• FIELD NOTES, Knepp Farm

Out of the strong came sweetness

The notion of being generated from corrupt flesh is not an invention of Christian homilists, for it is found in Pliny the Elder and in Virgil too. Philo, the first-century Jewish philosopher, speculates that the reason sacrifices should be free from honey is that the bee is unclean in deriving its birth from putrefaction.

One cannot help being reminded of the golden syrup tin with its picture of a dead lion and the motto "Out of the strong came forth sweetness." This glorious design was introduced in 1885. There must be quite a few children pouring it on their suet pudding, if they are lucky enough to be given suet pudding, who do not realise that the quotation comes from the story of Samson in the book of Judges in the Bible.

The incidents recounted are striking but puzzling. At their heart is a riddle, and riddles have been very attractive in several different cultures - among the Anglo-Saxons, and, centuries before, among Semitic peoples. In this case, Samson kills a lion with his bare hands and, passing the beast's body later, finds a swarm of bees in the carcase. He eats honey from the comb.

At a dinner he bets 30 men a change of garments that they cannot guess his riddle: "Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness." Having threatened to burn her, the men succeed in getting Samson's Philistine wife to entice the answer from him. Samson agrees to pay up, but to do so he has to kill 30 men at Ashkelon, to take their garments.


by Christopher Howse

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