This article is about the biblical figure. For other uses, see Samson (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Sampson, Sanson, Samsun, or Samsung.
Samson's Fight with the Lion by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1525

Samson (/ˈsæmsən/; Hebrew: שִׁמְשׁוֹן, Modern Shimshon, Tiberian Šimšôn, meaning "man of the sun"),[1] Shamshoun (Arabic: شمشون Shamshūn/Šamšūn), or Sampson (Greek: Σαμψών), was the last of the judges of the ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible (chapters 13 to 16) and one of the last of the leaders who "judged" Israel before the institution of the monarchy.

According to the biblical account, Samson was given immense strength to aid him against his enemies, and allowing him to perform glorious feats [2] such as quickly killing a lion, slaying an entire army with only the jawbone of an ass, and destroying a temple of the Philistines with his bare hands. However, if Samson's long hair was cut, he would lose his strength.[3]

In some Jewish traditions, Samson is believed to have been buried in Tel Tzora in Israel overlooking the Sorek valley. There reside two large gravestones of Samson and his father Manoah. Nearby stands Manoah's altar (Judges 13:19–24).[4] It is located between the cities of Zorah and Eshtaol.

Biblical narrative


See also: Nazirite

Samson's activity took place during a time when the Hebrew Bible suggests God was disciplining the Israelites by giving them "into the hand of the Philistines".[5] Manoah was an Israelite from Zorah, from the family of the Danites,[6] and his wife had been unable to conceive.[7][8] The Angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah's wife and proclaimed that the couple would soon have a son, who would begin to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.[9]

The Angel of the Lord stated that Manoah's wife was to abstain from all alcoholic beverages, and her promised child was not to shave or cut his hair. He was to be a "Nazirite" from birth. In ancient Israel, those wanting to be especially dedicated to God for a time could take a Nazarite vow, which included abstaining from wine and spirits, not cutting hair or shaving, and other requirements.[7][8][9] The wife believed the Angel of the Lord; her husband was not present, so he prayed and asked God to send the messenger once again to teach them how to raise the boy who was going to be born.

After the Angel of the Lord returned, Manoah asked him his name, but he said, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding."[10] Manoah then prepared a sacrifice, but the Angel of the Lord would only allow it to be for God. He touched it with his staff, miraculously engulfing it in flames, and then ascended into the sky in the fire — and, in doing so, revealed that he was not simply an angel but was God in angelic form. This was such dramatic evidence of the nature of the Messenger that Manoah feared for his life, since it was said that no one could live after seeing God. However, his wife convinced him that, if God planned to slay them, he would never have revealed such things to them. In due time, their son Samson was born, and he was raised according to the provisions.[8][9]

Rembrandt's painting of Samson and Delilah

Marriage to a Philistine

When he was a young adult, Samson left the hills of his people to see the cities of the Philistines. He fell in love with a Philistine woman from Timnah, whom he decided to marry, ignoring the objections of his parents, who were concerned because the Israelites were forbidden to marry gentiles.[8][9][11][12] In the development of the narrative, the intended marriage was shown to be part of God's plan to strike at the Philistines.[9]

According to the biblical account, Samson was repeatedly seized by the "Spirit of the Lord", blessing him with immense strength. The first instance of this is seen when Samson was on his way to ask for the Philistine woman's hand in marriage, when he was attacked by a lion. He simply grabbed it and ripped it apart, the spirit of God divinely empowering him. However, Samson kept it a secret, not even mentioning the miracle to his parents.[9][13][14] He arrived at the Philistine's house and became betrothed to her. He returned home, then came back to Timnah some time later for the wedding. On his way, Samson saw that bees had nested in the carcass of the lion and made honey.[9][14] He ate a handful of the honey and gave some to his parents.[9]

At the wedding feast, Samson told a riddle to his thirty groomsmen (all Philistines). If they could solve it, he would give them thirty pieces of fine linen and garments, but if they could not solve it, they would give him thirty pieces of fine linen and garments.[8][9] The riddle was a veiled account of two encounters with the lion, at which only he was present:[9][14]

Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.[1]

  1. ^ Judges 14:14

The Philistines were infuriated by the riddle.[9] The thirty groomsmen told Samson's new wife that they would burn her and her father's household if she did not discover the answer to the riddle and tell it to them.[9][14] At the urgent and tearful imploring of his bride, Samson told her the solution, and she told it to the thirty groomsmen.[8][9]

Samson in the Treadmill, by Carl Bloch

Before sunset on the seventh day they said to him,

What is sweeter than honey?
and what is stronger than a lion?

