The Man Who Wore Dreadlocks: What The Bible Says about Samson
By Betty Miller
Many people who have viewed the TV mini-series of The Bible that débuted in March of 2013 have asked whether Samson was black, like the actor who portrayed him. To answer this we must look at scripture, as the Bible reveals the truth regardless of human suppositions, opinions and ideas.
Before discussing this topic, we should note that the producers’ motive in filming this series was to better acquaint this generation with the Bible. And I do believe they are accomplishing this. They kept the theme of this production closely in line with the Bible–showing that Bible stories are real and that the God of the Bible is with His people. It was emphasized that the same God is still here for all who will turn to Him in faith and repentance. Since some are asking if casting Samson as a black man in this series is really in the Bible, we will first respond by stating that most importantly a new generation is learning the amazing stories in the Bible. I applaud them for bringing forth such a challenging work.
Almost all Bible movies over the years have taken poetic license with the stories to make them more realistic. However, the additional scenes or changes in interpretation typically are to make the story more appealing to a modern audience. Perhaps the authors of this series wanted to take a nontraditional approach to gain more social and cultural impact with a Samson who wore dreadlocks.
However, as a teacher of the Word of God, when people ask me a direct question about the accuracy of something, in all good conscience I feel I should reply forthrightly, especially since BibleResources.org is in the public forum. Although I have only seen the first two series at this time, I have noted some things that do not line up exactly with the Word of God in the story about Samson.
What the Bible Says about Samson
Samson was from the Israelite tribe of Dan. According to the Bible, the Danite tribe consisted of the descendants of Dan, a son of Jacob and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant (Genesis 30:40). In the Biblical account, Dan is one of the two children of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid and one of Jacob’s wives, the other child of Bilhah being Naphtali. Some scholars see this as indicating that the authors saw Dan and Naphtali as being not of entirely Israelite origin (being descendants of handmaids rather than of full wives) so I can only presume that may be why they portrayed Samson as black in this movie series; however, the Bible does not say Samson was black, nor that he was not of the Jewish race. This is theory, in my opinion, as the Bible does not tell us what color of skin Samson had. Certainly there is a possibility there were Ethiopians who may have been black who joined the original Israelites. Moses married one. (Moses’ first wife Zipporah was “Shemitic” (descended of Noah’s son Shem). However, Moses married a second time to a woman from Ethiopia (Kush)–whose name is never mentioned. This can be found in the Bible: Numbers 12:1: And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.)
Since the Bible pointed out that Moses married a black woman, it stands to reason if Samson was black, the scripture would have also noted that, even as it did concerning the Ethiopian in the New Testament that Phillip witnessed to. With the mention of the Ethiopian in the New Testament and the one Moses married, this seems further proof that Samson was not black since the scripture did not record it, as in other places in scripture.
Some have written us, questioning this portrayal, as it has created some confusion because the scriptures do not say that he was black. Even previous older movie depictions show him as a Caucasian, an Israelite. The Bible tells us he was a Hebrew judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. Portraying him as black will not matter for most people’s understanding, but for true students of the Bible it is important to defend the accuracy of the Bible. However, the portrayal of Samson being black does not change the impact of the story of Samson in this movie. Here is what the Bible says about the genealogy of Samson. We want to point you to the entire thirteenth chapter of Judges for the whole story.
Judges 13: 2And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
3And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
4Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:
5For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.
Samson was that son.
As a defender of the accuracy of the Bible, we can point out other deviations from the scripture in this mini-series story of Samson, as well. The Bible did not say that Delilah cut off his hair. It states that she caused him to sleep (which could have meant she got him drunk) on her lap and then she called a man servant in to shave his head. The seven locks the Bible spoke of were probably braids (Judges 16:19). It also appeared to me in the movie there were more than seven locks on the black man’s head. (The seven locks have a spiritual meaning.)
Now it is not a great departure from Scripture to show Delilah cutting his hair as she was the instigator behind the act. However, to be totally accurate, we must acknowledge that the Word of God said that a man shaved his head while he slept in Delilah’s lap. A contributor to his loss of strength could also have been that he broke his Nazarite vow of refraining from drinking alcohol, because he never woke up while his head was being shaved so he must have been in a drunken stupor.
Judges 16 (KJV):
19And she made him sleep upon her knees; and she called for a man, and she caused him to shave off the seven locks of his head; and she began to afflict him, and his strength went from him.
20And she said, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson. And he awoke out of his sleep, and said, I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.
Other instances in which the producers take poetic license in some scenes stir me to comment, too. I do not approach this casting of Samson from any racist viewpoint, as we have many black brothers and sisters that are wonderful saints of God and they have my utmost respect and admiration. However, because many people who have never read the Bible will believe what they see, they might not understand that Samson was an Israelite and a Hebrew judge of Israel. This is important because of the spiritual types in the Bible. It will not matter for most people’s understanding, but for true students of the Word, it is very important in the understanding of Bible doctrine. Personally, I think it would have been better if they had not portrayed Samson as black, as it raises more questions than answers, especially since the scripture is silent on this matter and even previous movies portrayed him as a Caucasian Israelite.
Another departure from scripture in the movie was the scene that depicted Dagon’s house collapsing immediately after Samson’s eyes were put out. This did not happen right away, but there was a time lapse, as Samson was first taken to the prison house for a time and forced to grind at the mill. (The spiritual lesson we learn from this, is that when one sins, they can end up grinding at the mill of bondage in spiritual blindness.) Later after Samson’s hair began to grow again, he was taken to the house of Dagon where he used his last act of strength to destroy his enemies along with about 3,000 of the Philistines when he pushed on the house’s pillars causing the whole house to collapse. (Go to Judges 16 to read the entire story as recorded in the Bible.)
All For God’s Glory
I am rejoicing that someone would invest their time and talents to produce and show this great series. I do not think that it is appropriate to criticize this work because of the lesser scriptural inaccuracies, when overall, so far, they have kept the stories in the Spirit of the Bible. It is better to have an overall knowledge of the Bible than none at all. This generation is in great need of recognizing the God of the Bible and this series acknowledges Him.
The bottom line: We all need to learn more about the Bible. Our questions should drive us to read God’s Word to see if videos, movies and sermons line up with the Bible records, instead of solely depending on others to tell us what it says. Bible study is rewarding and fun. God can, and will, reveal to every true seeker the answers we are seeking if we will begin to read and study the Bible. In regard to The Bible series, we praise the Lord for every work that brings glory to God. We pray that the Lord will bless this work to direct people to read the Bible, so they can know the God of the Bible.
You can use the Bible search feature at www.BibleResources.org to personally study and search the Bible for topics of your interest in several different translations.
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Betty Miller has written several books on other topics as well. To view titles or purchase those books visit our bookstore.