Samson (Hebrew: שִׁמְשׁוֹן Shimshon "of the sun") (1152-fl. 1121-1101 BC) was the fourteenth Judge of Israel and one of two Judges (the other was Shamgar) who never attracted a following. He is renowned for his great physical strength, as was the Greek hero, Hercules.
His great strength was linked to his being a Nazirite since birth. One of the principal vows of the Nazirites was to never cut their hair. When Samson eventually revealed this link to his Philistine wife Delilah she had his head shaved while he slept and betrayed him to the Philistines, who took him captive and gouged out his eyes. Samson was put to work as a slave grinding grain in the mill of a prison, where his hair began to grow again.
The Philistines gathered to celebrate Samson’s capture and offer sacrifice to their “god” Dagon. They brought Samson to their celebration for their entertainment. Samson prayed for his strength one last time, and collapsed the pillars of the building, killing himself and about three thousand Philistines.
Although granted great physical strength, the record of his life shows a great weakness of character.
Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”3
His father and mother replied, “Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She's the right one for me.”4 Judges 14:20 Samson's Marriage.
So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.” Judges 16:6
Samson has appeared often in motion pictures depicting his life and career. Some are pure fantasy, like one that has Hercules, Odysseus, and Samson appearing together early in Samson's career. This could not have happened, because Troy was destroyed in 1184 BC, long before Samson was born, and by then Hercules (if he existed) was dead, though Odysseus was an active participant.
The most popular cinematic treatment of Samson's life is the Cecil B. DeMille classic, Samson and Delilah. This portrait suffers from a number of minor flaws and otherwise engages in unfounded speculation:
- It suggests that Delilah was the younger sister of the Philistine woman of Timnath with whom Samson first fell in love. Delilah was from another place entirely.
- In the film, Samson obtains his thirty changes of clothing merely by robbing thirty Philistines, not by killing them as the Bible plainly says.
- The future King Saul appears in it as a teen-aged boy who probably could have been no older than thirteen. Saul did become king, probably within six years of Samson's revenge on the Temple of Dagon. But Saul was a Benjamite, not a Danite as this film depicts, and furthermore, Saul was an adult, not an adolescent. (Saul acceded to the throne of Israel in 1095 BC at the age of thirty; he therefore was twenty-four years old in the year of Samson's revenge.)
- There is no historical or Scriptural warrant for Samson having any particular Hebrew woman who was romantically interested in him, of whom Delilah was jealous.
- In the end, Delilah is the one who leads Samson to stand between the two pillars, knowing that he plans to destroy the temple. Scripture has no warrant for this.
However, this picture does present one speculation that might be entirely reasonable: that Philistine society was significantly more opulent than was Israelite society. One can reasonably infer that all Canaanite societies were more opulent, with more "showy" fashions and architectural styles, by examining the aftermath of the Fall of Jericho. The fabrics, trinkets, and other trappings of Philistine society bear a striking resemblance to the contraband goods taken from Jericho by Achan the Troublemaker, whom Joshua was forced to execute nearly three centuries earlier.
In fact, this study of contrasts, between the simple living of the ancient Hebrews and Israelites and the gaudy lifestyle of their surrounding societies and occasional enemies is a very common theme, not only in Cecil B. DeMille's work but also in other Biblical epic films made by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and other studios.