Biblical Tours: Judean Plain Part I – The Grave of Samson

Biblical Tours is a special series highlighting a collection of sites in the Holy Land as told by Israel’s very own tour guide, Gary Littwin. Familiar passages will literally take on new life and new meaning. You will absolutely feel the connection and the tangible, for-real bond which connects modern Israel and all of us to ancient Israel. Be prepared for some surprises as well!

Ok friends, break out your bibles because for our first biblical tour in Israel we are going where a lot of the action was: the Judean Plain.

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What is the Judean plain? It’s actually a rather hilly strip of land in central Israel, about 90 kilometers north to south and 15 to 20 kilometers east to west. It’s bordered to the east by the Judean Mountains, to the west by the coastal plain, in the north by Rosh HaAyin/Afek and southern Samaria, and in the south by the Shikma riverbed just north of Gaza.

It can’t all be covered in a day, but you can hit some of the highlights. Let’s explore them now!

Just north of Beit Shemesh is the President Forest (Ya’ar HaNasi). Beautiful and serene, the forest is a great place for a picnic. The trees comprise a tiny fraction of the 240 million – you read that right – trees planted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) throughout the Land of Israel.

Driving towards Samson’s grave at Tel Tsorah you’ll see some interesting sculptures, most of which were created by talented immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin
Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin

Following the signs to the site, you are now in the territory of the tribe of Dan. In Samson’s time, Dan controlled only a fraction of land bequeathed to them by G-d.

“The seventh lot came out for the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families. And the border of their inheritance was Zorah, and Eshtaol, and Ir-shemesh; and Shaalabbin, and Aijalon, and Ithlah; and Elon, and Timnah, and Ekron; and Eltekeh, and Gibbethon, and Baalath; and Jehud, and Bene-berak, and Gath-rimmon; and Me-jarkon, and Rakkon, with the border over against Joppa.And the border of the children of Dan was too strait for them; so the children of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families, these cities with their villages.” (Joshua 19:40-48)

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This was due to some serious disagreements with their powerful neighbors to the west, otherwise known as the Philistines. Much of the tribe had already relocated far to the north, in the area of Tel Dan on what is today Israel’s border with Lebanon.

This brings us to Samson, sent by the Lord to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

“For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come upon his head; for the child shall be a Nazirite unto God from the womb; and he shall begin to save Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.’”(Judges 13:5).

Climbing the hill you’ll find a double grave marker inscribed with the names of Samson and his father, Manoach. And they are right where they should be.

Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin
Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin

Judges 16:31 tells us Samson was buried between the towns of Tsorah and Eshtaol:

“Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying-place of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.”

Looking a short distance to the northeast is Moshav Eshtaol. Turn around to the southwest and you are looking at Kibbutz Tsorah.

Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin
Photo credit goes to Gary Littwin

Samson as a hero, a judge, and a truly exceptional personality, has captivated millions throughout the ages, Jews and Christians alike. He was a nazirite, a religious ascetic who takes upon himself a complete abstention from drinking wine (Judges 13:5), not an easy thing in this part of Israel which is thick with sun-drenched vineyards and world-renowned for its wine. (For those among us who are not nazirites, it’s highly recommended to arrange a visit to one of the local wineries.)

The view from here is beautiful.  The Hebron Mountains and the Etzion settlement bloc are close, as are modern and ancient Beit Shemesh. About 15 kilometers to the west is the site of the Philistine town of Timna, the region where Samson was first smitten by a Philistine woman and later on by his famous nemesis Delilah.

For tours with Gary, he can be reached at gary.littwin@gmail.com.