The Samaritan Woman Story: An Alternative View (dr. Eli Lizorkin-eyzenberg And Lisa Loden)

9-jesus-and-samaritan-woman-well8Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: Rereading a Beloved Story

The chapter that relates the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 begins by setting the stage for what will take place later in Samaria and is rooted in what already by this time in the Gospel’s progress has taken place in Judea. Jesus’ rapidly growing popularity resulted in a significant following. His disciples performed an ancient Jewish ritual of ceremonial washing with water, just as did John the Baptist and his disciples. The ritual represented people’s confession of sin and their recognition of the need for the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness. When it became clear to Jesus that the crowds were growing large, but especially when he heard that this alarmed Pharisees very much, he decided it was time to go to Galilee to continue his ministry (vs.1-3).

(The pictures come here)

Geography

The text simply says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (vs.4). Perhaps, at this point a short geography lesson would be helpful. Samaritan lands were sandwiched between Judea and Galilee. The way around Samaria took twice as long as the three day direct journey from Galilee to Jerusalem because avoiding Samaria required crossing the river Jordan twice to follow a path running east of the river (Vita 269). The way through Samaria was more dangerous because often Samaritan-Jewish passions ran high (Ant. 20.118; War 2.232). We are not told the reason Jesus and his disciples needed to go through Samaria. John simply says that Jesus “had to go” implying that for Jesus this was not ordinary. Perhaps Jesus needed to get to Galilee relatively quickly. But the text gives us no indication that he had a pending invitation to an event in Galilee that he was running late to. Only that he left when he felt an imminent confrontation with the Pharisees over his popularity among Israelites was unavoidable. This was coupled with Jesus’ understanding that the time for such a confrontation has not yet come. In the mind of Jesus the confrontation with the religious powerbrokers of Judea, (and make no mistake about it the leading Pharisees were integral part of such leadership) at this time was premature and that more needed to be done before going to the cross and drinking of the cup of God’s wrath on behalf of his ancient covenant people and the nations of the world. The way Jesus viewed Samaritans and his own ministry to them may surprise us as we continue looking at this story.Reconsidering Samaritan woman

We know that Jesus’ movements and activities were all done according to his Father’s will and leading (Jn.5:19). He only did what he saw the Father do. This being the case, we can be certain that Jesus’ journey through Samaria at this time was directed by his Father and so, too, was his conversation with the Samaritan woman.

Jesus’ surprising journey through hostile and heretical territory has a meaning beyond any surface explanation. In a very real sense, God’s unfathomable plan and mission from the time His royal son was eternally conceived in the mind of God, was to bind in redemptive unity all of his beloved creation. Jesus was sent to make peace between God and people as well as between people and people. The accomplishing of this grand purpose began with an uncomfortable encounter between Jesus and those who practically lived next door – the Samaritans.

Samaritans        

Samaritan woman ReconsideringThe sources present us with at least two different histories of the Samaritans. One – according to the Israelite Samaritans, and the other – according Israelite Jews.

While difficulties exist with the reliability of the ancient documents tainted by the Samaritan-Jewish polemic as well as the late dating of the sources on both sides, some things can nevertheless be established. The Samaritan story of their history and identity would roughly correspond to the following:

 

1)      The Samaritans called themselves Bnei Israel (Sons of Israel).

2)      Samaritans were a sizable group of people who believed themselves to be the preservers of the original religion of ancient Israel. The name Samaritans literally from Hebrew means The Keepers (of original laws and traditions). Though it is difficult to speak of concrete numbers Samaritan population at the time of Jesus was comparable to those of the Jews and included large diaspora.

3)      Samaritans believed that the center of Israel’s worship ought not to have been Mt. Zion, but rather Mt. Gerizim. They argued that this was the site of the first Israelite sacrifice in the Land (Deut.27:4) and that it continued to be the center of the sacrificial activity of Israel’s patriarchs. This was the place where blessings were pronounced by the ancient Israelites. Samaritans believed that Bethel (Jacob), Mt. Moriah (Abraham) and Mt. Gerizim were the same place.

4)      The Samaritans essentially had a fourfold creed: 1) One God, 2) One Prophet, 3) One Book and 4) One Place.

