samson's long hair

Wed, 19 Jan 1994 17:33:13 EST

life of rigorous practice of attaining states of religious possession.
Nazirites and those called *nabi*, prophets, were distinguished by unkempt
appearance, and in isolation or in roaming packs tearing their clothes,
rolling on the ground, drooling, and whatever outlandish behavior was in
vogue at the time. (As the people were under Commandment to beware of false
prophets, if the prophet was supposed to be ascetic, so, in time, would the
false prophets be also. The boundaries between madness and religious
possession, where each was a valid category, could be arbitrary. King
Saul incurred the wrath of the clergy over a question of foreign policy,
and "The spirit of the Lord went out of him and an evil spirit from the
Lord went into him." See Cohen, Madness and History, 1962.)

Nazirites and prophets, in a state of religious possession, could provide
a more objectively rational form of leadership in certain situations,
specifically, where the problem to be solved was such that, if posed in
those terms, no solution could be found. One common example is that in
which your enemy hopelessly outclasses you. Samson was a war leader chosen
to fight the Philistines, who were stated in the Book of Judges to have
been superior due to command of iron weaponry and the trade of the smith;
and withheld such knowledge from the peasants of Israel. When Delilah cut
off Samson's hair, she broke his religious vows for him, hence via suggestion
his power disappeared.
The successful military career of St Joan, who fought a campaign under
guidance of saints against an English army habituated to easy victories,
was likewise contingent on her virginity.

The later hero, Saul, was chosen as the first monarch of Israel, also
during a period of Philistine hegemony, after a career as a member of
a pack of *nabi*s, roaming the countryside foaming at the mouth, etc. And
he was of course physically tall, a biological dominance signal. A not
undesirable trait in a warrior leader, too: The enemy had Goliath.

Most often, leadership by the religiously possessed does indeed fail:
The Camisards of the Chevennes, for example, fought a guerrilla war against
the monarchy of Louis XIV at the height of its power, under guidance of the
Holy Spirit. They lost, but France narrowly lost the contemporaneous Nine
Years War (1689-1697): Some compensation for the rebels, who had been
Huguenots before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685. Similar
stories may be told of Buddhist and Daoist sects in China. In the vast
majority of cases, the rebels were drowned in blood; but no rebellion
would have occurred had not the leadership claimed divine guidance and

I've conflated the two threads of revelation and markings, inter alia
of religious adepts, because they cannot, as a rule, be separated.

Daniel A. Foss