Samson

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This article is about the Biblical character. For other meanings, see Samson (disambiguation)

Template:Book of Judges Samson or Shimshon (שִׁמְשׁוֹן "Of the sun" (perhaps proclaiming he was radiant and mighty) or "[One who] Serves [God]", Standard Hebrew Šimšon, Tiberian Hebrew Šimšn) is the third to last of the Judges of Israel mentioned in the Tanakh. He is described in the Hebrew Bible in chapters 13 to 16 of the Book of Judges [1] (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0713.htm).

Contents

Biblical Story

Samson is said to have lived during the period when the Israelites were oppressed by the power of the Philistines. At this time an angel from God appeared to Manoah, an Israelite from the tribe of Dan, in the city of Zorah, and to his wife, who was barren. This angel predicted that they would have a son. In accordance with Nazaritic requirements, she was to abstain from wine and other strong drink, and her promised child was not to have a razor used upon his head. In due time the son was born; he was reared according to these provisions.

When he became a young man Samson left the hills of his people to see the cities of the Philistines. While there Samson became so infatuated with a Philistine woman of Timnah that, overcoming the objections of his parents, he married her.

The wedding-feast was a seven-day banquet, at which various kinds of entertainment were in vogue. One of the occasions was a riddle contest, misunderstanding the game Samson proposed a riddle that described an account of an incident where only he was present. The Philistines believed it was a true riddle and were annoyed at not being able to solve it. Samson became so certain that they would never get the answer he promised to give two cloaks to every one there if they could solve it.

The Philistines thus convinced Samson's new wife to try and discover the answer. At her urgent and tearful imploring of his bride he tells her the solution, and she told it to the thirty young men. Samson flies into a rage. Unable to meet his promise of the cloaks he leaves town and murders thirty Ashkelonites and takes their cloaks.

When Samson returns to Timnah, however, he finds his father in law has given his bride to Samson's companion, probably his right-hand man. Her father refuses to allow him to see her, and wishes to give Samson her sister. Samson again displays his wrath by setting a group foxes alight and leaving the panicked beasts to run through the orchards and farms of the Philistines. Inquiry as to the cause of this destruction leads the Philistines to burn the house of the Timnite and his daughter, who had stirred up Samson's anger.

Samson then smote the Philistines "hip and thigh," and took refuge in the rock of Etam. An army of Philistines went up and demanded from 3,000 men of Judah the deliverance to them of Samson. With Samson's consent they tied him with two new ropes and were about to hand him over to the Philistines when he snapped the ropes asunder. Picking up the jawbone of an ass, he dashed at the Philistines and slew a full thousand. At the conclusion of Judges 15 it is said that "he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines ['sway] twenty years."

Ch. 16 records the disastrous end of Samson. He goes to Gaza where he falls in love with Delilah at the Brook of Sorek. The Philistines approach Delilah and induce her to try and find the secret of Samson's strength. Eventually she learns that his strength lies in his hair, and cutting it will leave him weak and vulnerable. She shaves his hair and Samson is captured by the Philistines and blinded.

After being blinded, Samson is brought to Gaza, imprisoned, and put to work grinding grain (Judges 16:21). As he toils in prison, his hair begins to grow again.

One day the Philistine leaders assemble in a temple for a religious sacrifice, offering thanks to their god, Dagon, for having had their enemy delivered into their hands. As their merriment grows, they summon Samson so that he can entertain them. Once inside the temple, Samson asks the servant who is leading him to show him where the temple's central pillars are, so he can lean against them.

Samson then chose to commit suicide by pulling down the temple pillars in order to kill as many of the Philistine leaders as he can: "And Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life." (Judges 16:30).

After his death, Samson's family recovers his body from the rubble and buries him near the tomb of his father Manoah.

In Rabbinic Jewish literature

The rabbis identified Samson with Bedan ; Bedan was a judge mentioned by Samuel in his farewell address (1 Samuel 12:11) among the judges that delivered Israel from their enemies. However, the name "Bedan" is not found in the Book of Judges.