Samson said to them,

If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have solved my riddle.[1]

  1. ^ Judges 14:18

Samson then traveled to Ashkelon (a distance of roughly 30 miles) where he slew thirty Philistines for their garments; he then returned and gave those garments to his thirty groomsmen.[8][14][15] In a rage, Samson returned to his father's house. The family of his would-be-bride instead gave her to one of the groomsmen as wife.[8][14][15] Some time later, Samson returned to Timnah to visit his wife, unaware that she was now married to one of his former groomsmen. But her father refused to allow Samson to see her, offering to give Samson a younger sister instead.[8][15]

Samson went out, gathered 300 foxes, and tied them together in pairs by their tails. He then attached a burning torch to each pair of foxes' tails and turned them loose in the grain fields and olive groves of the Philistines.[16] The Philistines learned why Samson burned their crops and burned Samson's wife and father-in-law to death in retribution.[8][15][17]

In revenge, Samson slaughtered many more Philistines, saying, "I have done to them what they did to me."[8][15] Samson then took refuge in a cave in the rock of Etam.[8][15][18] An army of Philistines came to the Tribe of Judah and demanded that 3,000 men of Judah deliver them Samson.[8][18] With Samson's consent, they tied him with two new ropes and were about to hand him over to the Philistines when he broke free of the ropes.[17][18] Using the jawbone of a donkey, he slew 1,000 Philistines.[17][18][19] At the conclusion of Judges 15, it is said that Samson had "judged" Israel for twenty years.[18]


Delilah Cuts Samson's Hair, by Master E. S., 1460/1465

Later, Samson travels to Gaza, where he stays at a harlot's house.[15][20] His enemies wait at the gate of the city to ambush him, but he tears the gate from its very hinges and frame and carries it to "the hill that is in front of Hebron".[15][20]

He then falls in love with Delilah in the valley of Sorek.[15][17][20][21] The Philistines approach Delilah and induce her with 1,100 silver coins to find the secret of Samson's strength so they can get rid of it and capture their enemy.[15][20] Samson refuses to reveal the secret and teases her, telling her that he will lose his strength should he be bound with fresh bowstrings.[15][20] She does so while he sleeps, but when he wakes up he snaps the strings.[15][20] She persists, and he tells her that he can be bound with new ropes. She ties him up with new ropes while he sleeps, and he snaps them, too.[15][20] She asks again, and he says that he can be bound if his locks are woven into a weaver's loom.[15][20] She weaves them into a loom, but he simply destroys the entire loom and carries it off when he wakes.[15][20]

Eventually after much nagging from Delilah, Samson tells Delilah that he will lose his strength with the loss of his hair.[15][17][20][21] God supplies Samson's power because of his consecration to God as a Nazirite, symbolized by the fact that a razor has never touched his head.[22] Delilah calls for a servant to shave Samson's seven locks, then woos him to sleep "in her lap" (either literally or figuratively).[15][20][21] With this, Samson has finally broken the last tenet of the Nazirite oath; God leaves him, and Samson is captured by the Philistines,[15][19][20] who blind him by gouging out his eyes. After being blinded, Samson is brought to Gaza, imprisoned, and put to work grinding grain by turning a large millstone.[20]

Pushing or pulling?
According to the biblical narrative, Samson died when he grasped two pillars of the Temple of Dagon, and "bowed himself with all his might" (Judges 16:30, KJV). This has been variously interpreted as Samson pushing the pillars apart (top) or pulling them together (bottom).


One day, the Philistine leaders assemble in a temple for a religious sacrifice to Dagon, one of their most important deities, for having delivered Samson into their hands.[20][23] They summon Samson so that people can watch him perform for them. The temple is so crowded that people are even climbing onto the roof to watch—and all the rulers of the Philistines are there, some 3,000 people in all.[21][23][24] Samson is led into the temple, and he asks his captors to let him lean against the supporting pillars to rest.

28 Then he called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. 30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.

