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Religious Subjects > Samson


Samson was an Old Testament judge, known for his great physical strength and womanizing rather than for his judicial prowess.  The medieval Church saw him as a prefiguration of Christ and as a prototype of Fortitude.  He is mostly shown in woodcarving slaying a lion, killing Philistines or having his hair cut by Delilah whilst drunk.  After Delilah's treachery he was captured and imprisoned by the Philistines; she had revealed to them that his strength lay in his hair - a widespread belief in primitive societies.  In prison, however, his hair grew back, so that when he was taken away to be mocked and taunted in a house of Philistines in Gaza he was able to seize hold of the pillars supporting the roof and bring the house down, killing himself as well as the other occupants.  



1.       Samson and the Philistines.

Samson, towering over his fleeing Philistine adversaries, is seen wielding the jawbone of an ass with which he single-handedly slew them in their thousands.  God, seen here looking down from an elaborately formed cloud, caused water to flow from the jawbone after the fight so that Samson could drink after his labours.  This is probably a mistranslation from the original Hebrew in which he drinks from a stream by the name of “jaw”.  The sun and moon carved at the top of the panel represent the two Testaments: the moon – the Old Testament – can only be understood by the light shed upon it by the sun – the New Testament.  Samson’s acts should be judged in the light of Christian teaching.



2.       Samson and Delilah.

Samson took a Philistine woman, Delilah, as a lover.  She was bribed by Philistine soldiers to find out why he was so strong; at first he refused to tell her but he eventually succumbed to her charms and revealed that the secret lay in his hair which had never been cut.  Delilah plied him with drink, then cut his hair, watched in this panel by two Philistine soldiers, sheltering behind a wicker fence, who will shortly take Samson prisoner.

   3.        Samson and the Lion.

On his way to Timnath with his parents in search of a wife, Samson came across a young, roaring lion.  He forced its jaws apart with his bare hands and tore the lion to pieces.   On this panel the parents are seen on the right in the distance approaching the town.  To the left of the lion lies the jawbone of an ass, in reference to the bone with which Samson killed a thousand Philistines.  After Samson's conquest of the Philistines the jawbone was said to have produced water to quench his thirst, but this was probably a mistranslation from the Hebrew, confusing the name of a spring with that of a jaw.