Bible Myths and their Parallels in other Religions Being a Comparison of the Old and New Testament Myths and Miracles with those of the Heathen Nations of Antiquity Considering also their Origin and Meaning
"It has been matter of most contradictory speculations, how far his existence is to be taken as a reality, or, in other words, what substratum of historical truth there may be in this supposed circle of popular legends, artistically rounded off, in the four chapters of Judges which treat of him. . . .
"The miraculous deeds he performed have taxed the ingenuity of many commentators, and the text has been twisted and turned in all directions, to explain, rationally, his slaying those prodigious numbers single-handed; his carrying the gates of Gaza, in one night, a distance of about fifty miles, &c., &c."
That this is simply a Solar myth, no one will doubt, we believe, who will take the trouble to investigate it.
Prof. Goldziher, who has made "Comparative Mythology" a special study, says of this story:
"The most complete and rounded-off Solar myth extant in Hebrew, is that of Shimshôn (Samson), a cycle of mythical conceptions fully comparable with the Greek myth of Hercules."[66:3]
We shall now endeavor to ascertain if such is the case, by comparing the exploits of Samson with those of Hercules.
The first wonderful act performed by Samson was, as we have seen, that of slaying a lion. This is said to have happened when he was but a youth. So likewise was it with Hercules. At the age of eighteen, he slew an enormous lion.[66:4]
The valley of Nemea was infested by a terrible lion; Eurystheus ordered Hercules to bring him the skin of this monster. After [Pg 67]using in vain his club and arrows against the lion, Hercules strangled the animal with his hands. He returned, carrying the dead lion on his shoulders; but Eurystheus was so frightened at the sight of it, and at this proof of the prodigious strength of the hero, that he ordered him to deliver the accounts of his exploits in the future outside the town.[67:1]
To show the courage of Hercules, it is said that he entered the cave where the lion's lair was, closed the entrance behind him, and at once grappled with the monster.[67:2]
Samson is said to have torn asunder the jaws of the lion, and we find him generally represented slaying the beast in that manner. So likewise, was this the manner in which Hercules disposed of the Nemean lion.[67:3]
The skin of the lion, Hercules tore off with his fingers, and knowing it to be impenetrable, resolved to wear it henceforth.[67:4] The statues and paintings of Hercules either represent him carrying the lion's skin over his arm, or wearing it hanging down his back, the skin of its head fitting to his crown like a cap, and the fore-legs knotted under his chin.[67:5]
Samson's second exploit was when he went down to Ashkelon and slew thirty men.
Hercules, when returning to Thebes from the lion-hunt, and wearing its skin hanging from his shoulders, as a sign of his success, met the heralds of the King of the Minyæ, coming from Orchomenos to claim the annual tribute of a hundred cattle, levied on Thebes. Hercules cut off the ears and noses of the heralds, bound their hands, and sent them home.[67:6]
Samson's third exploit was when he caught three hundred foxes, and took fire-brands, and turned them tail to tail, and put a fire-brand in the midst between two tails, and let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines.
There is no such feature as this in the legends of Hercules, the nearest to it in resemblance is when he encounters and kills the Learnean Hydra.[67:7] During this encounter a fire-brand figures conspicuously, and the neighboring wood is set on fire.[67:8]
We have, however, an explanation of this portion of the legend, in the following from Prof. Steinthal: