Wednesday, June 04, 2008

It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory. (Judges 14)

So with Judges 14, Samson's personal story begins. If Samson seems like an unlikely Biblical hero, that's because he is. He's a jerk, a drunk, a womanizer, and he's prone to fits of violent outburst that have a lot more to do with a sense that he's been personally wronged rather than a desire to see the will of God carried out, as with most of the other characters we've seen in this book. I'm not going to defend Samson much, as he's admittedly not a very nice person.

The story of Samson is an early example of what has been come to be called in our age the "anti-hero". The first time I'd heard the term used, I thought it was a modern concept, but I soon realized that history and literature is littered with such people. There is no doubt that Samson is the hero of the story that unfolds here and in the next few chapters, but unlike the sort of heroes we ideally expect from the Bible (squeaky clean paragons of virtue such as Joseph or Daniel) or even the sorts of heroes that we more realistically expect from the Bible (mostly good folks who have personal flaws, but a strong faith in God such as Noah and Jacob), this guy has pretty much no redeeming features other than the fact that he really hates the Philistines, who happen to be Israel's oppressors. Is that one thing enough to redeem him? In the end, it's really a matter of opinion.

Now despite the fact that Samson is so often portrayed as a strong, forceful man, you might note that when he gets the hots for a Philistine woman, instead of going after her himself, he whines to his parents about her. The violence, lust and drunkenness are obvious character flaws of Samson, but a more subtle one that we really see a lot of is that despite his strength, he's sort of an emotional wimp. He can't just go and talk to the woman himself? You get the impression (or at least I do) that while Samson's parents seemed like good folks at first, they don't seem to be very good parents; I think Samson is a spoiled brat, even as a grown man.

Samson is very strong, though, and in the middle of this story, he manages to kill a lion with his bare hands. At a later date, passing by the carcass of the lion, he finds that some bees have made a hive inside its dead body, and he eats some of the honey. Aside from being sort of gross, this is the first instance we see of Samson doing something expressly forbidden of a Nazarite: touching a dead animal. (The SAB marks the passage with the Science icon, although I'm not sure why. Maybe Wells knows something about bees that I don't.) Actually, eating something that had come from the body of a dead animal would be unkosher to anyone, and yet he feeds some of the honey to his parents, not telling them where he got it.

Later, at a feast, he takes the story and makes a riddle out of it. It seems to me that this riddle is akin to Bilbo Baggins' famous riddle, "What have I got in my pocket?" It was really not an acceptable riddle, it was essentially unsolvable, and in the end, the person challenged with the riddle solved it, but the poser of the riddle didn't abide by the rules of the original challenge. Really, would anyone have been able to solve this riddle without cheating? I don't know if the phrase "plowed with my heifer" really is meant to imply that Samson thought his wife was having sex with the men, but he certainly knows that she's the only one who knew the solution.

Samson, being a sore loser, goes off and kills thirty men and takes his payment off of them. The SAB is pretty much right here in that whenever "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him", he seems to do something nasty and violent. What's up with that? Honestly, I don't know.


Samson hater said...

You think that Samson's spoiled? He really was spoiled. I learned it from other websites. He was also hypocritical in that he was self-righteous.

But what I hate most about Samson is the fact that he killed a lion, which happens to be my favorite cat. Therefore, I wish that the lion had killed him by first biting off his hands and next going for the rest of his body. After all, I love animals.

Brucker said...

I can't argue with much of that. I mean, looking at the passage again, it doesn't even sound like Samson was acting in self-defense when he killed the lion! Pretty much as he did with the 30 Philistines later in the chapter, he seems to have killed out of irritation. Samson really seems to have no discernible redeeming qualities.

Samson hater said...

Thank you for agreeing with me and typing that, my fellow Samson hater. I couldn't have typed what you typed better myself.

Brucker said...

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say I "hate" Sampson, but rather that I find him very exasperating. If I were one of his contemporaries, I'd avoid him as much as possible whether I was a Jew or a Philistine.