5)      The Samaritans believed that the people who called themselves Jews (Judea-centred believers in Israel’s God) had taken the wrong path in their religious practice by importing novelties into the Land during the return from the Babylonian exile.

6)      Samaritans proper rejected the pre-eminence of the Davidic dynasty in Israel. They believed that the levitical priests in their temple were the rightful leaders of Israel.

Now that we have made a partial summary of the undisputed by other side history and beliefs of the Samaritans, let us turn to the Jewish version of that same history. This record essentially comes to us from the two Talmuds and its reading of the Hebrew Bible, Josephus and the New Testament.

1)      Samaritans were a theologically and ethnically mixed people group.  They believed in One God. Moreover, they associated their God with the God who gave the Torah to the people of Israel. The Samaritans are genetically related to the remnants of the Northern tribes who were left in the land after the Assyrian exile. They intermarried with Gentiles who were relocated to Samaria by the Assyrian Emperor. This act of dispossession and transfer from their homeland was done in a strategic attempt to destroy the people’s identity and to prevent e any potential for future revolt.

2)      In the Jewish rabbinical writings, Samaritans are usually referred to by the term “Kuthim.” The term is most likely related to a location in Iraq from which the non-Israelite exiles were imported into Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). The name Kuthim or Kuthites (from Kutha) was used in contrast to the term “Samaritans” (the keepers of the Law). The Jewish writings emphasized the foreign identity of the Samaritan religion and practice in contrast to the true faith of Israel that they saw especially in the later period as Rabbinical Judaism.[1] Rabbinic portrayals of the Samaritans were not exclusively negative.

3)      According to 2 Chronicles 30:1-31:6, the claim that the northern tribes of Israel were all exiled by the Assyrians and therefore those who occupied the land (Samaritans) were of a non-Israelite origin upon closer reading is rejected by the Hebrew Bible. This passage states that not all of the people from the northern kingdom were exiled by the Assyrians. Some, perhaps confirming Samaritan version, remained even after the Assyrian conquest of the land in the 8th century BCE.

4)      The Judea-centred Israelites (the Jews) believed that not only did the Samaritans choose to reject the words of the prophets regarding pre-eminence of Zion and Davidic dynasty, they also deliberately changed the Torah itself to fit their theology and heretical practices. One of the insights that can be gained from comparing the two Pentateuch’s, the Torah of the Samaritans and the Torah of the Jews. The Samaritan text reads much better than the Jewish one. In some cases, the stories in the Jewish Torah seem truncated, with wandering logic and unclear narrative flow. In contrast, the texts of the Samaritan Torah seem to have a much smoother narrative flow. On the surface, this makes the Jewish Torah problematic. Upon further examination, however, this could lead to an argument for the Samaritan Pentateuch being a latter revision or editing of the earlier Jewish text. Based on this and other arguments, we agree with the Jewish view in arguing that Samaritan Torah is a masterful and theologically guided revision of the early Jewish corresponding texts.

The Encounter

Samaritan woman reconsideringIn describing the encounter, John makes several interesting observations that have major implications for our understanding of verses 5-6:

“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

First, John mentions the Samaritan town named Sychar. It is not clear if Sychar was a village very near Shechem or Shechem itself is in view.[2] The text simply calls our attention to a location near the plot of ground Jacob gave his son Joseph. Whether or not it was same place, it was certainly in the same vicinity at the foot of Mt. Gerizim. While this is interesting and it shows that John was indeed a local, knowing the detailed geography of Ancient Roman Palestine, it is no less important, and perhaps even more significant, that the Gospel’s author calls the reader’s attention to the presence of a silent witness to this encounter – the bones of Joseph. This is how the book of Joshua talks about that event:

Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons” (Josh.24:32).

The reason for this reference to Joseph in verse 5 will only become clear when we see that the Samaritan woman suffered in her life in a manner similar to Joseph. If this reading of the story is correct, than just as in Joseph’s life, unexplained suffering was endured for the purpose of bringing salvation to Israel, so the Samaritan woman’s suffering in hew life  led to the salvation of the Israelite Samaritans in that locale (4:22).

