Samson was a character in the Biblical Book of Judges. He is said to have been raised up by God to deliver the Israelites from the Philistines. In the story, God grants him unusual strength, which is facilitated by a Nazirite vow prohibiting him from cutting his hair. His strength and violent temper are illustrated in several colorful stories portraying him as dominant over man and nature. He also succeeds in his charge to battle the Philistines, more through acts of personal vengeance than by any formal military strategy. Eventually the Philistines defeat him by bribing his new love interest, Delilah, into extracting from him the secret to his strength. Once learned, the Philistines cut his hair while he sleeps, at which point he is easily defeated.
The stories of Samson have inspired numerous cultural references, serving as a symbol of brute strength, heroism, self-destruction, and romantic betrayal. This article surveys these references in religion and mythology, art and literature, film and music, and folklore.
"The figure of "Samson the hero" played a role in the construction of Zionist collective memory, and in building the identity of the 'new Jew' who leaves behind exilic helplessness for Israeli self-determination," Benjamin Balint, a writer in Jerusalem, has written.
Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), the founder of Revisionist Zionism wrote a 1926 novel in Russian (English translation in 1930), Samson in which the author makes Samson an assimilated Jew attracted by the surrounding, more sophisticated (and un-philistine) Philistine culture. Considered a basic text of Revisionist Zionism, Jabotinsky's followers found in it numerous hints of contemporary Zionist and Israeli politics. Among other things, the family name of present day Israeli politician Dan Meridor is derived from this book. "Meridor" (literally "Generation of Rebellion") is the name given by Samson to a child in the book.
Some important Twentieth century Hebrew poems have also been written about the Bible hero. More recently, elite Israeli combat units have been named "Samson", and the Israeli nuclear program was called the "Samson Option".
Noam Chomsky and others have said Israel suffers from a "Samson complex" which could lead to the destruction of itself as well as its Arab enemies.
There is an elaboration of the biblical character in Basque mythology which differs in its features from the original. Quite paradoxically, the Basque Samson does not stand for Christian values, but is represented as a giant living in the mountains far from other inhabitants of the villages and the valley; he is a jentil or Basque pagan of the forest. As told in many folk accounts, endowed with might as he is, he launches rocks that lie at the origin of different prominences and hills all over the Basque Country, especially in the west, while in the east the preferred character to account for similar phenomena is the medieval hero Roland, Errolan in Basque.
Samson has been a popular subject for painting and sculpture:
The most detailed film version of the Biblical Samson was the 1949 Cecil B. deMille film Samson and Delilah, starring Victor Mature as Samson. Two made-for-TV films, in 1984 and 1996, retold the story of Samson and Delilah. Another film, Samson, was made in 2018.
The Samson character was featured in a series of five sword-and-sandal adventure films made in Italy in the 1960s, as follows:
Other films based on the story of Samson and Delilah include:
Blind Willie Johnson – "If I Had My Way / I'd Tear the Building Down" (recorded 1927), the lyrics relate to Samson's marriage to Delilah and his slaying of the lion, often covered as "Samson and Delilah"
Louis Jordan – Ain't That Just Like a Woman (1946): "Samson thought Delilah was on the square, Till one night she clipped him all his hair"
In 1965, Bob Dylan wrote "Tombstone Blues" in which he makes a reference to Samson in the lines "I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill/and set him in chains on top of the hill/Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille." The second and third lines are references to Samson's death, while Cecil B. Demille is the director who made the movie depicting the Samson story.
Michael Hurd's pop cantata "Swingin' Samson" (1973) is a toned-down children's musical version of the story.
British rock band Procol Harum has a song called "As Strong as Samson" on their album "Exotic Birds and Fruits" from 1974.
Samson (referred to as 'Sam' and 'Sammy') and Delilah are among the couples mentioned in B.A. Robertson's 1979 song on the pitfalls of love, Bang Bang.
Bad Manners have a song called "Samson And Delilah" that is available in a single version and in a longer "Biblical Version" on the album "Forging Ahead" from 1982.
Mark Alburger's opera-oratorio, Samson and Delilah (The Frank Judges), dates from 1998, with an updated short version, "Sex and Delilah" written for and performed by San Francisco Cabaret opera in May 2009.
Drone/Experimental band Earth (American band) released an album in 2008 entitled The Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull, a reference to Samson's riddle. Although instrumental, the album explores the theme of beauty arising from rot and decay.
Heads Held High, (a melodic hardcore band from Cleveland, Ohio), has a song titled "Samson Gets a Haircut" on their 2008 release, So Say We All.
Samson's interactions with Delilah are referenced in the Moses Hogan piece "Witness," at which point Hogan describes Delilah's cutting of Samson's hair and Samson's reaction towards the Philistines
Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer and pianist of Queen, wrote a song called "My Fairy King" (from their debut album) that has the lyric "dragons fly like sparrows through the air/and baby lambs where Samson dares".
The song "Rastaman Live Up" on Bob Marley's posthumously released album Confrontation, contains the lyrics "Samson slew the Philistines, with a donkey jawbone".
The Grateful Dead played the song "Samson & Delilah" from the mid-1970s and throughout their career. The song is a traditional song, cataloged by Alan Lomax in his encyclopedic "Folk Songs of North America" which Bob Weir learned from Reverend Gary Davis. Dave Van Ronk also sings the song on his "Folksinger" album. The lyrics cover some parts of Samson's history, notably his fight with the lion. Shirley Manson of Garbage fame recently recorded a cover of "Samson & Delilah" for the TV show "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" Season Two premiere episode which is also called "Samson & Delilah".
Indie-rock artist Boy in a Jar has a song called "Six Thieves" that heavily references the story of Samson.
The album Birds of Prey by Godley and Creme features a song "Samson" with references to Delilah.
The song "My Defenses Are Down" from the musical Annie Get Your Gun contains the line, "Like Samson, without his hair".
The Pixies' song "Gouge Away" is based on Samson's story.
Leonard Cohen wrote the song "Hallelujah" which makes references to Samson and Delilah. A later album, Popular Problems contains the song 'Samson in New Orleans', which contains the lines "Stand me by those pillars/Let me take this temple down".
The Cranberries have a song called "Delilah" written from the perspective of a woman fighting off a conniving temptress.
Mandy Moore and Jonathon Foreman (from Switchfoot) have a song called "Someday We'll Know" for the movie A Walk To Remember with references to Samson and Delilah in the chorus.
Bishop Allen released a song called "Empire City" that references Samson with the lines: "Samson suffered the same fame fate, powerless and losing his hair."
New Radicals made a song called "Someday We'll Know" which referenced Samson and Delilah.
Eric "Monty" Morris, vocalist of The Skatalites, made a song called "Strongman Samson" with clear references to the biblical story. Samson is hereby portrayed as "the strongest of men" hero, although all his strength is taken from a woman. Saying that "it's so clear to understand", Morris suggests that women always had such a power over men.
Regina Spektor has a song called "Samson". The song is told from the point of view of his first wife, telling an alternate version of Samson's story in which she cuts his hair and he never kills any Philistine, therefore ending up not being mentioned by the Bible.
Indie-rock band mewithoutYou references the story of Samson twice in the song "In a Market Dimly Lit" from the album Brother, Sister. In the first chorus, the lyrics read, "I'm a donkey's jaw," referencing the weapon used by Samson to slay a thousand Philistines. In the second chorus, singer Aaron Weiss proclaims, "If I was Samson, I'd have found that harlot's blade and cut my own hair short."
"Enter Samson", a parody by Apologetix is about Samson. The song is a parody of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica
Big Daddy Kane references Samson in his song "Ain't No Half Steeppin'."
Deathwish Of Samson is a new metalcore band hailing from the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada.
The song "En Hakkore" by Christian thrash metal band Tourniquet (band) is about the story of Sampson, En Hakkore being the name of the spring that burst forth in answer to his final prayer.
