Friday, June 06, 2008

They were burned with fire (Judges 15)

So with each new chapter in Samson's life, he looks worse and worse. Aside from Samson's one supposedly redeeming feature of hating the Philistines, we see what might be considered a redeeming feature by some, but in his case is perhaps a bit of foreshadowing to his downfall: Even after his wife has betrayed him, he forgives her and goes back to her (whether it be a sexual betrayal or not, the thing that we see about Samson here is that he can't seem to fathom the idea of a woman being bad or dangerous, which is a different sort of sexism than we usually see in the Bible, but sexism nonetheless). It turns out that Samson's father-in-law has assumed that Samson wanted a divorce, and married her off to someone else. The following offer of the younger sister is, I think, an act of self-preservation on the part of Samson's father-in-law, whatever else you might think of it. Samson is known for having a nasty, violent temper, and he's certainly not above killing.

Samson's response to this is that he's decided to get revenge on the Philistines as a whole for this grave injustice done against him. (I actually find myself wondering if he's really so angry, or if he's just looking for an excuse to commit violence against the Philistines. You can almost imagine a typical day for Samson: gets up...eats breakfast...toast doesn't have enough butter, so he bludgeons 20 Philistines to death with a stale loaf of bread...checks out the newspaper, etc.) He somehow catches 300 foxes for a Rube Goldberg-esque plan of revenge that destroys the Philistines' crops. (The SAB marks this passage with the Absurd icon, and I tend to agree, whether it be the strangeness of Samson's plan or the thought of a single man catching 300 foxes, this is pretty weird.) Destroying the crops leads to an escalation: The Philistines burn up Samson's wife and father-in-law, and Samson takes this as an excuse for more violence, and some unknown number of Philistines are killed.

The Philistines get smart, and realize that they have to deal with the root of their problem, and move in to capture Samson himself. The men of Judah are willing to give up Samson to save themselves, so they go to him and ask him to surrender. (You know, despite the fact that Samson is supposed to be some sort of leader in Israel, there's not much to suggest that even his own people liked him.) Samson agrees to go peacefully if his own countrymen promise not to harm him, and they agree. So Samson is handed over to the Philistines tied up with two ropes.

Of course, this is one of the more well-known parts of the story of Samson: it was all just a ruse. Samson knows that he's too strong to be bound by mere ropes, so once he's tied up and unarmed in the midst of his enemies and they think they have the upper hand, he breaks his ropes, picks up a donkey's jawbone (once again, a no-no for a Nazarite), and kills 1,000 men with it. (1,000 is such a round number that it may be an exaggeration, but surely, he killed several hundred.) Then he makes a pun about the whole thing, saying, "I made a chamorah (heap) of bodies with the jaw of a chamor (donkey)!" That's not just messed up morals, but a sick sense of humor.

Then, to end this little story, Samson whines to God that darnit, mass murder is thirsty work! So God gives him some water out of the hill where he found the bone (not out of the bone itself, despite the confusing language of the translation). He calls the place "Enhakkore", or "the spring of the one who calls". Why is God helping Samson? I hope as I finish his story, I can explain on some level, but it's not bound to be pretty.


Unknown said...

I'm an atheist now, for about three-ish years, is it? But my memories of being a believer are still so fresh in my mind. And I can remember chiding myself for blasphemy but I could never help but think, whenever I read about Samson, that this guy was totally, utterly mentally ill with violent tendencies.

Brucker said...

Samson's definitely one of the odder characters of the Bible. It's not really always clear how much of a hero we're supposed to think him to be, because he does an awful lot of stuff that he's clearly *not* supposed to be doing.