John continues: “Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour” (vs. 6). It has been traditionally assumed that the Samaritan woman was a woman of ill repute. The reference to the sixth hour (about 12 PM) has been interpreted to mean that she was avoiding the water drawing crowd of other women in the town. The biblical sixth hour was supposedly the worst possible time of the day to leave one’s dwelling and venture out into the scorching heat. “If anyone were to come to draw water at this hour, we could appropriately conclude that they were trying to avoid people,” the argument goes.

We are, however, suggesting another possibility. The popular theory views her as a particularly sinful woman who had fallen into sexual sin and therefore was called to account by Jesus about the multiplicity of husbands in her life. Jesus told her, as the popular theory has it, that He knew that she had five previous husbands and that she was living with her current “boyfriend” without the bounds of marriage and that she was in no shape to play spiritual games with Him! In this view, the reason she avoided the crowd is precisely because of her reputation for short-lived family commitments.

First, 12PM is not yet the worst time to be out in the sun. If it was 3PM (ninth hour) the traditional theory would make a little more sense. Moreover, it is not at all clear that this took place during the summer months, which could make the weather in Samaria irrelevant all together. Second, is possible that we are making too much out of her going to draw water at “an unusual time”? Don’t we all sometimes do regular things during unusual hours? This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are hiding something from someone. Third, we see that the daughters of the priest of Median were helping him to satisfy the thirst of his animals at around the same time of day, when people supposedly do not come to wells (Exodus 2:15-19).

When we read this story, we can’t help but wonder how it is possible in the conservative Samaritan society that a woman with such a bad track record of supporting community values caused the entire village to drop everything and go with her to see Jesus, a “heretical to Samaritans” Judean would be prophet. The standard logic is as follows. She had led such a godless life that when others heard of her excitement and new found spiritual interest they responded in awe and went to see Jesus for themselves. This rendering, while still possible, seems unlikely to the authors of this book and seems to read in much later theological approaches into this ancient story that had its own historic setting. We are persuaded that reading the story in a new way is more logical and creates less interpretive problems than the commonly held view.

Let us take a closer at this passage.

“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (vs.7-9)

In spite of the fact that to the modern eye the differences were insignificant and unimportant, Jesus and the nameless Samaritan woman were from two different and historically adversarial people, each of whom considered the other to have deviated drastically from the ancient faith of Israel.  In short, their families were social, religious and political enemies. This was not because they were so different, but precisely because they were very much alike.

According to the traditional perspective, the Samaritan woman probably recognized that Jesus was Jewish by his distinctive Jewish traditional clothing. Jesus would have most certainly worn ritual fringes in obedience to the Law of Moses (Num.15: 38 and Deut. 22:12). Since Samaritan men observed the Mosaic Law too, it is likely that the Samaritan woman’s former husbands and other men in her village also wore the ritual fringed garment. The Samaritans’ observance of the Mosaic Law (remember Samaritans means the “keepers” of the Law and not the people that lived in Samaria) was according to their own interpretation and differed from the Jewish view on some issues, but it is important to remember that they were more like rival siblings to the Israelite Jewish community than like unrelated strangers.  We continue reading:

“‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’ Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’ He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’[3] ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”

This passage has been often interpreted as follows: Jesus initiates a spiritual conversation (vs.10). The woman begins to ridicule Jesus’ statement by pointing out Jesus’ inability to provide what he seems to offer (vs.11-12). After a brief confrontation in which Jesus points out the lack of an eternal solution to the woman’s spiritual problem (vs. 13-14), the woman continues with a sarcastic attitude (vs.15). Finally, Jesus has had enough and he then forcefully exposes the sin in the woman’s life – a pattern of broken family relationships (vs.16-18). Now, cut to the heart by Jesus’ all knowing ex-ray vision, the woman acknowledges her sin in a moment of truth (vs.19) by calling Jesus a prophet. But then, as every unbeliever usually does, she tries to avoid the real issues of her sin and her spiritual need. She begins to talk about doctrinal issues (vs.20) in order to avoid dealing with the real issues in her life. Though this may not be the only way this text is usually reads, it does follow generally negative view of the Samaritan woman.

Because this popular interpretation presupposes that the woman was particularly immoral, it sees the entire conversation in light of that negative viewpoint. We would like to recommend a wholly different trajectory for understanding this story. Though it is a not an airtight case, this alternative trajectory seems to be a better fit for the rest of the story and especially its conclusion.

