Was Samson of the Bible a Black Man?

'The Bible' Mini-series' Portrayed a Black Samson

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

"The Bible" mini-series which 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 super hero.

Was a black Samson the correct portrayal of this Bible character?

The quick answer: probably not.

What Did Samson Look Like?

When you think of Samson in the Bible, what kind of character do you see?

What stands out for most Bible readers was his great physical strength. I had always pictured Samson as a well-muscled, Mr. Olympia type. But there's nothing in the Bible to indicate 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 went into action. They were left scratching their heads wondering, "Where does this guy get his strength?" They didn’t see a muscle-bound bound man. They didn’t 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.

In the book of Judges we learn that Samson's father was Manoah, an Israelite from the tribe of Dan. He 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 mini-series 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 indicating 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 father objected, asking, "Isn't there even one woman in our tribe [emphasis mine] or among all the Israelites you could marry ... Why must you go to the pagan Philistines to find a wife?" (Judges 14:3)

So, it's highly unlikely that Samson was as dark-skinned as he was portrayed in part two of "The Bible" mini-series.

Does Samson's Skin Color Matter?

All of these queries raise another question for me: Does it really matter? The casting of Samson as a black man didn't bother me. Curiously, those British accents coming from Hebrew characters seemed  more awkwardly to my senses, more ill-chosen than the color of Samson's skin.

Ultimately, I can resolve to embrace a bit of literary license, especially when the production attempted to faithfully maintain the spirit and essence of the biblical account. I'm thrilled to see the Bible's timeless stories, its miraculous events and life-changing lessons come to life on my television screen. Perhaps somewhat flawed in its interpretation of Scripture, "The Bible" mini-series is far more enriching than most of today's "idiot box" offerings.

One last question: What about Samson's dreadlocks? Absolutely! They nailed it with his hair.