The name "Samson" is derived from "shemesh" (= "sun"), so that Samson bore the name of God, who is also "a sun and shield" (Ps. lxxxiv. 12). As God protected Israel, so did Samson watch over it in his generation, judging the people even as did God. Samson's strength was divinely derived (Talmud Sotah 10a). Samson resembled God in requiring neither aid nor help (Midrash Genesis Rabbah xcviii. 18).

Jewish legend records that Samson's shoulders were sixty ells broad. He was lame in both feet (Talmud Sotah 10a), but when the spirit of God came upon him he could step with one stride from Zoreah to Eshtaol, while the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one another so that they could be heard for a like distance (Midrash Lev. Rabbah viii. 2). Samson was said to be so strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like two clods of earth (ibid.; Sotah 9b), yet his superhuman strength, like Goliath's, brought woe upon its possessor (Midrash Eccl. Rabbah i., end).

In licentiousness he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins (Lev. R. xxiii. 9). Samson's eyes were put out because he had "followed them" too often (Soṭah l.c.).

It is said that in the twenty years during which Samson judged Israel he never required the least service from an Israelite (Midrash Numbers Rabbah ix. 25), and he piously refrained from taking the name of God in vain. As soon, therefore, as he told Delilah that he was a Nazarite of God she immediately knew that he had spoken the truth (Sotah l.c.). When he pulled down the temple of Dagon and killed himself and the Philistines the structure fell backward, so that he was not crushed, his family being thus enabled to find his body and to bury it in the tomb of his father (Midrash Gen. Rabbah l.c. 19).

In the Talmudic period many seem to have denied that Samson was a historic figure; he was apparently regarded as a purely mythological personage. This was viewed as heretical by the rabbis of the Talmud, and they refuted this view.

In Other Literature

Samson was given further consideration in 1671, when John Milton made him the sympathetic hero of his blank verse tragedy Samson Agonistes. Handel wrote his oratorio "Samson" in 1743. Camille Saint-Sans wrote an opera, Samson et Dalila between 1868 and 1877.

Samson as myth

Samson's name and birthplace

In the Hebrew text that english translations of the book of Judges are based on, Samson is named Shimshon (Samson is an english rendering). Standard translations of the meaning of this name are usually ...who serves... or of the sun, but it can also be translated as Little Shamash (essentially as Shamash-ino). Shamash itself translates as sun or ...who serves.., but it is also the name of a semitic sun-god, Shamash.

In the Tanakh, Samson was born in a place known as Tsorah. Tsorah is very close to Beth-Shamash (meaning House of Shamash), a Shamash cult-centre. Shamash was a major god of Assyria and Babylon, which were situated near to Israel and Judah, whose name is thought to indicate that at earlier times Shamash was a more minor god.

Samson is also described as having to undertake Nazoritic vows. Nazaroth is the word used in Hebrew for the Zodiac. Vows of the zodiac were taken by the sun-gods as they grew up, to guarantee the passing of the year.

Dusk

Much early Semitic literature, often features names that serve a descriptive function, rather than an accurate representation of names (for example the conflict between Hillel (whose name means victor) and Shammiel (whose name means loser)), and also use was made of anagrams, and other devices (for example in the general consideration of the meaning of Yeshu).

The name Delilah, which is now considered to be Biblical Hebrew for Charming can also be considered to be composed as D-lilah. D on its own is Dalet, which means Door, wheras lilah means night, thus D-lilah is Door of the night.

Depictions of co-temporal sun-gods (for example, Shamash) from other religions in the region sometimes depict them having streamers, or hair, surrounding their head, representing the rays of the sun. When the sun loses its rays as it descends each night, the earth becomes colder, and the sun has lost its strength. By shearing it of its hair, the door of the night has robbed it of its strength, but as the next day begins, the hair grows back.

During the time the sun goes down, it gets darker, and is eventually not visible, though still present for a while, giving a mild amount of dusk light. Thus it has been blinded by the night. Solar eclipses, and winter, were also occasions during which early mythology regarded the sun as having been blinded by some cause.

