[AMAIC: Another terrific article by John R. Salverda.
We reserve our opinion, though, about John’s connection of Samson with a solar cult]
In this article, I hope to convince the reader, that the Greek mythological character “Aristaeus” is, as Herakles is suspected to be, based on the Hebrew personage “Samson.” The Danaan Herakles and the Danite Samson have long been associated, and their shared recognition as solar heroes weighs heavily on this association. As Apollo’s son, Aristaeus is another, less popular, and specifically Pelasgian, solar hero. Recently researchers began to identify the Pelasgians with the Philistines, who plausibly, had their own tradition of Samson. Accordingly, influences of the Hebrew hero intrude throughout the mythology of Aristaeus. The theme of the solar hero permeates the comparable Greek and Hebrew stories and relates the characters Apollo, Aristaeus, Herakles, and Samson. Likewise are their respective miraculous births, with similar annunciations, questionable paternity to otherwise barren or virginal women, and general messianic attributes. Herakles displays clear connections to the Levant, as the “Herakles of Tyre,” also called Baal-Melqart (Baal=Apollo?), whose temples prominently feature his famous “pillars.” Presuming a similar Near-eastern origin for the myth of Aristaeus, helps to explain its apparent Philistine influence, and even the Scriptural narrative contains hints that it may have incorporated, although heavily redacted, some of these same Philistine influences. Accordingly the Greek myth contains its own account of the “bees in the carcass” story, which includes its own “riddle” to be solved; and the fish-god plays a prominent role, however tainted with a Philistine bias, as a helpful prophetic deity rather than an enemy god. An otherwise unmanageable divine figure is shackled in his sleep (as per Samson), and there is a traditional taboo against treading on the threshold. Traces of influence from the Philistine “Valley of Sorek,” can be detected among the Pelasgians who settled in the home of Aristaeus, the “Vale of Tempe.” I also Contrast Aristaeus Against Herakles and explore the possibility that the two halves of the Scriptural account are a duplicate telling of the same story.
“And Samson said to them, This time I am blameless toward the Philistines, though I do them harm.” (Judges 15:3)
A Pelasgian “Samson” as opposed to Herakles, the Danite one
The story of Samson made its way into Greek myths not only as much of the myth of Herakles, but, as I hope to show, the myth of Aristaeus was also based upon the story of the Danite hero. It makes a plausible theory that the Hebrew story of Samson, which became known as the myth of Herakles, got to Greece and into the mythology of Argolis, by way of the Danites who migrated there where they would become known as the Danaans. The tale was then modified to conform with Olympianism by the Achaeans (This modification constituted mainly of the addition of the twelve labors, to the Danite stub, for amphictyonic reasons). The myth of Aristaeus was, on the other hand, part of the folklore that was brought to Greece’s Vale of Tempe, from the Sorek Valley of Palestine, by sea-faring “Philistines” who were known to the Greek mythographers and historians, as “Pelasgians.” Much of the myth consisted of the Philistine recollections about the story of Samson. The nearby Phoenicians who came over with Cadmus and settled in Boeotian Thebes also remembered Samson, they knew the Pelasgian myth of Aristaeus as well, but apparently preferred the more accurate Danite version of Samson’s story wherein he was called “Herakles.” The Thebans then inserted the character of Aristaeus into their chronology where he appeared as a son-in-law of Cadmus, who supposedly lived about five generations earlier than the Achaean (these were later arrivals on the scene,) modified Herakles; “I found a temple of Herakles set up by the Phoenicians, who had sailed out to seek for Europa and had colonized Thasos; and these things happened a full five generations of men before Herakles the son of Amphitryon” (Herodotus “Histories” 2.44). As William Smith points out; “Aristaeus, an ancient divinity worshipped in various parts of Greece, as in Thessaly, Ceos, and Boeotia, but especially in the islands of the Aegean, Ionian, and Adriatic seas, which had once been inhabited by Pelasgians.” (“Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,” the article entitled “ARISTAEUS,” -1870). As we shall see, the Pelasgian myth of Aristaeus is a very likely version of the story of the Danite hero Samson, told with a decidedly Philistine taint.
“… the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: …” (Psalms 19:4-6).
Samson, a Solar Hero?
As Herakles is generally admitted to have been a solar hero, with his journeys and his twelve labors likened to the movements of the sun through the signs of the zodiac, so those who imagine him to have been based upon the Hebrew judge, see Samson in a similar light. Now, some will object to the idea that Samson was any kind of a solar hero, however it is wise to keep in mind, as is apparent by the wide spread popularity of the Herakles myth, that Samson was a very well known character indeed. Not everyone, who knew about Samson however, was as staunch a monotheist, as the editors of the Scriptural narrative (who worked on, editing and redacting, the tale hundreds of years after several versions of it had already been in circulation,) apparently were. There were those who brought the story to, and heard the story in, the mainland of Greece, who attributed to Samson divine qualities, of a solar nature, which have not survived to us in the Scriptural account. The idea that Samson was some kind of a solar hero was widespread, even among the Hebrews, and evidence of this can be found throughout the version of the story that has come down to us in the Book of Judges. Even the name “Samson” is suspicious in this regard. The name Samson is the word shemesh (sun) suffixed with the “-on” (waw-nun) extension. This extension personifies or localizes the root: the name “Sams-on” means “Sun Man.” This, just as the name “Dag-on” means, “fish man.” A related Scriptural term is the place-name, “Beth-shemesh” (city of the sun). In regard to the city of Beth-shemesh the “Jewish Virtual Library” says; “The Samson narratives all take place in the vicinity of Beth-Shemesh; his birthplace, Zorah, lay just to the south of it, and to the west of it is the Philistine city Timnah” where Samson was smitten with a Philistine girl whom he insisted on marrying despite his parents’ objections (Judges 14:1–3), where Samson killed the lion and propounded his famous riddle (Judges 14:14). It has even been suggested that the name Samson itself (Heb. Shimshon, Shemesh’on) indicates a connection with the city.”
“Shamash, as the solar deity, exercised the power of light over darkness and evil. In this capacity he became known as the god of justice and equity, and was the judge of both gods and men. (According to legend, the Babylonian king Hammurabi received his code of laws from Shamash.) At night, Shamash became judge of the underworld.” (from the “Encyclopedia Britannica”). This is of course, a convenient coincidence for the theory of a solar Samson who, through his inclusion in the “Book of Judges,” if not merited by an examination of his actual deeds, is also classified as a judge. “Shamash” was not the only word that the Hebrews used for the sun, for they also called it, “heres,” (cherec, or ce’-rach). There was a district called “har-cherec,” regularly translated as “Mount Heres” (Judges 1:35). The same place is called “Ir-shemesh” In Joshua 19:41 (as is evident by the fact that both verses also mention Aijalon and Shallbim). Thus, many authorities consider that “cherec” is the equivalent of “shemesh,” (meaning the sun), and “har-” being perhaps a copyist error for “ir-” (city). While the Scriptural name “Samson,” due to its ostensible association with the Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian, term “Shamash,” is considered to signify the sun. It is Perhaps this other, more Hebrew, term “cherec” or “heres” from which “Herac”-les, and “Aris”-taeus, have been derived (with the addition of the Theophoric suffix, -les for the Hebrew El, and -taeus for the Greek Theos). Macrobius says (“Saturnalia” Book I. Chap. 20) that the name of Herakles signifies the sun; for, he adds, in Greek “Herakles” means, “glory of the air,” or the “light of the sun.” (The usual theory, that Herakles is named after Hera, suffers from the fact that Hera and Herakles hated each other as sworn enemies.).
The Timnah, (or Timnath, meaning “portion,”) of Samson’s activity, located in the beautiful Sorek Valley, may also have been originally associated with the sun, for there is another place in Palestine “in the hill-country of Ephraim” called, Timnath Cerach, meaning “portion of (the) sun” (at Joshua 19:50, also translated as Timnath-Cheres, Timnath-heres, and Timnath-serah, a city closely associated with, and said to belong to, another apparent solar hero, Joshua). The Timnah in the story of Samson may be a clipped version of the same name, for, without any indication of what it was “portioned out” for, the term “portion” seems a bit incomplete. The assumed redactors of the Samson story do seem to have sought to expunge any references to the sun (-god), for instance they completely ignore the very large and influential city of Beth Shemesh throughout the whole Samson tale even though it is right in the middle of all of the activities. The Beth Shemesh of Jeremiah 43:13 (“He shall break also the images of Beth Shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of the Egyptians shall he burn with fire.”) is generally supposed to be the Egyptian Heliopolis, (usually called “On” in the Old Testament,) Its god, Atum, was then the most prominent of the many forms under which the sun-god appeared in Egypt (being identified especially with the setting sun), so that the city bore the name “house of the sun.” Winckler, (“Alttestamentliche Untersuchungen,” p. 180,) would strike out Beth, and translate shemesh “pillars of the sun.” (“On” means “pillars.” perhaps supplying us with another reference connecting shemesh with Samson). Therefore, as we can see by the equation of Beth Shemesh with Heliopolis, the term “Shemesh” can be seen as an equivalent to, the Egyptian “Ra” and the Greek “Helios.” In Greece, Helios was often confused and conflated with the more popular sun-god Apollo.
