The story of Samson and Delilah is recounted in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Judges. This famous tale of lust and betrayal has captured imaginations for centuries and this seductive siren—always depicted as a real knockout (of course), has made her way into the work of painters, sculptors and filmmakers.
The biblical account is spare on the details about Delilah. She lived in a valley called Sorec (or Sorek, depending on who is doing the transliterating) and her name seems to derive from the Hebrew word delal–'to weaken.' Delilah is thought to have been Philistine, although her nationality is never explicitly stated. At the time, there was a bitter animosity between the Jews and the Philistines. Samson, hero and judge of the Children of Israel, was becoming a real nuisance to the Philistines, so they exploited his biggest weakness—he just couldn't seem to resist beautiful women.
The princes of the Philistines sent Delilah to seduce the hero and find out what sort of magic made him invulnerable. Each of them ponied up 1,100 silver pieces to her, which was apparently a great deal of money. Seducing the reckless and wanton hero wasn't hard, but getting him to divulge his secret turned out to be a little more involved. Every time Delilah asked Samson about the source of his power, he would concoct a lie. She would then try whatever he told her could rob him of his power, it would not work, and she would be disappointed and start begging again. The hero probably should have wised up after a couple of goes at this game, but where women were concerned Samson was far from the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Samson finally caved in and told Delilah that his invulnerability and strength came from strict adherence to his Nazarite vows, which prevented him from drinking booze or cutting his hair but not from cuddling with suspicious foreign women who wanted his secrets. Delilah shaved his head while he slept; no longer up to code on his vows, the blessing was rescinded. The Philistines blinded him and took him away. He got the last bitter laugh, however, praying for the strength to return one more time and bringing the house down (literally) at the Temple of Dagon at Gaza.
Some scholars have suggested that Delilah's name is actually a form of de-leilah, which means 'of the night.' Since the name Samson is related to the word for the sun, (shemesh), that would most certainly pit the hero and seductress as fundamental enemies. Many female demons and sundry feminine troublemakers in mythology have been associated with darkness. The name of the famous demoness Lilith, from Jewish folklore (as well as the show Cheers) is related to this root word and could be loosely translated as 'night woman.' In the days before streetlights and automobiles made moving around after dark a lot safer, the night was a very daunting and dangerous time. The disorienting shroud of darkness makes accidents more likely and criminals and predators can hide in the gloom, waiting to make short work of uncautious wayfarers. Mythology and folklore is rife with creepy boogeymen (and boogeywomen, of course, more to our point) who skitter about in the dark places of our imaginations.
Scripture doesn't tell what became of the Philistine femme fatale after she parted company with Samson. Perhaps she was one of the many who died in Dagon's temple, as the massive stone roof (and the multitude who had been partying up there) rained down on those inside. Or maybe she took her ill-gotten silver and moved on to live the high life in a far-away town. She lives on in our cultural imagination—beautiful, seductive and dangerous.
Beck, Mordechai, "Wherein Lies Your Strength", Parabola Magazine, Winter 2002, pp58-61
Davis, John D. "A Dictionary of the Bible" (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1942).
Martin, William C., "A Layman's Bible Encyclopedia" (the Southwestern Company, Nashville, 1964).
Buttrick, G.A. et al, "the Interpreter's Bible" volume 2 (Abingdon Press, New York, 1953).
the Catholic Encyclopedia, on-line at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04605a.htm