Questions for Christians and other theists, part 2: Samson

In Judges 13-16, the Bible tells the bizarre story of Samson. YouTube contributor DarkMatter2525 has produced an excellent 3-part animated version of the story.

Please read the story first and then watch the three videos. If you do it the other way around, you’ll be asking yourself over and over: “Wait — does the Bible really say that?”

In the comments, I’ll pose some questions to believers regarding the story.

Samson Da Barbarian Part 2

Samson Da Barbarian Part 3

47 thoughts on “Questions for Christians and other theists, part 2: Samson

  1. KN:

    It’s totally awesome, that’s what’s up!

    As a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, maybe. 🙂

    As the literally true, divinely inspired Word of the all-knowing, perfectly loving, perfectly just Creator of the universe, not so much.

  2. As many of you know, I was raised as an evangelical Christian. We learned the story of Samson in Sunday school, though the telling, as you can imagine, was very selective.

    I remember being disturbed by the suicide-bombing aspect of the story, and I wanted to ask our teacher why God had not rescued Samson while the temple was collapsing on him and the Philistines. I had long since learned not to ask such questions, though, so I kept my mouth shut.

    My heart goes out to all the kids who are in the same predicament.

  3. The Samson story is true.
    Its probably the origin for the hercules story as picked up by Greeks while cruising those waters. In fact the pillars of hercules is probably a forgotten reference to the story while it was fresh.
    the cartoon picture is wrong. Sam would be more semetic looking and great curled hair. Yet no muscles. Thats why the mystery of his strength had to be figured out.
    He had Gods spirit power while obedient to not revealing the secret.
    He was saving his people from a evil people.
    He went wrong going after a foreign chick.
    Perhaps his killing more with his death is a sly reference to jesus saving more by his sole death.

  4. Basically, the story of Samson is one typical theme in tall tales, the strong man–who also generally is not an especially smart person. The book of Judges has several stories in it that remind one of the Grimm fairy tales, such as this strong-man tale, the Gideon tale of magic and winning with small numbers, and Jephthah with the daughter that he had to sacrifice.

    As history, the Samson story would be bizarre, with his birth foretold and instructions given to the woman who would birth him, yet they have to find the angel again to receive the proper instructions for raising Samson to be strong (no alcohol, don’t cut his hair). There are no lineages mentioned in the text, either, no time when it was supposed to have occurred, just a region and some names that the Israelites might recall, these probably reflecting the origins of the story.

    That he kills 1000 philistines with the jawbone of an ass seems the most preposterous strength tale of all credited to him. Strong he may have been, but a bow with arrows, or a spear chucked properly, is all it takes for humans to overcome strength lacking projectile weapons. That’s one reason why we invented projectile weapons.

    And was he the most stupid man that ever lived? Three times he tricks Delilah with fake tales of why he’s strong and escapes ambushes using that information each time, yet she whines and pleads, complaining that he doesn’t trust her (you think?), so he finally tells her. Men are stupid about women, but really not that stupid. Strong man fairy tales often do make those men out to be especially stupid, however, so it works out as a story for children, or a tall tale for everyone.

    I doubt that Samson would have had an Austrian accent, by the way.

    Glen Davidson

  5. Folkloric material, with historical roots in the incursion of the Philistines and their conflict with proto-Israel. It’s been edited into a longer work intended to show the need for faithfulness to Yahweh and centralized government and worship.

  6. Steve,

    I know that you used to be a Christian, and perhaps still are, so I’d be interested in hearing about how your interpretation of stories like Samson’s has shifted over time.

    Your comment above indicates that you aren’t a literalist, but do you think that the Samson story was included in the text at God’s behest?

  7. I’m not a “believer”, but videos like this seems juvenile. I’d rather have the guy who produced this video, make a video of his own mother and father having wild sex, and then later showing his mother giving birth in a hospital, followed by baby cries and screams, everything exaggerated, of course, where we could all sit back and ask, “did that REALLY happen?” etc etc. That would be more interesting and amusing.

    I’m more amused by the fact that the OP is considered a serious topic on TSZ. Keiths needs to get a girlfriend. Or a hobby.

  8. bill,

    I think you’re underestimating the power of videos like these to open people’s eyes.

    Most Christians read the Bible uncritically and on autopilot. It doesn’t even occur to them to ask, “Does this actually make sense?” If you’ve been reading the Samson story over and over since childhood, it’s familiar and you don’t bother to actually think about it.

    When such people watch the videos, they are jolted out of complacency and forced to confront the bizarre and totally unbelievable aspects of the story, even if they’ve been glossing over them for years.

    And Darkmatter2525 is embellishing very little. All of the most bizarre, inexplicable and nonsensical events in the videos come directly from the Bible. Have you read Judges 13-16? Can you imagine the sheer depths of self-deception to which you would have to sink in order to convince yourself that the story was literally true, that it depicted all of the characters (including God) accurately, and that the omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly just and loving Creator of the universe actually wanted this story to be part of His Holy Word?

  9. Richardthughes: And how do you know this?

    Its in the bible.
    why do you question the witness? how do you know their is lying going on here?
    you don’t. You just assume its not true without evidence .

  10. Robert Byers: Its in the bible.
    why do you question the witness? how do you know their is lying going on here?
    you don’t. You just assume its not true without evidence .

    So why not the Quran?

  11. Robert Byers,

    In that case, you believe that Fifi The Pink Unicorn God is the One and Only True God, right? I’d hate to think that you assume, without evidence, that She isn’t, especially since trillions of Specially Created Beings throughout the multiverses have witnessed and attested to Her One and Only Godliness. It’s all recorded in the Ancient Holy Book of Extra-Cosmic Unicorns (aka Fifi’s Word). You wouldn’t question “the witness” of the Ancient Holy Book of Extra-Cosmic Unicorns (Fifi’s Word), would you? That would make Fifi feel sad.

  12. Yes, I’m still a Christian, and no, I’m neither a literalist nor an inerrantist. I take the Bible to be a product of people expressing, wrestling with and arguing about their concepts and experiences of God.

    Are stories like those in Judges there at God’s behest? I dunno — God doesn’t keep me advised about these things Under the assumption that there’s anything at all valid about Christianity(*), then I think it’s fair to say that God has used the Bible.

    Since I was raised in a more or less fundamentalist church, my views on the Bible are obviously a later acquisition. For me, any kind of serious analysis of the Bible and its context reveals many problems with literalist readings: conflicting theologies, morally questionable (to say the least) divine actions, historical inaccuracies. Many of these were clear to ancient readers, both Jewish and Christian, as well. They adopted various interpretive approaches that let them handle the literal problems while still treating the scriptures as sacred. Given the cultural moment I live in, some of those strategies aren’t plausible options for me, but my approach doesn’t differ that much in spirit.

    (*) Obviously not an assumption that will be shared by many here.

  13. Steve,

    Thanks for your answer.

    Like you, I was raised as a literalist. I shed my faith in stages, beginning with my literalist reading of the Bible, which was indefensible.

    The problem I soon ran into was that I couldn’t come up with consistent and justifiable criteria for separating the wheat of the Bible from the chaff. Without such criteria, it wasn’t clear that I could trust even core Christian teachings such as the divinity of Jesus.

    Given that you’re still a Christian, I gather that you’ve resolved that issue to your satisfaction, but if so, then how?

  14. This is probably better discussed over a beer(*) than here, but I’ll try. I think trying to decide what doctrines are correct is the completely wrong place to start. If you find something compelling in the message or person of Jesus — and I do — then it’s a good idea to go ahead and investigate. The New Testament can give you some fine, detailed examples of what others have made of him, and the religious tradition that flows from it provides a rich store of thought and experience of those trying to follow him.

    But that doesn’t mean that they get everything or even most things right. I assume I’m wrong in lots of my religious thinking, and I see no reason to think Christianity as a whole isn’t wrong in lots of stuff, too. I also doubt that it matters all that much. The invitation, after all, was to follow someone, not to assent to a particular set of doctrines.

    (*) See Housman, A.E., A Shropshire Lad LXII for a exploration of the relative effectiveness of beer in considering theological questions.

  15. Buddha wasn’t a christian, but Jesus would’ve made a good buddhist. (Credit: Ray Wylie Hubbard)

    I think when there is something in christian scripture which would not be compatible with buddhism, then that thing should be discarded. Of course, that would leave a very thin book. Okay, thin is fine.

    Accepting the balance of probability that Yeshua ben Yosef was an actual being who walked on our earth about 30AD, he was not a nice man. It’s as likely that he really did say, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” as it is likely that he said, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Tales are told of him blighting the fig tree, destroying the innocent pigs by casting demons into them, whipping the moneylenders out of the temple … these are not the actions of a peaceful, enlightened being.

    But compared to the mores which seem to have prevailed amongst the children of god up to that time, Jesus was a huge improvement. Leave aside the ridiculous ideas about heaven and hell; the best of Jesus’ philosophy as retold by christians approaches the buddhist 8fold right way.

