Ancient seal may add substance to the legend of Samson

Aug 13, 2012
This is the "Samson seal" found at Beth Shemesh. Credit: Raz Lederman, courtesy Tel Beth Shemesh Excavations

Tel Aviv University researchers recently uncovered a seal, measuring 15 millimetres (about a half-inch) in diameter, which depicts a human figure next to a lion at the archaeological site of Beth Shemesh, located between the Biblical cities of Zorah and Eshtaol, where Samson was born, flourished, and finally buried, according to the book of Judges. 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.

While the seal does not reveal when the stories about Samson were originally written, or clarify whether Samson was a historical or legendary figure, the finding does help to "anchor the story in an archaeological setting," says Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near . Prof. Bunimovitz co-directs the Beth Shemesh dig along with Dr. Zvi Lederman.

"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. Bunimovitz adds.

The right place, the right time

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

Geographically, politically, and culturally, the legends surrounding Samson are set in this time period, also known as the period of the Judges, prior to the establishment of kingship in . The area of Beth Shemesh was a cultural meeting point where Philistines, Canaanites, and Israelites lived in close proximity, maintaining separate identities and cultures. Samson's stories skip across these cultural borders, Dr. Lederman says. Although he was from the Israelite tribe of Dan, Samson is frequently depicted stepping out into the world of the Philistines — even searching for a Philistine wife, much to the chagrin of his parents.

Although Samson did have some positive interactions with the Philistines — his infamous lion brawl took place on the way to his bachelor party with a group of Philistine men prior to his marriage to his first Philistine wife in Timnah — he is also reputed to have fought against the Philistines. In one tale, this ancient superman is said to have killed 1,000 Philistines with a single donkey's jaw bone.

"Samson has a very legendary aura," explains Dr. 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."

Cultural connections and conflicts

The Philistines were immigrants, one of a number of so-called "sea peoples", originating from the Aegean region. They settled along the southern coastal plain and the lowlands of present-day Israel, including Ashdod, Ashkelon Gaza, Gath, and Ekron. Here they created their own cultural and political enclave and were always seeking to expand their own territory. "The flourishing Canaanite village of Beth Shemesh, despite frequent destruction caused by their aggressive neighbors, was not abandoned or won by the Philistines and retained its original culture and identity", Dr. Lederman adds.

The border disputes and the Canaanite resistance to growing Philistine pressure and cultural influence created some identity changes, Prof. Bunimovitz believes. This period of contact and strife may have been the "meat" of the Samson legend incorporated in the Book of Judges, the seventh book of the Hebrew Bible that tells the stories of figures who champion the Israelite cause and fight against oppression through this historical period.

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gopher65
4 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2012
Whoa. These people are making *massive* assumptions based on very little evidence.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (28) Aug 13, 2012
Whoa. These people are making *massive* assumptions based on very little evidence.
That is what religionists do don't they? They think that one word on the tel dan stele is evidence that the kingdom existed, whereas the stark absence of any other evidence AT ALL for this supposedly extensive and powerful kingdom obviously carries far more weight.
Samson's stories skip across these cultural borders, Dr. Lederman says. Although he was from the Israelite tribe of Dan, Samson is frequently depicted stepping out into the world of the Philistines even searching for a Philistine wife, much to the chagrin of his parents.[/q[-And I understand they watch batman movies in Lebanon -so what?
Deathclock
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 13, 2012
This is an example of starting with a conclusion and selectively picking evidence that supports it... all I see is a stone with some kind of 4-legged animal depicted on it. I am sure people and animals existed in this place and time... to jump from that to the idea that this somehow lends credibility to the biblical story of Samson is, quite frankly, insane.
Deathclock
3.7 / 5 (9) Aug 13, 2012
For all anyone knows that stone could depict a horse being fed by it's owner... see how the human figures hand is outstretched to the mouth of the four legged animal?

Complete nonsense.
tadchem
3.7 / 5 (7) Aug 13, 2012
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Nonetheless, there is a *strong* tendency to overinterpolate when the physical evidence is scant and the need to reinforce a religious belief is strong.
In this artifact there is a real chance of pareidolia. The 'human figure next to a lion' could just as easily be a dog with a child, or a rebus for someone's name. There is no linguistic content here. The graphic quality is relatively poor by the standards of the time; certainly unbecoming of a noble or a hero.
The Tel Dan Stele is noteworthy for the earliest appearance of the name "David" (), even if it is a particle in a larger word of uncertain meaning ().
Religious people will continue to believe whatever they wish, and the facts be damned.
chromosome2
2.8 / 5 (9) Aug 13, 2012
This article mixes mythology and history willy-nilly. It's like, "hey, we found a nail with a picture of a biped next to a quadruped, that means there was a Jewish superman whose physical power was proportional to his hair length!"
kevinrtrs
2.1 / 5 (18) Aug 13, 2012
Strangely, for once I have to agree with the non-biblical people that this is a leap of faith that stretches credulity.

