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Recreating Biblical stories where they actually took place is always more meaningful than studying them in the classroom. They come to life that much easier. The Tzora Forest is an excellent place for appreciating the story of Samson. This is the area where Samson was born and buried and the wider area where most of the stories involving him occurred. The forest is well planned with picnic areas, observation points and sculptures. There is also a trail to Tel Tzura and Samson’s grave in which part of the Samson story is described on signs.

 

Samson was from the tribe of Dan. This tribe was allocated territory between the tribes of Judah and Ephraim that stretched from the area of Beit Shemesh to the sea, including the port of Jaffa. However, they were never able to realize all their inheritance and they were sandwiched into a small area around Beit Shemesh. This may be because Sea People migrated from Crete to along the Mediterranean coast at about this time. This included the Philistines, who occupied five main cities – Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron, the so-called Pentopolis. Other Sea people settled on the coast north of this, including in Aphek, Jaffa and Dor. It was not the intention of the Philistines to conquer all of Palestine, but as the Israelite kingdom became more powerful under King Saul and then King David, the conflict between them became more pronounced.

 

Tel Tzora overlooks the Sorek Valley and is located on its northern aspect not far from Route 38. Route 38 is an ancient arterial road that extends in a north-east direction from Route 35 near Beit Guvrin to the Sha’ar HaGai Interchange. Tel Tzora is opposite Tel Beit Shemesh on the southern side of the Sorek Valley, and hence not far from modern Beit Shemesh. Tel Tzora is also fairly close the modern-day Kibbutz Tzora.

 

The Sorek Valley is a deep valley with a seasonal flow of water that begins from close to Ramallah and extends to Palmachim on the coast. Biblical Eshtaol, which was also in the territory of the tribe of Dan, was close to Tzora, perhaps close to present-day Route 44. Ancient Timna was a Philistine city where Samson’s first wife lived. It was in the Sorek Valley, west of Tzora in the Shfela between Beit Shemesh and Ekron.

 

Hence, the area we are discussing was a point of convergence between the Philistines and the two tribes of Israel, Judah and Dan. Relations between the Israelites and the Philistines were probably fairly amicable, although the Philistines had the upper hand.

 

The word Philistine in modern parlance has the connotation of someone uncouth and boorish. This was not the ancient Philistines. Archeological excavations have revealed that they had a sophisticated culture and were more advanced than the Israelites in metallurgy and the making of weapons.

 

The stories about Samson are somewhat puzzling in that the Bible does not clearly point out how to understand their dissonances. Samson was elected from birth by God and “he will begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines”’ (Judges 13:5). He embodies an aspect of holiness by being raised from birth as a Nazarite by not drinking wine or cutting his hair. The Bible also informs us that “he judged Israel for 20 years (ibid 16,31). On the other hand, he was a womanizer attracted to Philistine women, including Philistine prostitutes. His acts of resistance against the Philistines described in the Bible are those of a loner rather than a leader that probably had little short-term or long-term influence on the position of the tribe of Dan; although they may have had some deterrent effect against the Philistine. The people of Judah seemed unappreciative of his activities and they arrested him on the instructions of the Philistines saying to him: “You knew that the Philistines rule over us; why have you done this to us?” (ibid 15:11). This is the speech of either a demoralized people, or more likely a people that has gotten used to a certain status quo and is not willing for it to be disrupted.

 

Samson was the last recorded leader of the Israelites. He was what we would call a firebrand and what the Philistines would likely have called a terrorist. He was dissatisfied with the status quo and began to harass the Philistines.

 

The book of Judges tells stories of triumph but also of anarchy. According to Jewish tradition it was written by the prophet Samuel and he used this book to justify the institution of monarchy. The prophet Samuel will lead this process by anointing the first two kings of Israel, King Saul and King David under the instructions of God. But he is also against the idea of monarchy, realizing the demands that a king will make on the people. Nevertheless, he bends to their will.

