The Biblical Samson: An Intellectual Journey

As I grew up I had to think deeply about religion and what I believed, because of Mom and Grandma’s blackmail. They both implied they would only fully love me if I returned to their faith. At one point Mom even said if I didn’t give the $10,000 the courts ultimately awarded each of us back to the cult, she would disinherit me. I kept it, and bought a computer.

I felt like the black sheep of my family, just because I couldn’t lie and say something I didn’t believe in. And yet I loved both of them. The situation sucked, so I did the best I could and held on to superficial relationships without depth.

In college I took mechanical engineering, in order to see if science had revealed anything significant about the nature of God. (I started to be a physicist, but my adviser convinced me most of them have a hard time paying their bills.) After graduation, work made me forget my quest, but about four years later I came across a library book that captured my attention. It led to twenty-four years of study and investigation, during which I think I alienated my entire family in one way or the other. But at the end of my journey the roots of something that has been forgotten for almost two millennia has appeared: the real mental thoughts our ancestors went through on their path to our current definition of God.

That book, Hamlet’s Mill, was filled with errors, because the authors didn’t understand the big picture. To their credit, they tried, but our scientists and priests have both turned their backs on the historic aspect Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend were trying to come to grips with.

The astronomic backbone of our mythical and religious traditions has been covered over, because science doesn’t want to remember its deepest roots are religious, and religion, for the most part, believes the mind of God is disconnected from, and ‘above’ the physical world.

But astronomy and religion were once intimately interconnected, and a good example is found in the Bible itself.

Have you ever wondered why Aaron was able to sway the Israelites with his golden calf, in Exodus 32? The answer is because of a mental association linked to astronomy.

Our priests first turned their deep attention to the night skies beginning about 3500 BC. Initially, Anu, the god that represented the entire sky was their primary focus, but as the cultures in that area continued their investigations, they became more precise.

By about 1400 BC the most important point of the year to the Canaanites, and many other cultures in the Near East, was the vernal equinox, which corresponds to our March transition to spring. That time of the year was the calving season – an important cycle to them. Because of its importance, the stars on the western horizon after sunset were linked to a bull – a symbol of that power in their mind’s eye.

Vernal Equinox Stars at Astronomic Dusk in 1500 BC

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So Aaron and many priests of his time (anywhere from ~1600 BC to ~1300 BC, depending upon how Moses’ life is dated), were swayed by that thinking, and believed honoring a golden calf would put them into the good graces of the deity that represented the greatest power at the beginning of their year.

Back then monotheism wasn’t the norm. In fact, it wouldn’t become prevalent until about 500 BC, after Israelite society was shaken to its core by a Babylonian oppression. Before then they believed in a celestial council, in which all the heavenly entities participated. And the Bull, or ‘El,’ was a significant figure.

At that time our ancestors did not understand the workings of the night sky. Mathematical astronomy resulted from these earlier investigations, and didn’t come into existence until about 400 BC, with the understanding of the sun’s path in the sky, and the breaking of that path into angular units.

As I said, my work began after reading parts of Hamlet’s Mill. The book was fascinating in its assertions, but I quit reading after realizing it never revealed anything to truly support its hypothesis. And a large part of their hypothesis was wrong: our ancestors did not have a deep celestial understanding six thousand plus years ago.

The authors devoted an entire chapter of their book to the biblical Samson story, though, and linked it to the planet Mars, because Samson was strong, lustful, brave, and impetuous. Those were Martian characteristics from tales around the world. Beyond that, no answers were presented, just ramblings as far as I could see.

To my mom and grandmother, Samson exemplified the greatness of God’s strength. In the tale God gave Samson great power, as long as he didn’t cut his hair, drink wine, touch dead things, or have sex (the tale indicates he violated the last two mandates). Among his feats was the slaughter of a thousand Philistines using only the jawbone of an ass, and three thousand more by pushing two pillars apart and bringing a house down.

Those feats have never been confirmed in a non-biblical source. And no other Bible story has the same mythical grandiosity as found in Samson’s saga. What was behind the tale? Or were Mom and Grandma correct?