    A person could do worse than choose to remain a christian.

  16. I wasn’t raised as a literalist, so realizing around age 12 that it was mostly just stories was not shattering. Someone here pointed out that even as a moral example, Jesus is hard to pin down. But that’s where family and culture come in. Religious stories become a kind of shorthand. I daresay that great authors also do this. Dickens, for example, has provided a dozen or so personality archetypes that serve as shorthand when discussing morality.

    People who are not obsessed with the literal truth of the stories can enjoy playing with the analogies. Obviously, some cultural norms change. Xenophobia is comical now, as are many “phobias”.

  17. petrushka:
    People who are not obsessed with the literal truth of the stories can enjoy playing with the analogies. Obviously, some cultural norms change. Xenophobia is comical now, as are many “phobias”.

    If only homophobia becomes not so common among otherwise-decent christians — ’tis devoutly to be wished.

    Bigotry is truly un-christian. For all his other faults, Jesus was inclusive of those who were different: the prostitute, the (despised-by-ethnic-Jews) Good Samaritan, the poor servant, the eunuch. Jesus is not recorded as saying anything against homosexual men or women; a “biblical” rationale for bigotry was invented by hateful christians later.

    They should be ashamed of themselves.

    “For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
    But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
    And the message is clear …”
    (credit: Bruce Cockburn)

  18. I think the cherry picked message is clear. There could have been a message against slavery.

  19. Steve,

    This is probably better discussed over a beer(*) than here,

    Perhaps VR technology will make that possible sooner than we think. 🙂

    I think trying to decide what doctrines are correct is the completely wrong place to start.

    It isn’t where I started, it’s where I ended!

    But that doesn’t mean that they get everything or even most things right. I assume I’m wrong in lots of my religious thinking, and I see no reason to think Christianity as a whole isn’t wrong in lots of stuff, too. I also doubt that it matters all that much. The invitation, after all, was to follow someone, not to assent to a particular set of doctrines.

    The invitation isn’t merely to follow, but to believe. To believe that an itinerant Middle East preacher was God, based on such flimsy evidence, was something I couldn’t (and can’t) do.

    If you find something compelling in the message or person of Jesus — and I do…

    But do you believe that he was, and is, God? If so, why?

  20. keiths:
    It isn’t where I started, it’s where I ended!

    I don’t mean start chronologically; I mean start logically. The doctrines are attempts to explain peoples’ experiences. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s nothing to explain and the doctrines don’t matter. If you have, then getting the explanation right is a secondary matter.

    The invitation isn’t merely to follow, but to believe.To believe that an itinerant Middle East preacher was God, based on such flimsy evidence, was something I couldn’t (and can’t) do.

    I don’t think the invitation is to believe, at least not to believe that particular doctrines are true.

    But do you believe that he was, and is, God?If so, why?

    The short answer is “yes”. The long answer would be more qualified and involved, and more than I care to go into here. As for why, (and leaving aside the obvious fact that I’m a product of a Christian environment), for me it’s a form of theism that is at least consistent with the world I see, i.e. a pretty crappy place in many respects. If the life of Jesus does reveal something about God, what it reveals is that God doesn’t eliminate suffering in the world, but participates in it.

    (By the way, there are statements attributed to Jesus that I find off-putting, but “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” is not one of them. It’s pretty clearly not advocating violence, but noting that his demand for re-ordered loyalties is going to cause division.)

  21. Steve,

    The doctrines are attempts to explain peoples’ experiences. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s nothing to explain and the doctrines don’t matter. If you have, then getting the explanation right is a secondary matter.

    The doctrines are much more important than you are allowing, which is why Christians place so much emphasis on their creeds.

    I don’t think the invitation is to believe, at least not to believe that particular doctrines are true.

    Salvation depends on believing particular doctrines, according to the Bible:

    16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

    John 3:16-18, NIV

    Steve:

    …it’s a form of theism that is at least consistent with the world I see, i.e. a pretty crappy place in many respects. If the life of Jesus does reveal something about God, what it reveals is that God doesn’t eliminate suffering in the world, but participates in it.

    To me, that’s the best argument against mainstream Christianity (and omnitheism generally). A truly omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would eliminate suffering rather than participating in it.

    To argue otherwise requires that suffering have a higher purpose — some ultimate payoff that justifies the means and can be achieved in no other way. In short, if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, then this “crappy” world (as you put it) must be the best of all possible worlds. A dubious proposition, to say the least.

