Samson of the Old Testament is revered for his strength and wit in his endeavors to deliver Israel from the Philistines. But his affair with Delilah made the biblical judge a controversial character, and ancient rabbinic teachings used Samson as an example of disobedience and condemnation.
According to recent excavations in Galilee, however, Samson may not have been as unpopular as he now seems.
In an article in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, two scholars—Matthew J. Grey, an assistant professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, and Jodi Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—write about an ongoing excavation in the village of Huqoq.
While uncovering Huqoq’s synagogue, archaeologists found within the building a mosaic portraying Samson. The small tiles depict him tying foxes’ tails to lighted torches to burn the Philistine’s crops, illustrating the Old Testament scene found in Judges 15:1–5.
Remains of a mosaic in another Galilean synagogue, along with synagogal prayers that were written anciently, similarly include Samson. Although he is not the main character in the mosaics or the prayers, these pieces suggest that Samson was anciently more popular than recent scholars have thought. He may have even been seen as a messianic figure, an archetype for God’s miraculous deliverers.
As a Nazarite, a man granted miraculous strength through keeping certain Jewish covenants, Samson killed thousands of Philistines as he fought against Palestine’s rule over Israel. During the Roman occupation from 63 BCE to 313 CE, Galileans could have looked to Samson in their worship as a type of the salvation they sought from Rome.
Samson’s appearance in these excavated synagogues suggests that we may have been misunderstanding his ancient reputation.
Read Matthew Grey and Jodi Magness’s full article “Finding Samson in Byzantine Galilee: The 2011–2012 Archaeological Excavations at Huqoq.”
Source: Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
—Sarah Perkins, Mormon Insights
Samson Pulls Down Pillars photo courtesy of James Tissot