The Israeli paper Ha'aretz reported this week that archaeologists digging in the ancient town of Beth-Shemesh have uncovered a small stone seal bearing the images of a man and a leonine figure. That naturally leads to speculation as to whether it reflects a heroic tale such as the story of Samson fighting a lion.
In early biblical times, Beth-Shemesh was a small town in the low hills of the Shephelah, on the shifting border between land controlled by the Israelites, the Canaanites, and the coastal strongholds of the Philistines.
Beth-Shemesh was near Zorah, where Judges 13 says Samson was born, and Timnah, where he became besotted with a Philistine woman that he married over his parents’ objections (Judges 14). While traveling to Timnah to visit the woman, according to Judges 14:5-6, Samson confronted a roaring lion and ripped it apart with his bare hands.
Samson later used the experience as the basis of a riddle that became proverbial: “Out of the eater came something to eat, out of the strong came something sweet” (Judg. 14:14).
The seal, which archaeologists believe dates from the 11th century, B.C. – roughly the period when Samson would have lived – features a crude representation of a man and a large four-legged, long-tailed beast that has lion-like features. The man, notably, holds no apparent weapons.
There is no inscription on the seal, and certainly nothing that directly connects the image to Samson, but it does indicate that the ancient residents of Beth-Shemesh were familiar with a story about a man and a lion.
An artifact like this doesn’t prove the Bible, but for those of us who love the ancient stories, it can pique our sense of wonder and contribute to a happy day.