The Book of Samson

David Maine
  • Review
By – December 9, 2011

David Maine’s fic­tion­al, unau­tho­rized auto­bi­og­ra­phy” is told by Sam­son, chained to the pil­lars of a Philis­tine tem­ple. He rumi­nates just before he famous­ly con­verts his impend­ing death at the hands of the Philistines into a sui­cide in which his mag­i­cal strength brings down 3,000 Philis­tine mock­ers — both gov­er­nors and civil­ians, men and women — along with him­self. I would have want­ed to paint Sam­son in poet­ic phras­es: a pious Nazirite, a Her­cules­like fig­ure, who lived the ascetic life pledged by his pre­vi­ous­ly bar­ren moth­er; but in the end a man betrayed not only by the sen­su­ous Philis­tine har­lot Delilah, but by the dead­ly sin of lust. 

I would have sought to depict Sam­son as a vital judge to the House of Israel who had strayed once, but redeemed him­self when his moment of death was at hand. 

But Maine’s good read” doesn’t see it that way. His Sam­son speaks in the offen­sive patois of a twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry pulp fic­tion satyr. Aboor­ish wom­an­iz­er, who speaks of women in scan­dalous­ly deri­sive terms, a Nazirite whose weak­ness for the enemy’s daugh­ter” was not lim­it­ed to Delilah. A judge,” whose judg­ing was in the mien of a Solomon-oncrack who actu­al­ly sliced the baby in half in impa­tience over tire­less­ly bick­er­ing litigants. 

Maine’s vol­ume doesn’t present quo­ta­tions from the text of the Book of Judges. So the read­er is forced to go there for him­self when he is fin­ished read­ing Samson’s” own mus­ings. And what does the read­er find? The myth of Sam­son is just that. Sam­son, myth­i­cal­ly Her­culean to be sure, is a man scrawni­ly weak in char­ac­ter — a rapa­cious wom­an­iz­er who nev­er actu­al­ly judged any­thing. (Maine seems to have cre­at­ed the baby-split­ting inci­dent for col­or.) The Bible’s Sam­son has no spir­i­tu­al insights, noth­ing but how many Philistines did he kill. But what about God? What about God’s pre­cious Israelites? Nothing! 

So, while we are enti­tled to accept the mythol­o­gy of Bib­li­cal fig­ures like Sam­son, Maine helps us moti­vate our­selves to cor­rect a sig­nif­i­cant mis­im­pres­sion that has hyped Sam­son over the gen­er­a­tions. And through his unique brand of fic­tion, he makes us think more objec­tive­ly about many of our oth­er Bib­li­cal icons. That, indeed, is the beau­ty of the genre that Maine exe­cutes so well.

Joel Cohen is a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor, prac­tices white-col­lar crim­i­nal law at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and teach­es Pro­fes­sion­al Respon­si­bil­i­ty at Ford­ham Law School. He has writ­ten Moses: A Mem­oir (Paulist Press, 2003) and David and Bathshe­ba: Through Nathan’s Eyes(Paulist Press, 2007).

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