Samson and Delilah


A prominent gullibility tale, and one of the few in the Old Testament that
pays much attention to the victim, is the story of Samson and Delilah (Judges,
16).

Samson was a vicious Israeilite warrior who has killed many Philistines. When Samson falls in love with Delilah, ““the Lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, ‘Coax him and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each
give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.’”

Delilah obliges, and asks asks Samson, “Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you?” Samson falsely tells Delilah, “if they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.”

The lords of the Philistines bring Delilah seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, “and she bound him with them. While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’”

Samson easily snapped the bowstrings and prevailed. This scenario was repeated twice, with Samson telling two more lies (“bind me with new ropes that have not been used,” and “weave the seven locks of my hair with the web and make it tight with the pin”), with the same results.

Delilah comes to Samson a fourth time and asks “how can you say ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me?” Finally, “after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him [so that] he was tired to death,” Samson told her the true secret of his strength: he has never cut his hair.

This time, the Philistines were successful in capturing Samson and gouging out his eyes, after which he gets his revenge (with the help of some grown-back hair and divine intervention) by pulling down the pillars of the Philistine temple, killing himself and 3,000 Philistines.

Samson can be accused of being a naive fool. Delilah wasn’t even being deceptive about her malintent. She straightforwardly asked him to reveal how he could be captured. To his credit, Samson didn’t reveal his cards straight away. He gave her false information three times. But eventually, he relented, after incessant nagging and the “if you really loved me” ploy.

There are a few ways to read this story. One is to take it as an obvious cautionary tale against falling prey to lustful instincts, another is to avoid the dangers of extreme gullibility. But there is another less obvious way to understand it. Samson probably knew he was being deceived, because Delilah wasn’t being very savvy in the way she asked her questions. And yet, he kept her around and continued to oblige her wishes. Eventually, he revealed the truth to her, a truth so valuable that it would cost him his life.

The idea that comes to mind is willful blindness. It is not an uncommon thing in life, to ignore what the obvious. Something may be staring you in the face, and you might choose to ignore it, because it doesn’t fit your narrative. Samson loved Delilah, so it wasn’t so easy for him to think badly of her, no matter what she did. But he ignored the facts, repeatedly, because he was unwilling to follow the argument where it leads. He was in love, and allowed this love to blind him to reality. Therefore, he paid the ultimate price. The blinding force does not need to be the love one has for a woman, but any kind of love. The love of money, prestige, fame, attention can all be blinding forces.

Source: Annals of Gullibility, Greenspan

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