The Bible’s narrative style is minimalist. Old Testament stories lack so many details, they practically beg filmmakers to fill in the gaps – which is what biblical films have to do if they want stories that are longer than about 15 minutes. It’s how the stories get filled in that can make or break the story.
In judging the faithfulness of a retelling of a Bible story, the question isn’t, “Did a movie/story add stuff?” It’s “Do the additions of the movie/story undermine the integrity of the biblical account?”
And in this regard, Pure Flix’s Samson fails spectacularly. The 2018 film makes four major choices that actively subvert the character of Samson as he’s portrayed in the Bible.
1. Samson is not the hero of Judges 13-16. He’s the villain.
The biggest problem with Samson is that it makes Samson the hero of the story. But in the Book of Judges, Samson is a villain. This comes as a shock to those of us who were raised on felt-board Sunday School stories of biblical heroes. But place Samson back in Judges as he’s intended to be and Samson is a villain, who embodies Israel’s failure to be faithful to God.
The purpose of Judges is to demonstrate why Israel needed a monarchy. Judges
Of all the judges, he’s the most powerful. He has impossible strength given to him by God’s Spirit. But despite having more advantages than any of the judges before him, Samson does the least. He never once uses his great strength to defend his people or God’s honor.
Rather, Samson takes whatever he wants. The man who should be God’s champion instead wastes his great power on feeding his own appetites until they destroy him.
2. Samson didn’t love his Philistine wife.
The real heart of the film, starring Taylor James, is Samson’s love for his Philistine wife. They get a dating montage and even have a conversation about how they’re “both slaves” to the Philistines. But the Bible never tells us that Samson loved the Philistine he tried to marry. It tells us only that she “looks good” to him (Judges 14:3). The only woman Samson is said to love is Delilah (Judges 16:4). Not his mother, not his Philistine wife, not the prostitute he visited in Gaza.
In Judges, Samson’s first wife is never presented as anything more than an object he desires. And it matters that he doesn’t care about
These are not the actions of a man in love, which is why Judges is careful never to claim Samson loves her.
3. Samson doesn’t
uses his strength for good.
All of Samson’s infamous acts of strength are depicted in the PG-13 film, from killing a lion with his bare hands to slaying a thousand Philistines with a mule’s jawbone. In Judges, it’s all done because Samson is angry, bored, or hurt. He always and only acts selfishly.
The film goes out of its way to present Samson as conflicted. When, after his
This movie’s Samson is a fundamentally good guy who’s trying to honor God and do the right thing. Such a depiction of Samson shares nothing in common with the man described in Judges.
4. Samson left no legacy but faithlessness.
The film ends with a monolog from Samson’s (invented) brother describing how Samson’s sacrificial death inspired the Israelites to rise up and cast off their Philistine oppressors. We get a shot of David the shepherd king scooping up a rock to face down a Philistine giant as proof that the spark of Samson’s death fueled the flames that finally consumed the Philistines.
Nothing could be further from Samson’s legacy in the Bible. Judges
By insisting Samson be a hero, the film must tell a story of victory. But Samson’s real-life story ends in defeat. It’s meant to be an illustration of the consequences of faithlessness.
Pure Flix’s changes go beyond artistic license. Samson offers a fundamentally different story – one about a flawed-but-faithful hero whose example should inspire us. The Book of Judges offers Samson as the opposite: a man who should be a hero but