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I've heard it claimed that the expression "Shimshon HaGibor" (Samson the Mighty) [as a descriptive of Shimshon in Tanach] was invented by the Zionists, to promote their "strong Jew" narrative. Is this true?

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Where do you see this expression in use? – Isaac Moses Aug 17 '11 at 3:13
@Isaac - Are 185,000 results enough? google.com/… – Dave Aug 17 '11 at 5:05
When you say 'zionists' which ones do you mean? I don't know about the 'strong Jew' narrative pre 1920s, but I do know that 'Shimshon Hagibor' was used in an 1890 yiddish play. – avi Aug 17 '11 at 5:57
@Dave That'll do. – Isaac Moses Aug 17 '11 at 9:09
1890s is not technically before 'modern zionism'.. The 'first Aliya' was in 1880s. Thus my question :) – avi Aug 18 '11 at 8:36

The rumor is false. The earliest I can find the phrase 'Shimshon HaGibur' goes back to 1831, long before modern zionism or Hertzl.

It can be found in the book צמח דוד

Google books also shows other phrases such as Shimshon our Hero from books in 1801, but those are in English and not the exact phrase. I would not be surprised to find it occurring even earlier than that.

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Firstly, the צמח דוד, referred to in another answer, was actually first printed in 1592. Secondly, the first source I've found is מכילתא דרבי ישמעאל; the term can also be found in סמ"ג, in ספר חסידים, in Maharsha, and in numerous other seforim.

On the other hand, the incidence of this term is not particularly frequent. If we replace 'Zionism' with 'Modern Hebrew Literature' which is commonly said to have begun in the mid-1700s, it is quite plausible that this might have done much more than the handful of traditional sources to popularize the term. Conversely, the term may always have been more common in the vernacular as opposed to formal, religious writing, and it might have been only the modern Hebrew books which adapted it as a preferred literary appellation.

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Got a source for your conjecture? And a citation/link to the sources you mentioned? +1. – Seth J Jul 30 '13 at 14:16
'Zionism' is simply a catchphrase for anything associated with Modern Hebrew. Just because the original question referred to 'zionism' in particular, doesn't mean that the distinctions were thought through thoroughly. Here are 2 lists of results from the Hebrew lit. site benyehuda.org: שמשון הגבור and שמשון הגיבור. – Bar Uryan Jul 30 '13 at 15:11
Thanks for the links, etc.! – Seth J Jul 30 '13 at 15:19
I'm not surprised that the Talmud avoids such a phrase. Pirkei Avot defines "Gibor" as self-control (even in the sense of G-d being figuratively "Gibor" by allowing evil to temporarily flourish), and the midrashic narrative in Sotah about Shimshon describes a great man who is brought down by his basest desires. – Shalom Jul 30 '13 at 15:21
@Shalom It's just interesting that the Maharsha writes: "על כן קראוהו שמשון הגבור" indicating that he's here to explain a well-established fact. (Indeed your understanding of the Maharsha is spot on, but from his words it would seem that being called גבור at all is unrelated to spiritual strength, or even physical strength; it is purely a reflection of his channeling the divine trait of Judgement). – Bar Uryan Jul 30 '13 at 18:11

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