  22. The presumed existence of heaven argues that this is not the best of all.possible worlds.

  23. Indeed. If heaven is perfect, why not start there?

    The common rejoinder — that earthly life is necessary to prepare us for heaven — doesn’t work, because it doesn’t explain how a baby who dies during childbirth can qualify for heaven when others have to slog through 90+ years of life.

    (Of course there are those who say that a baby who dies during childbirth won’t go to heaven, not having been baptized, but that’s even worse.)

  24. keiths:
    Steve,

    The doctrines are much more important than you are allowing, which is why Christians place so much emphasis on their creeds.

    I was under the impression you were asking me about my beliefs. Are you trying to tell me how important I think creeds and doctrines are, or are you telling me about the beliefs of other Christians? In either case, why?

    Salvation depends on believing particular doctrines, according to the Bible:

    First, “believing in the name of” is not the same as “believing a particular doctrine”; it’s describing putting your trust in someone, rather than giving intellectual assent to a statement. Second, I don’t think everything in the Bible is right, remember?

    To me, that’s the best argument against mainstream Christianity (and omnitheism generally).A truly omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would eliminate suffering rather than participating in it.

    You have a much surer grasp of what a omni-whatever deity should do than I do. I have enough trouble figuring out my taxes and how to get a paper published. Figuring out how a universe should be run is considerably beyond me.

    To argue otherwise requires that suffering have a higher purpose — some ultimate payoff that justifies the means and can be achieved in no other way.In short, if God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent, then this “crappy” world (as you put it) must be the best of all possible worlds.A dubious proposition, to say the least.

    I don’t recall arguing anything, except that a deity that participates in suffering is at least consistent with the world we see, while a deity that rewards the good and punishes the evil in real time is inconsistent. That makes Christianity a more plausible form of theism for me than some alternatives, which is the question I was attempting to answer.

  25. Steve,

    I was under the impression you were asking me about my beliefs. Are you trying to tell me how important I think creeds and doctrines are, or are you telling me about the beliefs of other Christians? In either case, why?

    You were speaking for others, not just yourself:

    The doctrines are attempts to explain peoples’ experiences. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s nothing to explain and the doctrines don’t matter. If you have, then getting the explanation right is a secondary matter.

  26. Steve,

    First, “believing in the name of” is not the same as “believing a particular doctrine”; it’s describing putting your trust in someone, rather than giving intellectual assent to a statement.

    Trust is insufficient, according to the Bible:

    9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

    Romans 10:9-10, NIV

    Steve:

    Second, I don’t think everything in the Bible is right, remember?

    Yes. That’s why I asked you about how you separate the wheat of the Bible from the chaff. For example, how did you decide that trusting in Jesus was sufficient, and that the passage from Romans above is incorrect?

  27. Steve,

    You have a much surer grasp of what a omni-whatever deity should do than I do.

    It’s simple logic. An omnibenevolent God would want to minimize suffering and evil. An omnipotent and omniscient God would have the power to do so.

    Therefore, if the omniGod exists, every bit of evil and suffering in the world is here with his permission, and therefore must somehow be in the service of a higher good. This “crappy place”, to borrow your phrase, really must be the best of all possible worlds.

    I don’t recall arguing anything, except that a deity that participates in suffering is at least consistent with the world we see, while a deity that rewards the good and punishes the evil in real time is inconsistent. That makes Christianity a more plausible form of theism for me than some alternatives, which is the question I was attempting to answer.

    Why limit yourself to theism? 🙂 Atheism fits much better with this imperfect world.

    Also, what about a theism in which God isn’t omnipotent, or one in which he isn’t omnibenevolent? Those make more sense than Christianity.

  28. keiths:
    Steve,

    You were speaking for others, not just yourself:

    Where did you get that idea from what you quoted? I told you what I think doctrines are. Others view them differently.

  29. keiths:
    Steve,

    Trust is insufficient, according to the Bible:

    Steve:

    Yes. That’s why I asked you about how you separate the wheat of the Bible from the chaff. For example, how did you decide that trusting in Jesus was sufficient, and that the passage from Romans above is incorrect?

    By living my life and seeing what works and what doesn’t. If my beliefs veered too far from traditional Christianity, I’d probably stop identifying myself as such.

  30. keiths:
    Steve,

    It’s simple logic. An omnibenevolent God would want to minimize suffering and evil. An omnipotent and omniscient God would have the power to do so.

