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

Sara van den Berg vandens at slu.edu
Sat Feb 23 21:31:14 EST 2008

If you want to contextualize the poem in terms of 17th c English 
Christians, then it is worth noting that Samson was a controversial 
figure in 17th c sermons.  Some were pro-Samson; others were not.  Some 
sermons treated Samson as a type of Christ; others did not.  Joseph 
Wittreich surveys the debate in his book on SA.  Another context, of 
course, is the publication of SA with PR, a juxtaposition that invites 
Milton's readers to compare/contrast Samson and Christ.  The questions 
just keep getting bigger.

Sara van den Berg

Rovira wrote:
> 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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