Samson- circa 12th C. BCE
Samson was an enigmatic personality. He was the 12th of 13 Judges living sometime in the 12th Century BCE. It was a time of great conflict and decline for the Israelites, a period that pre-dates the Kings who would be chosen to lead Israel. When reading his story it’s important to remember that the term “Judge” denotes a leader, rather than an adjudicator.
Samson was a different from the other judges. He was designated as a Nazir before he was born. His parents, Manoah and his wife, were farmers. One day Manoah’s wife was alone in the fields. An angel of God approached her and told her she would have a son. The angel instructed her to refrain from drinking wine and eating tamei (religiously unclean) food. These rules were to be followed by the baby who was to be born. In addition the child’s hair was never to be cut. These rules, the rules of the Nazir, are part of the parsha Naso- and that is feature that relates the Haftarah to the Torah portion.
When Samson was born the text says, “…and the spirit of the Lord began to move him… ” The word used for “to move him” comes from the root word for “bell” or “ringing” suggesting the rapid, impetuous nature of Samson.
The story of Samson is a puzzling one in many ways. It describes a man who is like a super hero. He is fearless, extraordinarily strong, and impetuous. Why, one wonders, is he given the title of Judge and Leader?
Let’s go to the beginning of the story. It is introduced with the sentence, “And the children of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord; and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Pelishtim for 40 years.” It was a period of immorality and belligerence and b’nei Yisrael came under the rule of the antagonistic Pelishtim (Philistines).
For the Israelites to fight effectively against them they had to do it surreptitiously. Samson became an unrecognized undercover activist and rebel. Samson was able to “punish” the Philistine tyrants. Having seemingly deserted his own people and marrying Philistine women he was able to infiltrate their community, destroy property, kill fighters, and deflect all attention away from the Jews. In fact, he was wily enough to have blame deflected onto other Pelishtim. His strength, impetuousness and solitariness allowed him to became the leader who fought, unrecognized, for his people.
This a larger than life story that ends with the humiliation and then honouring of a tragic hero. The painting above is “The Blinded Samson”, 1921, by Lovis Corinth . The painting shows Samson’s pain and degradation when he has ultimately been betrayed by Delilah.
This is another fantastic narrative in our writings. Go to the Book of Judges, chapters 13- 16, and read great adventure!
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Professor Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr Zvi Lederman found this tiny coin, less than an inch in diameter, near the Sorek River by Tel Beit Shemesh. This coin, from about the 11th C. BCE shows a man fighting a lion. Some feel this may represent Samson and his fight with the lion. To read about this interesting discovery go to http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2181404/Israeli-scholars-claim-uncovered-archaeological-evidence-Samson.html