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. 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). 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:
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. 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.
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.
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).
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.