After his death, Samson's family recover his body from the rubble and bury him near the tomb of his father Manoah.[23] A tomb structure which some attribute to Samson and his father stands on the top of the mountain in Tel Tzora.[25] One 2013 source, however, identifies a historical structure known as Maqam Neby or Sheikh Samat as the tomb of Samson and asserts that it has not existed for the past half century.[26] The Bible does not mention the fate of Delilah.[21]

Rabbinic literature

Rabbinic literature identifies Samson with Bedan,[8] a Judge mentioned by Samuel in his farewell address (1 Samuel 12:11) among the Judges who delivered Israel from their enemies.[27] However, the name "Bedan" is not found in the Book of Judges.[27] The name "Samson" is derived from the Hebrew word "shemesh", which means the sun, so that Samson bore the name of God, who is called "a sun and shield" in Psalms 84:11; and as God protected Israel, so did Samson watch over it in his generation, judging the people even as did God.[8] Samson's strength was divinely derived (Talmud, Tractate Sotah 10a).[8][28]

Jewish legend records that Samson's shoulders were sixty cubits broad.[8] (Many Talmudic commentaries, however, explain that this is not to be taken literally, for a person that size could not live normally in society. Rather, it means that he had the ability to carry a burden 60 cubits wide (approximately 30 meters) on his shoulders).[29] He was lame in both feet[30] but, when the spirit of God came upon him, he could step with one stride from Zorah to Eshtaol, while the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one another so that they could be heard for a like distance.[8][31] Samson was said to be so strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like two clods of earth,[32] yet his superhuman strength, like Goliath's, brought woe upon its possessor.[8][33]

In licentiousness, he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins.[8][34] Samson's eyes were put out because he had "followed them" too often.[8][35] It is said that, in the twenty years during which Samson judged Israel, he never required the least service from an Israelite,[36] and he piously refrained from taking the name of God in vain.[8] Therefore, as soon as he told Delilah that he was a Nazarite of God, she immediately knew that he had spoken the truth.[8][35] When he pulled down the temple of Dagon and killed himself and the Philistines, the structure fell backward so that he was not crushed, his family being thus enabled to find his body and to bury it in the tomb of his father.[8][37]

In the Talmudic period, some seem to have denied that Samson was a historical figure, regarding him instead as a purely mythological personage. This was viewed as heretical by the rabbis of the Talmud, and they attempted to refute this. They named Hazelelponi as his mother in Numbers Rabbah Naso 10 and in Bava Batra 91a and stated that he had a sister named "Nishyan" or "Nashyan".[8]


The Blinded Samson, by Lovis Corinth, 1912

Academics have interpreted Samson as a demigod[38] (such as Heracles or Enkidu) enfolded into Jewish religious lore, or as an archetypical folk hero. These views sometimes interpreted him as a solar deity, popularized by "solar hero" theorists and biblical scholars alike.[39][40][41] The name Delilah may also involve a wordplay with the Hebrew word for night, 'layla', which "consumes" the day.[42]

Samson bears many similar traits to the Greek Heracles (and the Roman Hercules adaptation), inspired himself partially from the Mesopotamian Enkidu tale: Heracles and Samson both battled a lion bare handed (Lion of Nemea feat), Heracles and Samson both had a favorite primitive blunt weapon (a club and an ass's jaw, respectively), and they were both betrayed by a woman which led them to their ultimate fate (Heracles by Deianira, Samson by Delilah). Both heroes, champion of their respective people, die by their own hand: Heracles ends his life on a pyre, while Samson makes the Philistine temple collapse upon himself and his enemies.[43][44]

Russian drinking bowl depicting Samson

These views are disputed by traditional and conservative biblical scholars who consider Samson to be a literal historical figure and thus reject any connections to mythological heroes.[45] The concept of Samson as a "solar hero" has been described as "an artificial ingenuity".[46] Joan Comay, co-author of Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament, believes that the biblical story of Samson is so specific concerning time and place that Samson was undoubtedly a real person who pitted his great strength against the oppressors of Israel.[47] In contrast, James King West considers that the hostilities between the Philistines and Hebrews appear to be of a "purely personal and local sort". He also considers that Samson stories have, in contrast to much of Judges, an "almost total lack of a religious or moral tone".[48]

Dr. Zvi Lederman, co-director of the Tel Aviv University Beth Shemesh dig which discovered the seal discussed below, believes that Beth Shemesh, a Canaanite village, was a cultural meeting point on the border of Israelite, Canaanite, and Philistine areas and calls the stories "border sagas", saying that Samson could cross boundaries, seeking a Philistine wife but also fighting and killing Philistines. "When you cross the border, you have to fight the enemy and you encounter dangerous animals. You meet bad things. These are stories of contact and conflict, of a border that is more cultural than political."[49]


Statue of Samson and the lion in Saint Petersburg, Russia

In August 2012, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of a circular stone seal, approximately 15 millimetres in diameter, and apparently depicting a lion and a man. The seal was found on the floor of a house at Beth Shemesh and is dated to the 12th century BCE. Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz, a co-director of the dig, was reported as saying that the artifact helps "anchor the story [of Samson] in an archaeological setting."[50] According to Haaretz, "excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the biblical text and onto the seal."[51]

Cultural influence

Samson parade Mauterndorf, Austria

As an important biblical character, Samson has been referred to in popular culture and depicted in a vast array of films, artwork, and popular literature.

