Monday, April 22, 2013

The Philistines

The Philistines are mentioned in several books of the Bible as being the nemesis of the Israelites. There were huge battles and casualties listed in the thousands but I was mystified... who were the Philistines?
So I looked up "Philistine" in my online dictionary because I'm lazy and I didn't want to lug the unabridged (and hence, huge) dictionary up the stairs. One of the definitions was this: "A person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them."
Really? The Israelites were fighting wars against people who are just lacking in taste? That doesn't seem to me to be much of a reason to fight a war. 
I also found out that the Philistines were an ancient people who lived in Philistia. Really? That's not too informative. I also found out that the Philistines no longer exist. Apparently, they are extinct so there are no books telling the dramatic tales of the Philistines from the Philistine perspective.
I found a good deal of information about the Philistines from this website. So, here are some details about the Philistines. They may have come from Crete in the Aegean Sea. They were considered to be sea people. They had enormous sea battles with the Egyptians. In fact, the Philistines were also known to have been very warlike. They were aggressive, like the Klingons in Star Trek, who went into battle announcing, "Today is a good day to die."
The Philistines seemed invincible because they were able to produce swords and all sorts of weapons in great quantities. They were technologically ahead of the Israelites. The Philistines, when not fighting with the Israelites, helped out the Israelites by sharpening their farm tools. Apparently, the Israelites didn't know how to do that.
I also found out that the Philistines were very musical and they celebrated many occurrences of their lives with song.They also celebrated with copious amounts of alcohol. They were culturally more advanced than the Israelites. They were, however, pagans.  So the definition of Philistine as uncultured boor is inaccurate.
But God did not favor the Philistines because they were pagans...
And they are all gone...
without leaving behind any of their folk tales...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Bible's Superman!

Samson was very strong, but he had one weakness. If he had his hair cut, he would lose his strength. He was very much like Achilles, who was very strong and who also had a weakness (his heel). Then there was Superman. He too was very strong, until he was exposed to Kryptonite. Samson was to be a Nazirite. A Nazirite is not a priest but is someone who makes a special vow, under certain conditions. He is not to consume grapes in any form, including wine, touch a corpse, or cut his hair.

Samson was so strong that he could tear apart an attacking lion with his bare hands. He could be tied up with the strongest rope and escape by breaking the rope as if it were thread.

Unfortunately, Samson was also very naive, especially when it came to women. He was attracted to women who wanted to take advantage of him and use him, probably because of his enormous strength. He had disastrous relations with two women. The first was identified only as a Philistine woman. She was not named. Samson decided to marry her, over the objections of his parents. He probably should have listened to his parents. This lady was not a good match for Samson. She kept trying to get information out of Samson but failed. However, I am not certain that the marriage ever happened.

Well, Samson's second time around in the area of romance turned out to be an even bigger disaster. He fell in love with Delilah. Unfortunately, Delilah was bribed by the Philistines to find out Samson's secret: what would take away his super powers? Samson thought that Delilah was just teasing him when she kept asking him for the secret. Maybe he thought that her goal was something X rated and between the two of them. Who knows? Anyway, Delilah tied Samson up with ropes, which he broke. She braided his hair and tied the braids together, but he was able to remove those without difficulty. But, eventually, Delilah sweet talked Samson into telling her his secret. She had servants shave Samson's head while he was asleep. He became weak immediately and lost his status as a Nazirite because his vow was considered broken, even if it had not been broken voluntarily.

The Philistines wanted revenge because Samson had killed many Philistines. In fact, he struck down 1,000 men with a donkey's jawbone. That was his weapon of choice because he was strong enough to make that jawbone into a deadly weapon.  Anyway, the Philistines did get their revenge. They put Samson into prison and forced him to grind grain. And they put out Samson's eyes, so he was blind.

