Delilah and Samson lived out their lives in a time of social turmoil. All over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, people and nations were on the move and the Hebrew tribes, coming up from Egypt, were among these migratory groups.
The land they entered was already occupied by Canaanites and Philistines, who held the area now covered by Israel and Lebanon. These two groups governed the land, particularly the fertile plains and sea-ports, through a sophisticated system of city-states. All that the Israelite tribes could do was try to gain a foothold in the sparsely populated, less fertile hill territories.The Canaanites and Philistines naturally resisted this intrusion, as the stories of Delilah and Samson show only too well. The Philistines were more technologically advanced than the Israelites, and suppressed Israelite ambition by forbidding them to have their own metal-processing workshops.
This meant that the Hebrews/Israelites could not manufacture effective weapons – something that is implied when Samson uses the jaw-bone of an ass as a weapon to slaughter his enemies. The message of the story is that, with or without iron weapons, the Israelites will fight their enemies.
Nowadays the word ‘ Philistine’ has come to mean someone who is uncouth or uncultured, but at the time of the Bible stories the Philistines were probably more sophisticated than the Hebrews. Excavations in the coastal plain (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod) have uncovered decorated pottery: two-handled jugs or bowls, buff in colour, with a creamy grey wash, painted in red and black with geometric designs or swans pluming themselves. This pottery is similar to Mycenaean ware, suggesting there were close ties between the Philistines and Greece during the Iron Age.
It was the Philistines’ central organization which, together with iron weapons, allowed them to dominate the loosely linked Hebrew tribes – and eventually pushed the tribes into electing a king (Saul, then David) who would unify them and make them strong enough to fight back.
The Temple of Dagon
If you want to see what the Temple of Dagon was like, go to the Jerusalem Temple.
This page has a photograph of the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, now housed in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It was probably similar in design to a Philistine temple.
Note especially the huge double pillars at the front of the building.
Above: reconstruction of a Philistine temple, based on excavations at Tel Qasile, Israel (see the real thing below)
Painting showing Samson using all his strength to topple the columns of the Temple of Dagon
For additional information on the lives of women in the Bible, see the links to