This is from my forthcoming Everyday Bible Study volume on the Gospel of John. (Link to the one on Acts.) I am indebted to Lynn Cohick and Caryn Reeder and Amy-Jill Levine for how I read this passage. Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash A Samaritan Woman’s Witness about Jesus
I’ve been through three years of seminary and in second year of masters, and never had this perspective presented. Part of that’s on me because (clearly) I need to read wider but we definitely have a problem with the ‘rubble’ and it is robbing so many of the depths of scripture. This is refreshing and encouraging. Thanks Scot.
I cannot but remember how perfectly shamed I felt when reading Levine’s work a few years ago. There were so many other, and more sufficient, suppositions to her having had 5 husbands and living with one who is not, but one need not consider another when sultry slut is on the table. It says far more about me and all of us who accepted that without much consideration than it ever said about her. However, I agree that her name needs redeeming, and we need repenting.
The tie back to Nathanael! It’s right there, but I had never seen it. This has planted some seeds in my brain. Thank you.
I learned so much from reading the 3 sources you listed as I prepared for a paper on the Samaritan Woman in a recent paper for Women in the NT.
I found it interesting how the hymn writer Ephraim of Syrian saw her. “Your voice, O Woman, brought forth first fruit before even the apostles announcing the kerygma (the gospel of Christ)” Hymn 23, Ephraim the Syrian (306-373), Hymns translated by Kathy McVey, 1989.
And Origen (c. 185-254) comments on the Samaritan woman’s evangelism. “Kindly she began preaching about the Messiah to the to townsfolk”. and “Here, indeed, a woman ‘preached the gospel of’ the Messiah to the Samaritans.”
I can't wait to preach this text again someday! So many assumptions cleared away! It's strange and unfortunate that we/I have typically approached this text with eyes of judgement and not eyes of grace. Repent, indeed.
This was wonderful, Scot.
Excellent. What a great different prospective and honestly I believe you are correct
I was challenged to rethink, or I should say "expand" my perception of the woman at the well. I haven't found her to be "tainted" or immoral, however. I have often shared her story with people who feel guilty about past mistakes, or whose have deep heart ache. Jesus saw the woman's heart, and He understood the heart of the woman at the well. It seems to me He wanted to touch her deepest need. Five is alot of loss no matter how the loss occurred. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Maybe she just went there then. I had previously thought she wanted to avoid the "social hour" of the morning. I may be in error. Maybe she was there at the middle of the day because she didn't feel like talking to others. In moments of deep grief, often people have days when they don't have the energy to talk to others. That has been true in my life. Thanks for the resources you point us toward. I'll move there, too.
This is such a beautiful story and your thoughts are so important. The traditional reading misses so much that is going on and the intense beauty of this woman's transition from shame to freedom, which is something you didn't mention very much.
I am of the mind that she was likely barren and/or a widow, and thus had a number of husbands/men in her life. Many women I have talked with have such deep hurts from men, and when I read this story, I see those hurts on the face of this woman. But I also see her being miraculously healed by a single encounter with Jesus. So much so that she goes into her hometown and tells everyone to "come meet that man who told me all about myself" (a profound identity shift must have taken place).
Here's the interesting thing to me. Who would want to go meet someone who knew their deepest, darkest, most painful wounds and sins? I wouldn't run out to meet that person. No thank you. Unless.... the one telling me about that person was so free that their testimony drew me in and compelled me to want what she had.
Years ago we used to sing a chorus called "I will change your name". "You shall no longer be called; wounded, outcast, lonely, or afraid...." Love it
I have always enjoyed reading this passage because I can relate to the Samaritan woman. I like to look at the Bible through a sociocultural lens and the Samaritan woman always seemed like a lower class woman with a lot of charisma who did something meaningful with her life because she encountered Jesus. Sort of a "Dolly Parton" archetype in the bible who preaches the gospel from a different perspective. (She sings about Jesus, Joseph and incorporates lots of biblical themes into her music.) So it never bothered me to hear about the rubble. Though I do appreciate you pointing those out because those it legitimizes her position as a preacher, for which she became qualified because of her encounter with Jesus, not her social status, her degree in theology, or even her talent. Although she did need some natural gift to be able to influence her community. Perhaps that's why Jesus chose her. And perhaps that's why Jesus will choose many new preachers today as many pastors who don't preach the gospel burn out and their churches lose interest in the prosperity gospel. When you've been poor, you know suffering is part of the deal when you follow Jesus. How many poor people can afford to go to school for a degree in theology? Not many, but we need people who've experienced hardship to start churches in the US in order to help the increasing number of people who are experiencing hardship.
Christ is risen!
It's interesting that you've written on the Samaritan woman this week, Scot; this year, the Sunday after Pascha when the Orthodox Church commemorates her will be this coming Sunday.
Levine is always worth a read for her insights. It's good to re-think things in the NT in light of more historical knowledge. You know that I'm all for doing away with "rubble" around women. At the same time, just as it has been conjecture that the Samaritan woman was promiscuous, I think it's also conjecture to claim that she was "a leader in her community".
I wonder if you consulted any Eastern Christian sources? Terri has mentioned Ephrem and Origen commenting positively. If Chrysostom had anything negative to say, I'm sure he must have followed it up with something positive, because in EO we remember St Photini very positively; we hold her character in the highest regard because of the depth of her commitment to the Lord, right from the beginning. Yes, she has a name, "the enlightened". She also had sons, and they were all of them martyred for Christ. Her history has been handed down to us. Not only hers, but the history of other women we call "Equal to the Apostles" because of the breadth and influence of their witness.
In Eastern Christianity, I have not detected any piled-up "rubble" about women who may have been promiscuous. When someone truly repents (changes direction toward God - not simply feeling guilty and sorry) of any sin and lives in accordance with that change, we don't hold their past against them, male or female; quite the opposite. Do you know the story of St Mary of Egypt, or of the multiple other "loose women" who are venerated as saints, or of the several women who disguised themselves as boys in order to be able to enter a monastery, and who outshone their confreres in humility and piety? Well, yes, hagiographies often do go "over the top", but St Mary's story, shining with simplicity and truth, was written down within 200 years after she herself told it to the monk Zosimas - not that long a time.
I don't have your training or good theological insights, Scot. And I know that theologians can't know everything about everything. I just wish American NT scholars wouldn't ignore the Eastern Christian heritage. At least add Dr Fr John Behr to your reading list! Thanks-
What do you think of the idea that in the old Aramaic, “you’ve had five husbands” may have been translated “you’ve had five lords” or five rulers… and it could have been a kind of inside-talk to this Samaritan woman… NOT referring to actual husbands, but referring to the 5 different regimes that had ruled over the Samaritans over the centuries?
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have read female theologians' perspectives for the past several years that have dug the Samaritan Woman out of the rubble, to use your wording, but to read a man write about her this way as well is refreshing. It is past time we rid the Samaritan Woman of the sexist trope of being a loose woman. I had never thought to compare Nicodemus's conversation and the Samaritan Woman's conversation with Jesus in this way. Your point that "we might ask ourselves why we adore Nicodemus and denigrate this woman" is truly a question I am now asking too.