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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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    @Isaac - Are 185,000 results enough? google.com/… – Dave Aug 17 '11 at 5:05
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    @Dave That'll do. – Isaac Moses Aug 17 '11 at 9:09
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    @avi - if it was already being used in 1890, it obviously predates modern Zionism. Do you have more info about that play, or perhaps a link? You could really put that as an answer. The question would then be where the expression did come from. – Dave Aug 17 '11 at 13:16
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    The term is also mentioned in this sefer published in 1867: books.google.com/… – Dave Aug 17 '11 at 13:32
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    1890s is not technically before 'modern zionism'.. The 'first Aliya' was in 1880s. Thus my question :) – avi Aug 18 '11 at 8:36
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The phrase 'Shimshon Hagibor' goes back to the 12th century in northern france in the peirush on Genesis 49 17a peirush identified with 'Rabeinu Tam' [Published by Avraham Shoshana 2017]. It appears in Sefer Chasidim 12th century as well. shortly afterwards appears in the Halachic book סמ"ג. Its Known that 'Hagibor' was attached to rabbi Shimshon of Metz, a Famous Tosafit in northern france.

The combination of Shimshon hagibor was common in Ashkenaz, and can barely be found in Jewish writings from Spain. [By the the way, in some versions of the Mechilta on Beshalach from first centuries this phrase appears but is most likely a typo, for it does not appear in any significant manuscript....].

Interesting point is that in the writings of Hamza al-isfahani [Islam 10th century] he appears as 'al jabar' [Hagibor]. Since all information about the Judges in muslim writings came from Jewish sources- this points at very early stages of appearance in jewish thought.

One more significant source is the Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel on Jeremia 9 22 who ties between Hagibor and Samson. The whole idea as if Zionism 'Invented' the concept of Jewish Heroism is close to absurd and many times based on pure ignorance. Its enough to read the Bible and understand the value given to Physical heroism [For instance the long lists of davids heroes in Samuel b 23, Davids wars and his lament over saul and Jonathan etc...].

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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.

  • 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
  • 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
  • And the reason why I believe that the term may have been popularized in the vernacular before being adapted in Hebrew is because the term ("SHIM'shen ha'GI'ber") is common in Yiddish, even among anti-zionists. – Bar Uryan Jul 30 '13 at 15:22
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    @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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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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