Biblical narrative is usually straightforward— just the facts. It has been left to later commentators to go beneath this surface to search out the motivation, character, and complexity that bring richer meaning to any story.
A judge, or leader, in the hard time when “there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes,” Samson is the towering biblical hero who destroys Philistines; elite Israeli combat forces have been named for this man of superhuman strength. But reading midrashically for what is unsaid and weighing each word in the Hebrew, David Grossman, the prominent Israeli writer, finds another Samson — a lost child who is a mystery to himself, who never understands the destiny that God has thrust upon him.
Strangeness and difference surround Samson from before his birth, and he never escapes his sense of alienation or overcomes his loneliness. Walking into dangerous situations, acting impulsively, he courts destruction, and only in destruction does he meet his destiny and finally find meaning. In this powerful and beautiful retelling, Grossman compels us to look again at this familiar story and to see in Samson one of the Jewish people’s most enigmatic heroes.
Lion’s Honey is a volume in The Myths series, which offers accomplished writers an opportunity to retell a great myth of their own choosing.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.