C O U R S E L E C T U R E
Portrayal of Death in the Bible
Notes taken on June 4, 2017 by Edward Tanguay
instead of dying heroic, noble deaths, the warriors venerated in Biblical literature died in peace
deaths are either not told are depicted as occurring peacefully in an advanced, old age
one of the most celebrated names in the book after Deborah
his family was among the poorest in the tribe of Manasseh
he is the youngest son of the family
rises to the top of Israelite society because of his leadership and valor in the battlefield
in contrast to Gideon, his son Abimelech, who tries to become king, is one of the most denigrated figures in the whole book
suffers a tragic and violent death
he dies in the battlefield
one of the few times that a hero does die in the battlefield
but not in an honorable way
he as the first king had encountered resistance against his kingship, goes against them in a campaign, a woman on top of the wall took a stone that she used to grind flour and tosses it down on top of Abimelech and smashes his head
so he begs his armor bearer to finish him off so that he won't be remembered as dying on the battle field at the hands of a woman
despite his extraordinary sexual exploits, he lacks children
his martial feats are motivated more by personal vanity than by interest in the collective good
his final moment is his most memorable
out of revenge for what the Philistines gouging out his eyes, he pleads for divine strength to slay all the Philistines who were celebrating having captured him
"Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands. When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain. While they were in high spirits, they shouted, Bring out Samson to entertain us. So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them. Now the temple was crowded with men and women, all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes. 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."
this is account is probably influenced by Herculean mythology
it's not tragic in the sense of e.g. taking down a monster just achieve an extraordinary feat
the feat that he performs inflicts real damage on the enemy
"those he killed in death were more than he killed in life"
this final feat entitles him to an honorable burial
whereas Gilgamesh wishes to make a name for himself in death at the hands of a great and worthy opponent
Samson makes a name for himself in death through affecting great losses for his enemies
"Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and they fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malki-Shua, the sons of Saul. Saul was in the thick of the battle, and the archers spotted him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor bearer, Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised do not come and thrust me through and make a fool of me! But his armor bearer was not willing to do so because he was very afraid. So Saul took the sword and fell on it. And when his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul died, and his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men together that same day."
the most famous battlefield death in the Bible
presented as tragic, with no redeeming value
"Now King David was old and stricken in years, and they covered him with clothes, but he got no heat. Therefore his servants said unto him, 'Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin, and let her stand before the king, and let her comfort him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat.' So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the region of Israel, and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king and ministered to him, but the king knew her not."
"After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Necho king of Egypt came up to fight against Carchemish by the Euphratesm, and Josiah went out against him. But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, 'What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war, for God commanded me to make haste. Forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not.' Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him, but disguised himself, that he might fight with him, and hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God, and came to fight in the Valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot at King Josiah, and the king said to his servants, 'Take me away, for I am sorely wounded.' His servants therefore took him out of that chariot and put him in the second chariot that he had, and they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died, and was buried in one of the sepulchers of his fathers. And all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah.'"
is also not a glorious death