However, I should remind same non-biblicals that evolutionists do exactly the same thing - a certain top of skull and some jaw-bone fragments found in the not-too-distant past suddenly turned into the connecting link between whales and land animals. Until it was later discredited as being a simple land animal. You might know this as Pakicetus, the infamous Pakistan Whale discovered and hailed by Philip Gingerich.
And that's just ONE such example. So please keep in perspective how ALL kinds of people like to jump to the conclusions they'd like to have, nevermind the evidence. Evolutionists tend to be more inclined to do so since they have far less real evidence than they need.
chromosome2
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 13, 2012
However, I should remind same non-biblicals that evolutionists do exactly the same thing - a certain top of skull and some jaw-bone fragments found in the not-too-distant past suddenly turned into the connecting link between whales and land animals. Until it was later discredited as being a simple land animal. You might know this as Pakicetus, the infamous Pakistan Whale discovered and hailed by Philip Gingerich.
And that's just ONE such example. So please keep in perspective how ALL kinds of people like to jump to the conclusions they'd like to have, nevermind the evidence. Evolutionists tend to be more inclined to do so since they have far less real evidence than they need.


The genetic code in every cell of our bodies bears witness to its origins. The genes and other bits of data in our DNA trace a clear and profound path through all life on earth, to the point that it could be reconstructed *absent* any physical record, albeit with less certainty. Google my user name.
sigfpe
5 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2012
Here's a higher resolution image: http://www.haaret...8918.jpg
scarletprophesy
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 13, 2012
Where on earth did they find a lion in there? All I'm seeing is a bunch of stick figures that were probably drawn by a bored five-year-old child.
Meyer
3.4 / 5 (10) Aug 13, 2012
Clearly the item is depicting a conversation between a horse and a man, validating the legend of Mr. Ed.
gopher65
5 / 5 (5) Aug 13, 2012
So, I'm assuming "Pluton" is a sock for someone? He goes around downgrading comments that... certain people... have a problem with, but never comments himself.
TehDog
not rated yet Aug 13, 2012
Hmm, it's about 15mm / .5in so pretty small. Hard to tell if the figures are concave or convex. It's a seal, so would have been used for important documents, not sure what the material would be (papyrus, leather etc).
Personally, I don't think such an object would be decorated by someone's son feeding a dog (or man and horse :).
I do think it could be something relating to an historical/mythological event. Someone claiming to be of the family of Samson?
To be clear, I am not a religionist of any type, but I do believe that some of the early books of the talmud/bible can be of use for historical and archaeological research.
Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Aug 13, 2012
What everyone seems to forget is that these "Solar Heroes" are part and parcel of pretty much every culture that we have any record of, everywhere in the world.

Samson is no more than the Judaic version of the Sumerian/Hittite/Greek hero-demigod.

Everyone knows the myth of Heracles/Hercules. He, too was associated with certain cities and shrines, all of which made some claim to be his birthplace or a place where he accomplished some prodigy. Many seals, coins, artworks, and stories exist that contain explicit reference to him.

Does anyone go to any trouble to try to establish his actual, physical existence based upon this "evidence"? Of course not.

Could somebody use the same methodology applied here to establish his existence? Of course they could.

The point is that they are all CULTURAL HEROES, part and parcel of the worldview of the peoples from whom they arose. Everyone needs a hero, and so they don't hesitate to create --or in this case, steal-- one.

Caliban
2 / 5 (4) Aug 13, 2012
What I find so disturbing about these bible archaeologists is that they plainly hope to establish the physical truth of mythical figures --but only the BIBLICAL ones, of course-- and obviously in the fond hope that they will then be able to appeal to this "proof" as therefore convincing evidence for the biblical accounts in general --whether miraculous or mundane-- as being literally true, and from thence to the therefore ultimate Authority of the bible itself.

Because obviously, if, for example, Samson did actually live, then OF COURSE he bitch-slapped that uppity lion, slew the Philistine horde with the jawbone of an ass, and pushed down the temple --and all by main strength.

That is what we mean when we use the term "leap of faith". I'm sorry if some people aren't happy with it being so baldly stated, but there you have it.

In legal terms, it's known as "circumstantial evidence" and for that very reason is not alone sufficient as proof.

