“Second Opinions: History Winds Up in the Waiting Room”

Murphy, Cullen

The Atlantic, June 2001

p. 16

“If the story were presented as a formal medical case study, it might begin as follows: ‘S.’ is a 35 year old male of Middle Eastern ancestry with a long history of deceitfulness, physical violence, and other forms of unacceptable behavior. He is an only child; his mother had to be warned not to drink during pregnancy. The subject is known to be inordinately fastidious about his hair. His libido is powerful and indiscriminate. He is a nonsmoker. His life is believed to have culminated in a spectacular murder-suicide. The case is that of Samson, son of Manoah, whose story is recounted in the biblical book of Judges, and it was cited not long ago in a letter to the editor of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The authors, led by Eric Lewin Altschuler, of the U of CA at Dan Diego, suggest that Samson probably suffered from what would today be called anti-social-personality disorder, or ASPD. They note that psychiatry’s official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual requires that three out of seven criteria be met in order to advance a diagnosis of ASPD, and that Samson’s behavior met six of them. He was aggressive and impulsive. (‘And he found a fresh jawbone of an ass, and put out his hand and seized it, and with it he slew a thousand men.’) He was cruel to small animals. (‘So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took torches; and he turned them tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails.’) He lied and stole. He preened and he gloated. He clearly manifested, according to the doctors, a ‘failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.’”