    Simple logic is, historically, a terrible way to figure out how the world actually works. At just about any point in history, if you considered the possible ideas about how the physical world behaves and applied logic to them, you would come to some kind of incorrect conclusion. The reality was always something that you couldn’t have conceived at the time.

    My view was stated more eloquently by someone wiser than me: “I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.”

    Why limit yourself to theism? Atheism fits much better with this imperfect world.

    I don’t, but theism works better for me to explain my own life and my intuitions about the world (including the intuition that the world is crappier than it should be).

  31. Steve Schaffner:

    Where did you get that idea from what you quoted? I told you what I think doctrines are. Others view them differently.

    To my ears, you are clearly describing how other people regard ‘doctrines’ and ‘explanations’, not just yourself:

    The doctrines are attempts to explain peoples’ experiences. If you haven’t had the experience, then there’s nothing to explain and the doctrines don’t matter. If you have, then getting the explanation right is a secondary matter.

    In any case, I trust we can agree that doctrines are hugely — even fanatically — important to many Christians, right?

    I would also question whether you truly regard doctrines as unimportant. As a believer, doesn’t the issue of Christ’s divinity matter to you? Doesn’t it matter what God asks of you? These are doctrinal issues.

  32. keiths:

    That’s why I asked you about how you separate the wheat of the Bible from the chaff. For example, how did you decide that trusting in Jesus was sufficient, and that the passage from Romans above is incorrect?

    Steve Schaffner:

    By living my life and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

    Shouldn’t “what works and what doesn’t” account for factors like internal consistency, parsimony, and fit to the evidence?

  33. keiths:

    It’s simple logic. An omnibenevolent God would want to minimize suffering and evil. An omnipotent and omniscient God would have the power to do so.

    Steve Schaffner:

    Simple logic is, historically, a terrible way to figure out how the world actually works.

    Logic, combined with disciplined observation and experimentation, is science — the best method we’ve ever come up with for discovering how the world actually works.

    At just about any point in history, if you considered the possible ideas about how the physical world behaves and applied logic to them, you would come to some kind of incorrect conclusion.

    Truth isn’t binary. It can be approached asymptotically. I would argue that Newtonian mechanics is truer than Aristotelian physics, and that general relativity is truer still.

    The reality was always something that you couldn’t have conceived at the time.

    The fact that our current understanding isn’t complete is hardly a reason to punt. We can do our best based on what we do know.

    My view was stated more eloquently by someone wiser than me: “I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.”

    Don’t forget the rest of that quote:

    With respect to the theological view of the question. This is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. Not believing this, I see no necessity in the belief that the eye was expressly designed. On the other, I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can. Certainly I agree with you that my views are not at all necessarily atheistical. The lightning kills a man, whether a good one or bad one, owing to the excessively complex action of natural laws. A child (who may turn out an idiot) is born by the action of even more complex laws, and I can see no reason why a man, or other animals, may not have been aboriginally produced by other laws, and that all these laws may have been expressly designed by an omniscient Creator, who foresaw every future event and consequence. But the more I think the more bewildered I become; as indeed I probably have shown by this letter.

  34. I think the deistic view expressed by Darwin in that letter makes far more sense than Christianity.

    Note that the ‘profound mysteries’ of Christian doctrine vanish when viewed through an atheistic or deistic lens:

    1. The Trinity — only a ‘mystery’ if you believe that it’s true. To atheists and deists, it’s a false and incoherent doctrine invented by Christians. (I’ve always suspected that it was invented so that Christians could worship Christ as God without violating the first commandment.)

    2. The Atonement — another ‘mystery’ that’s only a mystery inside Christianity. From the outside, it’s just a nonsensical attempt by Christians to spin Jesus’s death as some kind of success.

    3. The problem of evil — only a problem for theists who believe in an omniGod. Not a problem for atheists or for deists who doesn’t see God as necessarily benevolent.

    Consider the dog that ate that poor baby’s head.

    A Christian has to tie him or herself in knots to explain how the omnipotent, perfectly loving God of Christianity could know that this was happening but fail to stop it.

    To an atheist, there’s no mystery. No one was watching. It just happened.

    29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

    Matthew 10:29-31, NIV

    Unless you’re that baby. Then God will stand by silently as a dog chews your head off.

  35. Science relies on the same kind of imagination and myth building as earlier explanation building. What makes it different is iterative testing of explanations.

  36. When I clicked on the link, the Bible Gateway page served up an ad for a medical center. The tag line was “After my prostate cancer diagnosis, God led me here.”

    In other words, God says “Go here to get treated for the cancer I just gave you. You’re welcome.”

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