Between The Pillars: Revisiting “Sampson and the House of Dagon” -- By: John Roskoski

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:1 (Winter 2005)
Article: Between The Pillars: Revisiting “Sampson and the House of Dagon”
Author: John Roskoski

Between The Pillars:
Revisiting “Sampson and the House of Dagon”

Samson in the Philistine temple. “Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Jgs 16:29–30).

John Roskoski

The Biblical tableau of Samson’s death in the house of the Philistine god Dagon in Gaza is familiar to the scholar and the casual reader of the Bible alike. The components of the scene are the Philistine crowd cheering at the capture of Samson, the proud Philistine lords who have come to witness the death of their enemy, and a blinded and battered Samson standing between the main pillars of the temple. In the midst of this chaotic scene Samson utters a prayer to YHWH to be remembered and strengthened so to avenge himself upon his enemies. Knowing full well that this last stand against the Philistines will cost him his life, Samson dislodges the pillars, thereby collapsing the temple upon all who were in it (Jgs 16:23–30).

The State of the Question

The historicity of this heroic account has been long debated among scholars. Indeed, many scholars seem hesitant to comment on the historicity of the Samson narratives at all. From the scholarly debate over the destruction of the Gaza temple two diametrically opposed viewpoints have emerged. John L. McKenzie typifies the first viewpoint. Always a detractor of Samson, McKenzie argues that,

the historical quality of heroic tales is always low. This is easy to see in Samson. A palace or temple which could support several thousand people on its roof supported by two central pillars separated by an arm’s length never existed…The world in which Samson lives is real, even if his feats of strength are not (1979: 229–30).

Artist’s reconstruction of the temple at Tell Qasile: 10—street; 1, 9—courtyards; 8—stone threshold (cf. 1 Sm 5:4–5); 2—entrance room; 3—main hall; 4—wooden pillar resting on a stone base; 7—raised plastered platform with steps where a number of cultic vessels were found; 6—storage room for discarded cultic vessels; 5—small auxiliary shrine.


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