Lion’s Hon­ey: The Myth of Samson

David Gross­man; Stu­art Schoff­man, trans.

  • Review
By – May 25, 2012

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.

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