history of Israel’s judges, but so too the cyclical formation of the Book of Judges. Ironically, it is God’s help allowing Samson to commit suicide, another cycle since it is God’s assistance that brings Samson into the world.

[1] I have to agree with Mays, et al., that “Samson’s death is not, strictly speaking, a suicide, since God grants his prayer for death, accepting him as an instrument through which to carry out the divine plan, (Harper’s Bible, 258);” however, with a broad definition of self-inflicted death is employed, then it does.

[2] Compare this to 1 Kings 18.40.

[3] Because of this statement, Samson’s death could be seen as a type of noble death. The Homeric Hecktor cries out just before his death, “Μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην, Ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι” (Illiad 23.304) while Arrians says of Alexander, “Μεγάλα ἔργα, καὶ τοῖς ἔπειτα πυθέσθαι ἄξια ἐργασάμενος οὐκ ἀσπουδεὶ ἀποθανεῖται” (De Exped. Alexand., 6.9).

[4] It should be noted that chapter 16 begins with a different situation for Samson. In previous chapters, the Spirit of God was present yet here, it is made clear that the Spirit of God had abandoned Samson, if not Israel as a whole.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

14 Responses to “Samson”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    Other than being of ancient Hebrew stock, how does Sampson’s death differ from that of a current Islamic suicide bomber?

    • the first difference i’d point out is is that it is for revenge rather than any external force (such as killing for God). even that answer could be argued .

      • Know More Than I Should says

        I would further suggest that one’s answer largely depends on which side of the fence one happens to be situated.

        This might be particularly true if one considers that an inmprovised explosive device given a mere mortal superhuman strenth to destroy; and substitute the temple honoring an ancient fertility goddess for a modern temple devoted to making money multiply.

        Moreover, Islamic extremists tend to view American secularism much as the ancient Hebrews view the Philistines. Both are and were perceived as being enemies of God/Allah.

  2. Perhaps, there is much to admire in MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Fits the subject of suicide. Fits the subject of biblical apocalypse. We still have a dominance in numbers and megatons. They didn’t call it “Peacemaker” for nothing. I am talking like a right-winger, but no better way to meet your maker than releasing the launch codes. And make no mistake, we do indeed still have that capability. STRATCOM may be the new YAWHAW. I’ve been there. They don’t just grow corn there.

    • Know More Than I Should says

      Deploying macro defense systems again micro enemies results in too much collateral damage. It has all the finesse of cracking walnuts with a 12-pound sledgehammer.

      In an of social networks and instant 24-hour news, the days of kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out isn’t what it used to be.

  3. “the days of kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” is not politically correct for politicians. However, I would be willing to bet that, based upon one star and higher, the opinions are still the same as it was in the old days that I remember. Remember one basic fact. The military is not a police force. It is not a nation builder. It is meant for one thing… To kill people. As I was told by a Commander that I once worked for.

    • Know More Than I Should says

      While the military may still want to kill ’em all, the ghost of My Lai still haunts the military almost half a century later.

      • From a Samson standpoint, Mutually Assured Destruction.

        • Know More Than I Should says

          However, there is no proof that Samson’s final act destroyed the Philistine culture. In other words, to kill many is not to wipe out all.

          Von Neumann’s Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory is a variation of Heinlein’s armed society dictum. The concept only works if both sides subscribe to the basic tenet and prefer longevity over demise.

          Obviously, according to the biblical account, Samson no longer desired to live.

          Another relevant exception to MAD would be someone believing they had nothing to lose — and perhaps everything to gain — by assuming Pascal’s wager to be a sure bet even if their life was voluntarily truncated for a holy cause.

          • Of course, perhaps Samson is the first winner of the Darwin Award. He had a little problem with Delilah-stupidity. MAD might have been Mutually Assured Delilah. Perhaps the analogy today are politicians (Samson), and PAC’s.

          • Know More Than I Should says

            Sampson as potential Darwin Award recipient dovetails into the “fool” option in the military sacrifice scenario.

            Today’s politicians are less like Sampson than they are biblical prostitutes in that they turn political tricks in exchange for campaign contributions.

          • “biblical prostitutes”…more like “Biblical Temple prostitutes”. It is part of their worship service.

          • Know More Than I Should says

            True.– especially since, on the national level, politicians typically spend more time hunting for campaign cash than in serving the American public.

  4. Maybe that’s U.S. Politicians and AIPAC. After all, we did fight the latest Iraq War for Israel and Halliburton (in Cheney we trust). So we deserve the Darwin Award.

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