Samson and Delilah (the Israelite Woman)

samsonIn the book of Judges, we encounter the mighty Israelite judge, Samson. He is perhaps best known for his herculean strength. Yet, he is also known for his weakness for women—especially Philistine women. His relationship with Delilah, often portrayed as a sneaky seductress, was his undoing. She coaxed him into divulging the secret of his strength: his long braids of hair. Though they were the symbol of his devotion to God, they were also his “Achilles’ heel.”

But was Delilah a Philistine?

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Throughout the ages, she has been portrayed as a Philistine. Indeed, she takes her place alongside the other Philistine women in Samson’s life. His wife (for all of a week) was a Philistine girl from the town of Timnah (Judges 14.1–2). Samson also visited a prostitute in Gaza, which was one of the five towns of the Philistine ‘Pentapolis’ (Judges 16:1). But was Delilah actually a Philistine too?

Let’s look at the evidence.

First, unlike the other two women in Samson’s life, the biblical text never identifies Delilah as a Philistine. All it says is that she was “in the Valley of Sorek” (Judges 16:4). Where was this valley? Was it in Philistine territory? Well, not quite. The Valley of Sorek begins in the highlands, a few miles from Jerusalem. It twists and turns westwards, descending down into the foothills (the “Shephelah”). At this point, the valley formed the border between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. It keeps descending until it eventually hits the Coastal Plain, which is where the Philistines lived. At that point the land flattens out—it is a plain after all. The seasonal stream that runs through the valley continues across the Coastal Plain and eventually hits the Mediterranean. If the biblical text is referring to this seasonal stream, then Delilah could have lived anywhere along its course—from the highlands of Judah to the Mediterranean coast.

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But the biblical text makes a particular statement that means Delilah could not have lived by the Sorek stream on the Coastal Plain. Judges 16:5 tells us that the Philistine leaders “went up” (Heb: ויעלו) to Delilah and paid her to trick Samson into revealing the secret of his strength. That is, they ascended into the hills in order to reach her. This means she was most likely not in Philistine territory. If she was, she was at best on the very edge of it.

Yet, if Delilah was a Philistine, why do the Philistine leaders not simply command her to trick Samson? Why do they each pay her 1100 pieces of silver to do the deed? Since there were five Philistine rulers from the five Philistine centres (Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and Gath), that’s probably 5500 pieces of silver! Would not the threat of death by a direct authority be enough? Why are they so willing to empty their coffers for her, but never once empty their scabbards?

samson-et-dalila-1949-05-gSome modern depictions of Delilah portray her as the opportunist seductress, who uses her wiles and lack of scruples to make a quick buck. Some view her as a prostitute making a bit of extra cash while tricking her trick. Of course the Philistine leaders would pay for her services! Why, perhaps she even once serviced them? But Delilah was not the prostitute whom Samson visited in Gaza along the coast. Delilah didn’t live in Gaza! She lived up in the hills in the Valley of Sorek. And the biblical text never so much as implies that she was a prostitute. It seems that, as with Mary Magdalene, Delilah has been mistakenly thought of as a hustler when she wasn’t!

So if Delilah wasn’t a wily seductress or an opportunist prostitute, how did she come to have a dalliance with Samson? The biblical text simply states that she was a woman in the Valley of Sorek with whom Samson fell in love (Judges 16:4). This was Samson’s own home territory. He grew up in Zorah, Eshtaol, and Mahaneh Dan (Judges 13:2, 25)—all sites on the northern side of the Valley of Sorek. Samson simply fell for a local girl. Perhaps she was a Danite woman, since this territory was associated with Dan for a time. Or perhaps she was an Ephraimite woman, since the area was also associated with Ephraim.

Moreover, Delilah didn’t hatch the scheme to trap Samson. She did not approach the Philistine leaders, like Judas did with the Jewish leaders when he agreed to betray Jesus. She was not agreeing to trap the nemesis of her own people. Rather, the Philistine leaders “went up” to her and enticed her with a princely sum—1100 pieces of silver from each of them—to put their nemesis in chains. The exorbitant amount they paid her makes sense if they were asking her to betray one of her own—a leader of her own people, no less!

Samson unwittingly foiled the whole scheme to capture him three times. Rather than being tricked, he himself tricked Delilah (and the Philistines sponsoring her). On each occasion, the Philistines waited to pounce on him. And just when Delilah thought that Samson’s strength had left him, she called out, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” (Judges 16:9, 12, 14). This doesn’t sound like the cry of a Philistine woman in Philistine territory referring to her own countrymen. Perhaps if she referred to “guards” or “soldiers” or even “men,” we might suspect that Delilah was herself a Philistine. But to Delilah, the would-be captors of Samson were “Philistines”. They were other—people to be referred to by their ethnicity as different to “us.”

