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Samson in rabbinic literature

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Samson in rabbinic literature

Allusions in rabbinic literature to the Biblical character Samson, the ancient Israelite hero who fought the Philistines with supernatural strength, contain various expansions, elaborations and inferences beyond what is presented in the text of the Bible itself.

Bedan

Samson is identified with Bedan (I Sam. xii. 11); he was called "Bedan" because he was descended from the tribe of Dan, "Bedan" being explained as "Ben Dan" (R. H. 25a).

Ancestry

On the maternal side, however, he was a descendant of the tribe of Judah; for his mother, whose name was Zelelponit (B. B. 91a) or Hazelelponit (Numbers Rabba x. 13), was a member of that clan (comp. I Chronicles iv. 3).

His name

The name "Samson" is derived from shemesh ("sun"), so that Samson bore the name of God, who is also "a sun and shield" (Psalm lxxxiv. 12 [A. V. 11]); and as God protected Israel, so did Samson watch over it in his generation, judging the people even as did God. Samson's strength was divinely derived (Sotah 10a); and he further resembled God in requiring neither aid nor help (Genesis Rabba xcviii. 18).

Jacob's blessing of Dan

In the blessings which Jacob pronounced on the tribe of Dan (Genesis xlix. 16-17) he had in mind Samson (Sotah 9b), whom he regarded even as the Messiah (Genesis Rabba l.c. § 19). Jacob compared him to a serpent (Genesis ib.) because, like the serpent, Samson's power lay entirely in his head—that is, in his hair—while he was also revengeful like the serpent; and as the latter kills by its venom even after it is dead, so Samson, in the hour of his death, slew more men than during all his life; and he also lived solitarily like the serpent (Genesis Rabba l.c. §§ 18-19).

His strength

Samson's shoulders were sixty ells broad. He was lame in both feet (Sotah 10a), but when the spirit of God came upon him he could step with one stride from Zoreah to Eshtaol, while the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one another so that they could be heard for a like distance (Lev. R. viii. 2). He was so strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like two clods of earth (ib.; Sotah 9b), yet his superhuman strength, like Goliath's, brought woe upon its possessor (Eccl. R. i., end). In licentiousness he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins (Leviticus Rabba xxiii. 9). Samson's eyes were put out because he had "followed them" too often (Soṭah l.c.). When Samson was thirsty (comp. Judges xv. 18-19) God caused a well of water to spring from his teeth (Genesis Rabba l.c. § 18).

In the twenty years during which Samson judged Israel (comp. Judges xv. 20, xvi. 31) he never required the least service from an Israelite (Num. R. ix. 25), and he piously refrained from taking the name of God in vain. As soon, therefore, as he told Delilah that he was a Nazarite of God (comp. Judges xvi. 17) she immediately knew that he had spoken the truth (Sotah l.c.). When he pulled down the temple of Dagon and killed himself and the Philistines (comp. Judges l.c. verse 30) 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 (Gen. R. l.c. § 19).

Even in the Talmudic period many seem to have denied that Samson was a historic figure; he was apparently regarded as a purely mythological personage. A refutation of this heresy is attempted by the Talmud (B. B. l.c.), which gives the name of his mother, and states that he had a sister also, named "Nishyan" or "Nashyan" (variant reading, this apparently is the meaning of the passage in question, despite the somewhat unsatisfactory explanation of Rashi).

 

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