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.
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