Apollo and the Birth of Aristaeus
The same confusion occurred in Israel between El and Baal for example; “the children of Israel … made Baal-berith (the Lord-of-the-covenant) their god” (Judges 8:33); in the next chapter, the “house of Baal-berith” is called “Beth-El-Berith” (Judges 9:46). This seems to show El and Baal to be identical, or at least interchangeable terms. Further confirmation comes from the variations of the name of David’s son “Beeliada” (1st Chronicles 14:7) who elsewhere appears as “Eliada” (2nd Samuel 5:16). The sun-god who was involved in the myth of Aristaeus was Apollo. The Greek myth featured more than a simple “annunciation” of the hero’s birth by a divine being (an angel who was feared, by Samson’s father, as the “sight” of God; Judges 13:22), Aristaeus was said to be born as the son of god, and the Greeks had no compunction about naming his father to be the sun-god, Apollo. The Hebrew redactors of the Book of Judges, it is logical to assume, would not have brooked either the idea that, Samson may have been the “Messiah” (or a son of God), or that any such non-existent “sun-god” could have taken an active role in his paternity. Even in the myth concerning the birth of Herakles the Greeks managed to preserve at least a residue of Hebrew monotheistic zeal, in that Zeus assumed the form of Alcmene’s mortal husband and a mortal “twin” was also produced. There was no such pretense exercised in the telling of the myth of Apollo’s “rape” of Aristaeus’ mother; “Cyrene, she it was who once Apollon of the flowing hair seized from the windswept vales of Pelion” (Pindar, “Pythian Ode” 9. 6 ff.). Take note of the phrase “Apollon of the flowing hair” in this context, as it displays the sun-god as sharing Samson’s famous “nazirite” attribute. As Samson’s mother is told; “no razor shall come on his head” (Judges 13:5). Thus, not only do we see that “long hair” is mentioned by Pindar in regards to the conception of Aristaeus in the context of his divine father, but Aristaeus himself was also famous for his uncut hair, for Hesiod (“Theogony” 975 ff.), one of the earliest mythological sources, refers to him as “long haired Aristaeus.” The same circumstance applies to Samson, as the divine being of his annunciation Issues the injunction against hair cutting, and the “long haired Samson” sees to it.
Samson was not your Regular Nazirite
That Samson’s mother was prohibited from drinking wine (Judges 13:4 stressed again at 13:7 and 14), while Samson himself was not, raises our suspicion. Samson almost certainly involved himself in drinking-bouts; the word usually translated as “banquet” or “feast” at Judges 14:10, was the Hebrew “Mishteh” meaning “drink” or “drinking” (a seven day drinking-bout at that). The usual misleading translation, is evidently applied in order to give the “Nazirite” Samson the benefit of a doubt. It is entirely unwarranted however, for the Philistines, such as his “companions,” were notorious wine drinkers, and the Sorek Valley (named for the wild grape), the scene of these events, was a virtual winery. Nazarites were also prohibited from touching a corpse, of man or beast. Samson observed no such proscription however, for he killed a lion with his bare hands, wielded the fresh jawbone of an dead ass, and personally caused the death of thousands by “touching.” Could it be that an ancient compiler of the Samson stories, advanced the idea that Samson was a Nazirite, based solely on the fact that he was portrayed as long haired? Samson’s long hair however, may be better accounted for, because of his widely suspected solar association. Depicting the sun’s rays as streaming strands of hair, was common in ancient art and written texts. Furthermore, the reckoning that a Nazirite derives bodily strength from his hair is propounded nowhere else. Only with Samson is his hair the source of his strength, and this is suspiciously analogous to the sun’s rays as being the manifestation of its power; “as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” (Judges 5:31). Samson loses his strength when his hair is cut, as the setting sun loses it’s rays and dims, or as the winter sun whose diminished rays lack in potency. Thus, those who are inclined to do so, can explain Samson’s “un-Nazirite” behavior, by postulating that he was only “made” a Nazirite in order to euhemerize what was objected to as a mythological motif, namely his streaming hair. The apparent “Scriptural inconsistency” can be easily disposed of, for Samson probably followed an earlier, and still developing, form of the Nazirite sect, one that was devoted to a more primitive, solar aspect of Yahweh (possibly known by some form of the name “Eloah,” or even “Baal”), who were distinguished by their “unshorn” hair, and were named after this feature (This is the basic meaning of the term, as in Leviticus 25:5 and 11, where we find the word “nazir” used to describe an “unshorn” vine). “Apollo of locks unshorn” (Homer, “Iliad,” XX, 39); if translated into Hebrew would be “Apollo the nazir.”
The Herakles of Tyre
The Canaanite Baal and the “Pillars” of the Temple
the Near-Eastern “Baal,” (the evident origin of the Greek term “Apollo,”) as Baal-Melqart, (the “Herakles” of Tyre,) was a clear candidate for the “father,” or at least the archetype, of a Greek version of Samson. Herodotus investigated this “Baal” and reported; “I … made a voyage also to Tyre of Phoenicia, hearing that in that place there was a holy temple of Herakles; and I saw that it was richly furnished with many votive offerings besides, and especially there were in it two pillars, the one of pure gold and the other of an emerald stone of such size as to shine by night” (Herodotus “Histories” 2.44). Take note of the grandeur and prominence afforded the “two pillars” in this account, Herodotus makes them the main feature of a temple of Herakles. In the Spanish town of Gades could be found a temple of the Tyrian Herakles, that was built by Phoenicians. Strabo says that there were two conspicuous bronze pillars in the temple that were supposed by some to be the actual Pillars of Herakles (Strabo 3.5.2–3,5-6). The two pillars that were toppled by Samson in the temple of Dagon were more architectural than ceremonial, and yet it is not beyond reason to suppose an etiological connection existed between Samson’s pillars and the “pillars of Herakles.” The Temple of Solomon also displayed such pillars; “And he (Hiram) set up the pillars in the porch of the temple: and he set up the right pillar, and called the name thereof Jachin (establishes): and he set up the left pillar, and called the name thereof Boaz (strength).” (1st Kings 7:21). The “Hiram” who set up these pillars was said to be part Tyrian and part Danite, and would accordingly be well familiar with the story of the Danite Samson’s association with temple pillars. Josephus, relying on Dius the Phoenician, and Menander the Ephesian (Josephus, “Contra Ap.” i., §§ 17, 18. l.c.), relates that it was Hiram, (not the architect, but the King of Tyre, who sent him,) who had the temple of Herakles (presumably the one with the “pillars” that Herodotus had reported on) built.
Samson may have Anciently been Promoted as the Messiah
One wonders indeed, how the Pelasgians, whom we suppose to have been identical with the Philistines, could have distorted the story so much as to split Samson into the god Apollo, and also into his own earthly son Aristaeus in the same myth. And, furthermore, how the Timnite bride of Samson could also be imagined as his own mother. The answer to these two questions is obviously related; if the Philistine version of Samson is the “god” and the “son of god” combined, then that explains how his “bride” and his “virgin mother” could be one and the same. This solution is arrived at by conjecturing the idea that a large faction of the Philistines, namely those who had migrated to the Vale of Tempe and became those Pelasgians who told the myth of Aristaeus, were looking upon Samson as the long awaited, and widely anticipated, Messiah. It should be no surprise to the millions of “gentile” Christians, especially Catholics, that the “Philistines” (who, archaeologists insist, readily adopted the religious traditions of those peoples whom they had come to live among,) might accept such a notion. Even the Scriptural story in the Book of Judges is heavily laced with messianic prefigurations; his annunciation by a holy angel, where he was proclaimed as a deliverer of his people; his elaborate wedding feast, with the “friend of the bridegroom;” and, the “Spirit of the LORD came upon him” repeatedly. Thus, just as was Christ, to the early church fathers, considered as one with his heavenly father; so the Philistine version of Samson, would conflate him as both Aristaeus and as his own father Apollo. And, accordingly, the stories of Samson’s bride and his mother became merged into the myth of the same character Cyrene. The Christian counterpart would of course be Mary, the Mother and Spouse of God; Saint Augustine of Hippo writes “Mary was the only one who merited to be called the Mother as Spouse of God” (Augustine, Sermons 208; quoted by St. Alphonsus de Liguori in “The Glories of Mary”: 304.) Saint Ephraim the Syrian was probably the first early Christian to refer to Mary as the Bride of Christ. He was followed by the likes of Saint Peter Chrysologus, Rupert of Deutz, and Godfrey of Admont (Michael O’Carroll, “Spouse of God”, Theotokos: “A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary”: 333.) To a Catholic, Mary’s Motherhood and “Brideship” are two distinct realities. She is Christ’s physical Mother because she bore and raised Him, and His mystical Bride because she is the Image of the Church, who is the Bride of Christ. The theory that Samson’s mother and bride received the same treatment by the Philistines of course, depends upon the idea that the concept of Messiahship, the Theotokos, and the Godhead, were not recent “inventions” of the Catholics, but instead were very ancient and widespread concepts indeed; no doubt they were.