Lurker2358
3 / 5 (10) Aug 13, 2012
The seal is insufficient to even establish whatever it represents, never mind any specific truth about that story.

As for "proof" of Biblical characters, I'm not sure what anyone on this forum would expect anyway. These events happened so long ago that I would be shocked to find any physical evidence of them sufficient to convince most of you, no matter how true they I believe them to be.

Also, Check your facts.

The story of Samson predates the oldest Hercules stories by at least several hundred years.
ACW
3 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2012
Despite Kevin's long disclaimer at the end of his post, It was refreshing to see that even he agrees that this particular fallacy is ridiculous.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (25) Aug 14, 2012
The Tel Dan Stele is noteworthy for the earliest appearance of the name "David" (), even if it is a particle in a larger word of uncertain meaning ().
It is evidence of -something-. If it is indeed a name and not just a random word it could just mean that the enemies of the hebrew/philistines who made it were aware of the legends these people were already basing their culture on.

The stele IS a monument to the complete lack of any other evidence for the Solomon/David kingdoms. There are no cities, no roads, no clay tablets or carvings, no writings from neutral 3rd parties; as there is for ALL the other comparable civilizations elsewhere.

As soon as they began looking for the Hittites they found all of this. People have been looking for evidence of biblical characters for centuries but have found nothing. No Solomon, no David, no Saul, no Moses, no joshua, and no Jesus. Nothing besides dozens of identical myths from far earlier religions.

And one book full of obvious lies.
Deathclock
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 14, 2012
So, I'm assuming "Pluton" is a sock for someone? He goes around downgrading comments that... certain people... have a problem with, but never comments himself.


Yes, he rates every one of my posts with a 1 regardless of whether they are serious comments or jokes or completely non-controversial... basically he's a butthurt faggot with no life and all kinds of time to kill on frivolous and self-demeaning pursuits.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.1 / 5 (23) Aug 14, 2012
Part of the series based on finklesteins book:
http://www.youtub...a_player

-a little tedious but good facts and nice scenery.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (24) Aug 14, 2012
As for "proof" of Biblical characters, I'm not sure what anyone on this forum would expect anyway. These events happened so long ago that I would be shocked to find any physical evidence of them sufficient to convince most of you, no matter how true they I believe them to be.
See my previous post for some of what we should expect to see, and what we see an abundance of for far earlier civilizations. We know far more about the Phoenicians because of what we have FOUND. we expect to find the same sorts of evidence for solomonic/davidic kingdoms.

What we do find is LOTS of contrary evidence. Little hilltop villages full of warlords and robber bands instead of walled cities. And empty space.

We find for instance that during the time of Moses and Joshua the levant was a part of egypt. It was occupied with Egyptian soldiers in fortified garrisons throughout the region. We find that Jericho was abandoned by the time joshua and his hordes supposedly got there. Etc.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.2 / 5 (24) Aug 14, 2012
Samson was only a reincarnation of far earlier godman myths. A long and unbroken line, including robin of Sherwood and Kal-El.

"From the 13th to the 11th century BC Judah (Jews) and Israel (Israelites) were ruled by sheiks or judges. One of the judges of Judah was Samson (Shamshown)."

"Samson bears many similar traits to the Greek Herakles (and the Roman Hercules adaptation), inspired himself partially from the mesopotamian Enkidu tale"

"Herodotus relates an incident in Tyre, Phoenicia were he saw, circa 450 BCE, a temple dedicated to Herakles which the priests said was established when the city was first founded ... that would be 2,300 years prior to Herodotus' inquiry."

-This, by the way lurker/QC, is the sort of 3rd party evidence we should be finding for your patriarchs, but sadly, do not. Josephus was an adulteration, and as he recorded Solomon as fact, unreliable anyway.

-The Herakles myth predates the Samson myth.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Aug 14, 2012
Whoa. These people are making *massive* assumptions based on very little evidence.

Agreed. Too often in archaeology there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction of: "we have no clue what it is - so it must be something religious".

Sometimes: "interesting - but I have no definite clue what it is" is perfectly acceptable.
TehDog
5 / 5 (1) Aug 14, 2012
Bleh, way to totally mess up the meaning of a sentence.
"To be clear, I am not a religionist of any type, but I do believe that some of the early books of the talmud/bible can be of use for historical and archaeological research."
That should of course be, "may be of use"
Sorry about that.

panorama
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 14, 2012
Personally, I don't think such an object would be decorated by someone's son feeding a dog (or man and horse :).


