Category Archives: Betrayal

Samson, Santino, Sex and Superiority

Recently I chatted with my Hebrew prof about the character of Samson. Apparently his name — sounding like “sheem-shone” in English — means something a bit like “Sunny” in Hebrew. Which got us thinking about “Sonny” (Santino) from the Godfather (surely the Godfather is never too far from a man’s mind). There are similarities there. Samson is hairy, brash, sometimes seemingly stupid, extremely confident in his strength, vengeful, prone to destructive outbursts. Sounds a lot like Sonny from the Godfather, as well. (James Caan is the man, by the way.)

However, I wanted to write about a interpretation, new for me, that helped me make greater sense of the Samson and Delilah story. This is Judges 16.4-22.

You may know that weird things happen in this story. Samson has fallen for Delilah. The lords of the Philistines know this and bribe her to discover how to make Samson weak so they can overpower him. She asks Samson, he lies, she tries it, he “escapes”, and she gets upset. This happens thrice; and his answer gets closer to the truth each time. Then she asks again, stronger, and he tells her the truth. Then she binds him and he can’t escape and gets his eyes gouged out by the Philistines.

I was always perplexed why Delilah thought she could get Samson to tell her how to tie him up when in the text the Philistines are always present. She ties him, then yells “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!”, and he breaks free. I knew the Philistines were there and was confused why he eventually tells Delilah the truth.

Well, dramatic irony is part of the answer. Though the Philistines are hiding in the same house with Samson and Delilah (at least for the first three cycles), you will notice it never says they actually come out when Delilah yells “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” So, as the readers we know that the ambush is waiting there but Samson is unaware.

But this still leaves the question, “Why does Samson repeat this cycle at all? Why would he come closer and closer to revealing the source of his strength to Delilah until he actually does?” Sex, specifically foreplay, is my new answer for that. The chapter has already begun with Samson and sex (v. 1 — “Samson went to Gaza, and there he saw a prostitute, and he went in to her.”) Also, the Philistine lords ask Delilah to learn how to overpower Samson that they can “humble” him (v. 5), and later Delilah asks how Samson could be “subdued” (v. 6). The word here is “anah” which can also be used for sexually “defile” or “humiliate” as in Gen. 32.4 (“And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.”). There is definitely something sexy (kinky?) about Delilah’s request: I mean, on the surface of things, she wants to tie him up.

When one thinks about it, sure, viewing this strange story as a game of foreplay used treacherously makes a lot of sense. But there’s a bit more complexity: it’s important that the Philistines need Delilah in order to defeat Samson, and that Samson gets defeated by Delilah and not the Philistine lords on their own.

In a patriarchal society, women coming out on top of men was an obscene embarrassment. Besides showing God’s displeasure with the male characters in view, this occurrence might signify that society itself was in disarray. The threat of female domination of male characters has happened, and been realized, in Judges earlier. In the story of Deborah and Barak (ch. 4), as in that of Samson and Delilah, we have the words “tent pegs/pins”, “thrusting”, and “sleeping”. However here there are some more layers. Barak, an Israelite man, defeats the army of Sisera, a Canaanite man. One point for the the Israeli boys. But in the beginning Barak had said he wasn’t going to battle Sisera’s army unless Deborah, Israelite judge, prophet and woman, went with him. She then prophesied that “the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (v. 9). So let’s give a point to the Hebrew women for Deborah going and making this conquest possible. And then it is Jael, and not Barak, that ends up personally killing Sisera (with the tent-peg, in the tent). So maybe another point for killing Sisera and a second for doing it instead of Barak. Then we have three points for the Hebrew women team? But wait, Jael is not even Israelite! She is of another tribe (a Kenite). Thus a non-Israelite, non-male character delivers Israel from the Canaanites. Women humiliate men then here and with Samson and Delilah.

Sonny, sex, and stupid men/super women. The story of Samson and Delilah in a nutshell.

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New blog?

I am getting ready to shed the skin of this identity: the devil at divinity school. I don’t want to be “a devil” anymore. I don’t want to be “a divinity school” student anymore.

I’ve thought about continuing blogging in another blog, a new one (you’d have to ask me the url; I might tell you). I don’t need a blog to help me define myself but I certainly may use one. The names I have thought of are “screwed-up, not a screw-up”, “bruised, not broken”, or “ashes”. These names kind of suck — suggestions welcome. The content would be on the same topics and ideas but also more writings about literature, movies. I am a fairly analytical reader, and I might use the blog to post my readings of certain pieces of art and get responses.

