Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson
By David Grossman, translated by Stuart Schoffman
Published 2005, Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Hardback, 155 pages
Israel’s most lauded contemporary writer retells the myth of Samson, one of the most tempestuous, charismatic, and colorful characters in the Hebrew Bible. There are few other Bible stories with so much drama and action, narrative fireworks and raw emotion, as we find in the tale of Samson: the battle with the lion; the three hundred burning foxes; the women he bedded and the one woman that he loved; his betrayal by all the women in his life, from his mother to Delilah; and, in the end, his murderous suicide, when he brought the house down on himself and three thousand Philistines. “Yet, beyond the wild impulsiveness, the chaos, the din, we can make out a life story that is, at bottom, the tortured journey of a single, lonely and turbulent soul who never found, anywhere, a true home in the world, whose very body was a harsh place of exile. For me, this discovery, this recognition, is the point at which the myth — for all its grand images, its larger-than-life adventures — slips silently into the day-to-day existence of each of us, into our most private moments, our buried secrets.I was a little surprised as to what comprised this book, as I expected to find a fictional retelling after the reproduction of Judges 13-16 of the King James Bible. Instead, what follows is a detailed commentary that examines and dissects the Biblical account, using even the original language to understand the full meaning of the text, with all of its nuances and allusions. As many times that I have studied the story of Samson in church growing up, there is apparently quite a bit that I never knew about such an interesting character in Hebrew history.
As any person chosen of God to do His will, Samson is a man plagued by his destiny and how it separates him from the rest of humanity. Though chosen of God from the womb to live as a Nazarite, he is still very much human with human urges. Almost constantly at war with himself, Samson seems to set himself up to be hurt by those he puts his trust in so that he may let loose his anger and rage against those who hold his people captive -- the Philistines. Like so many modern-day psychological head cases, much of his choices are also driven by a need for that hidden something lacking in his relationship with his parents. He looks for it in the wrong places and the wrong women, even paying a visit to a prostitute. He seems to use his strength and anger with an artistic flair, first setting up a group of Philistines at his wedding with an unsolvable riddle, and later finding rather unique ways of further punishing the Philistines, such as using the jawbone of an ass to kill a thousand of them. Furthermore, every verbal account from Samson is spoken poetically.
What I found most interesting is the way that David Grossman explored the account of Samson and Delilah. He alludes that Samson in fact knew the betrayal that Delilah harbored and welcomed it in order to finally shed his God-given destiny. While he ends his life in a final act of redemption, I have to wonder if he did complete the task that God had given him to "begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines."
Despite the intense detail that David Grossman goes into when writing this study of Samson, the book is a very good read and well worth my time.
The Cover: Both the title and the cover image are an interesting choice for the story of Samson, as most people think of his hair first.
First Line: "'Samson the hero' is what every Jewish child, the first time he or she hears the story, learns to call him."
This is an interesting tidbit to begin the commentary on the famous Biblical figure of Samson.
Read For: Read a Myth Challenge, Twenty-Eleven Challenge
*I received this book free of charge from the publisher for review purposes.*