Samson's fate was tragic but, eventually, his hair grew back and he regained his strength but not his eyesight. He managed to get out of prison to go to the Philistines' temple. There, he leaned on the pillars until they broke, causing the entire building to be structurally unsound. The building then collapsed, killing everyone inside it, including Samson.

After Delilah got her servant to shave Samson's head, she is never mentioned again.

Here is a picture of Delilah cutting Samson's hair: Samson gets an unwanted haircut

The story of Samson and Delilah is very dramatic. In fact, Camille Saint Saens wrote an opera based on this tale. One of the more unusual things about this opera is that the leading lady is a mezzo soprano, not a soprano, although the strong Samson is played by a tenor. Because I am a mezzo soprano, I like the idea of a mezzo soprano leading lady.

More tales later!

Monday, April 1, 2013

More tales from Judges

I have been reading the book of Judges for about the last week. It is interesting, although, in spots, gruesome. In fact, the book started off in an unpleasant way, when the descendants of Judah and Simeon went to fight against the Canaanites and the Perizzites. In the battle, 10,000 men were killed. Not only that, the Israelites managed to capture the fleeing king, Adoni-Bezek. Apparently, he was a tyrant. He was tortured by having his thumbs and big toes cut off. Oddly enough, he wasn't angry about this gruesome action taken against him. He said that he deserved it because he had cut off the thumbs and big toes of seventy kings that he had subjugated.
And, speaking about the number seventy, there was a guy named Abimelech. This seems to be a common name in the Old Testament. In Genesis, Abram was traveling with his wife, Sarai, when they stopped in Schechem to stay for a while. The king there was Abimelech. Abram was afraid that he would be killed because his wife was so beautiful. To avoid an immediate demise, he told a lie by telling Abimelech that Sarai was his sister. Years later, Isaac, the son of Abraham (formerly known as Abram), told exactly the same lie to Abimelech for exactly the same reason. He was afraid that, if anyone knew that Rebekah was his wife, he would be killed. Rebekah was beautiful. In both instances, disaster struck Abimelech and his people because of Abram's and Isaac's lies.
Well, centuries have passed. This new Abimelech was the son of an Israelite judge, Gideon, and a concubine. Therefore, he was illegitimate. Gideon had been a busy man. He won a battle against the Midianites, with 300 men, who were equipped with trumpets, pitchers, and torches. So, anyway, when Gideon wasn't leading his troops, he was busy with family. He had a number of wives. With those wives, he had seventy sons. He also had Abimelech with a concubine.
When Gideon passed away, Abimelech decided that he wanted to be a king. There was only one problem. Or there were seventy problems. They had more of a legitimate claim on the throne than did Abimelech. So Abimelech decided to get rid of those seventy problems permanently. He killed all of his brothers. Then he became the king. After three years, he was assassinated, and, thus, his kingly days came to a halt.
There are numerous incidents of sibling rivalry in the Bible, but this takes sibling rivalry to a new, disgusting extreme.
One of the more interesting characters in Judges is Deborah. She was married to a man named Lappidoth, but she didn't gain her fame or position because of anything that her husband did. Deborah was a prophetess and a judge. She is the first woman to be mentioned in the Bible in the role of a leader. She was described as a wife and a prophetess. She was not a military leader. When she needed a military leader, she called on Barak. He was called on to destroy the Canaanites. But he refused to go alone, and he insisted that Deborah had to accompany him, and she did so. Nevertheless, Barak's victory against King Hazar (the Canaanite king) was impressive and it led to good times for the Israelites. They experienced forty years of peace, under the leadership of Deborah. She was a quiet woman who served God. She was not mean or dominating. She simply was a wife and a prophetess and a good judge. She was considered to be pious and a woman of great wisdom.
And she was rare... a woman who led her people during a time when women rarely, if ever, held that role.
Check out this link for a picture of Deborah
The painting was made in 1901 by Charles Landelle (1821-1908). He was a French painter, who had a variety of specialties, including "orientalist." Here is more information about Charles Landelle
Next time: Samson and Delila!