Jesus and Samson: The Remarkable Parallels

A number of Christian commentators have recognized that there are several parallels between the story of Samson and the story of Jesus. In Christian circles, it is often argued that these similarities point to Jesus. Given the strength of several of the parallels, I think an argument could be made that the influence worked in the other direction, with the story of Jesus pointing to the story of Samson as a literary source.

The story of Samson can  be found in Judges 13–16. Here is my list of parallels. See what you think. At the end of the listing, I’ll discuss another parallel that Christians overlook. Samson was almost certainly a deity figure.

Similarities between the Samson and Jesus stories

  • Israel is under the domination of a foreign power. In Samson it is the Philistines. With Jesus it is the Romans.
  • An angel appears to the hero’s mother-to-be and announces she will be the bearer of a child through a miraculous birth, apparently without benefit of sexual activity. In the Samson story, the mother is barren and unable to have children.
  • The angel tells the mother that the child will be the savior of Israel.
  • The spirit of the Lord is involved in the birth of the child.
  • At some point, the spirit of the lord enters into the hero.
  • The hero likes to speak in riddles.
  • The hero has been given authority by God to act as a Judge over Israel.
  • The Jews bind the hero and hand him over to the foreign power ruling over them. In the Samson story, he manages to escape but is re-arrested later.
  • Someone close to Jesus is bribed in order to find a way to take him into custody.
  • After the hero is arrested, his sight is impaired. In the Samson story he is blinded. In the Jesus story he is blindfolded.
  • After the hero is arrested, he is mocked.
  • The hero knows that he will die pursuant to God’s plan.
  • Just before the hero dies, his arms were stretched out in a cross-like fashion.
  • Upon his death a temple is damaged. In Samson’s story, he brings down the Philistine temple. In the Jesus story, the curtain in the Jewish Temple is torn in two.

While the details in each of the two narratives aren’t identical, they are similar and abundant. As to the Samson story, if it did serve as a literary source, it existed in a contextually different situation. It wouldn’t be surprising, therefore, to see modifications made to the literary template to fit in with the later context.

Samson as deity

The name Samson, Shimson in Hebrew, literally means “sun man” or man of the sun.” This is not the kind of name one would expect from an Israelite. It suggests that Samson originates as a solar deity for a non-Israelite cult. This is reinforced by the fact that he has extremely long hair, which serves as the basis of his strength. Long hair frequently has solar implications in mythology as a symbol of the sun’s rays. Horses and Lions, having long manes, are frequently depicted as solar symbols. The Samson story also takes place close to the city of Beth Shemesh, which translates as House of the Sun.

In the story, Samson is identified with the tribe of Dan, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, in Philistine territory. Shortly after the Samson story, Judges tells the story of the Danites moving to the north of Israel, and in later times Dan was considered the northern boundary of Israel.

In the Song of Deborah, she asks “Dan, why did he abide with the ships?” Dan didn’t aid Israel in this particular battle, and Dan appears as a seafaring nation. Some scholars believe that the tribe of Dan may have been the Dnyn, one of the Greek Sea People tribes that entered Canaan at about the time of the Judges setting. Homer used the name Danoi for the Greek nations that fought at Troy.

The Philistines were another one of the Sea Peoples that entered Canaan during the Judges era. In the Samson story, despite being an Israelite and a Judge, Samson seems to spend all of his time with the Philistines, marrying a Philistine woman and socializing with the Philistines and taking up with various Philistine women..

Many scholars recognize at least a similarity between Samson and the Greek hero Herakles, who became a deity upon his death. Portions of the Herakles cycle, such as his sailing through the sky in a golden cup, suggest that he had aspects of a solar deity. In my 101 Myths of the Bible, I explore the connection between Samson and Herakles in more detail. I suggested that the Sea Peoples brought the Herakles myths with them into Canaan and they became the basis of a local solar cult with “sun man, ” i.e., Samson, as the local deity.

My ASOR 2020 Annual Meeting Presentation

I am presenting a paper at the ASOR 2020 (virtual ) Annual Meeting titled “Noah’s Flood: Babylonian or Egyptian in Origin?” Almost all scholarship on the Genesis story of Noah’s Flood sees the origins of the story in some version of the Babylonian flood myths. These include some version of the Gilgamesh epic or an early ancestor to the Flood story contained within the Gilgamesh epic.

While there can be little doubt that some sort of literary connection exists between the Genesis version and some version of the Babylonian Flood traditions, scholars see this as the starting point for studying the story. In my paper I will be arguing that the story originates with Egyptian Creation myths. At a much later time, however, the original version of the story was redacted in order to harmonize it with the Gilgamesh epic.

Because the meeting is virtual, I will not be doing a live presentation. All presenters are submitting video versions of the paper that will be available to registrants for up to six months. However, members of my panel, Archaeology in Egypt, will all be available for an online live session to take questions and engage in discussions of the papers presented by the panel members. That session will be on November 20th, from 12:30 to 1:30.

Shortly after the live panel, I will add the paper to my Writings page on this blog (and perhaps make the video version available also.) In the meantime, over the next couple of weeks, I am planning a series of posts on the very problematic nature of the internal chronology of the Noah’s Flood story in Genesis, i.e., how long did the Flood last, what happened when in the course of the story, and what conclusions can we draw. There should be a few interesting revelations in the analysis.

Was Mary the Name of Jesus’ Mother? A Source-Critical Perspective

I previously mentioned the publication at the Bible and Interpretation site of my essay titled “Was Mary the Name of Jesus’ Mother: A Source Critical Perspective.” I am now making it available here and through a link on my Selected Writings page. Here is the opening paragraph. Click on the link to read the rest of the article.

If we had no reliable written sources mentioning the name of Jesus’ mother, a good guess would be Mary. Statistically, it was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, name for Jewish women in the first century. In the Christian scriptures, more women have the name Mary than any other name. The question I wish to raise here is whether we have any reliable written evidence that Mary was the name of Jesus’ mother. Click here to read the rest

Site Upgrade Completed

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