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In the morning as we ate breakfast at the inn, we heard a great commotion in the street. We rushed to the window to see what was exciting the people of Ashkelon and saw two oxen pulling a cart. On the cart was an iron cage, and in it was a man holding on to the bars.
We recognized him as Samson—or what was left of him. Once a powerful warrior, he was now just a shell of a man, a man of despair, beaten, helpless in his blindness, forsaken by all, now only a symbol of Philistine strength. The crowd cheered as the procession passed.
“All are invited to the summer solstice festival at the temple of Dagon in Gaza!” a herald shouted. “Here is the main attraction! The strong man of Israel, who has been subdued by Atargatis, the wife of Dagon, will entertain us!”
A spirit of indignation surged through me. No man, whatever evil he may have done, ought to be without hope. Though Samson’s original time as a Nazirite had ended when his hair was shorn, this did not mean that he was no longer a Nazirite. It meant only that his vow ought to be renewed, and that he should regain his calling with a new vow to God.
“Samson!” I shouted from the window above the noise of the cheering crowd. “Have no confidence in the flesh! God has not forgotten you! Remember your calling! Remember the law of blind servants! 95 Appeal to the One who blinded you!”
Samson lifted his head and turned it in my direction, and I knew that he had heard my voice above the noisy crowd. When men are blind, their sense of hearing is greatly increased.
“She who betrayed you has repented!” I shouted again as the cart moved down the street, heading toward the temple of Atargatis. Samson gave no indication that he heard this, but he seemed to gain strength from my words, for he remained with his head held high, and he gripped the iron bars with renewed vigor.
Sipporah and I turned from the window to return to the breakfast table, but at that moment Azzah stepped into the room and came toward us. “What is all the commotion about?” she asked.
“They are taking Samson to the temple,” Sipporah explained.
“They are dedicating him to Atargatis before allowing him to perform for the worshipers of Dagon,” she explained. “We must go at once! Come with me!”
I tossed a silver coin to the tavern keeper to pay for breakfast, and we rushed into the street, led by Dogma, following the crowd to the temple. “Make way, make way!” Azzah shouted, and the crowd parted to allow her to pass. Most of the people recognized her, for she was a national hero. We followed her as well until we arrived at the gate of the temple.
The gate itself was in the shape of a vesica pisces, 96 formed by the construction of two large overlapping circular “moons” that appeared to be rising from the earth. The courtyard of the temple was rapidly filling with people. On one side of the temple was a small lake, where sacred fish swam silently. Some were adorned with jewels. It was unlawful to kill those sacred fish. Doves flew all around, unafraid of the people, for they too were sacred and were protected by temple laws.
The oxen pulling Samson’s cage were led to the far side of the courtyard, coming to a stop at the edge of the lake. Azzah walked through the gate, and we followed her into the outer court. Sippore remained on Sipporah’s shoulder, and many of the people reverently bowed to her—and to the dove—as she passed, for they saw that she was blessed and assumed that she was a temple priestess.
Along one side of the temple was another large iron cage holding a pair of lions, who were said to be Atargatis’ bodyguards. Legend said that Atargatis rode two male lions, showing her dominance over them. The lions paced back and forth nervously in their iron prison. We approached them, and I spoke to them, saying, “Your Creator, the God of love, has sent us. Your time has come to be set free!”
“Are you stronger than the iron bars on this cage?” one lion asked. “We were captured and brought here many years ago. It was never our will to serve the high priestess in this temple. We are as helpless as that man in the cage.”
Azzah stood dumbfounded at our conversation, for she heard it all.
“He who created iron knows how to melt it like wax. There is a way to be free,” I told them. “Here is the plan. When I open the door of this cage, go immediately to these two women and stand by them. If you guard them, they will protect you as well, and no one will dare to challenge us as we leave this place. Your devotion to these women, and their devotion to you, will seem to prove to the crowd and to all the temple guards that we are gods.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” the lion said. “We have never had the opportunity to follow true servants of the Creator who actually love us and do not want to enslave us.”
I touched the door of the cage, and it opened. The lions walked through the open door and stood by our side. When the people saw the lions walking free outside of the cage, they went into a panic. Some screamed in fear and began to run toward the gate of the temple. But the lions made no threatening move toward them, and soon the people became more curious and awestruck than fearful.
Sipporah and Azzah each mounted a lion’s strong shoulder. “Lift up your heads!” I shouted to Sipporah and Azzah. “Be confident, for the Creator has made you gods to these people!” 97
With Dogma at my side, I led them in solemn procession out through the temple gates into the street. As we passed, the people fell to their knees and bowed their heads to the ground, for to them, women riding lions could only mean one thing: they were goddesses. No further proof was needed, and no one dared to interfere or object to our escape.
We walked quickly down the street to the inn, where we stopped to pick up the horses. I ran quickly into the stable and shouted to the stable boy, “Quickly! The horses!”
The stable boy sprang to his feet and opened the door, allowing Pegasus and Pleiades to run free. I tossed the boy a silver coin and followed the horses outside. I mounted Pegasus, and leading the way, said, “Follow me!”
Pleaides pranced beside me, while the women followed, riding the lions side by side. Sippore remained on Sipporah’s shoulder. We marched in triumph out through the main gate, and no one dared to challenge us. Once we were outside the gate, we heard a commotion behind us, and a woman’s voice shouted, “Stop! Stop! Those are MY lions!”
“That is the high priestess,” Azzah said, turning to Sipporah. “She seems to be upset at something.”
Dogma turned to look at her. “Catch us if you can!” he barked. Then we passed through the fabric of time and disappeared from the sight of the people of Ashkelon and the high priestess who was still chasing us frantically. The shouts and general noise of the city faded, and all was quiet as we approached the lone oak tree where the divine court had been set up many years earlier.