Delilah is a beautiful name on its own merits. As a biblical personage Delilah is forever connected to Samson for their tales are intertwined. As it is told in Judges, Samson is the clear hero of the tale and Delilah is merely the temptress who betrays him. But as in all spiritual accounts there is more here than meets the eye. A spiritual journey is never a linear affair. When reading the story of Samson and Delilah, it immediately becomes clear that something mythical is afoot. The root of Samson’s name is the same as the word shamash, the Hebrew word for sun. The root of Delilah is lila, meaning night. Right away we understand that this story contains apparent opposites, heavenly aspects, the sun and the night, light and dark . . .
Even though Samson is known as a hero, famous for his strength and courage, he actually has a checkered, even cruel, past. As the story is told in Judges, Samson falls in love and plans to marry a Philistine woman from the town of Timnah. As part of his traditional bridal gift, he promises to bring thirty suits of clothing for his Philistine guests. Unlike what we would expect, he doesn’t have the 30 suits of clothing made to order but sets out to murder thirty other Philistines and when they are dead, steal their clothing. Not surprisingly, the Philistines are angry. As the acts of retribution on both sides escalate, Samson burns the Philistines’ fields by taking 300 foxes, tying burning torches to their tails and setting them loose to run through the fields. This is a particularly vicious act because it is done at harvest time which affects the food supply of the whole community.
Vengeance follows vengeance until 3,000 men of Judah arrive to arrest Samson but like his namesake, the sun, he uses the flames to burn through the ropes that bind him when he is arrested.
And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him:
and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him,
and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire,
and his bands loosed from off his hands.
– Judges 15: 14
Each time he answers this question, Delilah goes to the Philistines with the information to prepare an ambush. At each try she ties him up as he describes. As per his instructions, she ties him up variously with “seven fresh tendons that had not been dried,” “new ropes that had never been used,” and a rope woven from “seven locks” of his hair. Each time that Delilah binds him, and the Philistines arrive to capture him, Samson tears off the ropes “like a thread.”
Finally, she pleads to him:
“How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?
You have mocked me these three times,
and have not told me where your great strength lies.”
– Judges 16:15
Samson reveals the true secret – that his hair is the source of his strength. Delilah then proceeds to cut his hair while he was sleeping. This weakens him as “an ordinary man” and the Philistines successfully capture him.
The story of Samson ends when the Philistines gouge his eyes out and make him a “mill slave in the prison.” His hair begins to grow again, and with it his strength. One day the Philistines bring Samson out to entertain them at a festival. He is chained between two pillars to dance for them.
He embraced the two middle pillars that the temple rested upon,
One with his right arm and one with his left, and leaned against them;
Samson cried, “Let me die with the Philistines!” and he pulled with all his might.
The temple came crashing down on the lords and on all
the people in it. Those were slain by him as he died
outnumbered those who had been slain by him when he lived.
– Judges 16:29-30
Traditional commentary shakes its collective head that Samson could be so naïve as to tell Delilah the truth about his strength after she had already betrayed him three times. Traditional commentary only looks through the lens of Samson in this.
But what if this story really is the re-telling of an old myth that was completely different? What if Delilah is the hero, or at least heroic in her own right? What if everything got reversed? And/or what if there are hidden, esoteric secrets embedded within the story. It is a story that certainly captures our imaginations as so many biblical stories do.
Elizabeth Cunningham wrote a wonderful series (one of my favorites) about a Celtic Magdalen named Maeve. Maeve was raised by eight warrior witches. In the first of this fabulous series, Magdalen Rising, Maeve’s eight mothers have a philosophical take on their own story-telling. As explained with Cunningham’s sparkling wit; “A tale was ‘true’ if it was well told.” In that vein, in my next blogpost, I offer my own tale of the mythic Delilah and who She might have been (as well as who Samson was). I will do my best to tell the story well enough so you know it’s true.
Can also be read along with comments at: feminismandreligionblogpost