The Bible offers many instances of heroism. The most obvious ones are martial figures. Yet many also became heroes by peacefully holding on to their Jewish beliefs, when it would have been far easier to surrender to the enemy.
1. Moses, although raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s court, heroically demanded that his Jewish people be allowed to leave Egypt. As a youth he killed a cruel taskmaster who was persecuting his people, and was forced to flee to Ethiopia and later to Midian.
2. Samson (Shimshon in Hebrew) was famous for his strength. He fought many battles against the Philistines, and as a Nazirite he did not cut his hair. When Delilah persuaded him to do so, he grew weak and was captured by the enemy who blinded him. Eventually, he killed himself and hundreds of Philistines by pulling down a Philistine temple. Samson’s story is told in Judges 13-16.
3. Gideon also appears in Judges. He was a farmer, judge and a member of the tribe of Manasseh who defeated the powerful Midianites, terrifying them with trumpets.
4. The best-known case of heroism is young David, who killed the fearsome Philistine giant, Goliath, with just a slingshot. Eventually he became King of Israel. Despite his flaws, his Psalms (tehillim) show that even heroes can feel scared at times.
5. The Book of Tobias (not officially part of the Bible) tells the story of Tobit, a pious Jew exiled to Nineveh in Assyria. Tobit selflessly obeys Jewish law by giving alms and burying the dead. Like Job before him, he suffered greatly (in his case, was struck blind), regaining his sight after beseeching God to remove a curse on Sarah.
6. The Book of Daniel reveals a Jewish sage of apocalyptic visions who was cast into the lions’ den by one Babylonian monarch, but survived through his great faith.
7. Esther and Mordechai appear in the book of Esther. King Ahaseurus of Persia chose Esther, a Jewish girl, as queen. Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, was praised for warning the king of a planned rebellion. A jealous vizier, Haman, turned the king’s mind against the Jews. At Mordechai’s request, Esther bravely risked death to reveal Haman’s genocidal ambitions to the king. Haman was exposed, and Mordechai replaced him as prime minister.
8. A Jewish couple, Elimelech and Naomi, moved to the dangerous land of Moab. Their son, Mahlon, married a Moabite, Ruth. After Mahlon and Elimelech died, Ruth insisted on accompanying Naomi, gathered food for her and adopted her faith. Impressed by her devotion, Boaz (Naomi’s cousin) married her. Ruth’s great-grandson was King David.
9. All prophets were heroic, but few as heroic as Jeremiah. Rejected by those he tried to save (King Jehoiakim barred him from the Temple) he warned of the impending fall of Jerusalem if Israel did not mend its ways, between 627 and 580 BCE.
10. When the Syrian King Antiochus IV and his Jewish cohort, the Hellenized high priest Jason, tried to eradicate Jewish culture in Israel in 175 BCE, Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee (or Yehuda the Hammer) fought a guerrilla campaign to rescue their people. Their story is commemorated in the festival of Chanukah.
Biblical heroes have inspired countless commentaries and folk tales, which have delighted generations of Jews.
For a virtual tour of Biblical Heroes, see the Virtual Israel Bible Museum.