NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Baptist Press ) -- A small stone seal unearthed in Israel is likely the first archaeological evidence of the Old Testament judge Samson, say the co-directors of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Center for Archaeological Research.
While not involved in the excavation that led to the discovery, center co-directors Daniel Warner and Dennis Cole said evidence characterizing the find makes it plausible that the seal supports a story of a young boy killing a lion with his bare hands.
About half an inch in diameter, the seal depicts a human figure -- perhaps with long hair -- fighting what appears to be a lion-like animal with a feline tail. The seal dates to the 12th century B.C. and was excavated at the Beth Shemesh site in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem. Archeologists found the seal with other items on the floor of an excavated house near the Sorek River, the ancient border between Israelite and Philistine territories. Seals were used in biblical times by those of wealth and influence as proof of authenticity.
"My initial assessment based upon what has been published to date would be that once again we have an artifact that does not contradict the biblical text, but in fact affirms it," said Warner, New Orleans Seminar associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology.
Excavation directors Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University do not claim that the figure on the seal is of the actual biblical Samson. Rather, they believe the seal probably indicates that a story was being told in 12th century B.C. of a hero who fought a lion.
Judges 14:6 records Samson killing a lion with his bare hands. Samson lived near the end of the biblical era of judges, which scholars have estimated began as early as 1400 B.C. and ended around 1050 B.C. The date of the seal falls within that range.
Warner, on staff at New Orleans Seminary's Orlando Hub in Florida, has been on archaeological expeditions with Bunimovitz and Lederman.
"According to the excavators, whom I have dug with in the past, the evidence places the find in close proximity of Samson's hometown of Zorah. Beth Shemesh is just across the Sorek Valley to the south of Zorah, in fact you can see it from Beth Shemesh," Warner said. "The date of the find appears to be in a solid context of the 12th century B.C., certainly within the time frame of Samson."
Cole, New Orleans Seminary's professor of Old Testament and archaeology, and the chair of the division of biblical studies, said the location of the find is significant.
"The interesting fact is that [the seal] was discovered in the shadows of Samson's hometown area of Zorah, located on the top of the hill immediately to the north of the [location] where the seal was found," Cole said. "The late 12th/early 11th century B.C. date would approximately date it to the judges period, and hence Samson."
Like Bunimovitz and Lederman, Cole said there's no clear evidence that the drawing on the seal depicts Samson himself.
"The geographical, chronological, and motif aspects fit the Samson context from Judges, but only textual data could fully confirm a direct relationship between the artifact and the biblical account," Cole said.
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