I also have some poetry I’d probably post to it. Below is a poem of mine on Endo’s Silence. This book has been pretty significant for me this past year and through this blog. I wrote this poem for a class I took first semester. It should be read after having read the book, but please enjoy even if you haven’t read Silence. (A “fumie” is a small wooden carving or image of Christ or Mary. Fumies were banned at this time in Japan.)

Sacrifice

“He will now trample on what he has considered the most beautiful thing in his life, on what he has believed most pure, on what is filled with the ideals and the dreams of man…. The priest placed his foot on the fumie. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew.” — Silence, Shusaku Endo

christ s purest face in dreams i d see
i m christ s i used to comfort me
now christian faces all ablaze
surrender all to god for me

japan s a swampland and a maze
oppressing christ the silent gaze
of padre god are you still here
ferreira tempts my fall from grace

betraying what i ve held most dear
the screams of martyrs in my ear
a hideous christ shouts trample me
i join the mocking spitting jeers

i drop my foot the martyrs free
i m judas yet you died for me
a new life christs inside of me
a new life christ s inside of me

“‘My struggle was with Christianity in my own heart.’” — Okada San’emon, formerly Sebastian Rodriguez, in Silence, Shusako Endo

the fidelity of betrayal

My dream has been to live a comfortable life as a Christian family man with Christian friend groups in a nice suburb. Being a professor became part of that vision in the last couple years. Living in the vicinity of great natural beauty would be nice as well.

The kicker: one could say I have “betrayed” myself, my loved ones and the faith. Yes, apostasy is betrayal. Yet as I see it, I have risked all those things (“crucified my flesh”, to use biblical language) in my pursuit of truth and my aim to obey my conscience. By saying the tenets of Christianity cannot be proven and are difficult to believe, I have risked and am risking my friend groups, my potential desired mates (conservative Christian women mostly), and my future dreams and plans. I am actually taking the claims of Christianity very seriously, probably moreso than many of my peers at divinity school. Inevitably some of them will find themselves in my shoes in the future, only they will have a ministry, a church at stake. I hope they can be true when that time comes.

I said I have crucified my flesh; I could have said “lost my life for [truth’s] sake” as well. I am not using these flippantly. In a context of cultural Christianity, perhaps forsaking all for the sake of truth, or even Christ, looks exactly like what I am doing. How else could I know how committed I am to truth than to risk all the external forms of Christian-ness in a culture where being a Christian — going to church, having bible study friends, upholding “Christian” values, claiming the Christian god — is the norm, the status quo? (I’m speaking specifically of my own Christan sub-culture here, but contrary to popular conservative Christian belief, Christianity is even a dominant way of life in our wider public sphere. Trust me. Living abroad or becoming an agnostic will show you how dominant Christians are in the American public sphere.) When put like this, the title of Peter Rollins’ book — The Fidelity of Betrayal — actually makes some sense (though I have yet to read it or know its contents in the slightest). Do not Jesus’ words about hating mother and brother and father for his sake make more sense in this light as well?

Shusaku Endo’s Silence is about this idea in my read: The greatest expression of the protagonist’s internal commitment to Christ comes ironically through externally denying Christ. Endo writes a historical fiction about the life of a Portuguese priest who comes to 17th century Japan to provide leadership to a persecuted underground Catholic church. Through Endo’s fascinating book, the relationship of Christ and Judas becomes a motif. If I have it right, Endo provides a beautiful read of what happened between them. Christ commands Judas “What thou doest, do quickly” knowing Judas must do it, and wishing for Judas’ pain in his action to be as quick as possible. Though it looks like Judas spurns the love of Christ through betraying him, in fact, he obeys Christ in a way that is necessary and that breaks both of their hearts. Prima facie, it seems Christ then dies “on the tree” (Gal. 3.13) for nothing. Does the reader not have similar misgivings about Judas’ death on a tree, that he dies a miserable failure, misgivings that might belie the truth?

I seem even to myself to be a traitor. For most of my life, Christ has been in some way real to me and my relationship to Christ has been central to my self-understanding. Right now, I do not affirm Christ’s resurrection. Nor do I deny it. Perhaps before all is through I will deny it. And perhaps, much as I wish to the contrary, Christ didn’t resurrect. I think the takeaway is that what I am going through is a difficult process of discerning who I really am that highlights what my deep-rooted values are and how much I can risk in allegiance to those values. Not that I have ever once narrated my life to myself through the story of Wolverine (eyebrow raise — doubtful frown), but like him I am a survivor who has endured much. The scars are invisible to others, remembered only to me. They remind me how much I have taken and that I can still take more. Though I wish to come through this by being a Christian again, believing in Christ again, I will be glad that I have been true to myself and risked much of what is dear to me towards that effort regardless of my future positions on faith.