Disciple of Thecla
3/14/13 at 07:05 AM 0 Comments

History Channel's Miniseries: No Seppuku for Saul

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The feelings I have for this episode are decidedly mixed. There are some things I absolutely love, other things that make me cringe, and so many tweaks that I do not know where to begin or even if I should address all of them. Therefore, I encourage everyone to find an actual Bible and to read it for yourselves.

The books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel reveal a particularly violent and chaotic time during Israel's early history. Newly-liberated from slavery and newly-settled where they could keep their freedoms, the Israelites had no social order nor internal stability. Meanwhile, they were under constant invasions and perpetual dangers. The other nations invaded and sought to enslave them at least seven times throughout the book of Judges. Warfare was an incessant necessity for survival. God desired the safety of His people, but He also needed to work through these flawed sinful humans and this flawed society.

There are some things in the Bible that are open and subject to personal interpretation such as David's relationship with Bathsheba. Were they mutually romantic? Did David force himself upon her? Did Bathsheba seduce David? I have heard all these interpretations from Christians. Scripture does not specify whether they were mutually interested in each other or whether David forced himself, or whether she felt trapped without any choice (2 Samuel 11:4). Nonetheless, the scripture is clear that David sinned, angered God, and then worsened the sin by fearing man more than God.

I have come to speculate whether the precise details of the two spies entering Rahab's house is also open and subject to interpretation.

"Now, Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." So, they went and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab and lodged there." (Joshua 2:1)

In the episode, the two spies were found in the alleyway and were pursued. There was some bloodshed. Fleeing, they came to Rahab's house. These are some added details not in scripture. The spies are terrified for their lives and lives of their people. Desperate, one spy holds her son or young brother hostage (relationship not defined in the episode) while another spy grabs her from behind so she won't alert the troops. The two spies soon release them. Rahab assures the Jericho guards that no Israelites are in her house. Then, the spies offer her mercy and compassion, asking her to join them and then offering her the red cord. Everything in that scene makes sense, is reasonable, and portrays all the characters in a sympathetic and understandable light.

I have not found anything in that scene which contradicts the biblical passage. Here is why I think it is subject to interpretation.

Joshua 2:1-8 indicate that Rahab knowingly, willing, and freely gave refuge to the two Israel spies. However, she also says:

"I know that the LORD has given you this land, that the fear of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you." (Joshua 2:9)

"Now therefore, I beg you swear to me by the LORD since I have shown you kindness, that you will also show kindness to my father's house..." (Joshua 2:12)

and then she asked them to spare her and her family. All this is expressed within the episode's scene.

Joshua has displayed the most reverence and love for God so far - praying at the Arc of the Covenant, praying toward the wilderness, announcing 'this land is for the Lord' and 'God has kept His promise' at the victory in Jericho. Other details have been tweaked, shifted, adjusted, or omitted.

Then, there is the story of Samson, which to me is both a delight and a disappointment. The story of Samson as presented in the episode is a great example of drawing from scripture to add onto a biblical story. I can cite numerous verses supporting the added dialogue, which I will cite very soon. The disappointment is the lack of accuracy over Samson's race and ethnicity.

Samson is portrayed as a black man with dreadlocks. A part of the Nazirite vow states that the man cannot shave his head (Numbers 6:5) until the vow is complete. Then, he cuts off all his hair and burns it as an offering (Numbers 6:18). I think Paul of Tarsus took the vow once, but I need to look further into it.

Well, here is the issue.

The biblical and scriptural Samson was not black. Samson was of the tribe of Dan (Judges 13:2). There are black people within the actual Bible. I think it is common knowledge now that Moses married a black woman, and his father-in-law Jethro served as an advisor, giving guidance and direction to Moses as he led his people through the wilderness. All of Moses's children were black. And his wife and father-in-law were of the Kenite people. The Kenites dwelt among the Israelites, and more than likely, they all began to worship God.

Now the children of the Kenite, Moses's father-in-law, went up from the City of Palms with the children of Judah into the Wilderness of Judah, which lies in the South near Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people. (Judges 1:16)

Kenites are mentioned off and on throughout scripture until 1 Samuel 30:29 or 1 Chronicles 2:55. Every time you see a Kenite mentioned, you have the mention of a black person. So, there are black people in the Bible and living within Israel. But Samson was not a Kenite. Samson was of the tribe of Dan.

