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Is This Tiny Seal The First Archaeological Evidence Of Samson,
The Biblical Slayer Of Philistines?

16 July, 2015

First version of this article was originally published on 13 August, 2012

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Follow us: - Researchers uncovered a 12th Century BC seal depicting a man and Lion In Battle in Tel Beth Shemesh, "House of the Sun" located about 19 miles (30 km) west of Jerusalem near the ancient border between the Israelites and Philistines - one of a number of so-called "sea peoples", in the Iron Age.

The seal was discovered with other finds on the floor of an excavated house, dated by the archaeologists to the 12th century BCE.

The Book of Judges (the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible) says that S amson was born, lived part of his life, and was buried in the area across the valley from Beth Shemesh (Judges 13:2, 25; 16:31).

Left:"House of the Sun", a cultural meeting point for Philistines, Canaanites, and Israelites Samson's stories skip across these cultural borders. Right: The "Samson seal" found at Beth Shemesh. Photo: Raz Lederman, Tel Beth Shemesh Excavations.

Further, the story of Samson fighting and killing a lion (Judges 14:5-6) is recorded as having occurred on the way from his family home to Timnah--a site identified as Tel Batash and located only a few miles from Beth Shemesh.

The story, in which Samson fights a lion falls somewhere around the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 11th century BC, according to the chronology derived from various books of the Bible and synchronisms with ancient Near Eastern king lists.

The seal, found in a layer dated to the 11th century BC, comes from a time soon after these events in Samson's life.

The seal was discovered in the area where the legendary Samson lived his fight with the lion occurred. It suggests that the story was known in the area not long after the events occurred.

The seal, measures 15 millimetres (about a half-inch) in diameter, and depicts a human figure next to a lion.

Having been betrayed by Delilah and taken prisoner and blinded by the Philistines, he regains his strength and brings the Temple of Dagon

According to scientists of TAU, the scene engraved on the seal, the time period, and the location of the discovery all point to a probable reference to the story of Samson, the legendary heroic figure whose adventures famously included a victory in hand-to-paw combat with a lion.

However, the seal does not reveal when the stories about Samson were originally written, or clarify whether Samson was a historical or legendary figure.

"If we are right and what we see on the seal is a representation of a man meeting a lion, it shows that the Samson legend already existed around the area of Beth Shemesh during that time period. We can date it quite precisely," Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations explained.

The legends surrounding Samson are set in the period of the Judges, prior to the establishment of kingship in ancient Israel.

Samson - from the Israelite tribe of Dan - was frequently depicted stepping out into the world of the Philistines even searching for a Philistine wife, much to the chagrin of his parents.

"Samson has a very legendary aura," explains Dr. Zvi Lederman, calling the Samson stories "border sagas." On one hand, Samsom could cross the border and interact with the Philistines, but on the other, he met with danger and various challenges when he did stray out of his home territory.

"When you cross the border, you have to fight the enemy and you encounter dangerous animals," Dr. Lederman says. "You meet bad things. These are stories of contact and conflict, of a border that is more cultural than political."

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