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The Samson Story as Border Fiction

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image of Biblical Interpretation

This essay explores the role of story-telling in constructing Judah's border with the Philistines in the shephelah. Judah's struggle to control this frontier involved overcoming social pressures and incentives that naturally pulled Israelites and Philistines living in it toward integration and hybridization. The Samson story, the most famous biblical narrative associated with the shephelah, offers us an opportunity to reconstruct a possible role for story-telling in counteracting this pressure. Drawing on parallels with Greek myth, I argue that the Samson narrative does not merely reflect the ethnic and cultural ambiguities of the shephelah but seeks to assert control over them, doing so in ways that delegitimize Philistine claims to this region and stigmatize border-crossing. What we have in the Samson story, in other words, is an attempt to impose a fictional border between Judah and the Philistines in the shephelah, a border no less inhibitive for being imaginary.


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