Cyrene, a Glorified Version of Samson’s Maiden
Just as in the story of Samson’s courtship, the Greek myth of Cyrene associates the maiden with the lion slaying. That the unnamed mother of Samson originally had a more elaborate tradition surrounding her is evidenced by the extrabiblical sources, where she is named; “Zelalponit of the tribe of Judah” (Ginzberg “Legends”), and it was noted that she was; “celebrated for her beauty, and excelling her contemporaries” (Josephus, ”Antiquities” 5.8.2). As to the bare-handed killing of the lion; “behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand.” (Judges 14:5 and 6). While in many other respects the myth so closely follows the Scriptural original, in the Pelasgian version of the lion slaying, it was the maiden Cyrene who fought the lion (not Apollo nor Aristaeus), without a weapon. They do make it a part of the solar hero’s courtship of the virgin; and they make certain, that we understand that the combat was bare-handed. And, in fact, it was the father of the hero, who appears (if only as a spectator, and the hero himself was not yet born but would be conceived here,) in the episode. “There was Cyrene, a champion in the leafy forest with her lion-slaying hands, that girl did an exploit quite as good, when she also mastered a male lion with a woman’s grip which he could not shake off.” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 25. 180 ff.). Pindar gives an account of the sun-god’s courtship and the lion slaying, thusly; “Once as she battled with a fearsome lion, alone, without a spear, Apollon, far-shooting god of the broad quiver, came upon her” (Pindar, “Pythian Ode” 9. 6 ff. “Cyrene”). Here Apollo is playing both the roles of Samson, and Samson’s father, which necessitates the merging of his bride and his mother. The slaying of a lion has become recognized as a messianic attribute, for the “conquering Lion” is the “Lamb who was slain,” thus the Messiah slays the lion by his self sacrifice (Rev. 5. 1-10). As the “seed of the Woman” this, “lion slaying attribute,” was plausibly extended to her (in much the same way that we sometimes portray Mary, rather than the Christ, as crushing the serpent’s head). The “maiden” most likely symbolized here as the mother and bride of the messiah, is the oft referred to, “Virgin of Israel;” born to Israel, he husbands “her” as her king. The Scriptural story of Samson’s conception, being blunted by the redactors into a mere “annunciation,” the Greek mythographers seem to have filled out the plot of the hero’s parents, which they deemed lacking in the original tradition, with pieces borrowed from the hero’s own story. The sun-god father of Aristaeus got the courtship scenario, and his mother, as the one who brought the lion conqueror into this world, got the lion slaying motif. Accordingly the Greek Samson, Aristaeus, while conspicuously missing these details from his own story, was promoted to messianic status, as a “son of god” born to a glorious “virgin mother.”
The Messianic Oedipus Complex
When it comes to the merging of the mother and the bride one cannot help but be reminded of the well known Oedipus saga. Oedipus earned his bride and kingdom by killing the Sphinx who was both a lion and a woman at the same time. “the Sphinx, with her two-fold nature, as of two-fold shape, making her awe-inspiring by fusing the body of a maiden with that of a lion. And Euripides suggests this when he says `And drawing her tail in beneath her lion’s feet she sat down.'” (Aelian, On Animals 12. 7). Herakles most closely resembles Samson in his initial task upon reaching manhood, in slaying the lion, in taking his first bride whom he subsequently kills, and in freeing from subjugation the people of Thebes; thus Oedipus, in dispatching the maiden/lion Sphinx, also frees the city of Thebes from subjugation. The story of Oedipus had a riddle, that brought about the death of the Sphinx, This also resembles Samson where a riddle connects the death of his maiden with the death of a lion. Apparently the ancient mythographers recognised the relationship between the Sphinx and the Nemean lion as well, for they make them out to be siblings. “Hera sent upon them the Sphinx, whose parents were Ekhidna and Typhon.” (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3. 52). “From Typhon the giant and Echidna were born . . . the Sphinx which was in Boeotia.” (Hyginus, Fabulae 151). “the Nemean lion, an invulnerable animal sired by Typhon” (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 74). “The Nemean Lion whom Hera, the queenly wife of Zeus, trained up and settled among the hills of Nemea, to be a plague to mankind.” (Hesiod, Theogony 327 ff.). Take note that not only were they both children of Typhon, but that they were also both sent by and charged with their tasks, by Hera. In killing the Sphinx, Oedipus is awarded with the hand of his own mother in marriage (here again the mother and the bride are merged). In equating the Sphinx with bees I here quote Robert Graves 1895-1985, from his “The Greek myths” with sensible reservations; “The Greek word for bee-bread, cerinthos, is Cretan; and so must all the related words be, such as cerion, ‘honey-comb’, cerinos, ‘waxen’, and ceraphis, ‘bee-moth’ – a kind of locust. Cer, in fact, whose name (also spelt Car or Q’re) came generally to mean ‘fate’, ‘doom’, or ‘destiny’ – multiplied into ceres,’ spites, plagues, or unseen ills’ – must have been the Cretan Bee-goddess, a goddess of Death in Life. Thus the Sphinx-goddess of Thebes is called by Aeschylus (Seven Against Thebes 777) the man- snatching Cer.” In certain respects (even without accepting Graves’ loose linguistic connection between the Sphinx and bees) Oedipus is even more like Samson than is Herakles, for where is the riddle in the story of Herakles, and the final blindness of the hero? (See also, “Oedipus at Colonus” vs. 37 and 55 by Sophocles, where Oedipus is admonished for treading the threshold of Poseidon. Congruently, the blinded Oedipus famously died at “Colonus,” a name that means “column” or “pillar,” the place itself was sacred to Poseidon.)
Another suspicious conflation between the Samson, Herakles, and Oedipus, stories is the way that the mythographers keep trying to work foxes into the tale; “Oedipus killed not only the Sphinx but also the Teumessian fox.” (Corinna, Fragment 672. Greek Lyric IV). Thus the fox is linked to the death of the maiden/lion of Oedipus; Also to Amphitryon, the foster-father of Herakles, ”Amphitryon would free the Cadmean Land of its Fox. For a wild Fox was creating havoc in the land.” (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 2. 57) This is the same “Teumessian fox” or “Cadmean vixen” that is associated with both Oedipus and the father of Herakles. In the Herakles saga, the fox theme helps to explain the connection between the family of Herakles and the city of Thebes, where the strong-man would kill his first lion and meet (and kill) his first bride. Samson of course, killed a lion and was responsible for the death of his maiden, also in conjunction with his fox episode; “And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.” (Judges 15:4-6).
Now comes the obvious question; What has all of this to do with Aristaeus? Well, Aristaeus was, however indirectly, associated with the Teumessian fox as well. Actually, the fox motifs that are attributed to Aristaeus, are much more like that of Samson’s, than are those of either Herakles’, or Oedipus’. For the fox myth that is connected with Aristaeus involves the burning up of the crop fields and orchard trees. You see, a certain dog was used to chase down the fox of Thebes, his name was “Laelaps.” The Teumessian fox was fated never to be caught, while Laelaps the dog’s fate, was to always catch its quarry. Zeus resolved the conundrum by transferring the pair into the heavens as Canis Major (Laelaps or “Sirius”) and Canis Minor (the fox) where they were to continue the unresolved chase indefinitely (Hyginus 2.35). While we nowadays call it Canis Minor, In the Latin of Hyginus it was “Canicula” (the Little Dog), in Greek “Prokyon” (the Preceding Dog), however in Akkadian and Sumerian it is “Shelebu” and “KA.A” (both meaning “the Fox”). It was well known in ancient times that the appearance of these “dog-stars” in conjunction with the sun meant severe drought and wildfires. The burning fields in the story of Samson (Shemesh-on) and the foxes (the dog stars) almost certainly has something to do with this phenomenon (The stars attending the wildfire season may have reminded astronomers of the, presumably renowned, field burning foxes in the Hebrew story.). “A star that keenest of all blazes with a searing flame and him men call Sirius. When he rises with Helios, no longer do the trees deceive him by the feeble freshness of their leaves.” (Aratus, Phaenomena 328 ff.) “From the ocean-verge up springs Helios in glory, flashing fire far over earth – fire, when beside his radiant chariot-team races the red star Sirius” (Quintus Smyrnaeus, “Fall of Troy” 8. 30 ff.). “Sirius the Dog-star smitten by Hyperion’s full might pitilessly burns the panting fields.” (Statius, “Silvae” 3.1.5). In the story of Oedipus as told by Seneca, Thebes was plagued by a drought; “No soft breeze with its cool breath relieves our breasts that pant with heat, no gentle Zephyrus blows; but Titan (the sun) augments the scorching dog-stars’s fires, close-pressing upon the Nemean Lion’s back. Water has fled the streams, and from the herbage verdure. Dirce is dry, scant flows Ismenus’ stream” (Seneca, Oedipus 37 ff.). Take note how Seneca incorporates the “Nemean Lion” (the constellation Leo) into the portent of the “scorching fires,” for consideration along with the other lion slaying, fox subduing myths.
