SALOME: "Even Half of My Kingdom"


SAMARIA: "Hot as an Oven"

"The wickedness of Samaria," capital city of the kingdom of Israel, is "her rebellion against God," which will lead to the city's destruction. So declares the prophet Hosea (7:1, 13:16), who identifies that rebellion metaphorically as sexual profligacy. "They are all adulterers," Hosea says of Israel and Samaria, "hot as an oven" (7:4,7). Things get even hotter in Ezekiel 23, which casts Samaria as one of two lewd sisters (the other being Jerusalem), both wives of Yahweh, who commit adultery with Assyrians, Egyptians, and others. For this Yahweh delivers her "into the hands of her lovers" the Assyrians, who in fact destroy Samaria and the kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E.

The destruction is graphically foretold by Hosea. The people of Samaria "shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up" (13.16). Yahweh "will come down," says the prophet Micah, and make Samaria "a heap in the field," and will smash and burn with fire all the idols she has gathered with her harlot's wages (1:6-7). (See also ISRAEL.)


In the time of the judges the angel of the Lord announces to Manoah the Danite and his barren wife that the latter will conceive and bear a son. The child is to be consecrated as a Nazarite, whose vows include no strong drink or haircuts.

Manoah's wife conceives and bears Samson, the son who according to the angel "shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." But on growing up, Samson, though blessed by the Lord with great physical strength, spends more time consorting with the Philistines than delivering anyone from them.

For starters, Samson falls for and marries a Philistine woman of Timnah, and entertains thirty Philistine companions there at a seven-day wedding feast. He tells these guests a riddle (about a lion he slew with his bare hands) and bets new garments for all thirty that they can't solve it. The guests then tell his wife they'll burn up her and her father unless she gets the answer for them. The tearful wife badgers Samson the whole seven days till he tells her the answer. When the wedding guests then win the bet by solving his riddle, Samson knows they have "plowed with (his) heifer." He goes out and kills thirty Philistines for their garments, which he gives to the guests. He then angrily goes home to the town of Zorah.

When Samson later tries to visit his wife, he learns that her father, thinking the Hebrew had spurned her, has given her away to Samson's best man. The father offers a substitute ("Is not her younger sister fairer than she?"), but Samson, refusing her, is so mad that he burns the Philistines' cornfields and vineyards.

The Philistines retaliate by burning up the wife and her father. Vowing to get them for that, Samson smites the Philistines "hip and thigh with a great slaughter." Set on vengeance, the Philistines follow Samson into Judah, where he slays one thousand of them with the jawbone of an ass.

Samson next sees a harlot in the Philistine town of Gaza and, as Judges describes it, he "went in unto her." That night while he's with her, the Philistines, planning to nab him in the morning, surround the area and hide in the gate of the city. But at midnight Samson arises, puts the doors, posts, and bar of the gate on his shoulders, and totes the whole works to the top of a hill. It is unclear whether Samson does this to impress his date or to thwart the hiding Philistines after somehow becoming aware of their presence.

Samson next loves Delilah, "a woman in the valley of Sorek." Delilah may or may not be a Philistine, but the Philistines use her against Samson. "Entice him," the lords of the Philistines tell her, "and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, . . . and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver."

They don't have to say any more. "Tell me, I pray thee," Delilah says to Samson, "wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee." Samson tells her that if he is bound with seven green bowstrings that have not been dried, he will be as weak as any other man.

In what might be interpreted as a kinky sex game (Samson not suspecting her true motive), Delilah binds Samson with the appropriate bowstrings, which she obtains from the Philistine lords. Then, with men lying in wait in the chamber, Delilah says, "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson." Samson snaps the bowstrings, again frustrating his would-be captors.

On two more occasions Delilah, accusing Samson of mocking her, asks him wherein his strength lies and how he might be bound. Both times she tries what he tells her ("The Philistines be upon thee, Samson"), and each time it turns out he has lied.

Delilah now really goes to work on him. "How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me?" she pouts. "Thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth." She presses him daily till Samson is "vexed unto death" and finally tells her the truth: he has been a Nazarite from birth, a razor never having touched his head: "If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."

Delilah sees that he speaks from the heart, and sends for the Philistine lords, who come with "money in their hand." While Samson lies asleep on her knees, Delilah has a man "shave off the seven locks of his head." Again it's "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson," and this time, as Samson awakes, the Philistines indeed are upon him. His strength gone, Samson is taken away, his eyes are gouged out, and he is put to work grinding corn in the prison house.

