Saturday, November 03, 2007

Was Samson muscular?


This may seem like a strange question to ask, but I came across an internet article, part of which criticized Bible illustrators for depicting Samson as "a man with great muscles". A quote from the article follows...

"In the world, every comic book hero is always trying to do supernatural things with his super powers. Every hero in movies and books are always showing off their super powers. That is why even the children’s bible illustrators draw Samson as a man with great muscles. Delilah and the Philistines continually asked him where his strength lay. They could not figure it out! That means he must have looked quite ordinary, otherwise they would not have asked".

On the surface of it, it seems like a reasonable assumption to make, but the author is missing an important point; We need to remember that the acts of strength displayed by Samson were far above anything that had ever been seen before. These were feats of strength that were beyond imagination!

If Arnold Schwarzenegger fought and killed 1,000 Philistine soldiers, armed only with the jawbone of an ass, or pushed over an enormous Temple housing over 1,000 people with his bare hands, we would be in awe of his strength! We wouldn't say "He was able to do that because of his great physique!" The point is, the size of Samson's muscles, whether large or small, were no indication of his actual strength. People were amazed by his feats of 'supernatural' strength! Strength that was beyond man!

I personally think that Samson would have been well built. His hands for instance would have needed to be fairly large just to grip those huge heavy gates of the city of Gaza that he carried up the hill, and the balance needed for such a feat would have required fairly large feet too.
The fact is, Bible artists love to draw Samson the way they do! and those of us who were brought up on a diet of DC & Marvel comics take any opportunity to draw musclebound heros! I would need a lot more to go on than the quote above before I would consider drawing Samson with the physique of Woody Allen!

Incidentally, If you happen to be a movie producer about to make a 'Samson' movie, you could do a lot worse than casting French rugby player Sébastien Chabal (below) in the title role!

Sébastien Chabal with his baby daughter. photo © Daily Mail 2007

33 comments:

Paul G said...

I think you have to play to the expectations of the reader/audience at times Graham. Especially children, who would laugh at a puny Samson.
As to the question of his physique we can look to the fictional character of Superman as an example. Many people have commentated on the Jewish influences of Superman - his creators were Jewish for example. Superman has great strength that people cannot account for, despite his muscular physique. But that strength can be taken away with exposure to meteorites from his home planet of Krypton.
Samson has great strength that people cannot understand. And his strength could be taken away by cutting his hair.
I agree with you Graham - Samson's feats of strength were so amazing people would be in awe even if he had a powerful physique - because they were above the ordinary. We will never know with certainty if he was muscular or flabby or puny but I would favour muscular - not superhero muscular - but powerful.

Bible artist said...

It's funny that you should mention that Paul because in todays New York Times there's an article by Stephen J Dubner on that very subject, heres an excerpt:

Superman, the first and greatest of the superheroes, was also the most Jewish. He was born into the House of El (“House of God” in Hebrew) on the planet Krypton, which was run by a male council of elders much like the Sanhedrin of ancient Israel. When Krypton was destroyed, Superman mourned its loss much like the Jews mourned the loss of Jerusalem, vowing to keep alive its rituals and language. In time, he learned that a small remnant of Krypton had survived, called Kandor (“here is the generation” in Hebrew). Superman was famous for his red boots, but they were a last-minute change; originally he wore lace-up sandals modeled after Samson’s.
Superman was invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, a pair of high-school students in Cleveland. The only night they couldn’t work on him was Thursday—the breadboard they used for drawing belonged to Joe’s mother, and she needed it to bake her Sabbath challah.


To read the full article go here:
http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.
com/2006/12/13/787/

Paul G said...

That is a coincidence Graham! And what a small world we live in these days. Here I am in America and you tell me about an article in today's New York Times from your home in England!!
There's been some serious study on super-hero cultural origins in recent years.

Bible artist said...

The New York Times is a better read than the Oldham Chronicle. :o)

I also read an article that mentioned the similarity between Superman's parents loading him into his little space pod and sending him to Earth, and baby Moses being placed in the basket and hid in the bulrushes!

Paul G said...

In the newspaper strip origin story Superman's father arranges for a space ark to be built so that many people from Krypton can survive.
Apparently the vast majority of the publishing and comics industry was dominated by Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. Surnames were changed to disguise the fact. Many of the great comic artists and creators were of Jewish ancestry.

Paul G said...

Here are some renowned Jewish comic artists- writers Graham.

Will Eisner. Lou Fine,
Bill Finger (Batman co-creator;
Bob Kane (Batman);
Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four, Captain America artist) - real name Jacob Kurtzberg;
Stan Lee - real name Stanley Martin Lieber;
Joe Kubert, Mort Meskin, Emanuel (Mac) Raboy, Jerry Robinson (Batman); Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel
Joe Simon (Captain America;

zieglarf said...

I just found this blog and am enjoying it so far - especially this discussion going on here. Alot of old Hollywood celebs were also Jewish who changed their names.

But getting back to Samson... I agree that his muscle size was irrelevant to his strength which was from God. I also agree that drawing him muscular is what people expect - If you see a bunch of Bible characters in cartoon it's easy to spot Samson.

