Ancient Seal Evidence of Old Testament's Samson

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Israeli archaeologists believe they've found evidence that the Old Testament strongman Samson was real, not just a biblical superhero.

The discovery of a small seal found near Samson's hometown, about the size of a pebble, may depict one of the biblical strongman's adventures.

"We can see a very large animal -- most probably a lion - but there is definitely here a person here reaching out with his hand, when he is maybe defending or attacking the large animal," Dr. Zvi Lederman, Tel Aviv University archaeologist and co-director of the dig, said.

The cone-shaped seal dates back to about 1200 B.C., which matches the Bible's timeframe for Samson's life.

It's believed to illustrate a scene from the book of Judges where Samson is on the way to meet his fiancé in Timnah, about four miles away from the dig site.

"Suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him," Judges 14:5-6 reads. "The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as one would have torn a young goat."

"Now I'm not saying that Samson is depicted here but definitely the myth or the legend is depicted here," Lederman said. "So it's in the right place, the right scene, in the right time."

The place is also of great archaeological interest for other reasons. It's where the Bible says the Philistines returned the captured Ark of the Covenant.

"So then they put it on a cart with two cows pulling it. And the ark went on the way to Beit Shemesh," Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist, said.

Lederman and Bunimovitz have led the excavations each summer for more than 20 years. 

A British group first excavated the site in 1911, against the backdrop of the growing popularity of Darwin's theory of evolution.

"They knew about the Philistines from the Bible, but they wanted to expose the realistic background of the Philistines to bring the Biblical stories alive," Bunimovitz explained.

People inhabited the area continuously for more than 1,000 years until the Assyrian King Sennacherib destroyed it in 701 B.C.

Today modern Beit Shemesh is across the highway. 

Next summer archaeologists hope to uncover more of a palace from an earlier era, which they think may have belonged to a mysterious female who ruled the Canaanites.

*Originally aired Aug. 21, 2012.

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