Perhaps that last question pushed me to eventually investigate further – I don’t know. What I do know is the past twenty-four years was a long struggle from a time of incomprehension to a time of finally understanding the bigger historical picture. Dr. Robert Miller, a scholar from the Catholic University of America who is an expert on the Book of Judges (which contains Samson’s story) has even confirmed that bigger historical picture.

I won’t go into the tale of deciphering the Samson events, except to say I began with the wrong items and slowly worked to the right ones. And then I had to learn the history they fit into!

The beginning of the biblical story starts in astronomy witnessed in 1418 BC, but is rooted to something first observed about 3200 BC.

Have you ever wondered where the ‘sixty’ on our watches comes from? Over five-thousand years ago, when our ancestors turned their attention to the night sky, they started counting everything, as you can imagine. That led them to a primitive method of calculating new moons by about 2100 BC, to name one counting accomplishment.

The planets were also caught up in our ancestors’ quantification fervor, and another item they counted was the time it took for the various wanderers to come together. The longest cycle they became aware of was between the slowest visible wanderers: Jupiter and Saturn. They come together every twenty years, and every third meeting (or ‘conjunction,’ in astronomical terminology) occurs near the same place in the sky as the one sixty years earlier. Here is an illustration of the conjunction points from 741 BC (#1) to 1655 BC (#47). The red lines highlight three consecutive meetings, and the symbols in the circles represent the zodiac constellations the meetings occurred at:

Jupiter/Saturn meetings between 1655 BC to 741 BC

This shows the locations of the Jupiter and Saturn meetings, and how they form a slowly revolving triangle. The various dash patterns are an attempt to make the diagram easier to follow.

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One reason we know our use of ‘sixty’ derives from this pattern is ‘sixty’ was said to be ‘Anu’s number, which meant it came from our ancestors’ celestial observations. There are more reasons I won’t go into here.

Anyway, the Sumerians first knew of this cycle around 3200 BC, as I said. Then, their religious worship was grounded in awe of the events, but their intellects did latch on to ‘sixty’ for other purposes, and found it to be very useful. If you investigate, you will find they were soon calculating fractions with it.

As you can imagine, their knowledge slowly grew. I don’t know the details for the Canaanites, but if you want a good overview of Sumerian/Babylonian progress, Gary David Thompson has created an excellent site outlining their pursuit of knowledge.

What I do know, though, is that in about 1418 BC, the Canaanite priests were drawn to understand the celestial actions better than before. It wasn’t enough to just say the equivalent of ‘Jupiter and Saturn conjuncted at their sixty-year meeting.” They wanted to document as much as possible, and see if the events gave any clues as to the deeper motives and powers of the wanderers.

At that time all of the current zodiac constellations did not exist. Our ancestors could not use mathematical constructs to describe events. The only tool they had was stories, and those stories were couched in exaggeration because the celestial entities really were believed to be super beings.

Look at the point marked ’35’ in the previous diagram. It is the location of the Jupiter/Saturn meeting in 1416 BC. The symbol ‘governing’ that part of the sun’s path in the sky is Taurus. (The sun’s path against the background stars is called the ‘ecliptic.’) In other words, those planets met in Taurus:

1416 BC Sunset Horizon at Jupiter/Saturn Conjunction

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(The date shown in the graphic is one year different than previously stated, because Stellarium, the program used to capture it, uses an entire year for the ‘0’ year. Cybersky, the planetarium used for my research, does not.)

Right after Jupiter and Saturn conjuncted, Mars, who was Samson in the story, passed through Leo, the celestial lion:

This is where the biblical tale came from, in which Samson was said to have rent, or ripped apart a new lion. The Bible continues on, and has Samson later return to the lion to get honey out of its carcass. That event happened two years later, when Mars returned to the figuratively ‘dead’ Leo, which was ‘killed’ by the conjunction events:

The cluster of stars at the head of Leo has been called ‘the Beehive’ since antiquity. I have been unable to find a date as to when our ancestors first called it this; there is a good chance the Canaanites named it during the creation of Samson’s story.

All told, there are eleven astronomic events documented in Judges 14, which narrates the Lion story. No other scholarly work on Samson has ever figured out direct relationships between the tale and physical occurrences that can be proven.

Judges 15 is an account of the next sixty-year Jupiter/Saturn meeting, in 1356 BC. This indicates that whoever compiled these stories into the Bible were specifically concerned about whether the ‘sixty cycle’ revealed anything significant about their ‘gods.’ Especially because those ‘sixty’ conjunctions were occurring near ‘the bull.’

(In fact, a 200 BC source specifically linked Samson to ‘sixty.’ The Babylonian Talmud, in Sotah 10a, says Samson’s shoulders were ‘sixty’ cubits wide, or about 90 feet, which is obviously preposterous from a physical perspective. This indicates some priests were aware of Samson’s astronomic basis for at least six-hundred years.)

(Also worth being aware of is that by 1356 BC our early investigators were well aware of the cyclical nature of almost all the other celestial events. For example, Mars ‘sets’ on the sunset horizon every two years, and Jupiter and Saturn do the same about every year. We know the Babylonians paid attention to such phenomenon because they left records of Venus’s appearances and disappearances over 21 years in about 1650 BC.)

In Judges 15 Samson was said to have killed a thousand Philistines with the Jawbone of an ass. One of the few real clues in Hamlet’s Mill is that the ‘jawbone’ was the Babylonian term for what we now call the Hyades, in Taurus. At that time Samson moved backward in the sky, in ‘retrograde motion’ near those stars:

All told, there are seven astronomic events in Judges, chapter 15.

Chapter 16 is written in an entirely different manner than 14 and 15. The first two are straightforward tellings of the celestial events. Chapter 16 focused on the attributes of the following sixty-year Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions. Did all six visible celestial wanderers congregate in the sky around the time of a Jupiter/Saturn meeting? Then ‘Samson’ was said to have been ‘tied’ with seven objects, including the sun.

The reason for this is that Judges 16 was created almost 400 years later, after the final celestial events in 980 BC were witnessed.

In the interim, Judah, and the entire area from Greece to Egypt went through what is called the Late Bronze Age Collapse. The cities became mostly deserted, and in the case of the Israelites, the population seems to have fled to the hills, and raised goats and livestock. Our scholars attribute this period to a ‘Systems Collapse,’ in which climate change, invaders, and other catastrophes worked together to disrupt the trade routes, and previous ways of life.

Based on Judges 14 and 15, the Israelites primarily blamed this Collapse on the invading Philistines. The priests were so mad at those invaders that the older Canaanite versions of Samson’s actions were edited to have Philistine antagonists, even though the Philistines weren’t around at that time.

During that collapse the population continued increasing, from everything I’ve read, but the old way of life disappeared. (Egypt survived in a greatly diminished version of its former self.)

At the end of this period Israel came together under the United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon.

Judges 16 shines a new light on this period, because it came into existence in, or after 980 BC, when the final celestial events recorded in the tale were witnessed. That chapter documented the intervening sixty-year Jupiter/Saturn conjunctions in the ‘riddles’ of Delilah. For instance, in Judges 16:7 and 8, Samson was said to be ‘bound’ by seven withes; an early form of rope. In 1238 BC all five visible wanderers, plus the moon were seen in the pre-dawn sky. The priests considered the dawn sun to be the seventh object, as it blotted out the others, which is where the ‘seven’ came from.

1238 BC ‘Seven’ alignment

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The story contains another ‘seven’ reference, in 16:13, where his ‘seven locks of hair’ were bound. This also corresponds to a ‘seven’ alignment, in 1119 BC.

As per the emphasis on ‘binding,’ the most logical explanation is one we would now scoff at, but would make sense in light of the understanding of those times. The priests thought the planets were somehow drawn through the sky by invisible ‘ropes,’ or ‘strings’ of some nature, which couldn’t be seen. Black hair from a super-being sounds preposterous now, but back then was not quite so unbelievable.

Anyway, because of the persistent rumors about Solomon’s wisdom, including astronomic knowledge, my guess is his court is responsible for the creation of Judges 16. He, or his predecessors, were aware of the earlier Canaanite story, and knew about its astronomic core from whichever group had preserved the knowledge. His desire to make certain Israel continued to survive caused him to investigate more deeply, in order to understand ‘the gods,’ and ensure his legacy through propitiation to the correct deity.

The group that preserved the knowledge could have been Egypt or Phoenicia; both survived the Collapse. Or, more likely, in my opinion – based on an event recorded in the tale that could only have been seen in totality in the Levant – the Canaanite priests that headed to the hills were the preservers, and continued to record the actions in the night skies in the intervening years. (More information is needed in order to answer this question with certainty.)

All told, there are fifteen celestial events recorded in Judges 16, bringing the total to thirty-three in the entire tale.

The legacy of the United Monarchy, and the fact that Delilah’s ‘riddles’ were so bewildering in their construction, makes me believe the priests concluded that the sixty-year cycle didn’t shine any significant light on their quest to understand the heavens. When combined with the cyclical nature of the planets, they also concluded that the ‘celestial council’ wasn’t as powerful as previously thought, and the ‘real power’ wasn’t spread around. I’m aware of two clues indicating they decided Saturn was the greatest entity in their minds, but additional study is needed to clarify that shift.

Anyway, these astronomic investigations are why those early investigators started turning away from their prior beliefs. In The Early History of God, Mark Smith shows it was during this time that the priests moved away from polytheism, and towards monolatry, which is the belief that one god is greater than all the rest. (Dr. Smith did not shine a light on the forgotten astronomic backbone in his writing.)

There is a chance the entire Book of Judges was compiled during the United Monarchy (maybe even by Solomon’s priests), or shortly afterwards, as a subtle form of propaganda to those who remained in the hills, in order to turn them away from the tribal way of life and the ‘judges’ that way entailed. (The stories were culled from existing tales dating to pre-11th century BC times.)

It was only centuries later, after the Babylonian Captivity, that the Israelites turned towards monotheism – the belief which still holds power today.

When I started my investigation, I had no idea I would shine a new light onto this forgotten aspect of the past. I only knew I was facing an interesting puzzle: could our ancestors have encoded celestial events into the biblical Samson story? I started with astronomic events over a thousand years earlier, and ended up understanding the thoughts that gave rise to our concept of God.

There is a greater aspect to history than the above, if you are drawn to know more. Reading The Golden Bough, by Sir James Frazer, you will discover many of the superstitious/magic beliefs that came before our religious beliefs, and you will see our religious tales are an extension of earlier beliefs, not the ‘brand new’ story espoused by the priests. But that is for others to illuminate more clearly.

For me, understanding that our God concept came from the deepest thoughts of our ancestors, instead of being a divine revelation as my mom and grandma believed, is freeing. I still consider myself to be ‘spiritual, not religious,’ and hope that the forgotten history I’ve illuminated helps you on your own path to understanding.

I do not know if my discoveries would have helped Mom and Grandma better accept me. It is very doubtful, and they have both passed away. But if you are in their shoes, and think one or more of your children are on the wrong path, I hope the previous facts help you see a bigger aspect of history, and better accept them for who they are. Our world will not be at peace as long as we continue to believe there is only one way to salvation. That ‘way’ was created by human minds, and each person sees that way in a different light.

I believe we are each aspects of Nature, or ‘The Divine,’ to use a religiously tinged tern. Sometimes divinity can be stupid in its close-mindedness, and our ignorance works against creating the happier world everybody claims to want. I hope the previous illumination of our forgotten history helps break through that ignorance, and brings a better future into existence.

If you are drawn to know more about our forgotten history, or my path towards understanding it, pick up a copy of my book. In it you will see more of our astronomic thoughts through the centuries, and a philosophy I believe breaks through the limitations of those beliefs.

Best wishes,

David

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