But the Philistines forget to keep giving him haircuts. One day as he is displayed for sport in the crowd-filled temple of Dagon, with the lords of the Philistines present, Samson literally brings down the house: he has gained enough strength from his growing hair to dislodge the temple's two middle pillars. His last words are "Let me die with the Philistines," and he dies with over three thousand of them as the building collapses. Contrary to Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood epic, we are not told if Delilah (repentant in the movie) is anywhere around at the time. (Judges 13-16) (On to BENJAMIN)

Peter Paul Rubens, Samson and Delilah / National Gallery, London












When Dinah, daughter of the Hebrew patriarch Jacob, goes out with some Canaanite girlfriends, she catches the eye of a Canaanite (specifically Hivite) prince named Shechem. The prince rapes Dinah: we are told that Shechem "took her, and lay with her, and defiled her." Afterwards, however, Shechem loves Dinah, treats her kindly, and asks his father Hamor, "Get me this damsel to wife." Dinah, moreover, does not go home but stays in the prince's house. Does she do this willingly? Does Dinah return Shechem's love? There is no way to know, for the story of Shechem and Dinah is a perfect example of the androcentrism or male-centeredness of the Bible (see GENDER). Central to the story will be the feelings of Dinah's brothers about what has happened, while the feelings of Dinah--the person to whom it has happened--are nowhere expressed.

Dinah's brothers are "very wroth," feeling that this Hivite prince has "wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter, which thing ought not to be done." It must be a pretty tense meeting when Shechem and his father Hamor (whose name means "ass" in Hebrew) come to see Jacob and his sons. Hamor speaks to them not of one marriage but several, that the Hebrews may "dwell and trade" prosperously with the Canaanites. "Make ye marriages with us," says Hamor, "and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you." Shechem then offers Jacob's sons whatever they want for the right to wed Dinah.

Jacob's sons answer "deceitfully." They first say that they cannot give their sister "to one that is uncircumcised," as that would be "a reproach" to the Hebrew people. (See CIRCUMCISION: "SIGN OF THE COVENANT.") But they then say they'll agree to the marriages proposed if "every male of you be circumcised." Then, say the Hebrews, "we will become one people." If there is no such circumcision, "then will we take our daughter," they warn, and "be gone."

Hamor and Shechem go straight home to urge circumcision upon the men of their city (named Shechem). The two preach prosperity should the Hebrews dwell among them: "Shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours?" To the men of Shechem, this sounds like a fair trade for their foreskins, which they proceed to have cut off.

Three days later, with these fellows all lying around sore, Jacob's sons come and put them out of their misery. The two tribes of Simeon and Levi (Dinah's full brothers) are the first to fall upon the city. They kill Hamor and Shechem and all the other males in town. The tribes of the other sons follow, looting the city and taking all its new widows captive. They fetch Dinah from the house of Shechem.

Jacob complains to Simeon and Levi that what they have done will make him "stink among the inhabitants of the land," who far outnumber the Hebrews. "I shall be destroyed," frets Jacob, "I and my house."

The sons reply only with a bitter question: "Should (Shechem) deal with our sister as with a harlot?" (Genesis 34) (On to JUDAH AND TAMAR)

Matthaeus Merian the Elder, Dinah's Brothers Avenge Her Honor / Icones Biblicae


Noah's firstborn son, and nominally the world's first Semite, was ninety-eight years old when he went aboard his six-hundred-year-old father's ark to survive the Flood. According to extrabiblical tradition, Noah forbade any sex between his three sons and their wives during their long stay on the ark. (Also forbidden, says this tradition, was sex between the animals.) There was plenty of time for sex later, as after the Flood Shem (Hebrew "renown") not only fathered a son named Arphaxad but "begat sons and daughters" for five hundred more years.

The line from Shem to Terah (father of Abraham)--including Eber, hence the term "Hebrew"--is listed in Genesis 11 as "the generations of Shem," eight individuals who "begat sons and daughters" while living an average of three hundred and twenty-five years. Thus Shem helped his brothers Ham and Japheth repopulate the earth: "Of them was the whole earth overspread." (Gen. 7:13, 9:18-19; 11:10-32) (On to ABRAHAM AND SARAH)


In the days of the patriarch Abraham, there is a great outcry against the sinfulness of Sodom and Gomorrah, two Canaanite cities of the Jordan plain. The Hebrew God Yahweh sends two angels to Sodom to see if things there are as bad as he's heard. (He tells Abraham, whose nephew Lot lives in Sodom, that he will spare the city if the angels find as few as ten righteous men there.)

It is night when the angels reach Sodom. They run into Lot, who, not even aware they are angels, graciously puts them up for the night. It is not bedtime, though, before the men of Sodom--every one of them, young and old--surround Lot's house. They ask Lot where "the men" are who are staying with him. "Bring them out," say the Sodomites, "that we may know them."

