One of the judges of Israel, whose life and acts are recorded in Judges xiii.-xvi. At a period when Israel was under the oppression of the Philistines the angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah, a man of Dan, of the city of Zorah, and to his wife, who was barren, and predicted that they should have a son. In accordance with Nazaritic requirements, she was to abstain from wine and other strong drink, and her promised child was not to have a razor used upon his head. In due time the son was born; he was reared according to the strict provisions of the Nazariteship, and in the camp of Dan the spirit of the Lord began to move him.
The Philistines about and among the Israelites naturally became very familiar with them. So infatuated was Samson with a Philistine woman of Timnah that, overcoming the objections of his parents, he married her. The wedding-feast, like that celebrated in certain parts of the East to-day, was a seven-day banquet, at which various kinds of entertainment were in vogue. Samson, equal to the demands of the occasion, proposes a riddle for his thirty companions. Upon the urgent and tearful implorings of his bride he tells her the solution, and she betrays it to the thirty young men. To meet their demands he slays thirty Ashkelonites, and in anger leaves the house of his bride and returns home. The father of the young woman gives her to Samson's companion, probably his right-hand man; so that when, after some time, Samson returns to Timnah, her father refuses to allow him to see her, and wishes to give him her sister. Samson again displays his wrath, and through the strange plan of turning loose pairs of foxes with firebrands between their tails, he burns the grain of the Philistines. Inquiry as to the cause of this destruction leads the Philistines to burn the house of the Timnite and his daughter, who had stirred up Samson's anger.
Samson then smote the Philistines "hip and thigh," and took refuge in the rock of Etam. An army of them went up and demanded from 3,000 men of Judah the deliverance to them of Samson. With Samson's consent they tied him with two new ropes and were about to hand him over to the Philistines when he snapped the ropes asunder. Picking up the jawbone of an ass, he dashed at the Philistines and slew a full thousand. At the conclusion of Judges xv. it is said that "he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines ['sway] twenty years."
Ch. xvi. records the disgraceful and disastrous end of Samson. His actions at Gaza display his strength and also his fascination for Philistine women. The final and fatal episode, in which Delilah betrays him to his enemies, is similar in its beginnings to the art practised by the Timnitess. Samson's revenge at the feast of Dagon was the end of a life that was full of tragic events. Despite his heroic deeds he does not seem to have rid his people of the oppression of the Philistines; his single-handed combats were successful, but they did not extricate Israel from Philistine tyranny. His death was the severest revenge for the Philistines' cruelty in putting out his eyes.
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). 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 (Num. R. x. 13), was a member of that clan (comp. I Chron. iv. 3). The name "Samson" is derived from "shemesh" (= "sun"), so that Samson bore the name of God, who is also "a sun and shield" (Ps. 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 (Soṭah 10a); and he further resembled God in requiring neither aid nor help (Gen. R. xcviii. 18). In the blessings which Jacob pronounced on the tribe of Dan (Gen. xlix. 16-17) he had in mind Samson (Soṭah 9b), whom he regarded even as the Messiah (Gen. R. l.c. § 19). Jacob compared him to a serpent (Gen. 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 (Gen. R. l.c. §§ 18-19).His Strength.
Samson's shoulders were sixty ells broad. He was lame in both feet (Soṭah 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 headarose 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.; Soṭah 9b), yet his superhuman strength, like Goliath's, brought wo upon its possessor (Eccl. R. i., end). In licentiousness he is compared with Amnon and Zimri, both of whom were punished for their sins (Lev. R. 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 (Gen. R. 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 (Soṭah 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).