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Women in the Old Testament: Delilah

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The history of Samson and Delilah has fascinated readers throughout the ages. Peter Paul Rubens found the motif of Samson lying in Delilah's arms worth  spending twelve months finishing a painting.

In this picture, the atmosphere in the room contains all that we feel when we hear about the deceitful intentions of Delilah, as, having failed three times, she finally discovers the secret of Samson's strength. By cutting off his hair, the Philistines are free to do with him as they like. What happened to Delilah afterwards the story does not tell. We only know that what seems to start out as passionate love story - possibly with mixed motives - ends up with Samson being blinded, tortured and put to a slave's work before the grande finale when he tears down the columns of the temple, resulting in the death of 3,000 men and women. From this perspective, Samson is the good guy, falling for the conspiration executed by Dalilah and her fellow people. This is what Neil Sedaka sang about in the sixties, when he composed the hit Run Samson, Run:

Oh Delilah made Sammie's life a sin
And he perished, when the roof fell in
There's a moral, so listen to me pal
There's a little of Delilah in each and every gal

Neil Sedaka makes it sound so simple, so straight forward. Delilah is the femme fatale who through seduction and betrayal becomes responsible for Samson's death. But the story suffers from some logical weaknesses that forces us to pose some embarrassing questions.

Dalilah tries repeatedly to uncover the secret of Samson's strength. And every time he has given her an answer, she follow the instructions and then tests out his strength in order to see if he has revealed the truth. Was Samson so naive that he did not know what was at stake? Of course Samson is aware of what is going on. He has many enemies. Giving up the secret of his strength is surely risking his own life. Why should Delilah want to know from where Samson had got his strength? Her question to Samson even says explicitly that she wants to know how he may be bound in order to be controlled (16.6). And why does Samson finally reveal the secret? He must have known that by revealing the secret he is risking it all? He has been cheated before, when his first wife told the men of her people the answer to the enigma about the lion and the honey (14.10-20).

The story of Samson and Delilah is not a story of an honest (but incredibly stupid) man and a wicked woman. It is more a story of a game where passion, sex, power and control is the key motivation. In the book 'Sacred Witness - Rape in the Hebrew Bible', Susanne Scholz cites Lori Rowlett' view that the story of Samson and Delilah is a tale of bondage and degradation. Samson is playing with fire, knowing that the game with Delilah might become deadly. We find ourselves face to face with some of the darkest forces that live in us human beings. Because as the human nature carries within it an almost limitless will to live, it also consist of a hidden side, a death wish that might be suppressed but rarely not totally removed. The story of the relation ship between Delilah and Samson is a reminder of forces sometimes life-threatening, sometimes beyond our control. It is these same forces that Lars Von Trier wanted to expose in his theatrical movie Antichrist. Interpreting the Biblical story about Samson and Delilah in this way brings the human reality to the surface. Not always pleasant. Not always calming and comforting. But it certainly gives an ever valid presentation of the forces that lives in us, sometimes strengthening us, sometimes threatening us.

As for Neil Sedaka, I think he should have added another last verse in his song, making the story of Samson and Delilah complete:

Oh Samson felt tempted by a dark desire
At the sight of Delilah his blood went on fire
So listen to the truth my friend, and don't be shy
There's a little bit of Samson in every guy.

Bror Haavar Simon Nilsen OP


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