That being said, it should be quite funny to draw the opposite. A Woody Allen type defeating an army with a jawbone?

Bible artist said...

Thanks for bringing the conversation back to Samson Zieglarf, I was beginning to think that I might have to change the title of the post from 'Was Samson muscular?' to 'Was Superman Jewish?!

It has made an fascinating off topic discussion though. I'll have to include a post just on this subject!

I never knew that Jack Kirby & Stan Lee were not their real names.

Paul G said...

To answer your question Graham. Given the fact the people who gave birth to Superman were Jewish-American then I have to say Superman is a good Jewish-American boy from Krypton!!

horseman said...

My vote is also muscular - such a depiction communicates things without words. To do it differently will be a distraction from the subject. I think the same holds true when one depicts Christ. It is OK to adjust a few things to suite the preferences of the artist/audience; but if you deviate too far from the look of the icon it becomes a distraction (and I like Grahams depiction of Him a lot).

Back to Sampson – I would like to see someone depict him with the long hair (and long beard?). He had seven locks, right? I have never seen him depicted that way. I don’t think the hockey player’s hair and beard are long enough. I saw this guy one time that had hair that was in braids, or dreadlocks. His hair must have been down to his legs. He kept it bound/tied up on the back of his head and upper back. I picture Samson’s hair looking something like that.

Or, maybe he had giant side locks that looked like… huge logs on the sides of his head – naahhhhh!!!

Paul G said...

Albrecht Durer depicted Samson with long hair in "Samson Killing the Lion" horseman. I'd add a link for you but this blog doesn't accept long links. Just do a search and you'll find it.

Bible artist said...

Actually the Samson picture on the post isn't one of mine horseman. I'm not sure who the artist is.

I have done the story of Samson a long time ago, but it's in my earlier style. I'm looking forward to redoing this story and I'll take into account all comments.

I'm sure that the nation of Israel must have drawn the comparison between themselves and the story of Samson defeating 1,000 Philistines with a jawbone, after the Yom Kippur war in 1973. They were incredibly out-numbered!

Paul G said...

By coincidence there was mention of Samson and Delilah on "Smallville" this evening. Lana Lang was compared to Delilah, gaining the confidence and love of Clark Kent only to betray him after being told the source of his strength.

jumbo said...

This is interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about Samson and Superman at the same time before, though there are some striking similarities.

What I figured about Superman was that he became muscular as a result of using his superhuman strength. This makes sense for Samson so I also have the opinion he was muscular.

I figure:
1. People in that day did more manual labor than today, resulting in more muscle mass.
2. Samson most likely knew he was going to deliver Israel from the Philistines, so he probably prepared himself for war—more muscles.
3. Samson must have gotten or maintained muscle mass from acts done during the times the “Lord came upon him mightily.”
4. Even after his capture (when muscle mass would naturally decline), Samson did force labor as a grinder (Jud. 16:21)

This is quite the site for Biblical artists.

Bible artist said...

Thanks for your contribution Jumbo.
All good points!

Michael said...

to reallyy prove that samson had a great physical stature one would have to realize how far apart the pillars were that he pushed apart my church went to israel and actually visited the ruins and it took two men of decent size to reach either pillar so samson had to be either really really big or an average man with a 10 foot arm span my choice would prob be big big man

Bible artist said...

That's a very good point Michael, thanks for that!
It's very helpful to hear details like that.

Paul G said...

Where is this the exact location of this temple you visited Michael?
I have only been able to locate the following information regarding archaeological finds. Neither indicate a ten foot span between pillars:
Two Philistine temples have been uncovered by archaeologists. One at Tel Qasile, in northern Tel Aviv, and one in Tel Miqne, ancient Ekron, 21 miles south of Tel Aviv. Both temples share a unique design -- the roof was supported by two central pillars! The pillars were made of wood and rested on stone support bases. With the pillars being about six feet apart, a strong man could dislodge them from their stone bases and bring the entire roof crashing down. The archaeological findings match the Biblical story perfectly and attest to the plausibility of the account."

Woody Allen said...

I resent that remark!

Bible artist said...

Sorry Woody! No insult intended!

Patrick said...

This seems to be quite an interesting topic I've never heard of before. ;)
Personally, I think Samson was quite fit enough - not sure, of course, whether that means he looked like a modern-day bodybuilder.

BTW, I know this is quite odd to point out, but ever since the Renaissance came, I've never seen artists show a fully-clothed Samson (based on the little I saw, showing him as a regular man wearing clothes was apparently more comon before that period, when they've seem to just have disappeared) - most depictions I'm aware of show him looking like this Greek god wearing a toga or a loincloth. I agree with you, Mr. Graham: artists do really love their muscular heroes, don't they? ;)

Bible artist said...

That's an interesting point Patrick. In the version of the Samson story illustrated by Victor de la Fuente for the 'Great Bible Discovery' series, Samson is clothed for most of the time and his physique is unspectacular. He also has long blond hair!
What is this obsession that Bible artists have with blond hair?!! Anyway, he is one of the few artists that does 'play down' Samson's build.

