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Lion's Honey by David Grossman

Lion's Honey (original 2005; edition 2006)

by David Grossman

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2551444,916 (3.36)27
Title:Lion's Honey
Authors:David Grossman
Info:Isis Large Print Books (2006), Edition: large type edition, Hardcover, 152 pages
Collections:Literary criticism, Mythology & fairy tale

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Lion's Honey: The Myth of Samson by David Grossman (2005)



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English (12)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (14)
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I was a little surprised as to what comprised this book, as I expected to find a fictional retelling after the reproduction of Judges 13-16 of the King James Bible. Instead, what follows is a detailed commentary that examines and dissects the Biblical account, using even the original language to understand the full meaning of the text, with all of its nuances and allusions. As many times that I have studied the story of Samson in church growing up, there is apparently quite a bit that I never knew about such an interesting character in Hebrew history.
As any person chosen of God to do His will, Samson is a man plagued by his destiny and how it separates him from the rest of humanity. Though chosen of God from the womb to live as a Nazarite, he is still very much human with human urges. Almost constantly at war with himself, Samson seems to set himself up to be hurt by those he puts his trust in so that he may let loose his anger and rage against those who hold his people captive -- the Philistines. Like so many modern-day psychological head cases, much of his choices are also driven by a need for that hidden something lacking in his relationship with his parents. He looks for it in the wrong places and the wrong women, even paying a visit to a prostitute. He seems to use his strength and anger with an artistic flair, first setting up a group of Philistines at his wedding with an unsolvable riddle, and later finding rather unique ways of further punishing the Philistines, such as using the jawbone of an ass to kill a thousand of them. Furthermore, every verbal account from Samson is spoken poetically.
What I found most interesting is the way that David Grossman explored the account of Samson and Delilah. He alludes that Samson in fact knew the betrayal that Delilah harbored and welcomed it in order to finally shed his God-given destiny. While he ends his life in a final act of redemption, I have to wonder if he did complete the task that God had given him to "begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines."
Despite the intense detail that David Grossman goes into when writing this study of Samson, the book is a very good read and well worth my time. ( )
  JacobsBeloved | Nov 25, 2013 |
Fascinating reflection on the story of Samson as recounted in Judges, chapters 13 - 16. Amazing how much the author manages to squeeze out of the tiniest details. ( )
  Robertgreaves | May 10, 2013 |
Grossman has not retold the myth of Samson, as other authors have done with other myths in the same series. He was written an essay of literary criticism and speculation that relies on the author's personal imagining and impressions rather than anything objectively drawn from the text. Whether or not Samson's mother and father stood beneath Samson's hands, dancing and trying to catch honey in their open mouths as he held it above their heads, for example, seems a bit fanciful, to say the least, and provides little new insight to the reader.

If Grossman was not going to actually retell the tale, I would have been much more interested to read his thoughts on how this myth relates to Israel's present view of itself, and how its symbolism compares to that of David and Goliath, for example.

Interesting, but I feel it missed the mark. ( )
  Laurenbdavis | Dec 26, 2012 |
I never liked Samson. I've said before that if the two of us meet someday in heaven, there will probably be a personality clash to end all clashes. I'm hoping that my new heavenly body won't be quite so easy to beat up.

Then I read David Grossman's little book. David carries us deep into the mind--nay, the very heart--of this ancient hero, to uncover what makes him tick. Sampson has been transformed from a turbulent, macho man into a needy, troubled misfit. A muscle-bound one, no less, which makes for an explosive combination.

I like him even less this way. I would shake Delilah's hand for uncovering his secret. No, not his long hair, but the inner child that longs to be normal, which she then carefully and deliberately manipulates.

Yeah, I'm fine with the tragic ending, Samson deserved it. Nevertheless, David's clever retelling succeeds in adding life to the myth. Kudos! David draws upon various Hebrew traditions to spice up Samson's twisted personality, then leaves the poor man without even a decent shrink. How else could the story end?

Sorry, David, I never did feel any sympathy for your guy. But I absolutely loved reading your story. ( )
  DubiousDisciple | Dec 26, 2011 |
"Important, but not quite loved." -Thoughts on Lion's Honey by David Grossman (translated from Hebrew by Scott Schoffman)

I am no stranger to the story of Samson; I studied in a private, religious school for 13 years, during which I was - for lack of a better, or nicer, word - force-fed the Bible and its stories*. Samson's feats of strength (the only one I was ever able to remember was the one at the end, really - collapsing the two pillars and killing three thousand Philistines in one blow) and his treacherous, short-lived romance with Delilah ("you are my sweetest downfall," so sings Regina Spektor) made a mark on me early on, if only because a) every child remembers stories of superhuman feats, b) Samson and Delilah was my first fatalist love story - I was yet to be introduced to Romeo and Juliet, and c) I was, at a very young age, wondering why Samson had to die together with the Philistines - sure, he had his eyes gouged out and was weak from his recent haircut, but if God really loved Samson, shouldn't He have saved him? Enveloped Samson in a force field while the arena tumbled down around him, perhaps?