The people who produced the series had cast Samson with a black actor because the audience would be more familiar with the sight of dreadlocks. The sight would be less jarring and more acceptable in their eyes. The Nazirite vow is an obscure piece of scripture. I feel grateful that they brought it up in the episode because not many Christians know about it. Perhaps if this helped the audience to understand and to visualize the Nazirite vow, then that is a good thing. Due to the lack of historic accuracy... I have not yet resolved how I feel about the matter.

The casting of Samson also served to highlight certain issues that the creators of the show wanted to address because it also visualized matters that the audience is more familiar with. The marriage of black Samson to a white philistine woman brings comments by the philistines of "our races must never mix." The audience certainly understands this problem from our own contemporary history. Strangely, I cannot find this condemnation of mixed race marriages within the actual Samson story, although the philistines threaten to burn her and her father alive (Judges 14:16) at their wedding. The philistines do burn her alive in Judges 15:6.

Despite the Samson inaccuracies, this has a good biblical message and stays true to the series of events. The people who designed this part of the episode clearly drew from scripture to include onto the Samson story. I tried typing up bits of dialogue between commercials, and I might not have typed all that was said, so it could just be a paraphrase.

In the episode, Samson goes on a revenge killing spree against the philistines. The philistines want to arrest him. Samson's people find him hiding and talk to him.

Samson: I am doing what I feel/think is right

Elder? father?: no, you must do what is right for your people, right for God.

That scene is a big slap in the face of secular humanism and human-worship. This dialogue is supported by some scripture:

"do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you..." (Deuteronomy 6:18)

The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

And there are many other verses about obedience to God, enough for another article. This post is long enough already. After this dialogue in the episode, Samson realizes that he has strayed away from God. Later, he asks, "Lord God, is that You?" and "Lord God, what do You want from me?" Unfortunately, as soon as he asks that last question, he encounters Delilah. Do not follow after the first thing that comes your way. Not every answer comes from God. The devil has his own answers.

Delilah at first refuses to betray Samson to the philistines, but she is very easily bribed with a chest of money to find the source of his strength.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness.... (1 Timothy 6:10)

Delilah gets Samson to tell her the secret of his strength to which he replies, "God makes me strong. If I cut my hair, He will take away my strength." So, she grabs the scissors of anachronism and snips off all his dreadlocks. Parts of this are found within the actual biblical Samson story while the added parts can be supported through other scripture. The only part that cannot be found in scripture are the scissors of anachronism.

Then comes the conclusion of the Samson story. There is one part of scripture absent from the episode that definitely should have been included. After the philistines capture Samson and blind him, they decide to sacrifice him to their god Dagon.

Now the lords of the Philistines gathered together to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to rejoice. (Judges 17:23)

Just as the absence of key information in the Sodom story falsely depicted God's intentions, the absence of this piece of information likewise failed to explain God's precise reasons and motivations for what happened. God hates idol worship and false worship above all else. The Philistines were already dominating over Israel, and now they were going to humiliate Him further by making His judge a sacrifice to a false idol. Of course, God would be seriously ticked off. And remember how ticked off He was with the Egyptians. God strengthens Samson who tears down the pillars of the heathen temple, which collapses and kills everyone in it.

A member of the audience can make an argument that God had every reason to destroy the building this way from what was in the episode - Philistines dominated Israel; Samson was blinded; Israel had no leader on earth. But without this piece of knowledge, an understanding and awareness would not be complete.

One of my facebook friends wondered why the creators of the miniseries could not include this scriptural quote from Samson:

"O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!" (Judges 17:28)

At the pillar, Samson did pray to God. I do not catch what exactly he said, though. Did Samson say this at the pillar in the episode, or was it something different?

Anyway, I noticed this was the only time black philistines appear in the episode, and they laugh and jeer at Samson alongside the white philistines.. Black philistines remove any subconscious perceptions that Samson was blinded and chained on account of his skin. Black philistines make the scene racially-neutral and keep the focus on Samson as an Israelite judge, tortured for being an Israelite.

