David Maine is fast carving himself out a niche as an edgy
re-teller of biblical stories. First came his interpretation of Noah's Ark
(titled The Preservationist in the USA and The Flood in the UK:
2004), in which a brooding Yahweh takes a Sicilian approach to his creation
sending all but but his favored family to sleep with the fishes. Then came
Fallen (2005) in which the Bible's first family recount their tales of
woe in reverse chronological order, shifting viewpoints from Cain to Abel to
Adam, and lastly to Eve.
Now he returns with The Book of Samson - a rip-roaring and audacious interpretation of the life of Samson, the Herculean hero of the Israelites famed for his big hair, huge strength, weakness for the ladies and ability to kill 3000 in a day with the jawbone of a donkey. It's a fantastically entertaining read as is, but there's also a strong theme running through the text that puts a modern twist on this old tale.
It goes without saying that Delilah's betrayal of Samson is key to the story. However, the central theme is not sexual betrayal but of violence committed in the name of God. When reading the biblical account it's easy to brush over the body count, but Maine's Samson is happy to report with pride the details of his killings, because he never doubts in the slightest that he is entirely in the right; and when one reads his story (in Maine's version, or in Judges 13-16) it's not difficult to see why he would have that impression - after all, if one was to go out and kill 3000 in a day and then find oneself a bit thirsty, and God then delivered up a fresh stream to quench said thirst (Judges 15:19) one might have the impression that God was pleased!
The Book of Samson sticks closely to the story as told in Judges, but expands on it with vivid period detail and stories that aren't Biblically recorded but fit the mold. For example, according to Judges 15:20 "Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines," but there is no mention of what sort of Judge he was. Not to worry, Maine is happy to fill in this biblical gap with a few choice stories that fit his vision of Samson. For example, Samson proudly relates how he solved a tricky judicial case (similar to that faced by Solomon later on, but solved with substantially more finesse and less blood by Solomon: 1 Kings 4). A divorced couple come to Samson both claiming custody of their child; Samson listens to their arguing to and fro until his head hurts and then, without warning the parents of his decision, picks up his sword and cleaves the baby in two, handing one half to each parent: Problem solved, message sent.
Undoubtedly, Samson is a lout of the first order with well developed psychopathic tendencies, but despite this it's difficult not to like him. Yes, he's a thug but he's also plainspoken and able to see his shortcomings in almost every area of his life, except when it comes to his zeal.
He is well aware of his place in the world - before he was born the Israelites had once again incurred the wrath of God by falling into immoral ways, and as punishment have been delivered into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. Like a number of other Biblical figures, Samson is born to a formerly childless woman who is ordered by an angel to bring him up in a particular way - in Samson's case as a Nazarite (see sidebar). Thus he grows up in the knowledge that he is something special, and the only thing stronger than his physical strength is his belief in his own righteousness.
Even as the Israelites wake up to the realization that their hero is a a bit of a liability and disown him, his zeal amplifies. Nothing will shift him from his path, and he is quite incapable of seeing any other point of view but his own; when his Philistine interrogator asks him why it was necessary for the Israelites to sack the Canaanite's cities, raze their farms and kick down the walls of Jericho, Samson zones out imagining all the battles he missed before he was born and then, shaking himself back to the present, replies, "Only the One True God can answer your questions .... He ordained it and He's the only one who can make clear His motives."
As the reviewer for Kirkus puts it, "Samson speaks of the strange buzzing he hears when he kills so righteously and the speed and strength given to him by God to murder. It is chilling indeed when the line between hero and serial killer is blurred."
Notes: Maine has written The Book of Samson with an alarming dearth of punctuation. While this is not an impediment to understanding, those who feel strongly about the correct use of commas and the like are forewarned!
All the characters and place names in The Book of Samson are taken from the 1914 printing of the Douay Bible (used mainly by the Catholic church), hence you may notice differences in spellings, such as Dalila versus the more common spelling of Delilah.
This review was originally published in January 2007, and has been updated for the November 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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