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Samson (or David?) wrestles the lion. Silk tapestry, probably from Syria, in the 600s AD

Samson and Delilah story: Samson (or David?) wrestles the lion. Silk tapestry, probably from Syria, in the 600s AD

Backstory of Samson and Delilah

Just as the Jews were finally getting rid of the Canaanites, around 1100 BC, the Bible says that a new enemy came to Israel. These were the Philistines (FILL-uh-steens).

(More about the Philistines)

Nobody knows for sure who the Philistines were or where they came from. But they seem to be the Sea People that the Egyptians mention at this time. The Philistines seem to be the Greeks, fleeing the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces.

How did the Philistines defeat the Jews?

So the Jews had to fight the Philistines now. At first, owing mainly to the fact that the Philistines had the new iron weapons while the Jews were still using bronze, the Philistines won, and the Jews lived under the rule of the Philistines for forty years and more (according to the Bible).

(More about the invention of iron)

The story of Samson and Delilah takes place during this time: Samson was a Jewish man who fell in love with a Philistine woman, Delilah, who betrayed him.

Samson and the Lion

Samson: a stone carving of him strangling the lion

Samson and Delilah story: Samson wrestles the lion (ca. 1180 AD, Rippl-Ronai Muzeum, Kaposvar, Hungary)

According to the Bible, Samson was a Jewish man who was given a gift from God of being very very strong, stronger than anybody else ever. When Samson was young, he was attacked by a lion but he killed it with his bare hands (that’s what’s in the picture. It’s a lot like earlier pictures of other heroes killing lions)

(You might compare this to the Greek story of Herakles and the Nemean Lion. Could the Jews have learned this story from the Greeks/Philistines? Or the other way around?).

(More about Herakles and the Nemean Lion)

Samson fights against the Philistines

When Samson got older, he fought as an insurgent against the Philistines, trying to get them out of his country (like the American Revolution, or the Afghan insurgency right now fighting against the United States).

Delilah finds out Samson’s secret

A round piece of brownish ivroy with a woman sitting and a man lying down with his head in her lap. Another man stands in the background - the attendant who brings Delilah the scissors

Delilah treacherously cuts off Samson’s hair while he sleeps. Carved into a backgammon piece made of walrus ivory. England, 1130s AD. This was when Matilda was fighting to rule England, so maybe it was a sexist commentary?

Then he fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine woman. Delilah’s brothers got her to try to find out the secret of his strength. Samson didn’t want to tell her, but Delilah said if he really loved her he would (this is kind of like the story of Salome). So Samson told Delilah that his strength was all in his hair – that was why he never cut his hair.

Delilah cuts off Samson’s hair

When Samson fell asleep, Delilah made her slave cut off all his hair. Then he was weak, and the Philistines were able to put him in jail for being an insurgent.

Samson’s hair grows back

By the time they brought him to the courtroom for his trial, though, he had been in jail for so long that his hair had all grown back. Now Samson was strong again, and he used his strength to knock down the pillars of the courtroom and kill all the Philistine judges and on-lookers – and himself.

What’s the point of the Samson and Delilah story?

Well, one point is the same as the Greek story of Pandora’s Box or the story of Salome: it’s the sexist idea that men can’t trust women. Women appear as naturally sneaky and treacherous. Another reason to tell this story is to suggest that Jews

Did you find out what you wanted to know about the Bible story of Samson and Delilah? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: do people have to do whatever the people they love want them to do?
More about the kingdoms of Israel and Judah
More about the Philistines

Bibliography and further reading about the history of Judaism:


More about the Philistines
More about the kingdoms of Israel and Judah
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