Samson on the Psychiatrist’s Couch

“…and he went down to Ashkelon and struck down thirty men of the town and took their spoil and gave the garments to those who had told the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house.” – Judges 14: 19

Can you imagine Samson sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch talking about his feelings? The scene is rather comical to say the least. The poor psychiatrist would have a hard time trying to uncover the root cause of all his troubles. After all, Samson grew up with decent parents who stayed married and seemed to genuinely love him after years of barrenness. His parents remain involved in his life, loving him despite his volcanic temper and self-destructive choices. (1)

In an attempt to evaluate this ancient warrior pre modern mental health standards, four physicians wrote a research letter about the mental health status of Samson in the Archives of General Psychiatry. (2)

The research letter was cited in the aforementioned New York Times article:

They argue that the son of Manoah — who lied to his parents, stole from his neighbors, brawled with regularity and killed with abandon — is a classic example of someone suffering from antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). In the psychiatric association’s diagnostic manual, antisocial personality disorder is described as ‘a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.’ The condition is often associated with criminals and con men, but can also, experts say, be found among those with cleaner rap sheets — politicians, for example. The letter’s authors met to consider Samson’s case during a brief lull in their work day. They determined that Samson’s behavior, as described in Judges 13 to 16, met the diagnostic criteria for deceitfulness, a failure to conform to social norms and defiance of the law, impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness, flagrant disregard for the safety of self and others, and a lack of remorse for his actions. (3)

The lead author, Dr. Eric L Altschuler, a research fellow at the UC San Diego said that Samson met six of the seven criteria, and only three are required to meet the clinical diagnosis.

Samson also, apparently, was a bully, a thief, and a liar. Altschuler and his co-authors cite a number of questionable acts as evidence of his ASPD diagnosis including: his failure to conform to social norms by torching the Philistines fields and then refusing arrest; his repeated lying to his parents, including not telling them that he had killed a lion; his impulsivity as evidenced by his burning of the Philistine fields; his repeated involvement in physical fights, bullying, and cruelty to animals; his reckless disregard for the safety of others – he was reported to have taken on and killed no less than a 1000 Philistines; and his lack of remorse, as evidenced by his gloating after the killing of 1000 men….It should be noted that Samson also displayed many of the behaviors listed in the criteria for conduct disorder…such as fire setting, cruelty to small animals, bullying, initiating physical fights, using a weapon (jawbone of ass), and stealing from a victim. If his conduct disorder did not start when he was younger than fifteen, Samson was quite young. (4)

Despite Samson’s imperfections, God still chose to use him to accomplish His purposes. Take some time to reflect on how God has used you despite your imperfections. 

1.    “Samson Diagnosis: Antisocial Personality Disorder, With Muscles,” The New York Times, February 20, 2001

2.    “Biblical Hero Samson May Have Been Sociopath as Well as Strongman, According to New Research,” ScienceDaily, February 26, 2001

3.    The New York Times, op. cit.

4.    ScienceDaily, op. cit.

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