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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 01:49 GMT
Samson 'was mentally ill'
Mentally ill patient
Violence is an indicator of anti-social personality disorder
The Biblical strong man Samson suffered from the earliest recorded case of anti-social personality disorder, a scientist claims.

Dr Eric Altschuler, from the University of California, in San Diego, claims that instead of being a hero, Samson was actually mentally ill.

In a report in the New Scientist, Dr Altschuler said that in today's society Samson would be seen as "a bit of a thug".


He starts the fights and the battles. He is a bit of a thug

Dr Eric Altschuler, report author

He said he had gone back to his Bible and started to re-appraise Samson in a totally new light.

"I knew the story of Samson from when I was a kid. I re-read the story and the general impression was that he was a strong man, but I found that he was anti-social.

"When I used to go to Sunday school I thought he was good and led the battles.

'No remorse'

"He starts the fights and the battles. He is a bit of a thug," he said.

Dr Altschuler said Samson routinely got into fights, killed 1,000 Philistines single-handedly and then gloated over it and showed no remorse.

Elizabeth Hurley as Delilah and Eric Thal as Samson in the 1996 Nicholas Roeg film
The Biblical story has been made into a film, Samson and Delilah

He also showed a reckless regard for his own safety when he told Delilah, a woman who had already tried to kill him three times, the secret of his strength.

All these Dr Altschuler said point to Samson having an anti-social personality disorder (ASPD).

People diagnosed with ASPD exhibit at least three of seven specific behavioural traits such as being impulsive, reckless and habitually getting into fights.

Samson shows six out of the seven characteristics. He is impulsive has an inability to conform to social norms and is deceitful.

Dr Altschuler said the Biblical tale clearly shows Samson was suffering mental health problems from an early age, setting things on fire, torturing animals, stealing and bullying other children.

Family problems

And problems seem to have run through Samson's family, a whole chapter in the Bible is devoted to Samson's mother being warned by angels not to drink.

Dr Altschuler says this shows she too was reckless and had a disregard for others.

Kevin Gibson, a consultant clinical psychologist and head of adult psychology at Sunderland Hospitals Trust, said society would view Samson in a different light today.

"Today we would see his ruthlessness and exploitiveness as having a personality disorder," he said.

But Mr Gibson, a member of the British Psychological Society, said Samson's problems would have only been picked up then, as now, if they affected his ability to function in society.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | Medical notes
Personality disorder
20 Dec 00 | Health
Tougher controls for mentally ill
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