The chapter of the Aristaeus myth that deals with the field scorching “dog-star” takes place on the Minoan Islands, specifically Keos (sometimes spelled “Ceos”). This story is like that of Samson and the foxes in that the “scorched … land of the Ceans” that had “robbed their fields of produce” had been caused by “Procyon” a star that is identified with the Teumessian Fox; “Jupiter, pitying their misfortune, represented their forms among the stars … The dog, however, from its own name and likeness, they have called Canicula. It is called Procyon by the Greeks, because it rises before the greater Dog. … Canicula rising with its heat, scorched the land of the Ceans, and robbed their fields of produce … Their king, Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, and father of Actaeon, asked his father by what means he could free the state from affliction. The god bade them expiate the death of Icarus with many victims, and asked from Jove that when Canicula rises he should send wind for forty days to temper the heat of Canicula.” (Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 4). Although burning fields were clearly associated with the fox, the Pelasgian hero Aristaeus is characteristically credited with doing just the opposite of what the Danite hero Samson did (we shall encounter more of this contrariness later in this article). Aristaeus alleviated the scorching, while Samson was said to have caused it. “Sirius was scorching the Minoan Islands from the sky, and the people could find no permanent cure for the trouble till Hekatos (Apollo) put it in their heads to send for Aristaeus. So, as his father’s command, Aristaeus … made ritual offerings in the hills to the Dog-star and to Zeus Kronides himself. In response, Zeus gave his orders–and the Etesiai refresh the earth for forty days.” (Apollonius Rhodius, “Argonautica” 2. 518 ff.). See how Nonnus tells the tale, weaving Aristaeus’ beekeeping attribute into the narrative; “He (Aristaeus) lulled asleep the scorching dogstar of Maira. He kindled the fragrant altar of Zeus Ikmaios (of the Moisture); he poured the bull’s blood over the sweet libation, and the curious gifts of the gadabout bee which he lay on the altar, filling his dainty cups with a posset mixt with honey. Father Zeus heard him; and honouring his son’s son, he sent a counterblast of pest-averting winds to restrain Sirius with his fiery fevers.” (Nonnus, “Dionysiaca” 5. 212 ff.).
Possible Archetypes for Cyrene
The Scriptures offer no reason as to why Samson chose this particular maid, which leaves scholars wondering; “it was weak and foolish of him to set his affections upon a daughter of the Philistines. Shall one, not only an Israelite, but a Nazarite, devoted to the Lord, covet to become one with a worshipper of Dagon? It does not appear that he had any reason to think her wise or virtuous, or any way likely to be a helpmeet for him; but he saw something in her agreeable to his fancy.” (“Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary” on Judges 14:1-4). To this we may add, that It seems apparent that she was not a raving beauty, for her father said; “is not her younger sister fairer than she?” (Judges 15:2). By way of contrast, Apollo the solar hero of the Greek myth, was impressed by Cyrene’s lion wrestling skills. Solar heroes, in accordance with their messianic attributes, are often credited with a lion slaying, there’s no reason to think that a female solar hero should be represented differently; and Samson’s namesake Shamash had an obvious female cognate in the Canaanite sun-goddess “Shapash.” She was a conspicuous player in the Ugaritic “Epic of Baal,” and may well have been influential in the development of the Greek concept of Cyrene, the female lion killer and paramour of the sun-god Apollo. This solar aspect of the mother of the messiah is not so blasphemous as it seems at first glance; “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun” (Revelations 12:1). That this was how the mother of the Messiah was pictured there can be no doubt; “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” (Revelations 12:5) In fact the whole Chapter 12 of Revelations is very much like the Greek myth of the birth of Apollo, with his mother, pregnant with him and fleeing from Python, having a safe place provided (Ortygia) in which to give him birth. Apollo is born and slays Python. The parallels between the sun-god and the Messiah are not completely foreign to the Scriptural narrative; these may be explained by the overarching influence that the originally extant concept of the portended Messiah had on all religions and mythologies worldwide. Now, Cyrene was a water nymph and as such, was more affiliated with the fish-god. But, no matter, for Dagon also had a feminine counterpart in the character of “Atargatis” (“Derceto”). “In Syria is a city called Ashkelon, and not far from it is a great deep lake full of fishes; and beside it is a shrine of a famous goddess whom the Syrians called Derketo: and she has the face of a woman, and otherwise the entire body of a fish” (Diodorus Siculus, ii. 4, see also; Lucian, “De Syria Dea,” xiv.); Take note that the shrine with the image of the fish-goddess was at “Ashkelon” which was one of the cities of the five Philistine axis lords, and the location of one of Samson’s most famous exploits. The fish-goddess was also mentioned in the Talmud (‘Ab. Zarah 11b, line 28) where she was called by the very similar name, “Tar’atah.”
The Philistine Taint
“The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.” (Psalm 29:3)
The Temple and the Sun-god
It may have seemed to the Philistines that Samson, in destroying the temple, was fulfilling a Messianic prophecy, he destroyed the temple (albeit the Philistine temple of Dagon,) in an act of self sacrifice on behalf of delivering his people; “And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1,2). Furthermore, that the Messiah’s body would be destroyed in the process may also have been a part of the prophecy; “But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21). Of course the Scriptural Samson was not said to have been resurrected from the dead, however, the Greek versions of him, Aristaeus and Herakles, were so accredited! “In those days men were changed to gods, who down to the present day have honours paid to them; (such as) Aristaeus … (and) Herakles the son of Alkmene” (Pausanias, “Description of Greece” 8. 2. 4). And elsewhere; “After dwelling some time in the neighbourhood of Mount Haemus he (Aristaeus) never was seen again of men, and became the recipient of immortal honours not only among the barbarians of that region but among the Greeks as well.” (Diodorus Siculus, “Library of History” 4. 81. 1). According to Servius (on Virgil’s Georgics i. 14) Hesiod called Aristaeus ‘a pastoral Apollo’. “they will gently nurse the babe (Aristaeus) upon their knees, and on his lips distil ambrosia and nectar, and shall ordain him an immortal being, a Zeus or holy Apollon, a joy to men who love him.” (Pindar, “Pythian Ode” 9. 59 ff.). “Are we then to deem these gods, the sons of mortal mothers? Well then, will not Aristaeus, the reputed discoverer of the olive, who was the son of Apollo … and all the other sons of gods, also be reckoned as gods?” (Cicero, “De Natura Deorum” 3. 18). Aristaeus was an obvious messianic solar hero, the son of the sun god who was born on Earth to be a saviour to mankind, introducing cultural benefits and religious reforms for the good of people everywhere.
If the myth of Aristaeus is to be interpreted as an adaptation of the Samson story, then the role of Apollo, which constitutes many of Samson’s most recognizable motifs, requires some further explanation; for the sun-god Apollo is not the main hero, he is the father of the hero; and yet it is Apollo who is the sun-god character, he is the “unshorn,” and he is the one who takes the bride in connection with the unarmed fight against the lion. These circumstances surely require that one or more alternative versions to the Samson story, including one that made him a son of the sun-god, were available to the Scriptural editors. These collateral accounts were apparently not altogether rejected, although heavily redacted for inclusion in the Book of Judges. Thus, in the myth of Aristaeus we are told of how the “sun-god” (not a mere angel, as in the officially approved story of Samson) “visited” his “barren” mother in order to “facilitate” his birth; “She was a virgin and she prized her maidenhood. But one day … Apollon carried her off … who in token of his love made her a nymph and huntress with the gift of a long life.” (Apollonius Rhodius, “Argonautica” 2. 498 ff.). Furthermore, in promoting Samson to his “son of god” status as the Pelasgian Aristaeus, it seems as though the myth of his conception by the sun-god (namely, the “rape” of his mother by Apollo,) was filled out by plagiarizing the episode of Samson’s Timnite bride. Now, although the circumstances do differ a bit, both courtships involve the bare handed killing of a lion. And while there is no story of her death, as there was of the brides mentioned in both the Samson and Herakles lion killing episodes, Apollonius (in the previously quoted passage,) does tell a very suspicious tale of how she was a mortal woman, but Apollo “carried her off” and “granted” her “immortality” as a nymph. This is plausibly a euphemism for her death, and almost certainly an allusion to her assumption or apotheosis (the assumption of his virgin mother, was perhaps a messianic identifier even in ancient times, and may have been attributed to the mother of Samson accordingly).
