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I found, lying in a local synagogue's bes midrash room, a card that looks as though it came from a children's Judaism-trivia game. It had four questions on it, and, on the reverse side, their answers. One question was (if I recall the wording precisely):

Who was the strongest person in the Bible?

The answer given was Shimshon.

He is, of course, described as strong (Shof'tim 14–16). But so are B'nayahu (Sh'muel 23:20–23), Aharon (Bamidbar 8:11), and others. Do we have any tradition, or is there any evidence, as to who was strongest?

(I assume physical strength was meant by the game manufacturer: at any rate, that's what I'm referring to. Not, for example, strength of character.)

  • 1
    Pirkei Avot says that anyone who squelches his evil impulse is stronger than even the mightiest person. – DanF Sep 18 '18 at 2:53
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Concerning Og, see Numbers Raba Hukat 32: ... that no strong one in the world arose that that was more fierce than he, (קשה הימנו‏)... And he remained from the mighty ones who were killed by Amrafel and his friends, (Gen 14)... And he was a husk of them, like peels of olives in the olive waste.

So from this saying, it would seem that Og was the strongest, and even he was put to shame by the mighty Refaim he hailed from.

Another instance can bee seen in Tanhuma Mattos 5: Two strong ones arose in the world. Samson from Israel and Goliath from the nations of the world. And both of them were lost from the world, etc... Why? Because their gift was not from Gd, rather they seized it for themselves.

Notice that the 'And' separates the two statements. In other words, the midrash is not saying that "there were two strong people who were lost from the world", It is saying "(1) There were two strong people in the world, AND (2) both of them were lost from the world."

It would seem that either Samsom or Goliath was the strongest person from this saying.

To offer a resolution of these conflicting Midrashim, perhaps all of the above mentioned were "the strongest" at one point in time. The Refaim were the strongest until they were killed in Abraham's time. Then Og took the title until Moses killed him. Then Samson was strongest, until he sacrificed himself to destroy the Philistines. Finally, Goliath was strongest until he was killed by David.

In any event, one can see that referring to someone as "the strongest" in rabbinic sayings is not meant in an absolute sense. Even if you reject my understanding of Samson and Goliath, you must accept the very plain inferiority given to Og as opposed to the Refaim, alongside Og's being called "the strongest".

I think that as far as finding an absolute winner goes, at best we have specific anecdotes to examine.

Using the above premise, Samson seems to be the winner thus far. See Sotah 9a, where Rav Asi says that He uprooted the two great mountains, Tzorah and Eshta'ol and ground them together. Even Og only lifted one mountain, as seen on Brachot 54b.

Genesis Rabah Vayehi 99:11, is also worth mentioning, though it may be less conclusive. It quotes Dan's blessing in Genesis 49:16, ...like one of the tribes of Israel, like the One of the world. Just as the One of the world needs no aid in war, so did Samson who arose from Dan need no others to help him, without a sword, rather with a donkey's jawbone.

So Samson essentially founded the term 'one man army', requiring neither outside assistance, nor sufficient arms to defeat overwhelming odds.

  • ... Based on this is it really possible to definitively answer the question by finding an absolute winner? All that we have are anecdotes, detailing what people did, (not what they could do, in other words not their full capacity of strength), and titles of gibor, which are not absolute. – Baby Seal Jan 1 '14 at 22:24
  • A midrash that says explicitly that someone was the strongest person ever is what I was thinking of when I asked the question. – msh210 Jan 2 '14 at 3:22
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    Right, I'm with you, but the midrash basically says those words by Og... Right before it says that he was a wimp compared to the Refaim. So I'm wondering if we can take any statement to this affect as absolute. – Baby Seal Jan 2 '14 at 3:33
  • But Moshe defeated Og - doesn't that mean Moshe is stronger? Likewise, Dovid was stronger than Golias - doesn't that mean that Dovid is stronger? – DonielF Aug 2 '18 at 18:01
  • I would throw Nimrod in the mix. The Torah says that he was "brave" and I think Midrashim also explain his physical strength. – DanF Sep 18 '18 at 2:51
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The gemarah in sotah 10a describes Shimshon's strength as was in the likeness of God, so I would go with that.

  • Fair enough, if no one else is so described. D'you know? – msh210 Jan 1 '14 at 6:12
  • @msh210 Even if someone else is, wouldn't they both be strongest? – Double AA Jan 1 '14 at 6:24
  • @DoubleAA, maybe. Maybe strength meen dugma shel maala is lesser than strength [insert some other unusual prepositional phrase here]. By "so described" I meant with that phrase or any similar. – msh210 Jan 1 '14 at 6:30
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He fulfilled the verse in the torah "one of you will destroy 1000" (Joshua 23:10) when he slew 1000 plishtim in one battle

no one else in the tanach was able to do this.even the elite of David as mentioned in Shmuel II 23, only managed to reach 800 plishtim in one battle

  • Killing the most doesn't necessarily mean physically the strongest. – Monica Cellio Jan 14 '13 at 13:47
  • when the book of shmuel ii ch.23 lists the giborim of David it describes them by how many they killed – ray Jan 15 '13 at 18:02
  • Yeah, I'm just saying that there are ways to kill, even ways to kill in battle, that don't rely specifically on high physical strength -- striking from behind, being part of a group (so it's N on 1), tripping, feinting -- none of that requires being able to bench-press 1000lbs or the like. – Monica Cellio Dec 25 '13 at 15:55
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    @MonicaCellio see gen rab 99:11, (details in my answer) that Samson did this alone and poorly armed. +1 from me, ray. Consider adding your remark about giborim determined by body count into the answer, that would make your point more clear i think. – Baby Seal Dec 31 '13 at 20:06
  • Also just realized that 'He' is not identified in answer. You mean Samson right? – Baby Seal Jan 1 '14 at 22:20

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