Was Samson of the Bible a Black Man?

Did 'The Bible' miniseries correctly portray a black Samson?

Black Samson and his Mother.
Joe Alblas / Courtesy of the History Channel

"The Bible" TV mini-series that aired on the History Channel in March 2013 caused quite a flurry of online queries regarding the skin color of Samson, the Old Testament's enigmatic, self-indulgent superhero. But was a black Samson the correct portrayal of this Bible character?

The quick answer: probably not.

What Did Samson Look Like?

Samson was an Israelite and a Hebrew judge of Israel. He was set apart from birth as a Nazirite, a holy man who was to honor God with his life. Nazirites took a vow to abstain from wine and grapes, to not cut their hair or beard, and to avoid contact with dead bodies. God called Samson as a Nazirite to begin the deliverance of Israel from bondage to the Philistines. In order to do that, God gave Samson a special gift.

Now, when you think of Samson in the Bible, what kind of character do you see? What stands out for most Bible readers is Samson's great physical strength. Most of us picture Samson as a well-muscled, Mr. Olympia type. But nothing in the Bible indicates that Samson had a powerful-looking body. 

When we read the stories of Samson in the book of Judges, we realize that he amazed people when he sprang into action. They were left scratching their heads wondering, "Where does this guy get his strength?" They did not see a brawny, muscle-bound man. They did not look at Samson and say, "Well, of course, he's got incredible power. Look at those biceps!" No, the truth is, Samson probably looked like an average, ordinary guy. Except for the fact that he had long hair, the Bible doesn't give us a physical description.

It's important to note that the symbol of Samson’s separation to God was his uncut hair. His hair was not the source of his strength. Rather, God was the true source of his power. His incredible strength came from God's Spirit, who enabled Samson to do superhuman feats.

Was Samson Black?

In the book of Judges, we learn that Samson's father was Manoah, an Israelite from the tribe of Dan. Dan was one of the two children of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid and one of Jacob’s wives. Samson's father lived in the town of Zorah, about 15 miles west of Jerusalem. Samson's mother, on the other hand, is unnamed in the biblical account. For this reason, the producers of the television miniseries may have assumed her heritage to be unknown and decided to cast her as a woman of African descent.

We know for certain that Samson's mother worshiped and followed the God of Israel. Interestingly, there is a strong hint in Judges 14 that Samson's mother was also from the Jewish tribal lineage of Dan. When Samson wanted to marry a Philistine woman from Timnah, both his mother and his father objected, asking, "Isn't there even one woman in our tribe or among all the Israelites you could marry... Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?" (Judges 14:3 NLT, emphasis added).

So, it is highly unlikely that Samson was black skinned as he was portrayed in part two of "The Bible" miniseries.

Does Samson's Skin Color Matter?

All of these queries raise another question: Does the color of Samson's skin matter? The casting of Samson as a black man ought not to bother us. Curiously, those British accents coming from Hebrew characters seemed more awkward and ill-chosen than the color of Samson's skin.

Ultimately, we would do well to embrace a bit of literary license, especially since the television production attempted to faithfully maintain the spirit and essence of the biblical account. Was it not thrilling to see the Bible's timeless stories, its miraculous events, and life-changing lessons come to life on the television screen? Perhaps somewhat flawed in its interpretation of Scripture, "The Bible" miniseries is far more enriching than most of today's "idiot box" offerings.

And now, one last question: What about Samson's dreadlocks? Did the miniseries get that right? Absolutely! The show most certainly nailed it with Samson's hair.