Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

by Leolaia 36 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Leolaia

    Twice (John 4:29, 39), the Samaritan woman is said to have reported to her townspeople that a man had told her ?everything? she did. One may surmise that those whom she told knew rather well precisely what the things were that she had done, for they followed her urging to see this remarkably perceptive stranger. Precisely what did Jesus tell her that so moved her and others, and how did he go about it?

    Jesus is regularly supposed to have told the Samaritan woman (John 4:17b-18) that she was married five times and was now living with someone she had not married. This assumption renders it unlikely that Jesus is challenging her morality. Instead, it centres the theological issue in v. 18 on Jesus? revelation to the woman of the supernatural knowledge he possesses. Accordingly, his reason for ?abruptly? changing the subject at v. 16 remains unexplained. Nor does it become clear how the fact or nature of his supernatural knowledge effectively bears on the subsequent half of his dialogue with the woman. If, however, one attends to word-play in Jesus? reply that specifies her illicit relationships, one can behold the whole dialogue opening up like a flower. Various related elements become much more coherent: Jesus? giving her ?the story of her life?; the reasons for the apparently abrupt change of subject at v. 16; the telling effect of Jesus? self-identification in v. 25.

    When reading Jesus? dialogue with the woman from its outset (4:7) to v. 15, one becomes aware of the fact that this conversation is going nowhere. Jesus is repeatedly trying to bring the woman to ask for what he himself mysteriously has to offer. He has presented his ?gift? as a kind of secret by indicating that, if she knew the gift of God and who it is who is asking her for a drink of water, she would have made a request of him, and he would have given her living water. She then challenges his power to draw the water: he has no bucket, nor is he likely to be the equal of Jacob, who gave her people this well in an originally dramatic way, namely, with an artesian surge that nourished his children and his flocks. Jesus then characterizes the water he offers to give as quenching thirst forever and becoming an effervescing source for everlasting life. Finally (v. 15) the woman mockingly asks for the lasting, internal water that Jesus offers (touto to hudor) so that she will not thirst or have to come this way to draw. She fails to understand the kind of water that he promises, for she speaks of it as a kind of water that differs only by quenching (physical) thirst permanently and by not having to be fetched by walking to a well. She seems, moreover, to be ?humouring? Jesus with a tinge of sarcasm. Surely, she is not asking seriously for the kind of water that he has been talking about. The reader should readily perceive that there is no communication here on the level of religious dialogue.

    Jesus, however, turns her ?apparent? request to his advantage. He pretends that it is genuine, although his language soon shows that he knows it was not. He places a condition on her acquiring the water he offers, namely, that she call her ?man? (ton andra sou), here readily construed as ?your husband?. This deft change of topic (ostensibly introducing a third person, related to the woman addressed) provides a new point of departure for the conversation between these two individuals. As soon appears, Jesus? ploy in probing for a moral nerve enables him to raise the level of communication to dialogue about religious issues.

    Jesus? change of topic at this point is not altogether abrupt. It should be construed as quite consistent with his line of conversation thus far, for two reasons. First, at the outset of their conversation, when the woman had expressed surprise at his request, he introduced the note of a secret he could and would disclose: ?If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you . . . you would have made a request of him, and he would have given you living water (4:10).? In v. 15, the woman apparently makes that suggested request, however sarcastically, and thus provides Jesus with the opportunity to pick up the note of mystery by offering to let in on his secret her ?man? too (scil., her husband). Second, the circumstances of a lone woman?s coming to a well at high noon, given the customs of the day that John?s reader (and surely Jesus himself) can be assumed to know, suggest that Jesus may be trying gently to entice her into a moral and therefore religious level of discussion.

    The specific details of her life are by no means clear, but her conduct does arouse one?s curiosity. The woman?s dissembling yet honest reply, ?I have no man (ouk ekho andra)?, which she means to be construed as ?no husband?, receives an immediate response from Jesus (vv. 17b-18). The term ?man? (aner), an adult human male (whether a single man, a lover, or a husband) provides the basis for his play on words. Jesus frames his riposte with paired, ironic compliments on the skilful aptness of her response and its truthfulness: ?Nicely said . . .; this you have said is true.? He then interprets her reply as he sees through it: ?You had five men (andras - in the sense of ??lovers, co-fornicators??) and now the one you have is not your man (ouk estin sou aner - in the sense of ??your husband??).? In short, she is not married and never was. She has lived with five men and the one with whom she now lives is not her man (scil., husband), but belongs to some other woman. Jesus is hardly speaking about five stages of widowhood and one of fornication. Rather, he pointedly indicates that she never was and is not now married. Instead, she had spent her life with five lovers, and is currently living, as the emphatic ?your? shows (kai nun hon ekheis ouk estin sou aner), in an adulterous relationship.

