2014 ended with a blockbuster biblical epic, technically known as a peplum, which has the distinction of having been immediately banned in Egypt where it was accused of being too pro-Semitic. Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” is apparently a magnificent spectacle (thanks to remarkable special effects) though a mediocre movie, but it does at least prove that biblical heroes like Moses continue to be good bets at the box-office.
On the Paramount channel I recently had the pleasure of seeing another much older peplum, Cecil B. De Mille’s “Samson and Delilah” (1949, two Oscars), with the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr, a chesty and cheeky chick like Mae West before her and Marilyn Monroe after her, and Victor Mature, whose pectoral majors – to continue chatting about chests – could not equal those of either Sylvester Stallone or Arnie Schwarzenegger, but like the rest of his beautiful body as well as his black mane, predestined him for the rôle of the hirsute hero of the Book of Judges.
Fully four of the twenty-one chapters of the Book of Judges are devoted to one of the silliest, most scandalous and permanently popular stories in the Old Testament. Israel, under the domination of the Philistines before it was ruled by its own kings, was governed by Judges, who were not magistrates but military leaders in its different tribes. The most famous of them, Samson, was a hairy, horny character whose enormous physical strength was due to the fact that, following instructions from an angel, he never had a haircut. This was a secret he told no one, for obvious reasons.
“Once Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a harlot and visited her” (Judges 16:1). The sacred text offers this throw-away line without any moral judgement, but simply as the pretext for Samson’s stumbling into a Philistine ambush and for flexing his considerable biceps as well as certain other organs with which he was well-equipped. The text goes on : “After that he fell in love with a woman in the Wadi Sorek whose name was Delilah.” She is bribed by the nasty Philistine lords to discover the secret of his strength, and no less than three times a suspicious Samson strings her along with phony explanations. “Then she said to him” (in almost modern fashion) “How can you say that you love me when you do not confide in me ?” (Judges 16:15). So, “vexed with her complaints” (this next verse could have been translated “having had it up to here”), he finally blurts out the secret.
We know the rest of the story, and the film is pretty faithful to it (helluva scenario for Hollywood !). It’s a great yarn, to the point that we don’t even notice that God is apparently approving the now blinded but re-hairy Samson’s suicide and his massacre of the 3000 spectators in the pagan temple which he brought down on top of them.
Why, I hear some scandalized readers object, why spoil a good story worthy of an Indiana Jones adventure ? Because while both are great fun for kids to watch on the screen, the story of Samson is supposed to be the Word of God, history, or at least edifying teaching inspired by God, holding up the hero’s behavior as exemplary. Honest to God, my friends, by everything that is holy in Hollywood, how could anyone in his right mind swallow and preach this stuff ? Rarely in this Blog has my mantra been more merited :
P.S. If all that outraged non-atheists and other blind folk out there have to say about this is that Divine Revelation was a gradual process and that it took time for the Chosen People to evolve towards belief in a God who was a little less odious and a morality that was a little more human — forget it ! Intelligent comments will, however, be accepted.