Samson is one of the most well-known figures in the Bible. He was gifted with immense physical strength by God and served as a judge over Israel for 20 years (Judges 15:20). Samson is often depicted in popular culture as having long hair in dreadlocks. But did he actually wear his hair this way? Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible says about Samson and examine the evidence about his potential hairstyle.
- The Bible does not explicitly state that Samson had dreadlocks, but it is a common inference from the Nazirite vow he took to not cut his hair.
- As a Nazirite, Samson was set apart and forbidden to cut his hair as a sign of his consecration to God. His uncut hair was the source of his strength.
- Dreadlocks form naturally when hair is allowed to mat and tangle into rope-like strands. This likely could have happened to Samson’s unchecked hair growth over time.
- Samson’s long hair would have been unusual in ancient Israelite culture, where short hair was the norm. So his uncut locks were a visual reminder of his spiritual commitment.
- Ultimately, the importance is not Samson’s hairstyle itself but what it represented about his devotion to God’s purpose.
The Origin of the Dreadlocked Samson Portrayal
Most classic artwork and films portray Samson with long, matted dreadlocked hair. Where did this image come from? The Bible itself never explicitly describes the exact nature of Samson’s hairstyle. It simply states that as a Nazirite, Samson was not allowed to cut his hair:
“For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb” (Judges 13:5 NKJV)
Nazirites like Samson took a special vow of consecration to God’s service. Part of this vow involved not cutting one’s hair for the duration of the vow (Numbers 6:5). So from this, it is reasonably inferred that Samson would have worn his hair quite long. But the leap to assuming his long hair was in structured dreadlocks comes more from artistic license and cultural imaginations of what an unshorn “wild man” hero would look like.
The popular connection of Samson to dreadlocks can be traced back as far as artwork from the mid-1800s. Paintings like James Tissot’s “Samson and the Lion” (1886-96) portray Samson with thick, twisted dreadlocks. Later films like the 1949 Technicolor movie “Samson and Delilah” starring Victor Mature cemented this visual depiction in popular culture. Once this stereotyped image took hold, few questioned it. But is it historically accurate?
The Meaning of Samson’s Long Hair
More important than the specific style of Samson’s hair is what his unshorn locks represented in the Nazirite vow. God gave clear instructions about this when first instituting the Nazirite consecration:
“All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head…he shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord; he shall let the locks of hair on his head grow long.” (Numbers 6:5-6 NKJV)
Not cutting his hair was a visible reminder of Samson’s commitment to God’s purpose. His long hair marked his consecration and separation unto God. Keeping the Nazirite vow was a serious matter. When questioned about this later, Samson strongly affirmed his vow:
“I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me, and I would become weak and be like any other man.” (Judges 16:17 NKJV)
Samson’s uncut hair was intended as a consecration to God, but it took on special meaning as the source of his supernatural strength. Thus, when Samson’s hair was finally shaved and cut, it led to his downfall and enslavement by the Philistines (Judges 16:19-21). The connection between his hair length and strength makes the issue of his hairstyle more than just an incidental matter.
Could Samson’s Long Hair Have Formed Dreadlocks?
If Samson did not cut his hair from birth according to the Nazirite vow, it logically follows that his hair would have grown very long. The Bible describes it as weighing seven “braids” or locks when finally cut (Judges 16:19). What style would his long hair likely have formed?
Dreadlocks happen naturally when hair is allowed to mat and tangle into thick twisted strands. They form through a process of neglect and lack of combing or brushing. Over time, coarse, curly, or kinky hair will start to fuse into thick ropelike locks if left unattended.
As an Israelite man likely with dark, thick curly hair, Samson was a prime candidate for forming dreadlocks. If he took his Nazirite vow seriously and refrained from any haircare, his hair texture would lend itself to tangling into twisted groupings over many years. So it is reasonable to imagine Samson eventually developed something similar to dreadlocks purely by neglect.
There is some debate however around whether true dreadlocks as we know them today could form naturally in the ancient Middle East. Some claim that regular exposure to olive oil and use of bone combs in the region would have made matted locks unlikely. But others argue that ancient Israelites like Samson still potentially wore proto-dreadlock styles. Whether or not Samson’s hair tangled into the neatly structured dreadlocks often depicted is hard to prove definitively.
Samson’s Hair in Context of Ancient Israelite Culture
To understand Samson’s unusual hairstyle, it helps to look at norms for hair in ancient Israelite society. For Israelite men at the time, short hair was the standard. A classic “bowl cut” hairdo was common, as seen in Egyptian art and the Mesha Stele. Men’s hair was typically trimmed short for practical reasons of coolness and cleanliness in a hot climate.
Long hair on men went against cultural norms and was seen as an abnormality in most cases. When Absalom rebelled against his father King David, the Bible notes his unusually lengthy hair which he cut only once a year (2 Samuel 14:25-26). Nazirites like Samson who abstained from haircuts had exceptionally long locks compared to contemporaries.
For an ordinary Israelite, leaving one’s hair to grow long and wild was eccentric. But for the supernaturally strong Samson, it served as a mark of his otherworldly power and extraordinary status as a judge of Israel. As one set apart by God, he did not have to conform to regular cultural conventions. His unshorn hair visibly distinguished him for God’s service in contrast to social norms.
The Important Symbolism of Samson’s Hair
While Samson’s specific hairstyle is uncertain, the symbolic meaning of his uncut hair isclear in Scripture. His long locks represented:
- Consecration to God’s purpose – The Nazirite vow was one of complete devotion to serving the Lord. Not cutting his hair demonstrated Samson’s commitment.
- Separation from the world – His unusual hair separated him from normal society. This visual reminder kept Samson set apart for God’s work.
- Supernatural strength – His long hair was the source of his miraculous power. Cutting it sapped his strength.
- Fulfillment of God’s call – Samson’s birth was foretold by an angel. His unshorn hair fulfilled this destiny.
- Mission to deliver Israel – As a Nazirite judge, Samson was dedicated to protecting Israel from Philistine oppression.
The external feature of his long hair reflected the deeper spiritual realities at work in Samson’s life and calling. In this way, his unique hairstyle testified to God’s work more than just being an incidental fact. The outward presentation of Samson revealed his inward consecration to God’s purposes.
Conclusion: The Message Beyond the Locks
In the final analysis, Samson’s legendary locks reveal important spiritual truths that transcend questions around his specific hairstyle. Unanswered details about dreadlocks vs. braids vs. matted strands miss the deeper meaning behind this visible feature. Samson’s uncut hair marks his calling as a Nazirite judge empowered by God Himself to deliver Israel. This special status separated him from the norm to fulfill divine purposes.
The true takeaway is not whether Samson looked like Bob Marley. Rather, it’s what Samson’s unique hairstyle represented about his relationship to God. His external presentation proclaimed a life dedicated to the Lord’s work. Though an imperfect hero, the faithful commitment symbolized through Samson’s long hair remains exemplary. The message of his locks extends far beyond hairsplitting historical details to touch on timeless spiritual values.
Samson’s hair continues to speak today. It testifies to the importance of visibly setting oneself apart to serve God’s plan. It reminds us that true strength comes from keeping our vows to the Lord. And it declares that God can use even the most flawed servant to accomplish His redeeming work. For modern believers, there are lessons to learn from Samson’s story that reach deeper than appearances. Just as his long hair marked him for God’s purpose, we too are called to devote ourselves visibly to the Lord’s work in the world.