You heard about Samson, from your birth
Strongest man that ever lived on Earth 1
Of the Old Testament Biblical heroes, Samson stands out as the most strikingly larger than life figure. So much so, in fact, that there was heated debate among Talmudic Scholars at one point whether he even existed. There was a supernatural element to his birth:
3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
4 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
5 For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
6 Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible: but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his name:
7 But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death. 2
A Nazarite is a kind of Hebrew ascetic, or holy man.
Samson draws comparisons to the Greek hero Hercules in terms of his formidable strength, also we should note that both practically began their careers by killing a lion with their bare hands.
Samson and the lion had an attack
Samson jumped on that lion’s back
You’ve heard about lions killing men with their paws
Samson put his hand in the lion’s jaws
Rode that lion ’til the beast fell dead
The bees made honey in the lion’s head
5 Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him.
6 And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.
7 And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.
8 And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion.
The woman and the bees play into a part of the story that need not concern us. I’m not sure how one rends a kid, but the image of Samson with his hands holding the lion’s jaws reminds me of a scale model figure I made when a kid, only I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be Hercules, not Sampson. The similarities in these stories suggests a possible wish fulfillment on the part of primitive peoples who had a real fear of being eaten by lions — what would be better than a heroic protector who could kill lions with his bare hands. Even Tarzan, after all, requires a knife. I also recall seeing a picture of that same Hercules figure astride a Harley in a Modeling magazine — a conversion not quite so severe as the one required to turn Superman into Conan — where the hand that was meant to grab a lion’s upper jaw was wrapped around a handlebar — but I digress.
Samson’s feats among men are even more amazing.
One day while Samson was walkin’ along
He looked on the ground and spotted an ol’ jawbone
He stretched out his hand and it molded like clay
When he stopped movin’ ten-thousand was dead
14 And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
15 And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.
A thousand or ten, it is certainly impossible that one man could devastate an army of anything like that size. It would even be beyond the capability of Brad Pitt’s Achilles or even Steve Reeve’s Hercules, or even modern-day heroes like those played by Steven Seagal or Bruce Willis. The sketchy details probably didn’t stop a Sunday-School-penned Bob Howard from imagining the battles with the zeal of the incarcerated Alex in “A Clockwork Orange,” though.
Of course, the part of the story that everyone remembers is the treachery of the woman Delilah, who delivers Sampson helpless to his enemies, the Philistines.
Delilah was a woman fine and fair
Pleasant looks and coal black hair
Delilah first gained on Samson’s mind
He first saw the woman in Philistine
Delilah sat on Samson’s knee
Said tell me where your strength lies if you please
The woman talked so fine, the woman talked so fair
’til Samson told Delilah “cut off my hair
Shave my head just as clean as your hand
And then I’ll become a natural man.”
I had never actually read Judges before, so I was surprised to find that that was not Sampson’s first response to Delilah’s questioning. He told her three other ways to bind him, and all were false, before ever mentioning the hair thing.
4 And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
5 And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.
6 And Delilah said to Samson, Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee.
7 And Samson said unto her, If they bind me with seven green withs that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought up to her seven green withs which had not been dried, and she bound him with them.
9 Now there were men lying in wait, abiding with her in the chamber. And she said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he brake the withs, as a thread of tow is broken when it toucheth the fire. So his strength was not known.
10 And Delilah said unto Samson, Behold, thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: now tell me, I pray thee, wherewith thou mightest be bound.
11 And he said unto her, If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man.
12 Delilah therefore took new ropes, and bound him therewith, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And there were liers in wait abiding in the chamber. And he brake them from off his arms like a thread.
13 And Delilah said unto Samson, Hitherto thou hast mocked me, and told me lies: tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound. And he said unto her, If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web.
14 And she fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awaked out of his sleep, and went away with the pin of the beam, and with the web.
15 And she said unto him, How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me? thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth.
16 And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death;
17 That he told her all his heart, and said unto her, There hath not come a razor upon mine head; for I have been a Nazarite unto God from my mother’s womb: if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.
18 And when Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart. Then the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.
19 And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
20 And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
21 But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.
Waking out of his sleep, he forgot he had given her the power to betray him — he didn’t realize “the Lord was departed from him.” Considering that she had had the Philistines lying in wait for him every other time, this doesn’t seem very smart.
Pay attention to Sampson’ last speech here:
“I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself.”
One would expect that to be rendered in English as “I will go out. . . and bestir myself”, maybe — “shake myself” seems a little weird. Like a James Bond martini, though, a Sampson in battle is shaken, not stirred. But without his prodigious strength, there is no contest.
At any rate, the conclusion remains the same:
22 Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.
23 Then the lords of the Philistines gathered them together for to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice: for they said, Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.
24 And when the people saw him, they praised their god: for they said, Our god hath delivered into our hands our enemy, and the destroyer of our country, which slew many of us.
25 And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.
26 And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.
27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
28 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord GOD, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
30 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. 2
If I had my way
If I had my way
If I had my way
I would tear this building down
Tear this building down
Tear this building down
Sampson goes out taking more with him than he had killed thus far, an impressive feat. No wonder Israel refers to its nuclear weapons program as the Sampson option.
I was making my way through “A Gent from Bear Creek” as part of another project when I noticed a line that brought me thus far. In the title story, Breckinridge Elkins finds himself arrested and jailed for interfering with a deputy of the law. But a girl, whom he’d previously helped, comes to the jail and tells him that sheriff and all his gang are criminals posing as the law and that they plan to lynch him. He sends her away thus:
“Git on Doc Richards’ horse and ride for Grizzly Mountain.” I said. “When you git there, tell the Doc to light shuck for Wampum, because there’ll be plenty of work for him time he gits here.”
“But what about you?” she cried. “I cain’t go off and leave you to git hanged!”
“Don’t worry about me, gal,” I said. “I’m Breckinridge Elkins of the Humbolt Mountains, and I’m preparin’ for to shake my mane! Hustle!”
I reckon something about me convinced her, because she glided away into the shadders, and presently I heard the clack of hoss’s hoofs dwindling in the distance. I then riz and laid hold of the winder bars and tore ’em out by the roots. Then I sunk my fingers into the sill log and tore it out, and three or four more along with it, and the wall give way and the roof fell down on me, but I shaken’ aside the rooins and heaved up out of the wreckage like a b’ar out of a deadfall.
About this time the jailer come running up, and when he seen what I had did he was so surprised he forgot to shoot with his pistol. So I taken it away from him and knocked down the door of his shack with him and left him laying in its rooins. 3
More mayhem follows, as Breck takes out the entire gang. But the brag about shaking his mane and the tearing-down of the jail-house that follows is a clear homage to the Sampson story. The girl, more-over, functions as an anti-Delilah, being true instead of false, and giving key knowledge to, instead of wheedling it out of, the hero. Thus, as in “Garden of Fear” Howard appropriates a Biblical story but reverses the meme, or at least part of it. There is also, of course, much less tragedy in Howard’s version.
1: “Samson and Delilah” — Traditional, also known as “Sampson Tore the Buildng Down”. This arrangement is by Phil Alvin of the Blasters.
[This song is first known from song sheets that were sold on the streets in early 1900’s, with the title SAMSON TORE THE BUILDING DOWN. It was recorded by many artists throughout the century under different titles. It was very big in 1927 & 1928, with several versions actually being recorded. So it is possible Bob knew this song.]
2: King James Bible
3: “A Gent from Bear Creek” — A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK