BIblical illiteracy at the CBC

From a story about a controversial new Victoria production of the George Frederic Handel oratorio Samson that casts Samson as a suicide bomber in 1946 Jerusalem, we get this nugget about the original story:

He (Samson) is chained in the temple by the Philistines and forced to witness a sacreligious act. He pulls down the temple, killing himself and thousands of others in the process.

Um, no. Samson doesn’t witness anything in the temple; he’d had his eyes gouged out by that point, as anyone who attended (and paid attention) in Sunday School ought to know.

Here’s the story as told in the New International Version, Judges 16:21-30, picking it up after Samson is captured, thanks to Delilah having had his head shaved and thus robbing him of his superhuman strength:

Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Bnding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison. But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.

Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, “Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.”

When the people saw him they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who had laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.”

While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them.

When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philstines for my two eyes.” Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.

I confess I have a hard time seeing how this story can be twisted to make Samson a suicide bomber, since he’s presumably a prisoner of the Philistines–er, the British?–and blind to boot when he blows himself up–where’d he get the explosives? Or, since the Bible makes clear Samson’s strength was a gift from God, does God magically materialize explosives on him while he’s in the King David Hotel (which takes the place of the temple in this new version)? And how about the whole hair thing? How does that work in 1946 Jerusalem?

It’s not that I mind weird interpretations of classic stories so much, it’s just…well, shouldn’t they, you know, make sense? And since the music and words of the original oratorio haven’t changed, it’s hard to see how any of this can be more than a half-baked mess whose logical inconsistencies you’re simply supposed to overlook for the sake of some kind of weird geopolitical frisson. In fact, it’s not clear to me how they change the time and setting in an oratorio anyway, which is usually simply sung, not staged. Does this all just amount to a poster image and a program note?

Well, never mind. The merits (or lack thereof) of the oratorio weren’t really my point when I started this post: my point was (and is) that, once again, I’ve run into that disturbingly commonplace phenomena of discovering that when someone in the media writes a story about something I actually know something about first-hand, they make a simple and easily avoidable mistake. (I mean, there must be a Bible somehwere in the CBC newsroom…mustn’t there?…and if not, various versions are readily available online.)

It’s these kinds of errors that make you question the accuracy of everything in the media…and wonder what else they’re getting wrong.

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