Three thousand-year-old archaeological discoveries that came to light recently at Tel Dan in northern Israel, indicate that the Danites were possibly Aegean (Greek) soldiers hired by Canaan's Egyptian rulers to keep peace. In other words, Samson and other ancient Israelites mentioned in the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible could have been Greek in blood and origin.
The Tribe of Dan May Not Be an Israelite Tribe After All
A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC 2.0)
The Tribe of Dan might be one of the twelve original "Israelite tribes" and symbolize the lands of Israel to many people around the world, but according to the new archaeological finds the Danites probably weren’t Israelites in blood. Instead, it appears like the Danites originated with mercenaries hired from ancient Greece (Aegean in specific) and Syria by the Egyptian rulers of Canaan to keep order. In accordance with the Bible, after the Israelites invaded and controlled Canaan, they split the land between the Israelite tribes, excluding the tribe of Dan.
Disappointed with such injustice, the Danites decided to go northward, and conquer the city of Laish. After their victory they rebuilt the city and renamed it after their ancestor. What makes things more interesting is that recent excavations have unearthed a large neighborhood from the 12-11th century BC that clearly shows enthralling Greek (Aegean) influences.
Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From Givat Mordechai Etz Yosef synagogue facade, Ha Rav Gold street, in Jerusalem. The tribe of Dan is represented in the top right (public domain)
The Recent Finds Relight Longstanding Academic Debates
The recent discoveries have revived long-established debates among historians over the origin of the Danites and now set a series of questions that need to be answered convincingly: Were the Danites a tribe of Israel that was ignored by the rest local tribes after all or not? Could they be descendants of the Denyen, a group of people that the Egyptians described as Sea Peoples? Or maybe they were related to the Danaoi, one of the Greek tribes? The discoveries at Tel Dan indicate that they could be.
The city of Dan was constructed on a mound near the southern part of Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in the Golan Heights. By 2000 BC, the city had become immense surrounded by huge ramparts, called Laish. By the Late Bronze Age, Laish had established sprawling trade connections with the countries and coastal cities throughout the eastern Mediterranean, including Sidon and Tyre to the north, Egypt to the south most parts of then-Greece to the west.
Tel located about half a kilometer north of Kibbutz Dan, the jurisdiction of the Tel Dan nature reserve in the Hula Valley (CC by SA 3.0)
The Greek Presence and Influence is Undeniable According to the Archaeological Findings
The discovery of a tomb built with rough stones in a style akin to that found in Enkomi, in today's Cyprus, suggests that the ties between Laish and the Greek areas of the Aegean go back to 14th century BC. Additionally, inside the tomb archaeologists discovered over a hundred ceramic vessels, which according to chemical analysis were made in the Greek city-state of Argos, the center of Mycenaean culture during the Bronze Age.
Metal objects, pipes, crucibles and slag found at Tel Dan Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology
The excavations at Tel Dan launched in 1966 and finished in 1999 under the leadership of Avraham Biran, a decorated Israeli archaeologist and head of the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. Dr. David Ilan of the Hebrew Union College, the man who restarted the excavation in the area, after examining closely old and new findings, he suggested that the old theory about Danites not beginning as a tribe of Israel, but originating from Greece – first proposed by Michael Astour and Yigal Yadin back in the 1960s), might be right. The excavators at Dan also found vessels decorated with Aegean-style birds, chalices, offering bowls, a model silo, and curious brain-shaped stones that may have been used in ritual, as well as various other objects and artefacts that indicate that the peoples living in Dan were probably a mixed group who brought their habits and traditions from their places of origin.
Dr. David Ilan told haaretz, “The most famous Danite in the Bible is Samson, a quite essential archetype of a Greek hero: He is very strong, his power resides in his long hair, he tells riddles and he hangs out with Philistine women,” while he adds about the mixed cultural background of the findings in the area and the political system of rule the Egyptians practiced in the area, so the foreigners would avoid allegiance with the locals, “This would explain the layers of mixed cultural material at Tel Dan, with elements from Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, and the Aegean. We also have dozens of Egyptian cooking pots! These people served the Egyptians and the Egyptian army but they also included merchants doing business.”
Was famous Danite, Samson, really a Greek? ‘Samson’ by Solomon J Solomon, 1860 – 1927 (public domain)