As a student of the Hebrew Bible, I’m embarrassed. But I call ‘em as I see ‘em. The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes (see: Andersen, Hans Christian). Samson is a psychopath.
A biblical hero known for his incredible strength, Samson, I’m convinced, had a screw loose. True, he isn’t the only vicious Israelite in the Bible. Amnon, David’s son and heir apparent, rapes his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13). David himself was no angel, although his redeeming qualities outweighed his faults.
But I just finished rereading the Samson story in Judges, and it got to me. A nazirite dedicated to God’s service from birth (nazirites leave their hair uncut as well as forego alcohol), Samson marries a Philistine woman. Okay, that distresses his parents, since the Philistines rule over the Israelites, but it’s not emblematic of psychopathic behavior. Besides, the attraction was God’s doing (Judges 14:4). Then the fun starts.
Samson poses an impossible riddle to thirty Philistine men sharing his pre-wedding feast. Frustrated, they threaten his bride and her father’s house. What does Samson do? He goes to Ashkelon and kills thirty of its men (Judges 14). No, the Philistines shouldn’t have threatened. But Samson shouldn’t have pushed their buttons.
It gets worse. Samson goes to see his wife. Her father, believing that Samson dislikes her, has married her to another man. Samson takes revenge. He attaches torches to the joined tails of 150 pairs of foxes. The Philistines’ grain and olive trees burn (Judges 15). But that’s nothing. Granting that “the spirit of the Lord gripped him” (Judges 15:14), Samson uses the jawbone of an ass to slay a thousand Philistines. Later, he sleeps with a whore (Judges 16). Well, he’s only a guy.
Then he meets Delilah. We all know that she cuts his hair, the source of his strength, enabling the Philistines to blind him—a punishment, according to the Talmud (Sotah 9b) for the lust in his eyes—and take him captive. When Samson’s hair grows back, he brings the temple of Dagon down on the Philistines’ heads—and his own. Now he’s a hero.
But that’s our mythos. Here’s part of our reality. On October 16, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, stated that non-Jews exist only to serve Jews. “Why are gentiles needed?” the ninety-year-old Yosef asked. “They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Oct. 16)
Responding to a comment by Ron Laupheimer on my last post, “The Ranting Right and Religions of Peace,” I wrote that Muslims should speak out against the threat posed by Islamists (as opposed to Islam) and that many do, although their words often go unreported. Jews also must speak out when our own religious right (Yosef is spiritual leader of Israel’s right-wing Shas party) offends decency and, in doing so, the Torah he claims to uphold.
It’s enough that we have Samson.