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SAMSON and DELILAH

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"And she made him sleep on her knees; and she called for a man,
and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head:
. . . and his strength went from him."

(Judges 16:19)


Samson and Delilah. It's my favorite Bible story, and one of my favorite movies (the 1949 Cecil B. DeMille epic starring Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature). Those ancients (meaning the biblical writers and legendary filmmaker DeMille) sure knew how to spin a good yarn. So this page is my heartfelt tribute to the story of Samson the Hebrew strongman, with a weakness for women (Philistine women at that), and Delilah, the temptress of Sorek who betrayed him into Philistine hands. - Ron Ecker



Here's the biblical story. Samson of the tribe of Dan is consecrated as a child as a Nazarite, whose vows include no strong drink or haircuts. At Samson's annunciation, an angel states that Samson shall "begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines." Note that the angel says "begin to," not flat-out "deliver." For on growing up, Samson, though blessed by the Lord with great physical strength, spends more time consorting with the Philistines than delivering anyone from them.

For starters, Samson falls for and marries a Philistine woman of Timnah, and entertains thirty Philistine companions there at a seven-day wedding feast. He tells these guests a riddle (about a lion he slew with his bare hands) and bets new garments for all thirty that they can't solve it. The guests then tell his wife they'll burn up her and her father unless she gets the answer for them. The tearful wife badgers Samson the whole seven days till he tells her the answer. When the wedding guests then win the bet by solving his riddle, Samson knows they have "plowed with (his) heifer." He goes out and kills thirty Philistines for their garments, which he gives to the guests. He then angrily goes home to the town of Zorah.

When Samson later tries to visit his wife, he learns that her father, thinking the Hebrew had spurned her, has given her away to Samson's best man. This makes Samson so mad that he burns the Philistines' cornfields and vineyards.

The Philistines retaliate by burning up the wife and her father. Vowing to get them for that, Samson smites the Philistines "hip and thigh with a great slaughter." Set on vengeance, the Philistines march into Judah where Samson is hiding. Samson lets the fearful Judahites bind him and hand him over. Then the Spirit of the Lord comes mightily upon him. Snapping the cords that bind him, Samson slays one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.



Gustave Doré


We next find Samson spending the night with a Philistine harlot in Gaza. While he's with her, the Philistines, planning to nab him in the morning, surround the area and hide at the gate of the city. But at midnight Samson arises, puts the doors, posts, and bar of the gate on his shoulders, and totes the whole works up to the top of a hill. It is unclear whether Samson does this to impress his date or to thwart the hiding Philistines after somehow becoming aware of their presence.



Gustave Doré


Samson next loves Delilah, "a woman in the valley of Sorek." Delilah may or may not be a Philistine, but the Philistines use her against Samson. "Entice him," the lords of the Philistines tell her, "and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, . . . and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver."

They don't have to say any more. "Tell me, I pray thee," Delilah says to Samson, "wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightest be bound to afflict thee." Samson tells her that if he is bound with seven green bowstrings that have not been dried, he will be as weak as any other man. He's lying, of course, though not necessarily because he distrusts Delilah. Maybe he just likes kinky sex games. Not knowing that Philistines are lying in wait in the chamber, Samson lets Delilah tie him up with the bowstrings. But when she tells him, "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson," game's over--he snaps the bowstrings and the Philistines are foiled again.

On two more occasions Delilah, accusing Samson of mocking her, asks him wherein his strength lies and how he might be bound. Both times she tries what he tells her ("The Philistines be upon thee, Samson"), and each time it turns out he has lied.

Delilah now really goes to work on him. "How canst thou say, I love thee, when thine heart is not with me?" she pouts. "Thou hast mocked me these three times, and hast not told me wherein thy great strength lieth." She presses him daily till Samson is "vexed unto death" and finally tells her the truth: He has been a Nazarite from birth, a razor never having touched his head: "If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man."



Gustave Doré


Delilah sees that he speaks from the heart, and sends for the Philistine lords, who come with "money in their hand." While Samson lies asleep on her knees, Delilah has a man "shave off the seven locks of his head." Again it's "The Philistines be upon thee, Samson," and this time, as Samson awakes, the Philistines indeed are upon him. His strength gone, Samson is taken away, his eyes are gouged out, and he is put to work grinding corn in the prison house.

But the Philistines forget to keep giving him haircuts. One day as he is displayed for sport in the crowd-filled temple of Dagon, with the lords of the Philistines present, Samson literally brings down the house: He has gained enough strength from his growing hair to dislodge the temple's two middle pillars. His last words are "Let me die with the Philistines," and he dies with over three thousand of them as the building collapses.



Samson Destroys the Temple
Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld


The moral of the story, I guess, is that if you have a job to do, like delivering your people from the Philistines, don't wait around till (literally) the last minute to do it.

Contrary to Cecil B. DeMille's epic, we are not told in the Bible if Delilah (repentant in the movie) is anywhere around when Samson dies with the Philistines. I've got to hand it to DeMille, though. Going to see his "Samson and Delilah" when I was eight years old was the best dime I ever spent on a movie.

And I still wonder if the real Delilah was half as good-looking as Hedy Lamarr. Take it from me, that Austrian beauty could make eight-year-olds weak in the knees.


Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000) as Delilah

Could not once blinding me, cruel, suffice?
When first I look'd on thee, I lost mine eyes.

Divine Epigrams: Samson to His Delilah
Richard Crashaw, 1646



For the biblical text, that thou mayest read the original source, seeth Judges 13-16.

For the 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer's retelling of the tale (translated from the Middle English by yours truly), click here.

For some good heavy reading, see John Milton's 17th-century tragic poem "Samson Agonistes."

For something lighter, see Christian scriptwriter Bob Snook's short, hilarious radio script "Delilah Finds the Secret to Samson's Strength."



Who were the Philistines?


See the article on the Philistines in the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the Wikipedia entry.

Visit the archeological sites of Ashdod, Ashkelon (1 and 2), Ekron (1 and 2), Gath, and Gaza, the five major Philistine cities, and read about Dagon, the Philistine god in whose temple Samson took his final revenge.



More Links


The Samson saga as told by Flavius Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, in his Antiquities of the Jews.

The entries on Samson and Delilah in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

A Samson psychological profile.

Scholarly articles by Anton Karl Kozlovic on DeMille's "Samson and Delilah" in Belphégor, Comparative Religion and Culture, McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry, Sincronía, and Women in Judaism. See also "Have Lamb Will Martyr" and "Serpentine Evil and the Garden of Eden."

A history and lyrics of the song "Samson and Delilah" recorded by the Grateful Dead.

Synopsis of the opera "Samson et Dalila" by Camille Saint-Saens.

A description of the oratorio "Samson" by George Frideric Handel.







Copyright 2000-2012 by Ronald L. Ecker


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