An Aggregation of Several Originally Distinct Accounts
Chapter 14 in the Book of Judges is almost certainly an aggregation of two or more, originally separate (although related by subject matter), accounts. One tells about the bare-handed throttling of a lion, Samson’s parents were not present for this event; “he told not his father or his mother what he had done” (Judges 14:6); furthermore, in confirmation of their absence, we read that it was later; “when he came to his father and mother” (Judges 14:9). Here the Scriptures are seemingly disputing some early variant of the story, telling us clearly that the lion slaying incident had nothing to do with the hero’s parents, but rather was performed instead by Samson himself. It is possible that a version of the story, one that may have been responsible for the origin of the Greek myth, was present as a Philistine account, and was available to the Scriptural editors of the Samson story, although largely rejected. Another account tells us about his parents attending his wedding banquet (Verses 5 & 10). These two narratives have been integrated, but true coherency is lacking. It is difficult to tell; Just where were Samson’s parents when he came to them (probably in Zorah, not in Timnah)? And how many times did a journey to Timnah take place? Who partook of each trip? And what reasons did the Scriptural compiler have in mind for each of these visits? There is the original journey in verse 1, another in verse 5 where Samson’s parents are at first, with him, but then were not witnesses of the lion attack at the end of the very same verse, then a third in verse 7 (for the engagement promise?), a forth in verse 8 (for the wedding itself?), and possibly a fifth in verse 10 for the drinking bout, or banquet. It is this last visit, where Samson’s father is specifically referred to, that gets our notice for comparison to the myth of Cyrene. For the Scriptural account leaves it ill-defined as to what the purpose of his father’s visit is; “So his father went down unto the woman” (Judges 14:10), the reason for this visit by his “father” just after the lion incident, has never been satisfactorily explained. What is going on here? The myth of Cyrene’s courtship is all about the hero’s father and the maiden, perhaps the Philistine version of the story was available to the editor and was responsible for this rather spurious, interjection. Suspiciously, Samson’s parents are included, as if in an attempt to remain faithful to the supposed, although discounted, Philistine account. Samson’s parents then mysteriously disappear and have no further role in any of his adventures beyond this courtship episode (where, in the Greek myth of the courtship, they were the only participants).
The Hero’s “Father” is Consulted About the Maiden’s Race
Upon witnessing the valiant damsel dispatch the fierce lion with her bare hands, Apollo immediately called on Cheiron to discuss with him his amorous desires for her and his prospects of taking her as a lover; “and straightway called from out his dwelling Cheiron and thus addressed him : `Son of Philyra, come from your holy cave, and marvel at a woman’s spirit and mighty vigour; with what undaunted mind she wages battle, a young maid with a heart that rides o’er every labour, and a spirit never shaken by the cold storms of fear.” he wonders specifically about her race; “What mortal father begot this maid? And from what race of men has she been reft, to dwell within the dark dells of these clouded mountains? For her soul breeds a boundless wealth of valour.” and questions; “Is it right to lay on her the touch of an ennobling hand, or even to pluck the flower of love, sweeter than honey?’” (Pindar, “Pythian Ode” 9. 6 ff. “Cyrene”). How remarkably similar is this scene, to the Scriptural account of basically the same conversation that Samson has with his father, just after he was so impressed, by the woman whom he had seen at Timnah. Samson’s father as well, has a talk with Samson as to the girl’s race, and whether it was right for him to take her as a wife. Compare this subject matter to the corresponding Scriptural narrative; “Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.” (Judges 14:3). Pindar reports that Apollo was likewise greatly impressed, as the sun-god says, “marvel at a woman’s spirit.” This is essentially the same story that we read in the Hebrew Scriptures at Judges 14:1-7, as Samson remarks twice how well pleased the woman made him; “And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.” (Judges 14:7).
It is conspicuous that here in Pindar’s narrative, the sun-god is consulting with Cheiron, for it is generally agreed that Cheiron raised Aristaeus as if he were his father; “Cyrene … Apollon carried her off … she bore him a son called Aristaeus, … But he took his infant son away to be brought up by Cheiron in his cave.” (Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2. 498 ff.). And some, such as Bacchylides, (Fragment 45, “Scholiast on Apollonius”) even make Cheiron to be the actual father of Aristaeus. In Judges 14:4 we learn that the whole inter-racial courtship was in accordance with the divine plan of the Heavenly Father, “it was of the LORD” we are told. In other words God was not concerned about the race of the girl, it was His will that Samson should take her. Pindar’s ode is in remarkable agreement on this detail, which he faithfully reports as if it were a part of his own source literature, even though it makes no logical sense, as he makes Cheiron point out; “You ask me from what race the girl comes, lord Apollo? You who know the appointed end of all things, and all the paths that lead to them? And how many leaves the earth puts forth in spring, and how many grains of sand in the sea and in rivers are dashed by the waves and the gusting winds; and that which will be, and from where it will come, all this you clearly see” (Pindar, “Pythian Ode” 9. 43-50). In the Greek myth, Apollo acts as though he himself, were unaware of his own scheme, and Cheiron is completely incredulous when he exclaims to the god, “You ask me?”. On this last point we can impeach the myth, for in the Scriptural version of the tale, which is ostensibly earlier, Samson, his father, and the God are three separate characters. Logically Samson, and his father, would not know God’s will. Such marriages were forbidden to the Israelites, to keep them separate from the idolatrous nations. In the Scriptures we are offered an explanation as a kind of editorial gloss (it seems that the editors knew better than the participants themselves what was in the mind of God); “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4). However, Pindar, as we have said, has Apollo playing both hero and god roles, and Cheiron, as Aristaeus’ father figure, is left to wonder why the omniscient god would question his own plan.
How Euridice Fits In
Even though the hero’s bride theme seems to have been appropriated to flesh out the myth of his conception, the Aristaeus story still retained elements of this motif, in the episode of his pursuit of Eurydice. The cause of Eurydice’s death is not mentioned in the earliest sources. However, it is generally assumed that Virgil and Ovid’s accounts, where she was bitten on the foot by a serpent, do so with the authority of great antiquity. Pindar, who wrote in the 5th century BC., tells the story of Aristaeus and the loss of his bees, but says nothing about Eurydice who would, at a later date, be blamed for this detail of the bees. Unfortunately, the name of Aristaeus cannot be found associated with the myth of Eurydice any earlier than Virgil. (Diod. iv. 25 ; Conon, 45; Paus. ix. 30. § 4; Hygin. Fab. 164.). A version of the story wherein the hero is enamored of a maiden who meets her death as a result of his attentions was apparently known to the Greek mythographers. With the inclusion of the episode featuring the death of Eurydice they were able to restore a bit of consistency to the myth. The episodes of the lion and the bride, in the story of Samson, being transposed in the Greek myth, from the hero Aristaeus to the glorification of his mother, meant that the story of the riddle and that of the honey bees in the carcass, were left as an unsupported stub. Merging the myth of Eurydice’s death with the fable of Aristaeus’ honey bees, does have an aspect that recommends it, as it has the advantage of being a way to fill the void. For if we suppose that the myth of Aristaeus was based upon the story of Samson, then it needs to be supplied with a maiden who dies as a result of the hero’s advances. Attributing the death of Eurydice to Aristaeus’ pursuit of her, better suits the story of Samson, who through courting his bride got her killed. Furthermore, now the death of the maiden can be linked to Aristaeus’ honey bees, as bees were linked to Samson’s bride. Eurydice cursed Aristaeus’ bees from beyond the grave, accordingly he appeased her with an animal sacrifice; it was within the carcass of that sacrifice that a new swarm of honey bees was engendered. In the Scriptural account, it is the curse of Samson upon the maiden that brings about her death, as he “hates” her for, her infidelity in, disclosing the solution to the bee problem (Judges 15:2-6).