Rereading the Story

8-jesus-and-samaritan-woman-well7As was suggested before, it is possible that the Samaritan woman was not trying to avoid anybody at all. But, even if she was, there are explanations for her avoidance other than feeling so guilty about her sexual immorality. For example, as you well know people don’t want to see anyone when they are depressed. Depression was present in Jesus’ time just as it is present in people’s lives today. Instead of assuming that the Samaritan woman changed husbands like gloves, it is just as reasonable to think of her as a woman who had experienced the deaths of several husbands, or as a woman whose husbands may have been unfaithful to her, or even as a woman whose husbands divorced her for her inability to have children. Any one of these suggestions and more are possible in this instance.

It is important to note that to have five successive husbands was unheard of in ancient society, especially a conservatives one like the Israelite Keepers of the Law (Samaritans). This fact even caused some ancient and modern commentators to erroneously suggest that this encounter was not historical, but metaphorical. ‘Since Samaritans represented Gentiles and therefore the unreasonable situation of having five husbands should have given a clue to the reader that this is not a real story and not a real woman’ went their argument. In that society, unless the woman was wealthy, adopting her non-committal life-style was an economic impossibility. Since it was not her servant but she herself who went to draw water, we conclude that she was probably not wealthy and therefore simply could not afford the sort of lifestyle that we have endowed her with throughout the centuries of Christian interpretation. Without even considering other possibilities as viable options, those who have taught us, and those who have taught them, have consistently portrayed this woman in a wholly negative light. This we believe is unnecessary.

There is at least one other example in the Deuterocanonical Jewish literature and it comes from the book of Tobit that is included into a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. This is the prayer of Sarah, Tobit’s wife (before she became his wife). She was also tormented by her predicament, but totally innocent and pure according to her earnest prayer. Let us consider this ancient witness together (I am indebted for this reference to my good friend and scholar Peter Shirokov).

There we read: “On the same day, at Ecbatana in Media, it also happened that Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, was reproached by one of her father’s maids. For she had been married to seven husbands, and the wicked demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had been with her as is customary for wives. So the maid said to her, “You are the one who kills your husbands! See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of a single one of them. Why do you beat us? Because your husbands are dead? Go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours!” (Tobit 3:7-9)

Now that we have looked at least one other example of a woman with many husbands we come back to our primary text that we are treating in this article.

If we are correct in our suggestion that this woman was not a particularly “fallen woman,” then perhaps we can connect her amazingly successful testimony to the village with John’s unexpected but extremely important reference to the bones of Joseph. It is noteworthy that for Gentile and even “Jewish” hypothetical readers of this Gospel, the place of burial of Joseph’s bones would not be as important, though still significant, as it would have been to the Israelite Samaritans, since the bones of the Patriarch also link God’s presence with the vicinity of Mt. Gerazim and the Holy city of Shechem. When we hear that the conversation takes place next to Joseph’s bones, immediately we are reminded about Joseph’s story and his mostly undeserved suffering. As you remember, only part of Joseph’s sufferings were self-inflicted. Yet in the end, when no one saw it coming, the sufferings of Joseph turned out to be events leading to the salvation of the world from starvation.

Now consider the connection with Joseph in more detail. Shechem was one of the cities of refuge where a man who had killed someone without intention was provided a safe heaven. (Josh. 21:20-21) As inhabitants of Shechem were living out their lives in the shadow of the Torah’s prescription they were no doubt keenly aware of the unusual status of grace and God’s protective function that was allotted to their special city. They were to protect people who were unfortunate, whose lives were threatened by avenging family members, but were actually not guilty of any intentional crime worth the punishment threatened.[4]

Joseph was born into a very special family where grace and salvation should have been a characteristic description. Jacob, the descendent of Abraham and Isaac, had 11 other sons, whose actions, instead of helping their father to raise Joseph, ranged from outbursts of jealousy to a desire to get rid of their spoiled but “special” brother forever. But there was more. It was in Shechem that Joshua assembled the tribes of Israel, challenging them to abandon their former gods in favour of YHWH and after making the covenant with them, buried Joseph’s bones there. We read in Josh. 24:1-32:

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God… But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”… On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws.  26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD… 31 Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel. And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.

