Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Super Samson Brings House Down

A book can't last several thousand years unless it contains some properly good stories, can it?  And the Bible has plenty of them, from the inspiring to the gory to the downright odd.  We meet people that we would like to be, people we wish we weren't, and people who we would like to ask a lot of questions.

But when I was asked to write a tabloid version of any Bible story for my writing group, there was only one character who really stood out.  Larger than life, always getting into trouble (and then getting into more trouble to cover it up), and with a thunderous end: Samson is prime tabloid fodder.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The original version of Samson's story is in Judges, chapters 14-16.  It is not the kind of nice improving story that you might hope to find in a sacred text.  Samson falls for a girl who is an enemy Philistine, and orders his parents to get her for him. (Nice and polite, then.)  They oblige, and on the way to meet her, he kills a lion, as you do.  When he comes back, the stinking carcase has a bees nest in it, so he scrapes some out and eats it.  (Many years later, Tate & Lyle borrowed the image for their cans of golden syrup.)

This gives him an idea for a riddle for his marriage guests.  The answer is this lion with honey in it, but no one can guess until his wife-to-be pesters him to tell her, and then tells the guests.  Samson kills 30 men to pay off his bet, then stalks off home in a huff.

Some while later, he decides that the girl wasn't as bad as all that, so he goes back to visit her.  Her father tells him that she's married to his best man.  So he catches 300 foxes (how?), ties them in pairs with a flaming torch between each one (cruel) and sets them off to burn the Philistines' entire harvest (crueller).  The Philistines retaliate by burning the girl and her father to death, so he kills the lot of them.

So it goes on, until the famous episode with Delilah.  Once again, a woman is Samson's undoing; she persuades him to tell her the secret of his great strength (his uncut hair, if you didn't know); he's captured, blinded, and forced to labour in a Philistine prison.

One day there's some kind of festival, and a few drunk officials think that Samson could provide entertainment.  He's hauled out of prison and forced to perform for the crowd.  But as his grand finale, he prays to God for the return of his strength, puts both hands on pillars of the temple, and pulls the whole thing down, killing himself and everybody else.  Revenge accomplished.

Despite the Bible telling the story with a generally positive slant, it's pretty much impossible to read it from a modern perspective without thinking words like mass murderer and suicide bomber.  If we read his story in the newspaper today, we would regard him as evil and dangerous. 

So to speak of Samson with unqualified approval, simply because the Bible says that God was with him, puts us, I think, on shaky moral ground.  But it comes from a culture and a time where characters like Samson could, at least sometimes, be heroes.  If we regard him as a complete villain, we completely undermine the story as it was written.  We have to somehow see Samson through our own lenses (suicide bomber), and through the author's lenses (supernaturally empowered) - and then try to understand what, if anything, it adds to our understanding of people and God.

Of course, all stories depend a lot on which side is telling them.  I thought the notorious bias of tabloids could be a good way to explore Samson's story from two different perspectives.  Was he a villain or a hero?  You decide.

Suicide Killer’s Final Bow

Thousands dead in terror attack

Mass murderer Samson yesterday destroyed Dagon’s Temple, killing himself and over 3000 others.
Among the dead were many senior members of the Philistine government.
The captured terrorist was on day release from prison to provide a show at the festival.
Blinded and seemingly subdued, Samson performed feats of his “supernatural” strength to a packed house.
Officials and crowds clapped and cheered as he lifted vast stones, was harnessed to a chariot, and snapped thick ropes.
However, Samson seized his chance at the end of the show.
Pretending he needed to lean on the pillars, he braced himself against them and literally brought the house down.
Screaming survivors fled the wreckage of the temple, while many were trapped in the rubble.
Zerah lost her husband and two sons in the tragedy.
“It was a scene of chaos,” she said.  “How can someone be so evil as to target families at a fun day out?”
Local terrorist groups welcomed the news, saying, “Samson has avenged himself for his capture.”


Super Samson Brings House Down

In the final act of a heroic career, a local freedom fighter has destroyed the Philistine elite – at the ultimate cost to himself.
Samson used his super strength to topple the heathen temple of Dagon, killing over 3000 Philistines, including many members of the government.
“Super Samson”, from Mahaneh-Dan, was well-known for his daring exploits in the fight against the enemy.
He claimed God gave him amazing strength and protected him from harm.
However, he was betrayed and captured by the Philistines in May.
He was held in Gaza, where he was reportedly tortured and blinded.
Samson was forced to perform at the Dagon Festival, but bravely seized the opportunity to wreak revenge on his captors.
Eyewitness reports suggest that he prayed to Yahweh moments before his death.
Samson’s brother Kezon said, “He was a larger-than-life man who died a hero.  There will never be anyone like Samson.”

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