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Excerpt from LION'S HONEY
By David Grossman


'Samson the hero' is what every Jewish child, the first time he or she hears the story, learns to call him. And that, more or less, is how he has been represented over the years, in hundreds of works of art, theatre and film, in the literatures of many languages: a mythic hero and fierce warrior, the man who tore apart a lion with his bare hands, the charismatic leader of the Jews in their war against the Philistines, and, without a doubt, one of the most tempestuous and colourful characters in the Hebrew Bible.

But the way that I read the story in the pages of my bible - the Book of Judges, chapters 13 to 16 - runs against the grain of the familiar Samson. Mine is not the brave leader (who never, after all, actually led his people), nor the Nazirite of God (who, we must admit, was given to whoring and lust), nor just a muscle-bound murderer. For me, this is most of all the story of a man whose life was a never-ending struggle to accommodate himself to the powerful destiny imposed upon him, a destiny he was never able to realize nor, apparently, fully to understand. It is the story of a child who was born a stranger to his father and mother; the story of a magnificent strongman who ceaselessly yearned to win his parents' love - and, therefore, love in general - which in the end he never received.

There are few other Bible stories with so much drama and action, narrative fireworks and raw emotion, as we find in the tale of Samson: the battle with the lion; the three hundred burning foxes; the women he bedded and the one woman that he loved; his betrayal by all the women in his life, from his mother to Delilah; and, in the end, his murderous suicide, when he brought the house down on himself and three thousand Philistines. Yet beyond the wild impulsiveness, the chaos, the din, we can make out a life story that is, at bottom, the tortured journey of a single, lonely and turbulent soul who never found, anywhere, a true home in the world, whose very body was a harsh place of exile. For me, this discovery, this recognition, is the point at which the myth - for all its grand images, its larger-than-life adventures - slips silently into the day-to-day existence of each of us, into our most private moments, our buried secrets.


There is a point in the Samson story - the moment when he falls asleep on Delilah's lap - that seems to absorb and encapsulate the entire tale. Samson withdraws into his childish, almost infantile self, disarmed of the violence, madness, and passion that have confounded and ruined his life. This is, of course, also the moment when his fate is sealed, for Delilah is clutching his hair and the razor, and the Philistines outside are already relishing their victory. In another moment his eyes will be plucked out and his power extinguished. Soon he will be thrown into prison and his days will be ended. Yet it is now, perhaps for the first time in his life, that he finds repose. Here, in the very heart of the cruel perfidy that he has surely expected all along, he is finally granted perfect peace, a release from himself and the stormy drama of his life.

LION'S HONEY, © 2005, David Grossman, Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Canongate Booksa)

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