It's a story many Jews and Christians have known since childhood. Something shared in Synagogue or Sunday School. A young man of Israel, Samson, is attacked by a lion and experiences a miraculous gifting of strength. He's then able to kill the creature with his bare hands. His life is saved. As the Old Testament has it:
"Then Samson ... came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him ... he tore the lion apart as he would have a young goat" (Judges 14:5-6).
It's all long ago and far away, right? The stuff of legend. Then again, maybe not.
A recent news release from Israel reveals that archaeologists have recently discovered an ancient stone seal that appears to depict the Old Testament story of Samson's fight with the lion. So reports the UK's Daily Telegraph.
The ancient seal, just under an inch in diameter, shows a large feline animal attacking a human figure. Israeli archaeologists Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman have said that the place where the coin was discovered (the tell of Beit Shemesh in the Judaean Hills near Jerusalem) indicates the carving on the seal could indeed represent Samson. For as it happens, the seal was found close to the River Sorek, a place that marked the boundary between the Israelites and their Philistine enemies -- Samson's implacable foes in the Old Testament accounts.
It's such a small relic -- yet it may say so much. Thoughts of things like miracles may seem far removed from our daily existence. But this ancient seal might bring the story of one miracle closer.
The poet William Blake once spoke of seeing "the world in a grain of sand .. .eternity in an hour." Beneath the sands of ancient Israel, the treasure of this ancient seal lay hidden -- until now. One marvels over the survival of something so old (the level of excavation where the seal lay dates it to roughly the 11th century B.C.). So many things from the ancient world are lost to us. This tiny artifact, a window on a world ages distant from our own, has been rediscovered.
Was it something someone carried to lend them courage, a talisman of hope for troubled times? We cannot know. The part of me that once thought seriously of becoming an archaeologist never ceases to wonder at how some very precious things survive the passing of millennia. When we find them, history draws near.
I think of that, and so many other things, as I reflect on this fascinating news release. Maybe, just maybe, the story of one miracle is something you can hold in the palm of your hand.
Click through for more recent archeological finds:
On the morning of Tuesday, June 29, 2010, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, we made an unprecedented archaeological discovery related to Jesus and early Christianity. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/jesus-discovery-jerusalem_n_1305355.html#s732483&title=Jonah_and_the" target="_hplink">Read more..</a>
Archaeologists working in Turkey believe they have found a<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/jesus-cross-found-archaeology_n_3691938.html" target="_blank"> piece of the cross</a> that Jesus was crucified on. While excavating the ancient Balatlar Church, a seventh-century building in Sinop, Turkey, on the shores of the Black Sea, they uncovered a stone chest that contained objects that may be directly connected with Jesus Christ. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/jesus-cross-found-archaeology_n_3691938.html" target="_blank">Read more here.. </a>
An ongoing excavation in Israel has uncovered new evidence of an ancient city buried beneath the King Solomon-era metropolis of Gezer. An international group of archaeologists has been working together for several years on the dig, located between modern-day Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, according to a statement released by the Israel antiquities Authority (IAA). An important historical city in its own right, Gezer is mentioned in both the Old Testament and in Egyptian historical accounts as a stop on the highway connecting ancient Egypt and Mesopotami. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/21/ancient-city-beneath-gezer-israel_n_4297784.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009" target="_blank">Read more here</a>
Dalmanutha, a Biblical town described in the Gospel of Mark as the place where Jesus sailed after miraculously multiplying a few loaves and fish to feed 4,000 people, may have just been discovered by archaeologists, reports LiveScience. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/17/dalmanutha-biblical-town-gospel-of-mark-sea-of-galilee_n_3940919.html" target="_blank">Read more here</a>
A new study suggests that the Biblical date of Jesus' crucifixion is, in fact, possible to confirm. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/jesus-crucifixion-date-possible_n_1546351.html" target="_hplink">Read more.. </a>
Israeli archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old seal that bears the inscription "Bethlehem," the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday, in what experts believe to be the oldest artifact with the name of Jesus' traditional birthplace. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/ancient-bethlehem-seal_n_1538605.html" target="_hplink">Ancient Bethlehem Seal Unearthed In Jerusalem</a> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/23/dig-proves-bethlehem_n_1538665.html" target="_hplink">Archaeologists Discover Evidence That Bethlehem Existed Centuries Before Jesus </a>
JERUSALEM (RNS) Archaeologists have unearthed a trove of artifacts dating back to the time of the biblical King David that they say closely correspond to the description of Solomon's Temple found in the Book of Kings. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/10/khirbet-qeiyafa-archaeology_n_1504722.html" target="_hplink">Khirbet Qeiyafa Excavations Find Evidence of Soloman's Temple, Archaeologists Say</a>
JERUSALEM -- Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/jerusalem-markings_n_1133613.html" target="_hplink">Jerusalem Markings From Ancient Past Stump Archeologists</a>
A colorful <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/samson-mosaic-discovered-huqoq-israel_n_1652525.html" target="_hplink">mosaic depicting the biblical figure Samson has been discovered</a> in the Galilee region of Israel, according to the Israeli Antiquities Authority. The artwork was found in a synagogue in Huqoq and is well preserved even though it dates back to the late Roman period, or around the fourth or fifth century.
A series of experiments conducted by Italian researchers indicate the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/20/shroud-of-turin-jesus-burial-cloth-authentic_n_1161363.html" target="_hplink">Shroud of Turin</a> is likely authentic, but the team has not yet reached a definite conclusion.
More information <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/the-gospel-of-jesus-wife_n_1891325.html?utm_hp_ref=religion">here</a>.
The so-called Gabriel Stone, a meter (three-foot)-tall tablet said to have been found 13 years ago on the banks of the Dead Sea, features 87 lines of an unknown prophetic text dated as early as the first century BC, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/30/gabriel-stone-jerusalem-unveils-mysterious-hebrew-tablet_n_3184953.html?utm_hp_ref=religion" target="_hplink">Read more here...</a>
A pitcher found during an Israeli archaeological dig may shed light on a biblical mystery that has gone unsolved for thousands of years. The broken clay pitcher, discovered in a bed of ashes in the Tel Shiloh dig site in the West Bank, suggests that the ancient city -- once the de facto capital city and spiritual center of ancient Israel -- was burned to the ground, the Tazpit News Agency reports. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/tel-shiloh-archaeological-dig-pitcher-city-israel-burned_n_2479718.html" target="_blank">Read more</a>
An Israeli archaeologist says she has uncovered a rare trove of ancient coins and medallions near Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Eilat Mazar of Jerusalem's Hebrew University says among the finds are jewelry and a gold medallion with the Jewish menorah symbol etched into it. Other findings include items with additional Jewish symbols such as a ram's horn and a Torah scroll. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/09/temple-mount-ancient-treasure_n_3893761.html" target="_blank">Read more</a>