The Riddle, it’s Solution, and the Hive Starting Technique
Samson’s riddle is as much an enigma today as it seems to have been originally. The riddle’s configuration suggests that the original passage has either been mangled or heavily redacted. A riddle is usually a question, but this one, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” is not a question at all, it is a positive statement. On the other hand, the answer, “What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion?” is a question. There is no way to arrange this, obviously corrupted statement and question, so that it even remotely resembles a riddle and its answer. Evidently, the Scriptural editor objected to something about this riddle, perhaps it was thought that it referred to the Zodiac, or displayed too much of Samson’s “solar aspect.” Whatever the original form of the riddle, Samson knew that it could not be expounded; so when the Philistines came up with the solution, he could positively conclude that his wife, as the only one in whom he had confided the answer, had betrayed him. This prompted him to come up with an analogy that was perhaps even a better “riddle” than the one that he had originally proposed; “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.” (Judges 14:14-18). The equivalent Greek mythological version of this exchange, is offered by Ovid, who tells us of a very similar conversation held between Aristaeus (the hero, representing Samson), and the fish-tailed sea-god (a Dagon, representing the Philistines), Proetus, who says to the hero; “Dost ask,” said he, “in what way thou mayest repair the loss of thy bees? Kill a heifer and bury its carcass in the earth. The buried heifer will give the thing thou seekest of me.” Out of the putrid ox swarms bubble. One life slain brought to the birth a thousand.” (Ovid, “Fasti” 1. 374-380).
Notice how Ovid presents the initial statement, which is a problem, in the form of a question (the usual format of a riddle). He then makes Proetus give the solution to the problem, in the form of a statement. What follows is, in my view, the most startling “coincidence” of the entire conversation as Proetus tells how the problem will be “found out” thusly; “The buried heifer will give the thing thou seekest of me.” Now, compare this to the exclamation of Samson when his problem was expounded; “If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle.” See how the “heifer,” if not “plowed with,” then at least “buried,” is how those who “seekest” had “found out” the solution to the problem. In Ovid’s Latin “obrue” (buried) is closely related to the word “obaro” (plow). Even Samson’s rather awkwardly worded riddle is seemingly reconstructed in Ovid’s account, as a kind of synopsis of the tale; “Out of the putrid ox swarms bubble. One life slain brought to the birth a thousand” (“mille” is here used for thousand, while “mellis” is honey or sweetness). Amazingly, Ovid’s summary takes on the same format as Samson’s so-called riddle; out of something comes something, followed by the same thing repeated with different wording (This Greek “verse” is in a form that is typical of Hebrew poetry, scholars who study the matter refer to it as synonymous parallelism; in this form, the second half line of verse says much the same thing as the first one, with variations. A lot of the Scriptures is written in this form of poetry.). Perhaps the most bewildering coincidence is the fact that both stories employ the plot of bees forming a hive in the body of a dead animal, for this could not have been a common topic. Even though ancient sources relate that the Israelites, Greeks, and Egyptians alike, supposed that the carcass of a dead animal, under certain ideal circumstances, could serve as a suitable place for honey bees to form a hive; such a thing is denied by modern beekeepers and scientists as well (It certainly happened very rarely if ever it did happen at all).
Aristaeus was said to have been the inventor and original propagator of the beekeeping craft; “Aristaeus, the honey-loving shepherd who discovered the secret of the bees” (Apollonius Rhodius, “Argonautica” 4. 1128 ff.), an honorable accreditation to be sure, however, it is much too imprecise an accolade to help us in identifying him with Samson. On the other hand, Virgil is a bit more specific as to Aristaeus’ contribution to the honey harvesting vocation. Virgil, in describing how the people from the land of Egypt (perhaps Virgil’s ancient source had used the term “Egypt” as a corruption of “Jacob”) would go about generating a new colony of honey bees tells us; “a bullock is sought, … then he is beaten to death and his flesh is pounded to a pulp through the unbroken hide. … Meantime the moisture, warming in the softened bones, ferments, and creatures of wondrous wise to view, footless at first, soon with buzzing wings as well, swarm together.” Then Virgil asks and answers the question; Who developed this technique? “What god, ye Muses, forged for us this device? Whence did man’s strange adventuring take its rise? Aristaeus the shepherd, quitting Tempe by the Peneus, when – so runs the tale – his bees were lost through sickness and hunger” (Virgil, Georgics 4. 295-333). Now, rather than the general assertion that he invented bee keeping, (an attribute that could easily have grown out of his actual original exploit,) we have a more particular accomplishment with which to credit Aristaeus. For it was he, who with the aid of divine instruction, discovered that honey bees could be engendered inside the corpse of a dead animal. Consequently, we can not help but to instantly recognize this detail from the Greek myth of Aristaeus, as a manifest borrowing from the story of the Hebrew strong-man that is outlined in the Book of Judges; “behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion.” (Judges 14:8).
Who Cries to Learn the Solution to the Bee Problem?
It was the hero Aristaeus who cried to the maiden Cyrene in an effort to learn the solution to the problem of the honey bees. “Aristaeus wept because he saw his bees killed, root and branch, and the unfinished hives abandoned. Scarce could his azure mother soothe his grief, when to her speech she these last words subjoined. “Stay, boy, thy tears!” (Ovid, Fasti 1. 361 ff.). “his mother heard the cry from her bower … the wail of Aristaeus smote upon his mother’s ear, … “Cyrene, not vain was your alarm at this loud lament. ‘Tis even he, your own beloved, your Aristaeus, standing sadly and in tears by the waters of our father, and crying out on you by name for cruelty.” (Virgil, Georgics 4. 350 ff.). In the Scriptural version of the story, it’s the other way around (another instance of exact contrariness between the Danite and Pelasgian versions), for it is the woman who cries to the hero in order to learn the solution to the bee problem; “And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people.” (Judges 14:16-17). It is almost as if the Philistine/Pelasgians who told the story had inverted some of the respective roles of the participants in order to increase the glory of the Philistine maiden whose Scriptural activity otherwise consists merely of exhibiting herself, crying to wheedle the secret of the bees out of Samson, and then being put to a rather ignoble death.
“And in that day will I punish all those that leap over the threshold, who fill their master’s house with violence and deceit.” (Zephaniah 1:9)
Shackled in His Sleep, and Leaping Over the Threshold
The individual motifs, that the Scriptural account associates with Samson, still occur in the Greek myth of Aristaeus, but it is the glorified maiden who performs them; she bare-handedly fights the lion while the admiring hero stands by, she shows a way to solve the bee problem while it is the hero who weeps to have it disclosed, and it is her who reveals how the powerful fish-god may be shackled in his sleep. In the Scriptures, a woman who is portrayed as the third of Samson’s paramours, Delilah, spends extensive effort in an attempt to entice Samson into confiding the secret of how he might be bound; “tell me wherewith thou mightest be bound” (Judges 16:6, and then she does the same thing twice more in the same chapter, in very similarly worded statements, at verses 10 and 13). There is, as we shall see, some indication that, although they are depicted as different women altogether, the various women in the story of Samson are all one and the same. Delilah is still a woman from the Valley of Sorek (where Timnah was located), and, if not actually a Philistine herself, she was at least in cahoots with the Philistines. After Samson deluded her several times by feeding her misinformation, finally he told her the truth, whereupon “she made him sleep upon her knees” (Judges 16:19); thus enabling him to be, “bound … with fetters of brass” (Judges 16:21). In the Greek myth, it is the woman who tells the crying hero Aristaeus, how the fish-god could be made captive, only if he were to be shackled in his sleep. “Thy losses Proteus will retrieve and will show thee how to make good all that is gone. But lest he elude thee by shifting his shape, see that strong bonds do shackle both his hands.” The stripling made his way to the seer, and bound fast the arms, relaxed in slumber, of the Old Man of the Sea.” (Ovid, Fasti 1. 361 ff.). “you may assail him with ease as he lies asleep. But when you hold him in the grasp of hands and fetters, then will manifold forms baffle you, and figures of wild beasts. For of a sudden he will … slip from his fetters” (Virgil, Georgics 4. 400 ff.).
Assuming that the myth of Herakles contains parallel versions of the same story, we can compare the story of his confrontation with Nereus as presented by Apollodorus; “Herakles took hold of him as he lay sleeping, and bound him fast as Nereus changed himself into all sorts of shapes; he did not let him loose until Nereus told him where the apples and the Hesperides were.” (Apollodorus, The Library 2. 114). Herakles was attempting to acquire eternal life, even if one doesn’t accept the notion that the “apples of Hesperides,” represent the “fruits of the tree of life” (which they clearly do), the Greek myths do indicate that, Herakles was expecting to win immortality by the accomplishment of his labors. This brings to mind the quest of the hero in the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” Despite the apparent glaring chronological discrepancies that arise from implicating an Old Babylonian era text as dependent upon a Hebrew Scriptural story, it is plainly evident that the two Greek myths about Herakles and Aristaeus, and by deduction, also the story of the Danite Samson, cannot be completely divorced from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh. After all, “Shamash” is the patron deity of Gilgamesh who is called “strong man” and whose “long hair” is repeatedly mentioned in the epic.
