Judges 16:26: Idolatry's Uncertain Supports

Verse 26:[1] And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them.

[That I might touch the columns over which whole house hangs] Samson knew this, either by sight formerly, or by the relation of others. Now, he asks that a small bit of quiet be granted to him, which no one, except one altogether inhuman, would seem to be about to deny (Bonfrerius). He indicated that he was tired from the labor of the mill and the hastening of his coming (Junius). And it was a fair pretext whereby he might ask of the slave to rest upon those stouter columns, rather than other more delicate ones: for to a weary man, the stouter the post upon which he reclines presents itself, the more welcome it is and apt for quiet (Tirinus out of Serarius). [Moreover, if one should attempt to shake the trustworthiness of Sacred Scripture in this history, and should be surprised that the whole mass was overhanging two columns, foreign writers relating similar things will easily supply the remedy of that ignorance.] Pliny relates, Natural History 36:15, concerning the theater of Curio,[2] that it was resting on only one column; concerning his amphitheater, only two: Now, in this case, says he, which has one most reason to admire, the inventor, or the invention?... Behold, the whole Roman people, set in two ships, as it were, sits suspended on two poles, and views itself as in the fight, being about to perish any moment from the overstrained machinery (Serarius). Formerly there were various sorts of shrines or temples, but two especially, namely, ἐνδόστυλα, pillars within, and ἐξόστυλα, pillars without, that is, which either were supported by columns on the inside, or were strengthened by columns on the outside. The site here was of the former sort. The wall was squared, within which in separate places there were various columns; two greater columns were holding the center. Above the columns crossbeams were set. From the columns to the walls were other crossbeams, either of stone, or rather of bronze, either on cedar, or on whatever suitable wood. On the middle two columns was a slab, from which to the surrounding columns were extended crossbars of wood, or rather of iron, or of bronze, or even of marble, as spokes. Between the columns and the wall, was a deck, or story constructed of joists, for the convenience and use of those standing by and observing; in such a way that the whole area of the temple was empty and available for those sacrificing, feasting, and making sport, and was furnishing seating to the men of first rank. For it belonged to an ancient custom, that in spectacles and games of this sort an inferior place was assigned to the ranks of those more noble. But, with the form of this temple understood, the entire exposition of this reading will be consistent (Montanus’ Commentary). Moreover, that this was the sacred house, and indeed the temple of Dagon, all interpreters that I have seen think (Bonfrerius, thus Serarius, Tostatus). It is demonstrated from the feats that were wont to be held in the temples of the gods; Judges 9:27; 1 Corinthians 8:10. Which also is noted by Aristotle in his Politics 7:12, Virgil in his Æneid 7, Alexander ab Alexandro’s[3] Six Books of Nuptial Days[4] 4:17, and many others (Serarius). In addition, the Philistines had gathered here so that they might sacrifice and give thanks to their god. Therefore, it was necessary that both a shrine and an idol be there. Indeed, I am neither able, nor willing, to contradict so many men of such quality: yet it creates some difficulty for me that neither in the Scripture, nor in other authors, do we read that there was an image or shrine of Dagon at Gaza, but Scripture teaches that there were at Ashdod, 1 Samuel 5:1; 1 Maccabees 10;[5] 11,[6] which Josephus[7] also mentions more than once (Bonfrerius).

[1] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֙אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֜וֹן אֶל־הַנַּ֙עַר הַמַּחֲזִ֣יק בְּיָדוֹ֮ הַנִּ֣יחָה אוֹתִי֒ וְהֵימִשֵׁ֙נִי֙ אֶת־הָֽעַמֻּדִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר הַבַּ֖יִת נָכ֣וֹן עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וְאֶשָּׁעֵ֖ן עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃

[2] Gaius Scribonius Curio (died 49 BC) was a supporter and ally of Julius Cæsar. He built Rome’s first amphitheater; the seating was built on a pivot that could move the entire audience.

[3] Alexander ab Alexandro was a fifteenth century Neopolitan lawyer.

[4] Genialium Dierum Libri Sex.

[5] 1 Maccabees 10:83, 83: “The horsemen also, being scattered in the field, fled to Azotus, and went into Beth-dagon, their idol’s temple, for safety. But Jonathan set fire on Azotus, and the cities round about it, and took their spoils; and the temple of Dagon, with them that were fled into it, he burned with fire.”

[6] 1 Maccabees 11:4: “And when he came near to Azotus, they shewed him the temple of Dagon that was burnt, and Azotus and the suburbs thereof that were destroyed, and the bodies that were cast abroad and them that he had burnt in the battle; for they had made heaps of them by the way where he should pass.”

[7] Antiquities 6.

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