The day

The sun-gods of many early groups had associations with pillars, Thor had Thor's pillars, Herakles had The pillars of Herakles, and Melqart had the pillars that Herakles claimed before him. According to Strabo, Herakles had another set of pillars in the east. Arnobius explicitely states that the western pillars were placed there by Herakles because that is where the sun sets.

A theological set of pillars at the extreme west and east represented the limits of the sun's daily path, one set where it begins, and one where it dies. In the case of Melqart an actual set of pillars was created in the west, by Cadiz (on the island of Sancti Petri).

These theological limit pillars also appeared in other temples closer to Israel, such as in Tyre (3 have been excavated, one to Shamash, each having two pillars), and even in Solomon's Temple (designed by Tyrians according to the Tanakh) in which they were named Boaz and Jachin.

The gateposts Samson begins his journey at, the gateposts that form the temple, are unlikely to refer to real gateposts. The Tanakh recounts that Samson took the gates, bar, and doorposts, carrying all on his shoulder to the top of an hill. City gates of the period, when excavated, reveal gigantic monoliths as the posts, and another as the lintel, so large that it would take a team of men to drag them into place. To remove the whole lot in one step would require also lifting up the wall that rested on them (and causing the entire wall to collapse). Since Samson later dies by pulling apart a temple, it is difficult to see how he could survive pulling apart a greater weight, and additionally carry most of it.

Samson dies by pulling down the two central pillars in a temple. The pillars at the end of the sun-god Melqart's daily journey, i.e. at his death (and also where Herakles was said to have died), were also considered to be in a temple (in Cadiz, which was at that time known as Gades). In excavated temples of Melqart, and other sun-gods of the region, such as Dagon, the pillars were placed at least 3 metres apart , and as such to pull the philistine temple's down by pushing apart its two pillars would require an armspan significantly over 3 metres. To complete this task, Samson would thus require to be at least 3 times the size of an average human (thus a giant notable in records of other cultures, which have not been uncovered), or have arms very much longer than his body (similar to an Orangutan).

The yearly sun

Melqart, a sun god, was regarded by the ancient Greeks as a version of Herakles, and known in this form as the Tyrian Herakles. The Tyrian Herakles was strong, since the sun's heat is strong, and Herakles used his strength to kill a lion (the Nemean Lion) - a sun-related myth concerning the constellation leo, which appears in the midst of summer (the main season of the sun). Samson was strong and killed a lion.

Missing image
Icelandic_Samson.jpg
Samson fights the lion in this drawing from a 15th century Icelandic manuscript.

One myth concerning the Tyrian Herakles ties him to a Lydian by the name of Omphale, Omphale means navel, referring to the axis of the celestial sphere. Thus Omphale may be a Lydian goddess to which the sun-god was originally subservient, thus the name of Shamash meaning ...who serves.... Since the lion (Leo) is a constellation, the sun's turning round the axis of the celestial sphere means that it returns to the lion much later (after about a year). Omphale also means beehive, to which the lion of Samson had transformed on his return.

Herakles led the battles to free Thebes (the nation he was born into) from its oppressors, a general attribution given to sun gods. The Tribe of Dan may have originated amongst the Sea Peoples confederation, and as such their separation from it would have been a significant issue in their relations with the Philistines (who were amongst the Sea People). Thus heroes of the Tribe of Dan would have their enemies as the Philistines.

At the time of the harvest, Samson sets fire to the fields, as does the sun in the dry mediterranian climate. In winter, the sun reaches the solstice and stays at a static position for about 3 weeks. The apparent danger to the sun's survival, and its binding, is represented in the story in which Herakles finds himself bound in chains to be a victim of king Busiris's annual sacrifice, but eventually manages to burst free. Samson similarly bursts free of his chains when about to be sacrificed (to the Philistines).

External link

  • 'Samson' (http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/picture-of-month/displaypicture.asp?venue=2&id=1) by Solomon Solomon
  • "The House Of The Sky" (http://www.biroz.net/words/flood.htm) - An article exploring ancient astronomy in which the story of Samson figures prominently.
Preceded by:
Abdon
Judges in the Book of Judges Succeeded by:
Eli

he:שמשון nl:Simson (Bijbel) pl:Samson (posta? biblijna) sv:Simson

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