Lot knows what they mean, and is required by the code of hospitality to protect his two guests. He goes outside to talk to the mob. "I have two daughters," Lot tells the mob, "which have not known man." He offers to bring out both maidens for their pleasure: "do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing." But the mob says "Stand back," and is about to break in when the angels intervene. Pulling Lot into the house, the angels shut the door, then strike the Sodomites with blindness, leaving them groping in vain for the door.

The angels tell Lot to get all his family and flee Sodom, for "the Lord hath sent us to destroy it." Having other daughters who are married, Lot goes to his sons-in-law, but they just laugh at his story. In the morning the angels escort Lot, his wife, and two virgin daughters out of the city, then "brimstone and fire" rain down "from the Lord out of heaven" upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Told not to look back, Lot's wife does so--no doubt thinking, as notes Rebecca Goldstein, of her poor married daughters--and is turned into a pillar of salt.

It is from Sodom, of course, that we get the word sodomy. According to Raphael Patai (writing in 1959), homosexuality was "rampant" in the ancient Near East, with the mob at Sodom, like the one later at Gibeah (see BENJAMIN: "A RAVENOUS WOLF"), "addicted to homosexual practices." Robert Goss offers an alternative explanation for the mob's behavior: anal penetration was an ancient way of asserting domination over "strangers, the conquered, and trespassers." (According to Jewish legend, there was even a law in Sodom that all strangers were to be so penetrated [Ginzberg 1:254].)

Whatever the mob's motive, there is a consensus among scholars that the basic sin of the Sodomites on the night in question is their violation of the code of hospitality, a code of vital importance among ancient Near Eastern nomads. But what are we to make of Lot offering his two virgin daughters in the name of protecting his guests? Though the Genesis narrative passes no judgment, Lot's attempt to avoid violence against men by substituting violence against women--in this case his own flesh and blood--has no scriptural justification (see Sharon Place Jeansonne). The offer speaks volumes, however, about the male-centered nature of biblical times. (See GENDER.) (Gen. 18:20-19:26) (On to LOT AND HIS DAUGHTERS)

Albrecht Durer, Lot Fleeing with His Daughters from Sodom / National Gallery of Art (D.C.)


King Solomon of Israel believed in conspicuous consumption. At his table, for example, were consumed one hundred sheep and thirty oxen a day, not counting all the venison and fowl. But then everyone in Israel was "eating and drinking, and making merry." There was "peace on all sides," and every man dwelt safely "under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba." Surely a king ruling over such idyllic times had a right to his excess.

Solomon was also a conspicuous lover. He "loved many strange women," meaning foreign ones. He loved home-grown ones too, for a total of at least one thousand--"he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines." The sheer number may have emboldened his half-brother Adonijah to ask for one of the royal concubines--Abishag the Shunammite--in marriage. Solomon, viewing the request as a sign of treacherous ambition, had his half-brother executed.

When Solomon wasn't eating or making love, he was apparently composing: renowned for his wisdom, "he spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five." He did find time to hold court, hence his judgment in the case of two harlots, each claiming to be the same child's mother. When Solomon ordered that the child be literally divided between them, the harlot who was lying agreed, while the real mother, to save the child's life, relinquished her claim to the infant. The wise Solomon then gave the real mother her child. (One wonders if Solomon, with all those wives and concubines, could judge who was the mother of whom among his own children.)

And then there's the Queen of Sheba. Hearing of Solomon's wisdom, if not of his sexual stamina, this queen came from Sheba (in Arabia or perhaps Ethiopia) "with a very great train" to Jerusalem, "to prove him with hard questions." When Solomon had answered each one, and shown her all the splendors of his court, the queen was left breathless. "It was a true report that I heard," she said, but "the half was not told me." (She later adds, "Happy are thy wives," the KJV mistranslating the last word as "men."). Before she went home, we are told that "king Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all her desire." Whether that included sexual desire is not stated (aside from the double entendres), but according to extrabiblical tradition it did.

But women, alas, brought Solomon into divine disfavor, despite the fact that he built the first temple, "the house of the Lord," in Jerusalem. For all his "outlandish" (that is, foreign) women (as Nehemiah [13:26] later calls them) had their own foreign deities. This led Solomon into idolatry, as he catered to "all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods." Thus the Lord "was angry with Solomon," and determined as punishment to divide the kingdom following Solomon's reign. (It would not be divided in Solomon's days, Yahweh told him, "for David thy father's sake.") The political stage for division was already set, in the form of growing popular discontent: the king's high living and building projects meant higher taxes and forced labor for those who had earlier made merry under fig tree and vine.