Now, the Philistine Dagon can be traced eastward, as many scholars agree, to Sumer and Akkad where the fish-god was known as Enki and Ea. His well known title, found in the ancient Mesopotamian literature, was “Lord of the Abyss” (apsu or abzu) and may help to trace him westward as well, for the “Greek” name “Poseidon” is a very plausible transliteration of the Western Semitic “Apsu-Adon” (lord of the Abyss). Proteus, the son of Poseidon, represents the fish-god in the myth of Aristaeus. The probable ultimate origin of the fish-god archetype would tend to explain its apparent ubiquity. The Biblical patriarch, therein called “Noah,” the hero and survivor of the flood, was apparently deified by many of the peoples (nations) of the Earth, who, in accordance with the Scriptural narrative, were his descendants. The ancients worshipped the flood hero under many guises, often as a water god like Enki of Eridu. In the Mesopotamian myth known as “The Epic of Gilgamesh” Enki is the patron of the Babylonian flood hero who was called “Utnapishtim.” While there is no story of Enki having ever been a mortal man, there is the story where the flood hero, Utnapishtim, gets deified; “Previously Utnapishtim was a human being. But now let Utnapishtim and his wife become like us, the gods! Let Utnapishtim reside far away, at the Mouth of the Rivers.’ They took us far away and settled us at the Mouth of the Rivers.” W. F. Albright pointed out that the phrase, “mouth of the rivers,” was just another way of referring to the cosmic realm of Ea, which is also called the “Apsu.” (“The Mouth of the Rivers,” AJSL 35 (1919), pp. 161-95). And we can see for ourselves that what is usually termed “Mouth of the Rivers,” is elsewhere cited as “Apsu.” “I will go down to the Apsu to live with my lord, Ea (Enki)” (This was taken from the “Epic of Gilgamesh” but the same flood story can be found in the “Atrahasis tablets,” where Utnapishtim is called Atrahasis, and Ea is called Enki).
The “Apsu” is a mythical subterranean chamber imagined to be the source of all freshwater, lakes, rivers, and fountains, presided over by Enki, and called in the Epic of Gilgamesh, “the mouth of rivers.” Temples of Enki were built in imitation of the original Apsu, “They raised the peak of Esagil, a replica of the Apsu.” (the “Enuma Elish” Line 62, Esagil is the temple of Marduk the son of Enki), and were sometimes even called Apsu (Enki’s temple in Eridu was known as Apsu); presumably this was true of the Philistine temples to Dagon as well. In the Greek myth, the mother of Aristaeus, Cyrene, lives in a place that is described, very much, like the Babylonian Apsu; “his mother’s home, a realm of waters, at the lakes locked in caverns, and the echoing groves, he went on his way, and, dazed by the mighty rush of waters, he gazed on all the rivers, as, each in his own place, they glide under the great earth – Phasis and Lycus, the fount whence deep Enipeus first breaks forth, whence Father Tiber, whence the streams of Anio and rocky, roaring Hypanis, and Mysian Caicus, and Eridanus, on whose bull’s brow are two gilded horns: no other stream of mightier force flows through the fertile fields to join the violet sea … the bower with its hanging roof of stone” (Virgil “Georgics” Book 4. 365-375 ff.).
Just as were the Philistine women in the story of Samson, the maiden (although she was the mother of Aristaeus, she was “immortalized” by Apollo as a young lady) Cyrene, as a water Nymph, paid obeisance to the fish-god; “In Neptune’s Carpathian flood there dwells a seer, Proteus, of sea-green hue, who traverses the mighty main in his car drawn by fishes and a team of two-footed steeds. Even now he revisits the havens of Thessaly and his native Pallene. To him we Nymphs do reverence,” (Virgil, “Georgics” 4. 387). Now, these fish-god worshippers, even among the Greeks, had a very specific religious taboo against stepping upon the threshold of a holy place. Aristaeus, the son of god, born to the hallowed virgin, was exempted from this prohibition; “To her the mother, her soul smitten with strange dread cries : ‘O bring him, bring him to us; lawful it is for him to tread the threshold divine.’ ” (Virgil, “Georgics” 4. 317 ff.). Virgil here refers to “Neptune” the Roman form of the Greek “Poseidon.” Proteus, (like his fish-god brother, Triton), is usually named as his son; “Proteus, son of Poseidon” (Apollodorus, “Library” 2.5.9 ff.). A further example occurs within Theban tradition wherein a stranger admonishes Oedipus as he nears Athens, for treading on a certain “threshold,” held sacred to Poseidon; “You occupy ground which is unholy to tread upon. … This whole place is sacred; august Poseidon holds it, … But as for the spot on which you tread, it is called the bronze threshold of this land,” (Sophocles, “Oedipus at Colonus” vs. 37 and 55). That this threshold taboo was a Philistine custom is evident from the Scriptural mention of it, which purports to record the very origin of the tradition; “Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.” (1st Samuel 5:2-5). Apparently this ritual was the rule wherever the Philistine/Pelasgians and the fish-god held sway.
The motifs in the myth of Aristaeus, and also of Herakles, that seem to parallel the Hebrew story of Samson, do so only up to a point. That is from the annunciation of his birth only until the incident of the ass jaw, or in other words until just after the episode of the maiden and the bees. This would seem to suggest that the second half of the Scriptural story, that of Delilah through the temple incident (Judges 16:4-16:31), may be a “doublet” of the first half of the story (Judges 13:1-15:20) arranged as if it were a subsequent episode. And that the two halves of the story were but two different and diverse narrative accounts of the same ill-defined event. Both of the women, the bride (who is not named) and Delilah were, as we have said, from the Valley of Sorek (the bride is specifically localized at the Sorek Valley city of Timnah); Both nag Samson in an attempt to entice him to tell his secret; both do so in order to betray him to the Philistines; Samson is ultimately bound and turned over to the enemy in both instances; his capture results in him committing a mass killing of Philistines in each case. In summing up the first half, the Scriptures say; “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” (Judges 15:20). And then again at the end of the last half it says; ” … And he judged Israel twenty years.” (Judges 16:31). The fact that this concluding statement occurs twice, once in the middle and then again at the end of the same account, is a fair indication that this story is a fusion of unrealized duplications, being joined end to end. Arguably the balance of his story (Judges 16:1-3), where he is enticed into an ambush by a prostitute, but outsmarts the bushwhacking Philistines of Gaza (Samson’s temple scene was also at Gaza), by dislodging the door “posts” (pillars again?), is only a, much shorter, triplet of the same story, inserted between the two accounts (In this event, the adjacent walls may have collapsed about the men who were laying in wait, as we are told, at the supports of this gate, thus approximating the episode in the Dagon temple.). In an apparent confirmation of this “doublet hypothesis” we have the merging of the paramours of Samson in the corresponding Pelasgian account (The Pelasgians were perhaps relying upon a version of the story where some of the various elements from the two halves of the Scriptural narrative were included in the same story.). Aristaeus has tearful entreaties to the maiden, (his mother,) Cyrene in the Greek myth, when she gives him the bee solution, and teaches him to bind Proetus; while these themes are separated in Samson’s parallel episodes, one in the first half of his story, with the un-named bride of Timnah weeping over the bee problem, and then the next theme appears in the last half, with the nagging Delilah in her quest to learn how the hero could be bound.