It is interesting that the place for this encounter with the Samaritan woman was chosen by the Lord of providence in such a beautiful way: an emotionally alienated woman who feels unprotected while she lives in or near the city of refuge, is having a faith-founding, covenant conversation with the Renewer of God’s Covenant – God’s Royal Son Jesus. She does so at the very place where the ancient Israelites renewed their covenant in response to God’s words, sealing them with two witnesses: 1) the stone (Josh.24:26-27), confessing with their mouths their covenant obligations and faith in Israel’s God and 2) the bones of Joseph (Josh.24:31-32) whose story guided them in their travels.

In a sense, the Samaritan woman does the same thing as the Ancient Israelites in confessing to her fellow villagers her faith in Jesus as the Christ and covenant Savoir of the world. We read in John 4:28-39:

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him… Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…”

The connection between Joseph and the Samaritan woman does not end there. We recall that earlier Joseph received a special blessing from his father at the time of Jacob’s death. It was a promise that he would be a fruitful vine climbing over a wall (Gen. 49:22). Psalm 80:8 speaks of a vine being brought out of Egypt whose shoots spread throughout the earth, eventually bringing salvation to the world through the true vine. In John 15:1 we read that Jesus identifies himself as this true vine and just as Israel of old, Jesus was also symbolically brought out of Egypt (Matt.2:15). In his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus – the promised vine in Jacob’s promise to Joseph – is in effect climbing over the wall of hostility between the Israelite Jews and Israelite Samaritans to unite these two parts of His Kingdom through His person, teaching and deeds. In a deeply symbolic fashion this conversation takes place at the very well that was built by Jacob to whom the promise was given!

Now that we have reviewed some relevant Old Testament symbolism, let us now reread this story through a different lens. It may have gone something like:

Jesus initiates a conversation with the woman: “Will you give me a drink?” His disciples had gone into town to buy food. The woman feels safe with Jesus because, not only is he not from her village; he does not know about her failed life or even how depressed she may have felt for months. In her view, he was part of a heretical, though related, religious community. Jesus would have had no contact with the Israelite Samaritan leaders of her community. He was safe. This openness of the woman to Jesus is very similar to Christian workers seeking outside counselling for their family problems.  People they know and love are nice, but can also be dangerous. Who knows?! They may leak information that in some cases may end the worker’s ministerial career. So in difficult cases, Christian ministry workers usually opt for paid counselling specialists who are independent and unconnected to their churches and ministries. The specialist is safe. It’s his or her job. That’s all. In that sense Jesus was safe. He was not a Samaritan and a Jew.

The problem here was not simply that Jesus was a Jew and she a Samaritan; their peoples, their fathers and grandfathers, were bitter enemies in the religious and the political arenas. Both peoples considered the other to be imposters. Scholars point out, appealing to the Babylonian Talmud, such rabbinic Talmudic statements as “Daughters of the Samaritans are menstruants from the cradle” and therefore any item that they would handle would be unclean to the Jew (bNidd. 31b) and “It is forbidden to give a woman any greeting” (bQidd. 70a). It is important that we be aware of methodological problems when appealing to the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud was codified and edited much later than were the Gospels (early 200 C.E. vs. early 600 C.E.). Therefore we must be cautious in using the Talmud to explain the much earlier Gospels. Not only was it written much later, but also, as is widely agreed, it was not recognized as the sole or even major representative of Jewish teaching until sometime between the 6th-8th centuries. In other words, in contrast to today, it represented only the elite and marginal rabbinical classes and not the whole Jewish community’s way of thinking. All of this is to say that the do-not-greeting-a-woman rule may not have been at all a rule practiced by Jesus, the Jew and therefore cannot be uncritically used in interpretation. On the other hand the reference to the Samaritan women going through menstruation periods from their birth, while obviously mythical does fit perfectly with other things we know about the deep-seated hatred between Samaritans and Jews. But even with that a good level of caution within interpretive freedom should be exercised.

