[Milton-L] RE: Samson's prayer for revengr

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sat Feb 23 21:03:18 EST 2008

I think we need to distinguish between OT source material and
Christian evaluations of the source material, first of all.  There's
nothing morally questionable within the context of the OT law in
Samson's killing of these thousands of occupiers.  Samson was God's
appointed judge, the Philistines were on land belonging to God's
people, Samson was fulfilling his God-ordained role as the deliverer
of Israel.  The entire cycle of command-disobedience-foreign
oppression-repentance-deliverance is spelled out very clearly in the
latter chapters of Deuteronomy.  Only a Christian who has been taught
that revenge is wrong would take issue with Samson's act, and only
then insofar as he perceived Samson as motivated by a desire for
personal revenge.  To the extent that Samson was God's agent for the
delivery of Israel from foreign oppression, even many Christian
readers would not necessarily take issue with his act.  Those in
pacifist Christian traditions would morally condemn Samson.  Those
working from within some kind of just war theory would not,
necessarily.  The question is at least open.

The more important question is, of course, would Milton take issue
with Samson's act?  Given his allegiances in the English civil war,
it's hard for me to believe he would take issue with Samson's revenge
as an act of political deliverance even if he did feel differently
about the act as an act of personal revenge. Neither is it hard to
imagine Milton self-identifying with Samson; blind and trapped in
chains by a pagan ruling class.

Nor is it hard to imagine that Milton could have written the scene to
make Samson's prayer clearly heard by the messenger.  The messenger
simply had to be close enough to Samson to hear the prayer and close
enough to an exit to escape the building's collapse.  I suspect that
the messenger was set at some distance because that is what we are
from Samson's character, and perhaps, in Milton's mind, he was at some
distance even from himself regarding the restoration of the monarchy
-- to fight it would be to bring down England.  Is it worth it?  Is it
right?  Is it God that Samson speaks to?

Jim R

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