Putting a bit of the New Testament into the Old

Putting a bit of the New Testament into the Old February 11, 2013

I just came across a few more videos from The Bible, the mini-series that premieres on the History Channel next month.

In one, the actress who plays Samson’s mother describes her character as “a woman who’s been given a gift from God of a very special child who’s predestined to do very special things, and I guess that’s a little connection to another story that we all know very well.” She goes on to say, “I guess I found it difficult to embody a character who knows that her child is going to die.”

That’s an interesting detail, as the biblical version of Samson’s mother is given no such knowledge. She knows her child will be special, but not that he will die. So it seems the filmmakers may be making her even more like the Virgin Mary — which makes you wonder if they’re going to make Samson more of a Christ-figure, too, and thus more pious or noble than the somewhat buffoonish character who appears in the Bible.

Meanwhile, in the other video, we get a glimpse of the three angels who visit Abraham to tell him that his wife will have a son — and it seems that these angels might represent the three major racial groups, just as the Three Wise Men have long been depicted in art and film as representatives of the Asian, African and European continents (or, if you prefer, as descendents of Shem, Ham and Japheth).

This, of course, would not be the first time that filmmakers have borrowed elements from later scriptures to inform earlier ones. In the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments, for example, a star proclaims the birth of Moses, just as a star proclaimed the birth of Jesus; and in the 1928 version of Noah’s Ark, God speaks to Noah on a mountain — through a burning bush! — just like he did for Moses.

These video clips reveal a few other interesting details as well.

For starters, there is the fact that Sharon Duncan-Brewster, the actress playing Samson’s mother, will be playing her character from youth to old age, and the make-up on her is pretty good — which makes you wonder why they didn’t take the same approach for the Virgin Mary, who will apparently be played by two different actresses: one, whose name I do not know, for the Nativity sequence, and another, co-producer Roma Downey, for the sequences when Jesus is grown-up.

Then there are the angels, who apparently protect Lot’s family (and themselves) from the would-be rapists of Sodom and Gomorrah by using swords rather than anything more, y’know, supernatural. I guess swords are more “exciting”.

I have included links to the videos above, but I will embed them here, too. First, Samson’s mother:

Next, the “guardian angels”:

Finally, I also found a third video, on Abraham:

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  • Denes House

    Actually, the angel who appears to Manoah’s unnamed wife tells her, “…he will begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:5) Most interpreters I looked at see that phrase as indicating that Samson would die in the attempt, his task unfinished. Samson’s mom seems to confirm that idea two verses later, telling her husband, “…the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.” (v. 7)

    • peterchattaway

      The passages you cite do seem to indicate that the fight against the Philistines would continue long after Samson’s death, but I don’t see a prediction of martyrdom in either of them.

      Re: “begin to save”, the Book of Judges was written long after the events it depicts, when it was clear that the Philistines had continued to bother the Israelites well into the monarchy (Ezekiel was still prophesying against the Philistines during the Exile in Babylon!), so any victory Samson might have had against them would obviously have to have been local or temporary.

      And re: “the day of his death”, it seems to me that someone who had been consecrated from the womb would simply never reach a point in his life when it would make sense for him to retire, so to speak. He never had a life before becoming a Nazirite, so how could he have a life after being a Nazirite?

      So I don’t take either of those passages to be necessary indications that Samson “would die in the attempt” to save Israel from the Philistines; rather, they seem to me to indicate that saving Israel from the Philistines would be a long-term project that would span many lifetimes.

      The deeper question here is whether Samson’s death was some sort of “destiny” that he had to move toward, or that his mother had to encourage him toward. And I don’t think the Book of Judges portrays it that way at all.

      Samson died the way he did because he was a screw-up who broke Israelite laws repeatedly and fell for Philistine women repeatedly (for which both his parents chastened him, a la Judges 14:3), culminating in his betrayal at the hands of Delilah and his subsequent arrest, imprisonment and suicide.

      Judges 16:30 does tell us that Samson “killed many more when he died than while he lived”, but I have never seen that as any sort of triumph; rather, it has always seemed to me that the author was lamenting the fact that Samson had wasted all the time he had before the Philistines arrested him.

      So, if the mini-series were to portray Samson’s suicide as some sort of “destiny” akin to the crucifixion of Christ, I would take issue with that.