Most people know the biblical story of Samson. He was a man of superhuman strength and power who accomplished feats such as slaying 1,000 enemies with the jawbone of an ass and tearing a lion in two with his bare hands. His strength came from the length of his hair, and when it was cut his power deserted him and he was taken by the Philistines, blinded and chained. Over the years his hair grew back, and with his strength renewed he tore down the foundations of building and killed staggering numbers of his enemies with his last act of suicidal vengeance. Honestly he sounds like he went to college with Hercules, since the only real difference between these tales is that Samson, despite being hot headed, powerful and often selfish never drank wine. That one difference though is key to the whole myth of Samson and his great strength.
As tends to happen often in the Bible, Samson’s parents were older and had not been able to have children. An angel comes down to them, probably with X-rays to prove, that Samson’s mother is pregnant and is going to give birth to a great symbol of God’s might who is going to be tasked with destroying the Philistine occupiers who were in Israel at the time. To give him this power the parents are given specific instructions that Samson never cut his hair and that he never consume alcohol as signs of his obedience to god. Pretty sweet deal for superhuman strength that can ride over forces of 1,000 soldiers or more.
The reason that Samson had to abide by these conditions is that, according to the old laws of Judaism a man who was not a Levite (the ruling class and descendants of Levi) could devote himself to god by taking this vow and keeping it. Apparently the formula for the super soldier serum was lost then just as it was in a later period when Jewish territory was being occupied. Samson, who was a Danite, therefore accepted this vow and was given his strength because he didn’t break that vow. Of course that vow didn’t require him to become a champion of his people, to marry within his own race or even to go worship as a Jew should. And as with all magical deals, as long as Samson kept up his end then god was obliged to keep up his end.
For that point onward we all know the story. Samson went through a list of pretty unsavory, though exotic and beautiful, women. He went on long and pulpy adventures where he slew hundreds of thousands of foes including men and beasts. Until finally he gave up the secret of his magical vow to Delilah in the only country to be more hostile towards Jews than the Third Reich. No one ever accused Samson of being good, kind or smart.
Of course there will always be questions about this story. Why did an omnipotent deity select a brawling lout with bad taste in female companionship to be a champion? Why didn’t others take this vow and create an army of super soldiers to free Israel? And why is Samson considered to be one of the righteous who will be resurrected when it’s clear that he violated dozens of commandments and was generally a person driven more by his libido and his sword arm than by anything resembling a conscience? No one’s really sure, but these are questions that many children have no doubt asked in Sunday school to the consternation of their teachers.
“Story of Samson, Story of Hope,” by Kenneth Westby at God Ward
“Samson,” by Anonymous at Bible Tutor