    The woman responds appropriately enough. For she sees that it must mean at least the fullness of God?s revelation: ?When he (the Messiah) comes, he will tell us (reveal to us) everything.? In identifying himself, Jesus also tellingly redirects the dialogue to centre on his personal contact with the woman. He returns the dialogue to the singular: ?I am he, the one speaking with you [sg.].? At this point, one may sense that a light-bulb goes on in the woman?s mind. For, subsequently, she makes her confession to the people in the city by inviting them to come and see a man who told her everything she did (4:29). In John?s narrative, of course, the moment of illumination finds dramatic expression. By leaving her water-jug as she departs for the city, she shows that she has set aside her original concern. In disclosing her whole lifestory, Jesus has revealed to her personally that he is the Messiah. She phrases her message to the Samaritans in the city as a cautious assertion (meti, v. 29b). Nevertheless, as becomes clear in v. 29, they take it quite positively and integrally as ?testimony?. Under the circumstances, her confession hardly means that Jesus is merely one with preternatural knowledge about ?morally neutral data? of her past life (as would be the case if he had told her among other things that she was married five times). Rather, it implies a moral confession about this stranger?s prophetic knowledge and rebuke concerning a sinful way of life that her Samaritan hearers already knew she had led.

    One may sense the importance of her testimony as a personal recognition of Jesus from the Samaritans? reference to it in vv. 39 and 40. Actually, they do not ?put her down? by saying that they no longer (ouketi) believe because of what she said (v. 42). Rather, they declare a new basis for their own belief in Jesus through having heard personally, for themselves, what he has to say (v. 41b and 42b).

    With John 4:15, it becomes clear that the Samaritan woman does not really comprehend the kind of water Jesus has offered her. Jesus? dialogue with her has not reached the needed level of communication. Jesus takes her somewhat mocking request, however, as the occasion to press the hidden gift he would offer. He asks her to call her ?man? (ton andra sou), readily taken in context to mean her ?husband?. When she replies that she has none, Jesus ironically commends her frankness and discloses to her the story of her life: she has lived with five men (all instances of fornication) and is now living with a man who is not her man (ouk estin sou aner), scil., her husband (the current adulterous relationship).

    She then acknowledges him as a prophet, but at the same time alters the focus in ?a religious discussion with a prophet? from the moral issue to the cultic one. This she tries to render less immediately personal by switching to the first and third persons plural. Jesus pursues the topic, moving from her concern with the place of the cult to the Father?s immediate temporal concern in seeking genuine worshippers. This concern requires worship on the level of the spirit and of Jesus? personal revelation (truth). She responds in a not alien way that she (and other Samaritans) expect the Messiah who is coming will tell them everything. When Jesus identifies himself to her personally, she realizes that he has indeed told her ?everything?, namely, the story of her life. She then has reason to share with her countrymen her own experience in recognizing Jesus as the one whom they all await.

    From Charles H. Giblin, NTS 45 (1999)

  • yxl1

    Thanks for the post Leo. This is one scripture that has always bugged me. I don’t know why, but this scripture always made me think of Jesus as having a manipulating manner. He tries hard to convince the woman who he is, using the analogy of water that will quench thirst forever, (geeeze..) and even the indirect snide remarks about her morality.Don’t ask me to back my comments up with any intellectual reasoning, because I cant .LOL. Maybe its because the witnesses always used this scripture to show how Jesus could swing any situation to further his ideals. Again, thanks for the interesting post and apologies for the rambling.


  • stillajwexelder

    Leolaia - thankyou - I too struggled with this scripture - I appreciate your post

  • peacefulpete

    Guess who the woman was? Yep, Jesus lover/wife. The following verses, (43-47,54) go to great pains to relocate the following wedding scene in Galilee not Sychar. It has been suggested that the water into wine miracle (Dionysus style) was at Jesus own wedding. This was likewise forcfully located at Cana of Galilee (2.1,11). Remember that Jesus is approached when the party runs short of wine. Why if he is not the groom? Notice too that the wedding takes place on the "third day". Third day from what? 4:40 tells us Jesus stayed wih the Samaritan woman and family for 2 days. The story has been reshuffled! Jesus samaritan wedding scene was initially disguised as being an event he happened to attend in GAlilee. Then a later copyist relocated the wedding scene literally to 2 chapters back!