Samson parades of a large Samson-like figure, which are made of wood or aluminum, are held annually in different villages in Lungau, Salzburg, and two villages in the north-west Styria (Austria).[52] Samson is one of the giant figures at the "Ducasse" festivities, which take place at Ath, Belgium.[53]

See also


  1. Van der Toorn, Karel; Pecking, Tom; van der Horst, Peter Willem (1999). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans. p. 404. ISBN 9780802824912.
  2. Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 316–317. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  3. Judges 16:17
  4. The Philistines are upon you, Samson, Ynet
  5. Judges 13
  6. Judges 13:2
  7. 1 2 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: the Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 58. ISBN 0-500-05095-3.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Samson". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 317. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  12. Judges 14
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: the Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 59. ISBN 0-500-05095-3.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 318. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 61. ISBN 0-500-05095-3.
  18. 1 2 3 4 5 Judges 15
  19. 1 2 Porter, J. R. (2000). The Illustrated Guide to the Bible. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. 75. ISBN 0-7607-2278-1.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Judges 16
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 Rogerson, John W. (1999). Chronicle of the Old Testament Kings: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Ancient Israel. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 62. ISBN 0-500-05095-3.
  22. Judges 16:17
  23. 1 2 3 Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 319. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  25. I. M. Levinger; Kalman Neuman (2008). IsraGuide 2007/2008 (pb). Feldheim Publishers. p. 266. ISBN 978-1-59826-154-7.
  26. "11. Lost shrines". Muslin Shrines in Israel.
  27. 1 2 BibleGateway – Quick search: Bedan
  28. Midrash Genesis Rabbah xcviii. 18
  29. Ben Yehoyada and Maharal, in commentary to Talmud, tractate "sotah" 10a
  30. (Talmud tractate Sotah 10a)
  31. Midrash Leviticus Rabbah viii. 2
  32. (ibid.; Sotah 9b)
  33. Midrash Eccl. Rabbah i., end
  34. (Leviticus Rabbah. xxiii. 9)
  35. 1 2 (Sotah l.c.)
  36. (Midrash Numbers Rabbah ix. 25)
  37. (Midrash Genesis Rabbah l.c. § 19)
  38. Leviton, Richard (2014). The Mertowney Mountain Interviews. iUniverse. p. 244. ISBN 9781491741290.
  39. Morris Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston: Ginn & Company, 1898).
  40. Charles Fox Burney, The Book of Judges, with Introduction and Notes (London: Rivingtons, 1918).
  41. Graves, Robert (1955) The Greek Myths cf Herakles.
  42. David Noel Freedman (editor), Eerdmans Dictionary of The Bible, page 336, entry for 'Delilah' (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000). ISBN 0-8028-2400-5
  43. Mobley, Gregory (2006) Samson and the Liminal Hero in the Ancient Near East, Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. 6–12.
  44. Wajdenbaum, P., Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, Routledge, 2014, pp. 223–227.
  45. Mobley, Gregory (2006) Samson and the Liminal Hero in the Ancient Near East, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 5.
  46. George Albert Cooke, The Book of Judges (Cambridge University Press, 1913).
  47. Comay, Joan; Brownrigg, Ronald (1993). Who's Who in the Bible: The Old Testament and the Apocrypha, The New Testament. New York: Wing Books. pp. Old Testament, 320. ISBN 0-517-32170-X.
  48. West, James King (1971) Introduction to the Old Testament, MacMillan Company, New York, p. 183.
  49. "Ancient Seal May Add Substance to the Legend of Samson". Science Daily. 13 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  50. "Ancient Seal May Add Substance to the Legend of Samson". Science Daily. 13 August 2012. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  51. Hasson, Nir (Jul 30, 2012). "National Seal found by Israeli archeologists may give substance to Samson legend". Haaretz. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  52. Samsontragen im Lungau und Bezirk Murau, Nationalagentur für das Immaterielle Kulturerbe, Österreichische UNESCO-Kommission
  53. see fr:Samson (Géant processionnel)
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