Look at Chapters 13 to 16 of the Book of Judges, and what do you see there? Is it Samson the hero, Samson the lummox, or Samson the poster boy for gang moronics, for self-destructive, incommensurate revenge? According to David Grossman, all Jewish children when they first hear the story learn to call him Samson the Hero. He is wrong about this, but then my Jewish childhood was not in Hebrew or in Israel. I recall the Samson story mainly as an early introduction to the power of three. 'The Philistines are upon you, Samson,' Delilah says three times (just as, probably in the same Ladybird series, God called Samuel from his sleep three times before Eli the priest realised Who was on the line). The Samson story fitted comfortably into the familiar format of traditional tales and myth I was reading then (and I suppose too that it readied me for the present-day storytelling of 'education, education, education' and suchlike sorry political rhetoric). A grown-up reading of Samson a few years ago (the same King James Version that is offered at the beginning of Grossman's translated essay) left me initially bewildered and remembering a large, blandly handsome boy of very little brain at school who, when I was 11, was my first boyfriend for about three weeks before he dropped me, and I experienced my first guilty relief at escaping the boredom between the trial-and-error French kisses, even as I smarted at the insult and missed having a hunk for my own to flash at my far more glamorous sisters-in-prepuberty.
LRB 20 July 2006 | PDF Download