Evidently Samson didn’t make the connection between leading Delilah on and the sudden appearance of pouncing Philistines. So on the fourth occasion, Samson finally revealed the secret of his strength to Delilah. We’re told that it was because she harangued him constantly until he told her (Judges 16:16–17). If Delilah was a Philistine, perhaps Samson would have seen through the whole situation. Telling her the truth of his strength would have seriously endangered him. But he seems to trust her, albeit after considerable nagging, probably figuring that there can be no harm in revealing the secret to a fellow Israelite. Once he does, though, Delilah the Israelite betrays him. She summons the leaders of the Philistines to “come up” once more into the hills (Judges 16:18). They capture him and then “bring him down” to Gaza.

There is one further tantalising possibility that may suggest Delilah was an Israelite. We meet Delilah in Judges 16 when the Philistine rulers each agree to pay her 1100 pieces of silver for Samson. After Samson’s death, in the very next chapter, we are introduced to an Ephraimite (and therefore Israelite) man named Micah who steals 1100 pieces of silver from his unnamed mother (Judges 17:1–2). The correspondence with the sum paid to Delilah is uncanny. And coming immediately after the Samson and Delilah narrative, we are led to wonder whether this unnamed woman is, in fact, Delilah. The unnamed woman’s husband is never mentioned. Is it because he is dead? Is it because the woman was never married and had a son out of wedlock? Is Micah the son of Samson born to Delilah the Ephraimite after Samson’s death? Interestingly, this Micah narrative dovetails with the story of the migration of the Danite tribe (to which Samson belonged) from its land around the Valley of Sorek to land in the far north near Laish/Dan. It is, therefore, a fitting epilogue to the narrative of Samson the Danite. The fact that the woman with 1100 pieces of silver is not named means we cannot be sure that this is Delilah. Perhaps the 1100 pieces of silver are simply a thematic association that helps explain the placement of the two chapters (16 and 17) within the book of Judges. But the placement and narrative contexts are very suggestive.

mhicid5aktakjow6j_jivtaIn any case, it seems we have been treating Delilah as a Philistine, when she is actually an Israelite. She is not a conniving professional seductress, but a local girl who betrays a leader (albeit a very flawed one) of her own people. She was more traitor than temptress. In that way, she is perhaps the antithesis of Jael, wife of Heber, who causes the downfall of Sisera in Judges 4. This would be in keeping with the upending of Israel’s fortunes throughout the book of Judges and the portrayal of Israel’s descent into chaos. Delilah is still a sinister figure, but for perhaps slightly different reasons to what we previously thought.

 

 

Philistine Cemetery Found at Ashkelon

Excavators at the site of ancient Ashkelon have uncovered an ancient Philistine cemetery. The burials go back as far as the 11th century BC, and their style all but confirms that the Philistines originated in region of the Aegean.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY TSAFRIR ABAYOV FOR THE LEON LEVY EXPEDITION TO ASHKELON

There are few good articles about the discovery:

And here’s a short (3:21) video clip (HT: Joseph Lauer):

Aristotle’s Tomb Found

We may have just identified the ruins of the tomb that once held the ashes of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.

aristotelAristotle was one of the most brilliant thinkers of the ancient world. He was a student of Plato (who had been a student of Socrates), and had been the tutor of Alexander the Great. He died at Chalkis in northern Greece in 322 BC, but his ashes were returned to his hometown of Stagira, where a stately building was erected to house them.

Greek archaeologist Kostas Sismanidis claims the ruins he has found have not definitely been proved to be the tomb of Aristotle. However, he claims it is the most likely identification, especially in light of the evidence of ancient sources.

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Reconstruction of the Tomb of Aristotle

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The present days ruins of the horseshoe shaped tomb.

Read more HERE and HERE.

There is also a short clip below (but please disregard the overstatement that Aristotle was the founder of Western Civilisation—there were obviously a few other Greeks to thank for that, too 😉).

Akhenaten’s Capital Recreated in HD

akhenatonIn the 14th century BC, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV initiated a religious revolution in Egypt. He introduced worship of the sun disk Aten to eclipse the worship of all the other gods of Egypt. He changed his own name to Akhenaten, and he built a new capital city, Akhetaten, in which the pure worship of Aten could take place. The temples were roofless—open to the rays of the sun disk.

When Akhenaten died, his revolution died with him. His successor, Tutankhamun (yes, that pharoah!) oversaw the reversion back to Egypt’s traditional religion. The capital city, Akhetaten was abandoned to the sands of time. Its ruins are now part of the site known as Tell el-Amarna.