The episode switches over to Samuel the prophet and the people who cry out for a king to rule over them. Samuel protests that kings make slaves of their people. This honest reality is depicted in the actual Bible with both Saul (1 Samuel 15:6) and with David regarding Uriah and Bathsheba. Kings tend to become arrogant, power-hungry tyrants who rebel against God and who enslave their own people.

Earlier during the time of Judges, Israel had attempted to make Gideon a king, but Gideon insisted:

"I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you." (Judges 8:23)

It is important to understand the historical events leading up to the monarchy and the Amalekite war. During the Judges, the Israelites were often enslaved or otherwise oppressed. While I took my lunch break at work March 13, I read over Judges and made a list of the attacks, invasions, and the Judges that fought each one off.

Mesopotamia enslaves Israel - Othniel nephew of Caleb delievers Israel.

Eglon king of Moab with Ammon and Amalek turn Israel into a vassal nation - Ehud of Benjamin saves Israel.

Philistines go after Israel - Shamgar delievers Israel

Jabin king of Canaan enslaves Israel - prophetess Deborah leads the army to save Israel

Midianites with Amalekites attack Israel - Gideon saves Israel

Tola of the Issachar tribe judges during time of relative peace.

Jair judges during time of peace

Philistines and Ammon enslave Israel - Jephthah saves Israel

Ibzan judges during time of peace or relative peace

Elon judges during time of peace or relative peace

Abdon judges during time of peace or relative peace

Samson judges during "that time the philistines had dominion over Israel." (Judges 14:4)

Israel remained under the authority of the Philistines from the time of Samson until the time of Saul or David. Prior to the monarchy, the people beckoned Samuel "Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us that He may save us from the hands of the Philistines." (1 Samuel 7:8) After a long war for liberation, "Saul returned from pursuing the philistines, and the philistines went to their own place." (1 Samuel 14:46) The philistines were kicked out of Israel.

The war against the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15 is the very first war instigated by Israel at God's command since settling into the Promised Land. The previous wars have been to attain settlement land but primarily to liberate Israel and maintain independence from the continually-invading nations. this is very significant to understand and to take notice that this is the first war initiated by Israel and Yahweh since settlement into the Promised Land.

There are many ways to look at the war against the Amalekites.

Due to the numerous battle campaigns by Saul and Jonathon, the newly-liberated Israel needed to assert its own power and authority among the nations. Once Israel asserted power and authority, the other nations would be frightened back and would be less likely to attempt another invasion. This war was another method of keeping a strong defense and of protecting Israel. However, not just any nation was chosen; the war was against a nation that had attacked Israel repeatedly in the past during their time in the wilderness and twice during Judges - during the leaderships of Ehud and Gideon.

The warfare language throughout the Old Testament is troubling to modern readers. I likewise found it troubling when I first read it. But this is a different culture, and many of the phrases "utterly destroyed," "every man, woman, and child dead" are actually stock phrases, hyperbole, and standard military dialogue for the culture and time period. In a global culture where violence are necessities for survival and ways of life, it makes sense that the global culture would have such stock phrases.

Even today, we use phrases such as "killing time," or "slept like the dead," or if something goes wrong "so-and-so is going to shoot/kill..."

Paul Copan cited some sources as examples of this stock phrase, and I will include links from another non-Christian, secular source.

Paul Copan cited (pg 172):

In the Merneptah Stele (ca 1230 BC), Ramses II's son Merneptah announced "Israel is wasted, his seed is not," another premature declaration.

Moab's king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdon of "Israel has utterly perished for always," which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.

The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701-681 BC) used similar hyperbole: "The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped."

And just in case you want to accuse Paul Copan of a misleading, of bias and faulty facts, let me cite a couple things from a secular, non-Christian source that verifies this: the statements that sound like bloodthirsty genocide are nothing like they seem, and are in fact merely stock phrases, standard rhetoric, and idioms never meant to be taken literally.

An Assryian Shalmaneser II wrote that he:

To the city of Paqarrukhbuni

38. (and) the cities of Akhuni the son of Adini on the farther bank of the Euphrates I approached. I utterly destroyed the country. Its cities to ruins

39. I reduced. I filled the broad plain with the corpses of his warriors; 1300 of his fighting-men I slew with weapons.

Akhuni the son of Adini trusted to the multitude of his troops and came to meet me. I utterly defeated him.