An obvious divergence from the other two stories, those of Samson and Herakles, is of course the fact that Aristaeus isn’t especially known for undertaking acts of militant brawn; quite to the contrary, he is a bit of a cry baby, for instead of the women as in the other stories, it is he who cries requesting the favors of his mother the water Nymph; “Cyrene heard the tale of her son’s idle tears, the sisters, in due order, pour on his hands clear spring-waters … and in turn set on the brimming cups” (Virgil, Georgics 4. 317 ff.). Even in this, the hypothetical Philistines who were relaying the tale, may have been exaggerating an episode from the deeds of Samson, for at the end of the first half of the Scriptural account Samson does famously weep requesting a fountain of water. The relevant Scriptural verses run thusly; “And he was very thirsty, and wept before the Lord, and said, Thou hast been well pleased to grant this great deliverance by the hand of thy servant, and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? And God broke open a hollow place in the jaw, and there came thence water, and he drank; and his spirit returned and he revived: therefore the name of the fountain was called ‘The well of the invoker,’ which is in Lechi, until this day.” (Judges 15:18-19). The term “En Hakkore,” is explained in the Scriptures as meaning the “spring of the crier.” Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that the name “Cyrene” may derive from (Hak)-“kore-En,” (“kore” meaning to “cry,” and “en” meaning a “spring” being transposed into a suffix, with the remaining “hak” being disposable.) however, the colonial city founded early in the seventh century BC. in northern Africa called “Cyrene” was named after a spring called, “Kyre,” which the Greeks dedicated to the sun-god Apollo. The idea that the hero cries out to the divine to supply him a fresh water source (as in Samson at En Hakkore), and that such a source is provided to him by the river nymphs (as in Aristaeus at the spring of Cyrene) is duplicated in an episode of the myth of Herakles wherein Diodorus Siculus (IV, 22) tells us that when Herakles wandered from Pelorias to Eryx, the nymphs on the road made the warm springs Himerea and Egestaea gush forth for his refreshment. The usual interpretation for the term “Cyrene” is “sovereign queen,” a suitable title for the wife of god and the mother of a “messianic” culture hero, but in the myth Cyrene is depicted as a water nymph the likes of which are often associated with such a spring. The placement of Samson’s “spring of the crier” incident, at the very end of the first part of his story, indeed just before the apparent terminating statement so saying; “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” (Judges 15:20); has its significance to the “doublet theory” mentioned earlier, because just before the other terminating statement; “… And he judged Israel twenty years” (Judges 16:31), we find the episode of Dagon’s temple. Both the spring, and the temple, can be said to have an association with the “apsu-like” home of Cyrene.
The Philistine Pelasgians
Let us now spend a few paragraphs tracing the path that the story of Samson took to get from Philistia of Israel, to Pelasgia of Thessaly, as the myth of Aristaeus. First take a look at Strabo’s account concerning the ubiquity of the Pelasgians in Greece; “As for the Pelasgi, almost all agree, in the first place, that some ancient tribe of that name spread throughout the whole of Greece, and particularly among the Aeolians of Thessaly. … Thessaly is called “the Pelasgian Argos” (I mean that part of it which lies between the outlets of the Peneus River and Thermopylae as far as the mountainous country of Pindus), on account of the fact that the Pelasgi extended their rule over these regions. … And Euripides too, in his Archelaus, says: “Danaus, the father of fifty daughters, on coming into Argos, took up his abode in the city of Inachus, and throughout Greece he laid down a law that all people hitherto named Pelasgians were to be called Danaans.” (Strabo 5.2.4). I included this last part of Strabo’s narrative where he quotes Euripides as saying that the Danaans (“Danites”) settled with the Inachidae (“Anakim” a race of giants who lived among the Philistines, 2 Sam. 21:15-22), and the Pelasgians (“Philistines”), because Samson himself was a Danite who lived among the Philistines. Also take note that in Argolis there was a policy of complete assimilation of the Pelasgians into Danaans. The Pelasgians were a widespread, sea-faring race; they are linked to the Philistines not only by likeness of names but through pottery, linguistics, architectural similarities, ship types, and recently it has even been shown that the Philistines of the city of Gath had been worshipping Greek gods. Accordingly it should surprise nobody that many of the stories making up Pelasgian mythology, may be based upon events that had actually occurred in Palestine.
Apollo of the Temenos
Strabo mentions ” the outlets of the Peneus River” as being “particularly” inhabited by the Pelasgi, this was also the home of Aristaeus, the very place from which he originally came; “Aristaeus the shepherd, quitting Tempe by the Peneus” (Virgil, Georgics 4. 333-387 ff.). Tempe (Temenos, Tempos), is the name of a valley in Thessaly, the Peneus river ran through it. In the valley was a sacred grove called Temenos, or Tempe, giving its name to the place, the so-called “Vale of Tempe.” This “Temenos” was quite well known as sacred to Apollo, the sun-god father of Aristaeus; “The grove of Tempe … was consecrated to Apollo Tempeites that is Apollo of the Temenos or sacred precinct” (“The ruling races of prehistoric times in India: southwestern Asia …”, Volume 1, By James Francis Katherinus Hewitt). The word “Temenos” has a specific meaning; “Temenos is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, holy grove or holy precinct: … The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek te-me-no, written in Linear B syllabic script.” (from the Wikipedia article on “Temenos”). See, for example, John Brown’s claim that the Hebrew might be related to the Greek “temenon,” meaning Temple. Although this could be a direct borrowing from the Greek, Brown argues that both languages may have been adopting the Sumerian word temen through its Akkadian adaptation temennu. (BROWN, “Templum,“ n. 11, pp. 425-426). Thus the word “temenos” is defined as an “assigned precinct.” This closely approximates the meaning of the name of the famous city of the story of Samson’s courtship; “Timnah; (tihm’ nuh) Place name meaning, “allotted portion.” A town assigned to Dan (Joshua 19:43), located on the southern border with Judah (Joshua 15:10). … Philistines occupied the site at the time of Samson (Judges 14:1-5).” (taken from the “Holman Bible Dictionary”). Another trusted source has; “TIMNAH; tim’-na, “allotted portion” … lying between Beth-shemesh and Ekron. It is … the scene of Samson’s adventures (Judges 14:1) … (E. W. G. Masterman, “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia”).
From the Valley of Sorek to the Vale of Tempe
Thus, Temenos in the Vale of Tempe was much like Timnah in the Valley of Sorek, not only in name but also in substance; it was the home of the solar hero Aristaeus, just as Shemesh and his namesake Samson could be found at Timnah; the Pelasgians inhabited the place, as Philistines lived in the Valley of Sorek. Even the general religious attitudes and divine characters could be found in both places; “It was believed by the ancient historians and geographers that the gorge of Tempe had been produced by an earthquake, which rent asunder the mountains, and afforded the waters of the Peneus an egress to the sea. (Herodotus, 7.129; Strabo ix. p.430.) But the Thessalians maintained that it was the god Poseidon who had split the mountains (Herodotus l.c.); while others supposed that this had been the work of Herakles. (Diodorus 4.58; Lucan 6.345.). In the prophecies of Zechariah, this type of seismic feat was considered to be a clear messianic attribute; “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.” (Zechariah 14:4). “In the region which is called Tempê, where the country is like a plain and was largely covered with marshes, he (Herakles) cut a channel through the territory which bordered on it, and carrying off through this ditch all the water of the marsh he caused the plains to appear which are now in Thessaly along the Peneios river. But in Boeotia he did just the opposite and damming the stream which flowed near the Minyan city of Orchomenus he turned the country into a lake and caused the ruin of that whole region. But what he did in Thessaly was to confer a benefit upon the Greeks, whereas Boeotia he was exacting punishment from those who dwelt in Minyan territory, because they had enslaved the Thebans.” (Diodorus Siculus, “Library of History” 4. 18. 6,7). The pass of Tempe was connected with the worship of Apollo.” (“A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography,” Volume 2 p. 1125, edited by Sir William Smith). Take note that even the very topography of the place was attributed to Poseidon (the Greek Dagon), but the opinion was split and there were those who favored Herakles (the Greek Samson) as the geographic manipulator, and Apollo (the Greek Baal or Shemesh) was worshipped at his own Temenos (the Greek Timnah). It is apparent that the Pelasgians (the Greek Philistines) colonists who settled the land, brought with them their gods and heroes of the land from whence they came, such as the fish-god, the strong-man hero, the solar deity, and even the threshold taboo. The story of Aristaeus, although told from the point of view of these colonists, is not so partial as to be unrecognized as being based upon the same story that we have become familiar with from the Book of Judges, as the story of Samson.
Aristaeus Contrasted Against Herakles
That the myth of Aristaeus represents the Samson story from the Philistine perspective, is even more apparent when contrasted against that of Herakles (representing the Danite viewpoint). For prominent in the Herakles narratives is the idea that he was sent as a deliverer, (of the Thebans in his case, whom he felt a kinship to,) from the tyrannical oppression of the Minyans (ostensibly a Pelasgian tribe). On the other hand, the myth of Aristaeus, being told from the angle of the oppressors themselves, conspicuously omitted his role as a deliverer from the myth. This omission along with the favoritism displayed in glorifying the maiden Cyrene, and the whitewashing of Samson’s opposition with the beneficence of Aristaeus, shows not only a bias toward the Philistines, but also is a strong indication that there were at least two, and probably a whole cycle of “Samson stories,” that had to be collected and aggregated (often, as we have seen, without complete consistency,) in order to weave together the Scriptural account. Even the Greek mythographers, who received the story from the two different sources, Danite an Philistine, did not recognize them as the same. The hero who delivers his people from oppression, and the sage who introduces beekeeping and honey harvesting, are distinct enough characters to merit two separate myths. No doubt, if the Greeks had our advantage in having access to the Book of Judges, then they too would certainly have realized these were simply two facets of the same great culture hero.