The recent discovery of a small 11th-century B.C.E. seal at Beth Shemesh featuring a crude representation of a person next to a lion has sparked associations between the discovery and Samson’s lion fight in Judges 14. In the late Iron Age, the site lay in the frequently changing border territory between the Canaanites, Israelites and Philistines. It lies opposite Zorah, Samson’s birthplace, and nearby Timnah (Tel Batash), where Samson was smitten with a Philistine girl whom he insisted on marrying despite his parents’ objections (Judges 14:1–3). There Samson propounded his famous riddle: “Out of the eater came something to eat, / Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14).
The depiction on the seal itself appears too crude to identify with a specific individual. While the animal does bear resemblance to contemporary depictions of lions, the lack of a weapon in the figure’s hand challenges the notion that this is a violent scene. In an article in Ha’aretz, the excavation directors suggest that “a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the Biblical text and onto the seal.”* ATelegraph article titled “Israeli Scholars Claim Possible Evidence of Samson” draws a closer tie between the seal and the Biblical figure. Both associations between the Samson narrative and the Beth Shemesh seal rely on an implicit understanding that this is, in fact, a man fighting a lion. If this can be proven, then the seal, discovered near Samson’s hometown during the time of Judges, may very well be linked to Samson or a related hero figure.
For more on the excavation, BAS Library members can read Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman’s “Beth Shemesh” as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan/Feb 1997, 42-45, 48-49, 75-77.
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*Read “Seal found by Israeli archeologists may give substance to Samson legend” in Ha’aretz
Read “Israeli Scholars Claim Possible Evidence of Samson” in The Telegraph
Update: The first comment on this blog (written by “Dale”) is from Dale W. Manor, Field Director of Beth-Shemesh excavations. He says: “The discussion above notes that the person on the seal has no weapon in his hand. While there is a question of whether there is a direct connection of this seal with the episode in Judges, the Judges narrative implies that Samson killed the lion with his bare hands (see Judges 14:6). Hence, if there is a connection the lack of weapon would dovetail nicely with the narrative.” (see below)