 

Samson is the first, or at least one of the first, to seek to break away from the control of the Philistines. His own actions have little political effect. However, his own lack of success may have begun the process of implanting in the Jewish people the notion that a leader was needed who would be able to unite the tribes. In this way he began to “deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” Namely, he was the first to begin a long-term process rather than the first to pursue a successful military campaign. Nevertheless, the tribe of Dan were frustrated with their location and would eventually relocate to the north of Israel to the Eastern Galilee to what is now Tel Dan.  

 

This short, circular hike provides wonderful views and passes by Tel Tzora and the alleged tomb of Samson:

Directions and parking: Enter into Waze “Samson’s Tomb.” Shortly before you get there, you will see a large parking lot on your right with white memorial pillars. Park in this parking lot. Alternatively, the following Waze link will get you directly to the parking lot https://waze.com/ul/hsv8uu0thm.

Admission: The JNF President’s Forest in the Tzora Forest is open 24 hours a day. There are several large picnic areas with picnic benches, especially at the beginning of the park. There is a basketball court and a play area. The Sculpture Trail is the main path through the park and has a number of statues on the side of the road. This is their website.

Time1 hour 15 minutes.

Distance: 2.5 Km

Type of hike: Circular.

Difficulty: An easy hike with an incline and some stony paths.

View over Sorek Valley.jpeg

View over Nahal Sorek and the Judean Mountains from the observation point on the tell.

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  • First take a short walk to the observation area overlooking Nahal Sorek. Turn left on exiting from the parking lot. Then return to the parking lot.

 

  • From the far end of the parking lot take the concrete path past the pillars. This leads to a dirt path with signs containing sections from the book of Judges regarding the life of Samson. These signs point in the direction of the route.

 

  • This path comes to an end by the last sign at a broader path. Cross over this path to a path on its far side that has stone borders.

 

  • This path ends by a large picnic area. Turn left. Take the second turning on the right. There is a cypress tree and cactus by the turning.

 

  • Continue along this path until you see a path on the left going up the tell.  There are again exerts from the book of Judges at the beginning of the path.

 

  • You will eventually come to a lookout with a sign identifying what you are viewing.

 

  • Continue along this path that will bring you to the tomb of Samson and his father.

 

This is the story of Samson’s death as found in the book of Judges. Delila extracts from him the secret of his prodigious strength, his locks of hair were cut and she betrays him for money to the Philistines:

 

The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and shackled him in bronze fetters, and he became a mill slave in the prison. After his hair was cut off, it began to grow back. Now the lords of the Philistines gathered to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon and to make merry. They chanted, “Our god has delivered into our hands our enemy Samson.” When the people saw him, they sang praises to their god, chanting, “Our god has delivered into our hands. The enemy who devastated our land, and who slew so many of us.”As their spirits rose, they said, “Call Samson here and let him dance for us.” Samson was fetched from the prison, and he danced for them. Then they put him between the pillars. And Samson said to the boy who was leading him by the hand, “Let go of me and let me feel the pillars that the temple rests upon, that I may lean on them.” Now the temple was full of men and women; all the lords of the Philistines were there, and there were some three thousand men and women on the roof watching Samson dance. Then Samson called to God, “O Sovereign God! Please remember me, and give me strength just this once, O God, to take revenge of the Philistines, if only for one of my two eyes.” He embraced the two middle pillars that the temple rested upon, one with his right arm and one with his left, and leaned against them; Samson cried, “Let me die with the Philistines!” and he pulled with all his might. The temple came crashing down on the lords and on all the people in it. Those who were slain by him as he died outnumbered those who had been slain by him when he lived (Judges 16:21-30).

  

There is a tradition that this is Samson’s tomb. The book of Judges tells us that his brethren and house of his father “buried him between Zora and Eshtaol in the burying-place of Manoah his father” (Judges 16:31). This tomb is on the lower slope of the tell, which is an unlikely place for him to be buried and there are doubts that this is truly his tomb.

 

  • Continue down the hill to the road. Turn left. Continue past the roundabout and you will soon come to the parking lot.

Beginning of trail.jpeg

The trail from the parking lot. There are signs along the trail with quotations from the book of Judges.

Samson tomb.jpeg

The alleged tomb of Samson.

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