Neil Sedaka recorded the song "Run, Samson, Run" which is based upon the Biblical account. He refers to Delilah as "a cheatin' gal who brought him tragedy" and advises Samson to run from her. At the end of the song, he advises all guys that "there's a little of Delilah in each and every gal."
Alternative singer PJ Harvey mentions the story of Samson and Delilah in her song "Hair."
The Arctic Monkeys music video Black Treacle is a take on the story of Samson and the lion.
Christian comedian Tim Hawkins wrote a parody of the Plain White-T's song "Hey There, Delilah" based on the story of Samson and Delilah.
Bruce Springsteen wrote a song called "Fire" which makes reference to Samson and Delilah.
R&B singer-songwriter Frank Ocean refers to Samson in his song "Pyramids," with the line "I found you laying down with Samson and his full head of hair."
Florence Welch refers to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah in the Florence + The Machine's song "Delilah", with lines like "As I pull the pillars down" or "why can't you let me know?" referring to Delilah asking Samson for the secret of his strength. In the music video of the song, an empowered Welch is seen cutting the hair off to an unknown lover.
Lyle's Golden Syrup has a picture of bees in the lion which Samson had killed, with Samson's riddle Out of the strong came forth sweetness.
The famous Harland & Wolff cranes in Belfast are known as Samson and Goliath (cranes) respectively.
Annual parades of Samson figure in 10 different villages in the Lungau, Salzburg (state) and two villages in the north-west Steiermark (Austria). For more information see Wikipedia in German de:Samsonfigur or French fr:Samson (géant processionnel). Samson is also one of the giant figures at the "Ducasse" festivities, which takes place at Ath, Belgium.
In a 1967 Lost in Space episode, "Collision of Planets," Dr. Smith gains Samson-like strength dependent on his new head of green hair.
The story of Samson is parodied in the animated television series Pinky and the Brain, in the episode "A Little Off the Top." In this story, the Brain attempts to learn the source of Samson's strength, so that he may acquire it and use it to take over the world. The version of Samson that appears here is based on Victor Mature's performance in the film Samson and Delilah. Inexplicably, the Delilah character speaks only Yiddish.
One of the main characters of the animated series The Venture Bros. is named Brock Samson. Like the Biblical hero, he has long flowing hair and incredible strength, as well a short, violent temper. He also is capable of unarmed combat with wild animals (gavials and polar bears, among others), like the Biblical Samson who fought a lion. He also engages in romantic relationships with morally ambiguous women. However, his strength seems to have no relation to his hair; indeed, he cuts it off himself at one point to lay a trap for his rival, with no ill effects.
In the proposed Gargoyles spin-off series, Gargoyles 2198, the lead character was named Samson. Like his ancestor, Goliath, he was strong and chosen for a leadership role at a young age. He leads a small group of gargoyles and humans in a resistance against an alien threat that has invaded the Earth. Little else is known of his character or similarities to his Biblical counterpart, as the series never came to fruition.
In the Donkey Kong Country animated television series, the first episode of the first season, titled "Bad Hair Day", contains explicit references to the Samson story. In the show, Donkey Kong is the protector of the Crystal Coconut, a powerful magical artifact, and the antagonist of King K. Rool curses Donkey Kong to remove his strength to allow him to gather the power he so craves. The curse is set through a verbal incantation and the cutting of the target's hair, the latter of which connects to Samson, and Donkey Kong's strength is only restored when his hair grows back through the usage of Diddy Kong's "Banana bulls-eye".
Within the Marvel franchise, there is a character known as 'Doc Samson' (born Leonard "Leo" Samson), who was exposed to gamma radiation and gained incredible strength. As with most comic book heroes there are multiple versions of this, however, a common trait seems to be that after the radiation exposure, Samson's hair grows at least a foot and takes on a green colouring.
Samson is a playable character in the video game series The Binding of Isaac, first being introduced in the Wrath of the Lamb expansion of the original game. He becomes more powerful the more damage he takes thanks to his Bloody Lust item. The same game also features an item named Samson's Lock, referring to a lock of cut hair, which acts in a similar way to its namesake character.