An ancient document citing the history of Assyria and Babylonia wrote:

18. In the time of Bel-nirari king of Assyria Kuri-galzu the second 2 [king of Kar-Dunias]

19. with Bel-nirari king of Assyria in the city of ’Sugagi which is upon the [Tigris]

20. fought. He utterly defeated him. His soldiers [he slew].

There are plenty more examples within the Sacred Texts internet archive of complete destruction, enslaving or killing every man, woman, or child, and of more explicit bloody statements such as dying the mountain red with blood like a piece of wool. One big difference is that the other nations tended to enslave women and children, and record their numbers alongside the cattle; not a thing we seen in scripture because the actual Bible forbids enslaving free people (Exodus 21:16). This use of stock phrases and standard military rhetoric - never taken literally but merely a convention of the times - explains why Saul seemed to kill every man, woman, and child in 1 Samuel 15, sparing only Agag and the livestock, and yet David still encountered "conflict with the Amalekites" as 1 Samuel 30 is titled. All the phrases reminiscent of genocide were never meant to be interpreted literally, and there was never any actual genocide.

Returning to the episode discussion... David enters the episode. On his way to slay Goliath, David recites the 23rd Psalm. This is another good example of weaving scripture into the story to add onto the story. Some dialogue has been added that cannot be found in scripture. Overall, the David story was very accurate. Some scenes have been condensed together into one, but the episode's portrayal of story of David surprises even me in its accuracy.

When I first read the actual Bible, I asked myself, "what makes David so special? Why did God favor him so much to make him king over Israel? I mean, he's alright, I guess..." Then, I read the psalms and I thought, "Oh, so that is why God loves David so much."

Many of the psalms were written by king David, and they reveal his heart, his emotions, and his thoughts. Very little of this comes across in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. When David strayed away from God, he suffered a deep regret at offending the God he loved so much. I encourage everyone to read the psalms to get a stronger understanding of David. It is very critical and vital for everyone to read the scripture and to understand the actual Bible as written. I had forgotten one piece from scripture, so during commercial, I posted on my facebook page:

at the death of Jonathan,

Saul: God, were my sins so great that all Israel must suffer?

Saul commits seppuku.

Seppuku? Seriously?

One of my facebook friends Marcia Montenegro asked, "What's seppuku?"

Me: seppuku is a samurai ritual self-disembowelment. when a samurai brings too much shame, disgrace, and dishonor to his master or his family, the only way to adequately atone is through a ritual suicide - seppuku

Marcia Montenegro: Thanks. I thought it was some kind of Japanese suicide. So they show Saul disembowling himself?

Me: Not the whole thing, they showed it just by him pointing his sword to his belly right before he dies. I think that's the extent that the movie The Last Samurai depicted seppuku. I don't know if any American production will ever show the whole thing.

Marcia Montenegro: OK. The bible says Saul fell on his sword: The battle went heavily against Saul, and the archers hit him; and he was badly wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and pierce me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and pierce me through and make sport of me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died with him. 6 Thus Saul died with his three sons, his armor bearer, and all his men on that day together. 1 Sam 31

Because I had forgotten that Saul had fallen on the sword to avoid being killed by the philistines, I had mistaken it for something else. This is one very important, real life reason why we must always read scripture. Even then, the scene in the episode differs dramatically from the scene in the actual Bible. In the episode, Saul killed himself out of grief, depression, and abandonment - not out of defiance against the philistines. Saul did not kill himself out of any anguish or regret at losing God's favor and facing God's punishment; the episode portrayal was one reason I thought it would be seppuku. Saul killed himself to prevent the philistines from taking him captive and enjoying his torment.

So, in my own initial reaction, here is proof of the importance of reading scripture. However, if they had stayed true to the dialogue and actual circumstances leading to his suicide, I would have not interpreted it the way I did. Here we have reasons to check scripture for verification and reasons to maintain scriptural accuracy in movie depictions.


Other Sources Cited

Paul Copan. Is God a Moral Monster? Baker Books. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2011. pg 172


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