Upon his death, Solomon was succeeded by his son Rehoboam as king of Israel. But as Yahweh ordained, the kingdom then divided in two (Israel and Judah), as all of Israel's tribes except Judah chose Jeroboam, the son of one of Solomon's servants, as king. Because of Solomon's excesses, after his day "there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only." (1 Kings 4:1-34; 10:1-13; 11:1-13,42-43; 12:1-20) (On to MAACHAH AND REHOBOAM)

Giuseppe Marchesi, The Queen of Sheba before King Solomon / Archabbey of Pannonhalma


"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for (his) love is better than wine." So begins "the song of songs" (shir hashirim), not really a song but an erotic love poem--or rather an amalgam of erotic love poems--that somehow found its way into the Hebrew Bible. And it's a good thing it did, opined Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, considering "all those who believe that the restraint of passion is Christian."

There is little restraint in shir hashirim, in which two unnamed lovers long for each other ("His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me" [8:3]), admire each other anatomically ("Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor" [7:2]), and meet for lovemaking ("He shall lie down all night betwixt my breasts" [1:13]), in village, vineyard, and field (7:11-12) ("our bed is green" [1:16]).

Metaphorical gardens, spices, and fruit are prominent in the Song's lovemaking imagery. The woman compares her "beloved" (dodi) to an apple tree: "I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste" (2:3). Her dodi, not to be outdone, likens her to a palm tree: "I will take hold of the boughs thereof," and "thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine" (7:8). Her lover describes the woman as "a garden enclosed," with "a fountain sealed" (4:12), and her meaning is clear when the woman says that her beloved has "gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies" (6:2). ("My beloved is mine," she says earlier, "and I am his: he feedeth [NRSV 'pastures his flock'] among the lilies" [2:16].) She asks the north and south winds to "blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits" (4:16). "I am come into my garden," her lover responds, "I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk" (5:1). And the woman says, "I went down into the garden of nuts (NRSV 'the nut orchard') . . . to see whether the vine flourished (NRSV 'whether the vines had budded')" (6:11). If only she could take him home, she says later, she would cause him "to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate" (8:2).

The book's title in the KJV is the Song of Solomon, but there is little scholarly support for the notion that this is a work of the Israelite king. (It is also known as the Song of Songs, and in the Catholic Bible as Canticles.) Given the prominence of the woman in the lovers' dialogue, the Song could well be the work of a woman. It is uncertain whether her statement "I am dark, but comely" (NRSV "black and beautiful") (1:5) means she is of African descent, as Bellis and others suggest, or (as the next verse implies) dark from having to work in the sun (1:6). Renita J. Weems points out that in any case the woman, being presented in the first person rather than through a narrator, is "the only unmediated female voice in scripture." The work is also exceptional for its celebration of physical love without reference to procreation, and for its egalitarian nature. In the relationship between the two lovers, "there is no male dominance," in Phyllis Trible's words, "no female subordination, and no stereotyping of either sex." (See GENDER: "MALE AND FEMALE CREATED THEM.") However, the patriarchal subordination of women again rears its head when "the watchmen" who patrol the city find the woman out looking for her lover: "they smote me," she tells us, "they wounded me" (5:7).

Some of the cooings of the Song's ancient Near Eastern lovers may now seem rather quaint. It is questionable whether a woman today would be flattered to hear that she has hair like "a flock of goats" (4:1), eyes like "the fishpools in Heshbon" (7:4), or a nose like "the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus" (7:4). Still, the passion that is expressed in the Song is timeless: "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me" (7:10); "Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave" (8:6). Efforts to interpret it all as an allegory of Yahweh's love for Israel, or Christ's love for the church, are unconvincing in light of the Song's straightforward eroticism. It's a bit much to have Christ telling the church that "the joints of thy thighs are like jewels" (7:1), or to accept the view of Hippolytus (cited in William E. Phipps's Genesis and Gender) that the man's praise of his lover's breasts--"Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins" (7:3)--means that the Old and New Testaments are glorious.

Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld, Song of Solomon: Rose of Sharon / Das Buch der Bücher in Bilden

SONG OF SONGS: "Among the Lilies"


SONS OF GOD: "They Took Them Wives"

Male members of God's heavenly court are mentioned three times in the book of Job: called bene ha Elohim ("sons of God"), they twice present themselves (Satan among them) before God (1:6, 2:1), and are described as shouting for joy at the creation (38:7). (Similarly, heavenly beings are referred to as bene elim ["sons of gods"] in Ps. 29:1, and bene Elyon ["sons of the Most High"] in Ps. 89:6.) According to the book of Genesis (6:1-4), some of these divine beings also enjoyed themselves by mating with earthly women: "the sons of God" saw that "the daughters of men . . . were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose." The sons of God then "came in unto" these earthly wives, and "they bare children to them." The children were giants called the Nephilim, "the mighty men that were of old, men of renown."

