Tuesday 5 March 2013

"I, Samson"

Here is Joan Maria Vernet's beautiful account of Samson:

Today you have thought about me and have come to my region, the original place of the tribe of Dan. The territory of the tribe extended along the middle course of the Soreq creek, which comes down from the northern part of Jerusalem (Bet Hanina) and passes below Ain Karem. I will talk to you about myself, Samson, name that means: "Son of the sun". A name so beautiful and full of meaning... but for me it is almost a synonym for shame and humiliation. Even the Philistines laughed at me, they cruelly laughed as they inflicted pain on me with the worse humiliations and racks: you remember how they took out my eyes and forced me to pull the mill stone of the prison. And then even my tragic end became emblematic, the so-called "Samson syndrome" that means the death on oneself together with the killing of one's enemies.

Certainly I am the most enigmatic character of the Old Testament, the most woeful, with a harsh personality and tragic circumstances. Besides me there is another person hard to explain, controversial: King Saul and perhaps even a third one, much more difficult to understand: King Solomon. But I went even further of them in my rashness, superficiality, passions (on this the king Saul Had no problem, while Solomon went much further than I did): most of all my mistake was my unfaithfulness to God’s plan. I admit it: I have been a proverbial negative case, sadly notorious for my eccentricity an lack of judgment.

However I think that among you there might be somebody who will look at me with sympathy and understanding… The circumstances in which I found myself were extremely difficult. In Israel there was no temple yet and there were no prophets, there were no Psalms to pray, there was almost nothing written to let me know some examples of God's fear or to find comfort in prayer. Joshua and Gideon were remembered and their valorous actions full of violence: my small tribe of Dan was surrounded by the terrible Philistines and the environment was really debased from a moral and religious point of view.

Moreover I had a passionate and violent character, peremptory and whimsical. Temperament does not depend on ourselves: we are born with it. I was born with this strong character, choleric, primary, fragile, and with an irresistible weak inclination to women. These became, as in many other cases in history, the sources of my ruin.

I did no go to school nor did I have a teacher who could teach me the fear of God. My parents, simple and honest, but without initiative, always lived in fear of the nearby Philistines and did not dare to correct me, even though they knew that) would have not minded their advice. In short, I grew up as a wild plant, without care or protection from anybody.

You might remember some of my adventures: the fight with the lion, the foxes that set fire on Philistines’ harvests, the killing I did with a donkey jaw at Lechi, the doors of Gaza carried on my shoulders, and my sad ending… These are the things that people remember about me. But this is but the frame of my person, which is ultimately always a mystery, or, as in my case, an absurdity.

My first wife, from Timna, near Nahal Soreq, West of Bet Shemesh, could have been the source of my joy: I was deeply in love with her but she was not so much in love with me. The story began very well despite the silent opposition of my family, because my wife was Philistine. Then the envy of my friends began and my superficiality brought about my ruin. I was imprudent in telling them that riddle about the lion and the honey. It was the beginning of my misadventures.

With Delilah, my other wife, I could have been happy: she was a fascinating person who fell in love with me, attracted by my insuperable strength. With a little of will and more common sense I could have overcome this obstacle; to tell her the secret of my strength was my ruin and it opened my tomb.
Hero, villain, terrorist, judge, womanizer ... all titles were given to me and always with some negative connotation, with suspicion, contempt and for this reason I am quoted only once in the New Testament (Heb 11, 32) and never again mentioned in the OT, not even in the Psalms which describe the glory of Israel or in the list of biblical figures that you can read here and there in the scriptures of the wise.

Myth, legend, history, literary invention? Even my life is discussed by the experts: somebody claims I never existed; somebody thinks I am the result of a compilation of different data from different Bible figures; somebody regards me as a literary invention with a doctrinal purpose. You see, my status in the Bible is unique, and not at all favorable for my fame.

But I really did exist, perhaps not in the precise way as the book of Judge describes me: but my existence was real, a man in bones and flesh, and these hills which today you see, I saw too, during my childhood and youth, and if they could speak they would tell you many things about me and not all of them would be negative or burlesque.

When I was forty, my death came: I died crashed with 3000 Philistines, under the ruins of the temple of Dagon, in Gaza. In my biography, the book of Judges writes an immensely sad sentence: "But he did not know that the Lord had left him" (Judges 16, 21). This is one of the saddest and painful sentences of the Bible. Yes, I was then blind and in chains, I fell in desperation, in a terrible darkness, in a horrible emptiness.

For me it is not a source of real pride the fact that among the Judges I am the one whose story takes more space (4 chapters) nor that my name is still used among people to say "he is like Samson" for his strength, or when people talks of the "Samson's syndrome". Nor that movies were made about me. No, these things pass away; they do not touch the core of one's personality. What makes me happy and proud is that God chose me for a mission in favor of his people and I, although badly and faulty, fulfilled the task that God entrusted to me.

Lack of prudence, lust, ruin, passions ... all can be explained and can find forgiveness in God's eyes, when a man is left alone with himself and his suffering, solitude, the deepest failure. I experienced betrayal, humiliation, contempt, jokes, abandonment ... but I also know what strength is, what valor, glory and the joy of victory are.

I lived all these things with intensity: all these I have been, Samson of Zoreah, the "Son of the sun", the son of Manoah. I will always be a problematic character, discussed among people, a mystery, but a person that God never disowned. 

Remember: only at God's light and at the splendor of his goodness, man has a real fame and a real story.

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