Lion Seal from Beth Shemesh Sparks Samson Discussion

Bible and archaeology news

This 11th century seal from Beth Shemesh shows a person next to a leonine figure. The site and chronology have led some to associate the seal with the Biblical story of Samson. Photo by Raz Lederman, from Ha'aretz

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)

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  • ann says

    Lazslo, of course , IF it is so possible, they are looking for a biblical connection… this is BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY… but if no connection is found, so be it…

  • Mark says

    King David is also recorded to have struck down a lion (1 Samuel 17:34-37) to rescue a sheep. The older men of Hebron made David king in about 1077 B.C.E. Could the seal be tied up with the rule of King David or Solomon instead or does the dating absolutely rule this out?

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