Some fantastic imaging by Archéovision has recreated some of Akhenaten’s old capital city in digital form. If you can, watch the clip below in fullscreen mode and in full HD (click on the HD symbol and choose the resolution). It’s a brief but impressive recreation.

You can read a little more about this HERE.

No, those ancient Hebrew ‘sticky notes’ do not necessarily prove the Bible was written early

Christianity Today has published an article that comments on a recent study by the Epigraphic Hebrew Project examining the handwriting on some ancient Hebrew documents through digital technology. The headline reads:

Ancient Sticky Notes Shift Secular Scholars Closer to Evangelicals on Bible’s Age.

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The study itself demonstrates that the cache of sixteen documents from the remote desert outpost of Arad on the edge of the Kingdom of Judah in c. 600 BC had six distinct authors. The claim of the Christianity Today article is that this seemingly high rate of literacy in Judah’s monarchic period is forcing secular scholars to acknowledge that the biblical documents were probably written early (that is, before the exilic era). This is certainly the direction in which Walter Kaiser Jr., who is cited in the article, takes the evidence.

Unfortunately, the study that this article is commenting on doesn’t actually shift secular scholars closer to Evangelicals on the Bible’s Age. Indeed, some of the other scholars mentioned in the article (Alan Millard and Christopher Rollston) advise serious caution. There is a plethora of problems with the headline of the Christianity Today article.

First of all, there is no real agreement on the age of the ‘The Bible’ amongst anyone, be they ‘Evangelical’ or so-called ‘secular’ scholars (honestly, the division implied by that terminology is just grating!). After all, we’re talking about a stack of different documents that developed over centuries, with very few overt statements about authorship and time of writing. ‘The Bible’ wasn’t written in one go. It eventually coalesced into the collection we know today as ‘The Bible’, but exactly when the documents began their life is almost impossible to pin down.

Second, the study this article is commenting on simply shows that elite professionals in the monarchic era could write—exactly the kinds of people whom we would expect to be able to write. It doesn’t show that literacy was widespread. On the contrary, one of the documents in this collection includes a man protesting that he could read something for himself, which implies that literacy wasn’t widespread. So six individuals wrote sixteen documents! This does not mean that suddenly most people in ancient Judah could write two or three biblical books! Finding some buttons does not necessarily mean you’ve found an entire tailored suit.

But thirdly, even if literacy in the monarchic era was very widespread, this tells us nothing about when the various biblical documents were written. All it tells us is that people could write. And that’s a very different thing to knowing when these specific biblical documents were written. You see, you only need one person who knows the alphabet, owns some ink and parchment, and has some imagination, and you have yourself a document. This could be at just about any time. Why, it could be early, or it could even be late.

The study itself states that the kind of literacy levels that the Arad documents demonstrate only occurs again in c. 200 BC. The implication seems to be that it’s unlikely the biblical documents were written in the intervening period (600–200 BC) when literacy levels were lower. But there are so many problems with this inference. First, the claim relates only to the region of Judah. It says nothing about literacy levels outside of Judah. Second, the claim uses blank evidence (little apparent writing in 600–200 BC) as a warrant for reaching a positive inference (it’s unlikely the biblical documents could have been written in this period). But logically this is unwarranted. To state it another way, a lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. It could be that we just haven’t found all the other document caches like the one from Arad that date to this period. We just don’t know! Third, you don’t need most of the elite, let alone most of the population, to be reading and writing to create conditions conducive to the writing of texts like the ones in the Bible. You just need one competent literate person who can ‘put pen to paper’. And that person could write for themselves, or even for a whole group of people. One person can pen the imagination of hundreds! And fourth, since there evidently were biblical texts that were written in Judah between 600 and 200 BC (e.g. Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah), the very low literacy levels actually count for nothing.

So, just because a few army officials in Judah could read and write in 600 BC does not mean biblical authors wrote all the biblical documents very early on. At best, it helps establish a terminus a quo for mundane Hebrew writing in the region of Judah (which in this case is only c. 600 BC), but not an actual date for writing biblical texts. Using the same logic employed in the article’s headline, we could just as easily say that Evangelicals must shift closer to secular scholars who argue for late dates (c. 200 BC), because the evidence this study is based on is about mundane literacy at the very end of the monarchic era, and surely fine literature takes longer to develop than mundane ‘sticky notes’.

