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Does archaeology shed any light on the story of Samson pulling down a Philistine temple?

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In the story of Samson it says he pulled down an entire temple. Have archaeologists uncovered any information that would relate to this account?

A major turning point in Israel's war against the Philistines was Samson's death. He had been taken captive through the deception of Delilah. The Philistines gouged out his eyes and took him to Gaza, one of their main cities.

There they put him to work grinding grain in a prison. We know from archaeological findings that this type of prison was in reality a “grinding house.” One of the most time-consuming tasks in antiquity was the grinding of grain. In the average home, this fell to the women of the household. The bureaucratic aristocracy, however, set up grinding houses to provide grain for the privileged elite. This was a place where slaves and prisoners were put to work. The tools were simple hand grinding stones.

Samson spent his days seated on the ground grinding grain with a hand-held pestle that was rubbed back and forth on a mortar in his lap.

One day the Philistine leaders held a religious ceremony to celebrate their victory over their enemy. They brought Samson into the temple where they were assembled, so he could entertain them. Once inside the temple, Samson asked the servant who was guiding him to show him where the pillars were, so he could lean against them. “Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, `Let me die with the Philistines!' Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judges 16:29-30).

In one fell swoop, Samson eliminated the entire Philistine leadership. This was a major setback in their conflict with Israel. It was a turning point. From this time on, the Israelites started to gain the upper hand.

But did it really happen? Could one man pull down an entire temple single handed? Archaeology has provided us with some amazing answers.

Philistine Temple, Israel. Copyrighted.
Two stone pillar bases in the Philistine temple at Tel Qasile, Israel
Supplied by Films for Christ.

Two Philistine temples have been uncovered by archaeologists. One at Tel Qasile, in northern Tel Aviv, and one in Tel Miqne, ancient Ekron, 21 miles south of Tel Aviv. Both temples share a unique design—the roof was supported by two central pillars! The pillars were made of wood and rested on stone support bases. With the pillars being about six feet apart, a strong man could dislodge them from their stone bases and bring the entire roof crashing down. The archaeological findings match the Biblical story perfectly and attest to the plausibility of the account.

Although Samson had his weaknesses, he was a man of God and is listed in the New Testament as one of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, … whose weakness was turned to strength” (Hebrews 11:32-34).

For Further Reading

  • Bryant G. Wood 1974, “Samson and the House of Dagon,” Bible and Spade, pp. 50-54. (available from the Associates for Biblical Research).

  • Samson (WebBible Encyclopedia)

  • Philistines (WebBible Encyclopedia)

Author: Bryant Wood of Associates for Biblical Research

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