  • Leolaia

    xyl1 & stillexjwelder....It was a confusing story to me too. I remember it being summarized (and sanitized) in the My Book of Bible Stories, and the story never made much sense the way the WTS retold it.....partly, because it sounded so corny the way Jesus was talking to the Samaritan woman, and also because the the WTS never really explained what this "living water" was supposed to be (resurrection into a paradise earth? But I thought pretty much everyone except Adam and the Sodom and Gomorrah people would get resurrected anyway?). And also did Jesus, after all, end up giving her this water, or was it just a tease?

  • Narkissos

    Well (!), it's not so important to me, but I'm hardly convinced by the explanation. The word anèr would change meanings in the same sentence (v. 18)? That's reading much into the text... As v. 17b shows, echein andra may involve marriage just as sou anèr. Moreover, if the "five men" are "illicit partners", just as "the one you have now", is the latter the fifth or a sixth one? Seems to confuse the narrative a bit more...

    By the way, the "meeting at the well" is clearly an erotic topos, from Jacob/Rachel story on... This even shows in the Johannine narrative, in v. 27: Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" And, whatever one thinks of Peacefulpete's reconstruction, the literary connection with Cana is obvious (v. 46 and the water jar, hudria, only in v. 28 and 2:6-7)

  • Leolaia

    I already confessed that the "Jesus' wife" theories seem pretty far-out for me and appear to impose themselves on the text rather than emerge from it. Nevertheless, I agree that the Cana miracle story makes some sense if Jesus is understood as the groom. On the other hand, the story may have some relation to the Parable of the Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-12), which in both cases involved a wedding and guests running out of a liquid substance (in the case of the miracle, wine, in the case of the parable, oil). An intermediate form of the parable would have related that the foolish guests waited for the bridegroom to arrive, drank up the wine while they waited, and went out to buy more wine and missed the wedding (cf. Matthew 25:10). The wise guests did not drink up the wine, continued waiting for the groom and were rewarded since the groom arrived with extra wine. This version would also more closely resemble the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30, wherein the master is the one who rewards the wise. The wedding parable would then serve as inspiration for the miracle in the Semeia Gospel (in both cases the bridegroom would be the provider of the replacement wine), composed by importing a popular Dionysian myth. Then John would have adapted the miracle story in his gospel, leaving out the bit about Jesus being the bridegroom.