It could be the seal of a family that raised horses.
TehDog
5 / 5 (2) Aug 14, 2012
Doesn't really look like a horses tail... Does resemble the way many felines carry their tails. Again, I'm not interested in whether it represents evidence for some mythical warrior (a common myth as many have noted), simply in what it represented to those who used it.
Deathclock
1.8 / 5 (10) Aug 14, 2012
Maybe the horse is shitting? Horses lift their tails when shitting...

speculation is fun!
TehDog
not rated yet Aug 14, 2012
Maybe the horse is shitting? Horses lift their tails when shitting...

speculation is fun!

Hehe, could be I suppose. I did look up horse domestication in the middle east and found this http://en.wikiped.../Kikkuli
So it could possibly be horse related... Still, that flare on the end of the tail does look very lion like. As you said, speculation is fun :)
Veltonfatal
2.3 / 5 (9) Aug 14, 2012
Seriously this evidence is in the right time period, with a depiction of a story from that time period. It might be, it might not. Saying it is for sure is jumping to a conclusion... But all the bible bashing? Fake book of lies? Atheists or non believers in christianity..seriously look at the evolution thing. You have a whole "Missing Link" period that you cant explain and yet you take that as fact. I am not saying everything in the bible is true. Well, not in the sense that it was true magic events the way we see the plagues, burning bush, all that stuff. However there are alot of ways to scientifically prove that those things could have happened. Just because you believe in God and the bible doesnt mean you have to have total disregard for science. Why wouldnt God work to make miracles based on things that could be explained by science? Alot of things actually can be explained by science yet are disregarded as "a book of lies". Prove evolution start to finish and we can talk.
Caliban
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 14, 2012
Seriously this evidence is in the right time period, with a depiction of a story from that time period. It might be, it might not. Saying it is for sure is jumping to a conclusion... But all the bible bashing? Fake book of lies? [...] I am not saying everything in the bible is true. Well, not in the sense that it was true magic events the way we see the plagues, burning bush, all that stuff. However there are alot of ways to scientifically prove that those things could have happened. Just because you believe in God and the bible doesnt mean you have to have total disregard for science. Why wouldnt God work to make miracles based on things that could be explained by science? Alot of things actually can be explained by science yet are disregarded as "a book of lies". Prove evolution start to finish and we can talk.


Prove that anything in the bible --or the qu'ran, or the upanishads, for that matter-- was the actual doing of god/s, "and then we can talk".

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (26) Aug 14, 2012
Atheists or non believers in christianity..seriously look at the evolution thing.
What about the 2 conflicting versions of creation in the bible?
You have a whole "Missing Link" period that you cant explain
Which is simply not true.
I am not saying everything in the bible is true.
-And so you admit that some of gods word can be untrue. And I have listed some specific things which ARE untrue.

So how can you trust ANY of it?
http://www.youtub...pp_video
Well, not in the sense that it was true magic events the way we see the plagues, burning bush, all that stuff. However there are alot of ways to scientifically prove that those things could have happened.
No there arent.

Why would god write a book describing kingdoms which simply werent there? And if he made the evidence disappear, why would he do so unless he is a cruel and deceptive god?

Answer - he is a fabrication. By people.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (22) Aug 14, 2012
Here is the full Ehrman lecture:
http://www.youtub...=related

-In the extended part he gets into some of the more egregious changes, which xians really ought to know about.
Deathclock
3 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2012
You have a whole "Missing Link" period that you cant explain and yet you take that as fact.


What are you talking about? The fossil record is incomplete... and we can explain that because fossilization is an extremely rare event that only occurs under perfect circumstances. The evidence that we have for evolution even from a very incomplete fossil record and ignoring all other lines of evidence (and there are many) is still very strong.
Deathclock
2.6 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2012
However there are alot of ways to scientifically prove that those things could have happened.


COULD have happened? almost anything COULD happen, so what?

Just because you believe in God and the bible doesnt mean you have to have total disregard for science


It means you do not have a scientific mindset. A book is not evidence of it's own content, and other evidence of anything unnatural mentioned in the bible is sparse or non-existent.
packrat
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 19, 2012
After blowing the picture up to make it easier to see I have to say it looks like a lion and a man to me but as for it being a seal of Solomon? It could just as easily be a token to get into the local brothel of the time couldn't it?
While I admit to being religious, I too think biblical archaeologists get quite carried away with their imaginations on the real meanings of what they find a lot of the time.
Birger
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
Hmmm...if someone find a fragment of a stone stelae, I suppose this would qualify as proof of Moses´stone tables?
Seriously, lions (or other big predators) appear on all kinds of artifacts. Humanoid near big predator? It might depict a mythical person getting eaten by a lion rather than fighting a lion.
If I was a bronze-age person living in lion country, that is certainly a fate I would worry about.