In actual fact, the literacy levels do not contribute all that much to the discussion about the dating of biblical text. That depends on numerous complex criteria. Literacy is important—you need it in order to have documents! But there are so many other criteria to consider, such as references to historical persons and events, form and genre, theological development, purpose, possible influences and their direction, redaction, transmission, preservation, manuscripts, etc. The list goes on!

Unfortunately, headlines like this one given by Christianity Today are misleading. They promote a sense of tribalism as well as wishful thinking amongst Christians, which in turn leaves Christians grasping at air but thinking they’ve grabbed something solid. It’s just not constructive. And even the headline is at odds with the comments of the two main experts cited in the article.

Surely we can serve the Christian public better than this!

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Remains of the ancient fortified outpost of Arad, Judah, where the cache of documents was found.

 

 


My good friend and colleague, Prof. Ian Young (University of Sydney), has also written a brief response to the study on the Arad documents for the Huffington Post. It’s well worth reading and can be found HERE.

Christopher Rollston’s blog article on the study can be read HERE.

 

There is a reason this terrible Friday is called ‘Good’

shadowofcrossOn the night Jesus was betrayed, he had dinner with his friends. But they would all abandon him later that night.

That same night, Jesus was trapped by his enemies, who wanted him dead. Having nowhere on earth to turn, he turned to God the Father. God didn’t come to his rescue.

Within hours, Jesus was violently hustled out of Jerusalem. He was nailed by the limbs to a cross—transfixed to a gibbet by hate and rejection.

And yet, as the shadow of death suffocated his life, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who harmed him.

And he was heard.

In the depths of human despair, when God seemed to be nowhere, yet God was acting to save. When screams of hate and betrayal seemed to drown out cries for love and reconciliation, God was listening. When God seemed callously absent, he was there in the One he had sent. At the moment Jesus seemed to have failed, he triumphed over all.

Things are not always as they seem.

There is a reason to celebrate the death of this man. There is a reason this terrible Friday is called ‘Good’.

‘Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.’

Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence?

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter directs the following words to wives:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

These words have sometimes been used to expect victims of domestic violence to remain within their abusive relationships. Women are seen to be encouraged to put up with suffering under domestic abuse for the sake of the salvation of their spouses.

First of all, let me say straight up that domestic violence is always wrong. Always. There is never a time that domestic violence should be condoned or encouraged. Never. Ever.

Second, I believe that using Peter’s words here to encourage victims of domestic violence to remain in abusive situations is a complete misunderstanding and misuse of Scripture. Let me explain why I believe that.

Peter, the author of this letter, is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was one of the Twelve—the inner circle whom Jesus handpicked. The Twelve were Jewish men—evocative of the twelve tribes of Israel. The symbolism of twelve Jewish men points specifically to the establishment of a new people of God. In other words, in appointing the Twelve, Jesus was deliberately starting a new movement that he defined as a new people of God, but with specifically Jewish roots. He was viewing the people that would grow around him and the Twelve as the faithful remnant of Israel.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peter was seen as an Apostle to Jews. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul, who was considered an Apostle to Gentiles, describes his encounter with the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (who were all Jewish) as follows:

…they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised. For the one working through Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised also worked through me for the Gentiles. (Galatians 2.7–8)

Paul acknowledges that Peter was specifically commissioned to minister among Jewish people (the circumcised), while he, Paul, was commissioned to minister as an Apostle to the Gentiles.

Why is this important?

It’s important because Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews (i.e. the circumcised) is on display in the way he opens his letter. I’m offering my own translation of the Greek texts throughout this post, but here I’ll also quote the Greek text for those who are able to read it. That way I want to highlight something that is often passed over too quickly in translation:

Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνίας…

Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect migrants of the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1.1)

When we understand Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews, we cannot help but recognise that he is writing his letter to the ‘Diaspora’—that is, to Jewish people living as migrants in the ancient countries of what we today know as Turkey. ‘Diaspora’ is the standard way of referring to all Jews who lived outside the ‘Promised Land’ (Judea, Samaria, and Galilee).

More specifically, Peter is writing to those whom he views as ‘elect’ among the Diaspora. This is his way of addressing Jewish people who have come to believe in Jesus as Israel’s messiah. In other words, Peter is not writing to all Christians—Jews and Gentiles—as is sometimes espoused. Rather, he is writing to the people to whom he ministered specifically as an Apostle to the Jews—that is, to Jews! To underscore this, he even says to them later:

Conduct yourselves well among the Gentiles… (1 Peter 2.12)

Evidently, then, Peter sees a distinction between his audience and Gentiles. They are very clearly Jews. Critically, though, they have come to believe that Jesus is Israel’s messiah, just as Peter himself has.