Though originally, it appears, a tradition to account for the presence of "giants in the earth in those days" (Gen. 6:4), the story of the sons of God and the daughters of men is used in Genesis to help illustrate the earthly wickedness--these were apparently bad giants--that led God to send Noah's Flood. Thus the Nephilim passage is followed by the statement that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth," man's every thought being "only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5).

In the pseudepigraphical 1 Enoch (6-14), the sons of God are called the Watchers, angels who take earthly women for themselves and father giants who plague mankind. God has the fallen angels bound inside the earth till the day of judgment. (See also Jubilees 5:1-10.) In the New Testament, 2 Peter 2:4 tells how these angels were cast "down to hell, . . . to be reserved unto judgment," and Jude 6 refers to the angels who "kept not their first estate" and are "in everlasting chains" till judgment day. It would also seem to be Genesis's lustful sons of God to whom Paul refers in 1 Cor. 11:10: praying or prophesying women should have their heads covered, says the Apostle, "because of the angels." (On to NOAH)

Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld , Sons of God Marry Daughters of Men / Das Buch der Bücher in Bilden


In Babylon during the exile (sixth century B.C.E.), his fellow Jews are very fond of visiting the home of Joakim. For Joakim is rich, a fine garden adjoins his house, and he has a beautiful wife named Susanna ("lily"). Two Jewish elders, who as judges hold court at Joakim's place, enjoy watching Susanna stroll in her husband's garden every day after the other folks leave at noon. Each elder is too ashamed to tell the other, however, of the lust Susanna stirs in his heart.

One day the two elders leave Joakim's at mealtime, parting outside the house. No sooner do they part than each one doubles back, wanting to see more of Susanna. Running into each other, the elders mutually confess their overpowering desire for this woman. They now watch and wait for the day when together they can catch her alone.

One day Susanna, watched by the two hiding elders, enters the garden with two maids. It is hot and Susanna wants to bathe. The two maids, following Susanna's orders, shut the garden doors and leave by side doors to go fetch ointments for her bath.

As soon as the maids are gone, the two elders run over to the surprised Susanna. "The garden doors are shut, no one sees us," they tell her, "and we are in love with you," so "lie with us." If she refuses, she is told, they will testify that a young man was with her and that is why she sent away the maids.

They have Susanna in a bind. To refuse means she will then be falsely accused, and to consent would be her death (the penalty for adultery). She chooses to refuse rather than to sin before God. She cries out, the elders shout against her, and as household servants come running to see what is wrong, the elders make their false accusation.

The next day Susanna is brought before an assembly in Joakim's house. The two elders testify that they were walking in the garden when they saw her enter with her maids, send the maids away, and then lie with a young man who came out of hiding. They claim that they ran over and grabbed the man, but he was too strong to hold and got away. They then seized Susanna, who refused to tell them who the young man was.

The assembly believes these two elders--they're judges of the people, after all--and condemns Susanna to die for adultery. Crying out, she protests her innocence in a prayer to God. As she is being led away, suddenly a loud voice is heard: "I am innocent of this woman's blood."

All eyes turn to Daniel, a young man who has been moved by God, in response to Susanna's prayer, to step forward. He berates the adjourning assembly for condemning to death a daughter of Israel without determining the facts. Reassemble, he tells them, for these two elders have borne false witness.

Reconvening, the assembly allows Daniel to question the two elders separately, each out of the other's hearing. "You relic of wicked days," Daniel addresses the first one, "under which tree did you see them making love?"

"Under a mastic tree," says the elder. The angel of God, Daniel tells him, will now "cut you in two" ("cut" being a pun on "mastic" in the original Greek) for lying.

The second elder is brought in. "You offspring of Canaan and not Judah," Daniel addresses him, "under which tree did you catch them making love?"

"Under an evergreen oak," says the elder.

"You also have lied," Daniel tells him, and by the angel of God will be "split in two" (a pun in the Greek for evergreen oak).

The assembly praises God, and puts the two elders to death for bearing false witness. Joakim and the rest of Susanna's kin thank God that she is innocent, and Daniel is a young man who will be heard from again. (See the book of Daniel and the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon.) (Apocrypha: Susanna) (On to ESTHER)

Artemisia Gentileschi, Susanna and the Elders / Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden, Germany

Claude Mellan (1598-1688)
Samson and Delilah
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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