I didn't find the answer to that question in Lion's Honey, David Grossman's interpretation (or maybe it's called an analysis?) of the story of Samson (the Book of Judges, chapter 13-16, in case you want to brush up on biblical history). However, Grossman did shed quite the new light on Samson that made me go "why didn't I think of that?" and "oh my ... goodness, he's right!": that Samson was - and these are my words, not Grossman's - a misunderstood freak who never realized that he was exploited (nationalised was Grossman's term) by God, and that his womanizing (which really is too big a word in his case; does being with three women - not even simultaneously, no - count as womanizing? Then again it was the biblical times) was in truth a need for intimate connection which he'd lacked his entire life, beginning with his miraculous conception (they say his mother was barren, but hey, the patriarch should be under suspicion for infertility, too), ending with his first love Delilah's treachery (the three times she tried to harm him should have been enough of a warning - but, alas, the poor guy was in love) and ultimately leading to his demise under the two pillars with the Philistines (which in any case looked like a suicide but since it's in the Bible, it counts as a sacrifice).

Grossman wasn't as blunt, though.

The exploration of Samson's life is so detailed, so intricate, that Grossman even had footnotes; his discussion alone of how an angel informed Samson's mother of her impending divine pregnancy ate up the first 30 pages of the book. That Samson was a misunderstood person "who has been planted in the world and operated as a lethal weapon of divine will," at the same time clueless as to his purpose in life - "He goes through life like a walking enigma, marvelling over his secret, his riddle." - and his greatest struggle being pre-destined for such greatness as God's instrument (or puppet, depending on how one views it), a destiny which has made him different, an outcast, when all he ever wanted was to fit in. His story is littered with allusions to his great disconnect - with his parents, his people, even to himself; Samson was larger than life, yet despite his great strength, he was emotionally inadequate for the job. "How astonishing and poignant, this gulf between enormous physical strength and an immature, childlike soul."

Grossman's interpretation of the story of Samson is so far, far removed from what I've grown up with; Scott Schoffman's translation is delicious in its simplicity - what could have turned out to be a boring, seemingly academic book became vivid in giving a new (albeit quite the eccentric) definition of one of the Bible's greatest heroes. I was honestly expecting a work of fiction when I picked up the book, but I'm glad I was wrong.

Samson's story, though full of great feats of strength, ended sadly with his death; Lion's Honey, however, has made me even more melancholic, sadder for a man whose greatest wish was "that one person love him simply, wholly, naturally, not because of his miraculous quality, but in spite of it."

I hope he didn't die in vain.

PS. A thought, in retrospect: everyone's trying to be different, "but maybe it is not a weakness, an illness, to be like everyone else."

* I have nothing against the Bible, though. In fact, my copy is quite the confidante (I hide small notes and the occasional rainy-day bill between its pages) and great giver of advice (the occasional Bible-dipping, as introduced by Augusten Burroughs' Running with Scissors). I'm not trying to be blasphemous, I swear.

Originally posted here. ( )
  akosikulot-project52 | Feb 2, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Grossmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bamberger, ShulamithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schoffman, StuartTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067697421X, Hardcover)

A consideration of one of the Bible’s most powerful stories from a leading Israeli writer In this fascinating reexamination of the story of Samson, David Grossman goes beyond the surface of the familiar tale to look into what the life of this extraordinary man must have been like. What it felt like to have been “chosen” to release his people from the yoke of the Philistines, and yet alienated from them by his very otherness; what moved him to his acts of wild vandalism and his self-destructive passions; why he chose to keep some things secret, but not the most significant secret of all. We are left with the troubling knowledge that Samson bore too heavy a burden even for a man of his supernatural strength to bear alone.

“There are few other Bible stories with so much drama and action, narrative fireworks and raw emotion, as we find in the tale of Samson: the battle with the lion; the three hundred burning foxes; the women he bedded and the one woman that he loved; his betrayal by all the women in his life, from his mother to Delilah; and, in the end, his murderous suicide, when he brought the house down on himself and three thousand Philistines. Yet beyond the wild impulsiveness, the chaos, the din, we can make out a life story that is, at bottom, the tortured journey of a single, lonely and turbulent soul who never found, anywhere, a true home in the world, whose very body was a harsh place of exile. For me, this discovery, this recognition, is the point at which the myth – for all its grand images, its larger-than-life adventures – slips silently into the day-to-day existence of each of us, into our most private moments, our buried secrets.”
–from David Grossman’s introduction to Lion’s Honey

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:37 -0400)

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This is David Grossman's view on the tale of Samson: the battle with the lion; the three hundred burning foxes; the women he bedded and the one woman that he loved; his betrayal by all the women in his life, from his mother to Delilah; and his murderous suicide, when he brought the house down on himself and 3000 Philistines. Originally published: 2.… (more)

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