Now, let’s look at Peter’s words in chapter 3. There he addresses ‘wives’. Let’s read his words again:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

The wives Peter addresses are Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Peter is not addressing each and every Christian woman in every age regardless of her cultural heritage or context. He is writing specifically to women who have grown up as Jews. These Jewish women would, in virtually all cases, have been married to Jewish men. We know that this was the standard case in the ancient world, since Jewish communities of the first century were endogamous—that is, they married within their own ethnic group. Thus, Jewish women were married to Jewish men. While it was possible for a Gentile man to marry a Jewish woman, it was most certainly not the norm. In fact, it was so exceptional that when it happened, it caught people’s attention and was worthy of specific mention (see Acts 16.1). The norm was that Jewish girls would marry Jewish boys and have Jewish babies. There is nothing here in Peter’s letter to indicate any exceptional circumstances that might call this into question. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that when he was addressing wives, Peter was thinking of Jewish women married to Jewish men.

So Peter is addressing Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Amongst these women would be some whose Jewish husbands were not convinced that Jesus was actually the messiah. This would naturally have created a significant division within the family—a division that even Jesus appears to have expected within Jewish families:

“Do not think that I came to set up peace on the earth. I did not come to set up peace, but a sword. For I came to turn

a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.

The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The person who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt 10.34–37)

Peter’s advice to Jewish wives who believe in Jesus is not to attempt to separate from their husbands who do not share their belief about Jesus, nor even to disparage their husbands. Rather, he encourages them to stay committed to their marriages, with the specific goal of convincing their husbands that Jesus is indeed the messiah.

In other words, Peter gives advice here to Jewish women who live in a household where there is a difference of opinion over who Jesus is. Women in that situation would be encouraged to continue observing Jewish customs, along with their Jewish husbands. This is something Paul even advises the Gentile Christians in Rome to do for the sake of commending the gospel of Jesus as messiah to Jewish people (see Rom 12.1; 15.7–12). After all, these customs were not incompatible with belief in Jesus. As Paul acknowledged, the Law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7.12). Indeed, the Apostles viewed their belief in Jesus as the logical endpoint of their Jewish faith. They believed that Israel’s whole history and culture had culminated in Jesus the messiah (see Hebrews). Therefore, Peter is urging women married to Jewish husbands who do not share their belief in Jesus to cling to their Jewishness as a means of demonstrating to their Jewish husbands that Jesus is indeed Israel’s messiah. To put it another way, Peter urges the wives here to find the common ground with their husbands and work constructively within that common ground to commend the gospel of Jesus to their husbands.

So that’s what Peter is saying. What, then, is he not saying?

Peter is not addressing every Christian woman in any possible context. And he is most certainly not encouraging women to submit to domestic violence. The logic of Peter’s argument critically involves common ground. Common Jewish ground in his particular letter. For Jewish women married to Jewish men, that common ground existed in their cultural heritage, expressed chiefly in observance of the Mosaic Law. But there is no such common ground in situations of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence sees one partner abusively using power and violence to deprive the other partner of wellbeing, safety, and options. In such situations, there is no common ground anymore. One partner simply dominates the other, abolishing any sense of commonality. To have commonality, you need two consenting adults. When there is only one consenting adult, the very notion of commonality has ceased to exist. Indeed, part of the reason domestic violence is such a terrible problem is that the victim feels so utterly trapped within the world of their partner.

To use Peter’s words in 1 Peter to encourage women (or men for that matter) to remain in situations of domestic violence is a misunderstanding of the context, logic, and intent of Peter’s words. It is a tragic misappropriation of Scripture.

More than that, the New Testament makes the point that belief in Jesus is something that God himself grants to people (Eph 2.8–10). To expect a victim of domestic violence to remain in the abusive situation for the sake of their spouse’s salvation is effectively expecting the victim to save their spouse—to do the work that only God himself does. In that case, not only is the person trapped within the violent situation, but the cruel chains of bad theology keep them there, entrapping them even further. It is a terrible situation! No one should be expected to do the work that only God himself does. So we should never expect a victim of domestic violence to continue suffering for the sake of their spouse’s salvation.

2 Peter 1.4 states that part of what it means to be a Christian is to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Not only should we think of this in terms of being freed from the sin we ourselves commit, but we should also think of it in terms of helping victims escape the terrible situations in which they suffer. We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients. That would be reprehensible. So we should never think of encouraging anyone in an abusive relationship to continue in that situation either. The gospel of Christ is meant to bring freedom and peace, and Christians should be brokers of that very freedom and peace.

Domestic violence is both tragic and wrong. There is no other way to view it. The New Testament never condones it. No one ever should.