    But if that's the case, John would not have then identified or implied that the Samaritan woman was Jesus' bride. Moreover, the addition of the gloss in John 2:4, which explicitly disidentifies Jesus as the groom (making him essentially into a random guest) and which is usually treated as a Johannine insertion (cf. Miller 1994:182), is best regarded as an addition made when the Semeia Gospel was adapted by the principal author and not by a later redactor, since it introduces in this first section of the gospel the "hour" theme which recurs in John 7:6, 20; 8:20; 12:23 and climaxes in 13:1. Furthermore, I don't agree that the Samaritan woman story originally preceded the Cana miracle narrative and the original location of the wedding was Sychar, not Cana. That is not to say that there is not major disorder in the text; I have already pointed out the evidence in an earlier post how the chapters were shuffled out of order so that original order should have been 4, 6, 5, and 7. My reasons relate to John's use of the Semeia Gospel. As you know, this source was a miracle gospel of seven signs that climaxed in Lazarus' resurrection and then ended with the words "There are many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book" (20:30). The first two signs that Jesus worked were the water-to-wine miracle at Cana and the cure of the nobleman's son in nearby Capernaum. John has preserved the original numbering system at the end of these two miracles: "This was the first of the signs given by Jesus, it was given at Cana in Galilee" (2:11), and "This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judea to Galilee" (4:54). Into this original framework of miracle stories, John has inserted his own dialogues, controversy stories, and other material. Three groups of stories and discourses were inserted between these two miracle stories: (1) a Jerusalem complex (containing the Cleansing of the Temple story and the Conversation with Nicodemus dialogue), (2) a Judean countryside complex (containing a discourse by John the Baptist), and (3) a Samaritan complex (containing the story of the woman at the well and Jesus' discourse with his disciples). Unlike the later disorder between chapters 4-7 (where the story wildly jumps back and forth without any redaction), the three complexes are clearly connected to each other by passages that mention the movement from one place to another (cf. 2:12-13; 3:22; 4:1-4, 43). Now what is most significant is that the first miracle takes place in Cana and the author tries very strenuously to get Jesus back into Cana (despite all his wanderings to Jerusalem and through Judea) in time for his second miracle (4:46). This fact indicates that indeed the location of Cana was original to the Semeia Gospel and the wanderings outside the Cana-Caperneum area were later insertions into the text. The insertion of the Samaritan woman story occurs logically where it does because Sychar is geographically located midway between Jerusalem and Cana; the author makes this explicit in 4:3: "He left Judea and went back to Galilee; this meant he had to cross Samaria." Thus, the Sychar story is itself dependent on the visit to Jerusalem which explains what Jesus was doing all the way down in Samaria, and since the Jerusalem insertion was secondary to the Semeia Gospel, Sychar could not logically have been locale of the wedding in the original source. The locale of Sychar (Sichara is Aramaic for "Shechem") is also integral to the "woman at the well" story (cf. 4:5, 12, 20), and could not have originally been Cana. Finally, the Cana story mentions that the wedding took place in a locale where levitically-oriented "Jews" (ton Ioudaion) lived (2:6), not Samaritans. And why would Jesus be marrying a woman he met only two days earlier? According to your suggestion, the timeline had to have been an original feature to the story since you relate the "third day" in 2:1 with the "two days" in 4:43 -- even tho the latter occurs in a gloss whose sole purpose is to get Jesus back up to Cana in Galilee in time for his second "sign". The reference to the "third day" in 2:1 is more than adequately explained as an allusion to the Passion, which also appears throughout the narrative: (1) Jesus' reference to his coming "hour" in v. 4, (2) Jesus' provision of wine as prefiguring the Last Supper, with the transubstantiation motif in v. 9, and (3) the new wine, symbolic of Jesus' blood, is superior to the old, levitical ablutions symbolized also by the imperfect number 6 in v. 6.


  • Leolaia

    Narkissos....The problem, what made this text confusing traditionally, is that Jesus does shift the meaning of aner in the same sentence: the direct object of the verb ekheis "you have" is the relative pronoun hon, which has as its antecedent the aner in the preceding clause, so that in effect Jesus is saying: "The man you now have is not your man," the latter clearly meaning "husband" while the former clearly meaning "boyfriend, lover". If that's the case, what of the aner in the prior clause? Since it is the antecedent of the relative pronoun, could it too mean illicit partners? The author suggests that indeed it does, because of the sheer implausibility that a woman had already been widowed five times. Not that this is definitely the case, but it is an interesting approach to the text. I also see no confusion in the number of relationships; the aorist verb eskhes "you had" in contrast to ekheis "you have" clearly shows that she is in her sixth relationship.

    That's a fascinating observation about the waterpot. The story was clearly intended to carry themes from the Cana miracle story forward, and connect also to the subsequent reference to "living water" in 7:37-38. The common thread between all three is the "hour" motif: in the first case, Jesus "manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him" though his "hour has not yet come" (2:4, 11), in the second Jesus says "an hour is coming" where the Spirit will arrive with the "living water" and "the Samaritans believed in him" (4:21-24, 39), and in the third Jesus offered "living water" though "the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (7:38-39).

  • Valis
    Valis are hurting my brain! This one should be locked up in super max she's so smart...dangerous very dangerous I say! *LOL*


    District Overbeer

  • peacefulpete

    The two days is part of the Samaitan well story (vs 40). Just try it, pluck chapt 2.1-11 and reinsert it after 4.43.

    The sequence of miracles is unbroken.
    This is the layer you are extolling.

    Next remove the gloss of 43 and all the references (7 in fact!) to Galilee. This is the earlier layer I proposed.

    Narkissos I agree that the story is an allusion to the Jacob story. This adds to the courtship reconstruction. Ask yourself Leoaia why does the author try so hard to insist that the setting has changed? As they say "I think he protest too much". Why would Jesus go from Cana to Sychar to Cana in such a short literary distance? It all makes sense to me.

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