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Delilah (Heb. דְּלִילָה) was a woman from the Valley of Sorek who was Samson’s mistress and who betrayed him to his enemies (Judg. 16:4ff.).

The Philistine city kings offered her a handsome bribe to entice Samson to reveal the secret of his great strength. After three unsuccessful attempts, she finally induced her lover to disclose that it was his adherence to the Nazirite abstention from cutting the hair (cf. Judg. 13:5) of his head that made him so exceptional. She thereupon induced Samson to sleep, had him shorn of his long hair, and handed him over to the Philistines, who blinded and incarcerated him.

The biblical narrative does not make it clear whether Delilah was herself a Philistine. It does not suggest that she was married to Samson, or that she was treacherously motivated from the first. The meaning of the name Delilah is uncertain. Two of the more plausible explanations are (1) “temptress,” deriving, as does the parallel Safaitic name Dllt, from the Arabic root dll, meaning “to entice”; (2) a shortened theophoric name, akin to the Akkadian name Dalîl (or Dilîl) Ishtar, meaning “praises [or “majesty”] of Ishtar.”

[Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

The name Delilah is connected by the rabbis with dalal דלל (“to enfeeble”) because “she enfeebled Samson’s strength, she enfeebled his actions, and she enfeebled his determination” (Num. R. 9:24). To wrest his secret from him she disengaged herself from him at the moment of sexual consummation (Sot. 9b). She realized that Samson was finally telling the truth when he said: “I have been a Nazarene unto God” (Judg. 16:17), because she knew that he would not take the Lord’s name in vain (Num. R. ibid.).