Samson - Interpretations


Academics have interpreted Samson as a demi-god (such as Hercules or Enkidu) enfolded into Jewish religious lore, or as an archetypical folklore hero, among others. These views sometimes interpreted him as a solar deity, popularized by "solar hero" theorists and Biblical scholars alike. The name Delilah may also involve a wordplay with the Hebrew word for night, 'layla', which of course consumes the day. Samson bears many similar traits to the Greek Herakles (and the Roman Hercules adaptation), inspired himself partially from the mesopotamian Enkidu tale: Herakles and Samson both battled a Lion bare handed (Lion of Nemea feat), Herakles and Samson both had a favorite primitive blunt weapon (a club for the first, an ass's jaw for the latter), they were both betrayed by a woman which led them to their ultimate fate (Herakles by Dejanira, while Samson by Delilah). Both heroes, champion of their respective people, die by their own hand: Herakles ends his life on a pyre while Samson makes the Philistine temple collapse upon himself and his enemies.

These views are disputed by traditional and conservative biblical scholars who consider Samson to be a literal historical figure and thus refute any connections to mythological heroes. That Samson was a "solar hero" has been described as "an artificial ingenuity". Some biblical scholars suggest that Samson's home tribe of Dan might have been related to the Philistines themselves. "Dan" might be another name for the tribe of Sea Peoples otherwise known as the Denyen, Danuna, or Danaans. If so, then Samson's origin might be entirely Aegean. These speculations are in stark contrast to the historical depictions expressed in the Bible and are therefore mutually exclusive.

Joan Comay, co-author of Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament, believes that the biblical story of Samson is so specific concerning time and place that Samson was undoubtedly a real person who pitted his great strength against the oppressors of Israel. In contrast, James King West finds that the hostilities between the Philistines and Hebrews appear to be of a "purely personal and local sort". He also finds that Samson stories have, in contrast to much of Judges, an "almost total lack of a religious or moral tone".

Dr. Zvi Lederman, co-director of the Tel Aviv University Beth Shemesh dig which discovered the seal discussed below, believes that Beth Shemesh, a Canaanite village, was a cultural meeting point on the border of Israelite, Canaanite and Philistine areas and calls the stories "border sagas", saying that Samson could cross boundaries, seeking a Philistine wife but also fighting and killing Philistines. He is quoted as saying "When you cross the border, you have to fight the enemy and you encounter dangerous animals. You meet bad things. These are stories of contact and conflict, of a border that is more cultural than political."

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