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Samson

samson’s philistines art wife

The adventures of the heroic but often unwise Samson are recorded in Judges 13-16 and are frequently illustrated in early Christian and medieval art. Many events from the life of Samson were interpreted by Christian theologians as prefigurations of events in the life of Jesus; hence he often features in typological programs of illustration as well as in other pictorial contexts.

He was an incredibly strong man whose birth to Manoah and his previously barren wife was announced in advance by an *angel who predicted Samson’s partial triumph over the Philistines. The angelic annunciation of Samson’s birth may be paired with the *Annunciation to the Virgin *Mary and the *Nativity of Jesus in typological illustrations. Among the most frequently represented scenes from Samson’s youth is the episode of his slaying a lion with his bare hands. This demonstration of strength, similar to one of the labors of *Hercules, is found in art from the fourth century onward. He may be shown astride, wrestling with, and prying open the jaws of a fierce lion. In typological programs, this scene may be connected with *Christ’s descent into *hell , where Christ broke open the gates (or jaws) of *Leviathan and released the Old Testament righteous.

Following this episode, Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman resulted in disaster when, at his wedding feast, he challenged the guests to solve a riddle (the answer to which they eventually extracted from his wife); the angry Samson stormed away, slaughtered thirty Philistines, eventually returned to his wife, who had remarried in the interim, and sought further revenge by burning the Philistines’ fields and orchards by tying firebrands to the tails of 300 foxes and Page 221 setting them loose in the fields. This chain of events resulted in the murder of his wife and father-in-law and in Samson’s eventually being turned over to the Philistines from whom he escaped, after slaying 1,000 of them with the jawbone of an ass, like the apocryphal murder weapon of *Cain. When hiding in the wilderness and suffering from thirst, Samson asked *God for water, which miraculously gushed forth from the ground; Samson is often depicted drinking from the jawbone of an ass perhaps because of mistranslation of the Hebrew word for spring .

Another popular subject in art is the scene of Samson carrying away the doors (or gates) of the city of Gaza in a later escape from the Philistines, who were planning to ambush him there. He wrenched up the city gates at midnight and carried them for thirty or forty miles. Christian theologians interpreted this event as a prefiguration of Jesus carrying the *cross to *Calvary. Samson’s betrayal by the Philistine harlot Delilah is also found in medieval art. She discovered from him that the secret of his strength was in his hair, which he had vowed not to cut; she cut his hair while he was sleeping, and so he was captured and blinded by the Philistines. Medieval interpreters related this to the *Betrayal and *Mocking of Christ.

Final episodes from the life of Samson include his humiliation by being put on display in the Philistine temple to their god Dagon and his *prayer to God, who caused the temple to collapse as Samson leaned against the columns. This deed resulted in Samson’s *death as well as the deaths of thousands of Philistines.

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