John said...

As a Biblical scholar, 3 Masters and a PhD and a published author on Samson, I would say that he was very tall, broad, and very heavily muscled. I base this on 2 things.
1) After Delilah cut his hair and his lost his Divine endowments, he was put to work grinding the millstone- work usually done by a team of blind-folded mules. This would require tremendous strength and a massive physique.
2) His height, based on excavations of Philistine temples which have two supporting pillars, would be about 6&1/2 feet. Saul, Israel's first king was about this tall as well. His diet and regular activity, common to the era, would produce a lean and muscular build.
Also, the question does not realize that the Philistines were superstitious and felt that Samson's strength was because of a charm or amulet, similar to those used by them to gain power and victory in battle.
In summary, yes Samson was very muscular.

Bible artist said...

Great points John, thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

God said He uses the weak.... So the Samson would be that 90 lb. weakling.

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that story tell that he run like gazel when he was running against the lion. If a man is to heavy/muscular biult in comperasent to his height it takes to much effort to move fast. And I would like to meansen again the point that he was "powerful", to be powerful you need speed. Like a boxer. And to much volume and extra weight will make you slow. Thats and fact if you going to run and fight but not when you lift. So let say he was built like and athlet/normal for man, tall like that he had a good range for arms to move to do what had to be done. And let say that the rest was God working trough him giving him something as supernatrual power.
I think he had more the same physique, we know from King David. (And dont forget what he manage to do with the strength from God.

BobbyB said...

When studying the whole millstone/mule topic. One must also take into consideratation that the women of that time commonly would aid in the task using a plate and grinder. It is just as likely, in my opinion, that they forced him to do "women's work" to embarass him further. The Bible does not specify if he was doing the job of the animal or not.

Also, it is not proper to assume he was tall based on the fact that Israel had a tall first king. The average height for a man in that time was anywhere from 5 to 5ft 6in. It is much safer to assume that he was of average height. The Bible does not say that he was taller than normal. When speaking of Saul, the Bible states clearly that he was much taller than average. Also, in other passages, if there were someone who was not of average height, the Bible would specify (Goliath, Zacchaeus).

On the same topic of the Bible being specific any time someone had something different or special about their physical appearance - the Bible many times points out specific things about a person's physical appearance (handsome, beautiful, short, tall, hairy, wild-looking, obese). While I do not think that Samson being small or large changes the message and theological points of the story in any form, I think that it is much safer to make the assumption that he looked pretty average. Yes, he was most likely pretty fit for the same reasons many of you stated above, but I do not think he was any more muscular or tall than the average man.

Anonymous said...

WELL GREAT DISCUSSION ABOUT SAMSON. SUPPORTING THE ARGUMENT OF SAMSON'S PHYSIQUE AS QUITE A "LARGE" MUSCULAR MAN; READ JUDGES 16 vs 26-30. MY POINT IS A TEMPLE WITH A CAPACITY OF AT LEAST 3000 PEOPLE WILL HAVE IT'S 2 CENTER PILLARS WELL SPACED. AND FOR SAMSON TO REST PRESSURE WITH BOTH HANDS ON THOSE PILLARS TO THE EXTENT OF BEING ABLE TO PUSH, HE MUST HAVE BEING A BIG GUY.

Anonymous said...

The scriptures aren't clear, so I suppose it isn't important. Whatever Samson's size, he wouldn't have been the only one of his size, it was his supernatural strength that made him a figure to be reckoned with. Has anyone seen playmobible's retelling of the Samson story?

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=2170812&id=533841022&l=3743a79beb

Anonymous said...

http://www.leviticus11.com/sos.htm

It may seem far-fetched to think that the strength like that of Samson could be attained. In some respect, I agree. The idea of completely acquiring such strength without the supernatural intervention from Jehovah would more than likely be impossible. However, just as air was given to us naturally by Jehovah God, we should not be too quick to assume that superior strength could not be achieved as well. The link I have provided will help give insight as to what Samson did to keep his natural human strength up. Of course, his day-to-day lifestyle was only a factor after following direct commands from God regarding dietary standards and the keeping of his hair.

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, i think he was short and scrawny looking because if he was built like Brock Lesnar or The Hulk, people wouldnt question much how he got his strength or believe it was The Lord in his hands, aint nothing impossible for God just remember David was 17 when he fought Goliath.

George Rancourt Jr said...

Personally i believe as Gods word says he uses the weak things to confound the strong 1 Corinthians 1:27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; the strength of Sampson was not from a physical origin (the flesh) But Gods spirit. it is very possible Sampson was not of a physique of a rippling muscle man but but would of been viewed through the natural eyes as a weak individual by outward appearance .Zechariah 4:6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

George Rancourt Jr said...

Personally i believe as Gods word says he uses the weak things to confound the strong 1 Corinthians 1:27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; the strength of Sampson was not from a physical origin (the flesh) But Gods spirit. it is very possible Sampson was not of a physique of a rippling muscle man but but would of been viewed through the natural eyes as a weak individual by outward appearance .Zechariah 4:6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.