Jesus responds: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” It is important that we picture the woman. She was not laughing; she was having an informed, deeply theological and spiritual discussion with Jesus. This was a daring attempt to ascertain truth that was outside her accepted theological framework and surely would not pass the test of cultural sensibilities of “faithful” Samaritans. She takes issue issue with Jesus, precisely because she take the word of God (Samaritan Torah) seriously:

“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’ Jesus answered: ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’”

After the above interaction, which strikes a familiar chord for the Christian who has experienced the life giving power of Jesus’ presence and spiritual renewal, Jesus continues the conversation. Jesus lets the nameless Samaritan woman know that He understands her troubles much more fully than she thinks, by showing her that he is aware of all the pain and suffering she endured in her life.

“He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’”

Remember the seemingly obscure reference to Joseph’s bones being buried near this very place where the conversation took place? At the beginning of the story, John wanted us to remember Joseph. He was a man who suffered much in his life; but whose suffering was ultimately used for the salvation of Israel and the known world.  Under Joseph’s leadership, Egypt became the only nation that acted wisely by saving grain during the years of plenty and then being able to feed others during the years of famine.  It is highly symbolic that this conversation took place in the presence of a silent witness – the bones of Joseph. God first allowed terrible physical, psychological and social injustice to be done to Joseph, but he then used this suffering to greatly bless those who came in contact with Joseph. Instead of reading this story in terms of Jesus nailing the immoral woman to the cross of the standard of God’s morality, we should read it in terms of God’s mercy and compassion for the broken world in general, and marginalized Israelites in particular.

According to the popular view, it is at this point, convicted by Jesus’ prophetic rebuke, that the woman seeks to change the subject and avoid the personal nature of the encounter by engaging in non-important theological controversy. The problem is that these matters are un-important only to the modern reader.  They were of very real concern for ancient readers especially those whose home was in Roman Palestine. Therefore, let us consider an alternative interpretation that, having seen Jesus’ intimate knowledge of her miserable situation and his compassionate empathy, the woman feels secure enough to also break tradition and to climb over the wall of forbidden associations. She makes a statement that invites Jesus’ commentary on a matter having to do with the key theological difference between the Jews and Samaritans.

“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’

As you may remember the Samaritans were Mt. Gerazim-centered Israelites in their understanding of the Pentateuch (Torah), while the Jews were Mt. Zion-centered in their interpretation of essentially the same body of literature, admittedly with occasional variations. This question seems trivial to a modern Christian who usually thinks that what is really important is that one can say: “Jesus is in my life as a personal Lord and Savoir”. But while this question does not bother anyone today, it was a major issue for the Israelite Samaritans and Israelite Jews and by extension the Jewish Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Indeed this deeply theological and spiritual conversation was a very important intersection on the road of human history, because of the tremendous impact of the Christian message on the entire world ever since this encounter took place.

With fear and trepidation the Samaritan woman, putting away her feeling of humiliation and bitterness towards the Jews, posed her question in a form of a statement. She got from Jesus something that she definitely did not expect to hear from a Judean prophet:

“Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’”

In our reading therefore the Samaritan woman’s question reflected a good, honest, and righteous assumption that Jesus’ ministry and arrival in Samaria had rendered already obsolete. In the book of Hebrews (Heb.12:1-24) the author addressed the believing community. He stated that the greatness of faith in Israel’s God through Jesus the Messiah must provoke them to a far greater response than the ones enshrined in Jewish tradition. He urged believers to persevere in the faith as follows:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire… But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

4-jesus-and-samaritan-woman-well3The basic argument here is that responsibility to observe the New Covenant is much greater than any level of covenant responsibility that was encountered by the people of God in the past. Therefore keeping this covenant is essential in spite of difficult circumstances. The author appeals to everything that is greater: Jesus is greater than the great Moses, the New Covenant is greater than the great Old Covenant, the blood of the righteous man (Jesus) is greater than the blood of the righteous Abel. Basically, the greater the covenant, the greater is the responsibility. One of the arguments included within the overall comparison in the book of Hebrews is that the heavenly Mt. Zion is better and greater that the great earthly Zion.

Jesus had already stated that the center of earthly worship was to be relocated from physical Jerusalem to the heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem concentrated in Himself when he spoke to Nathaniel. Please, allow us to explain.  The incident is related in John 1:50-51.

“Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”

Jesus invoked the great Torah story of Jacob’s dream of the angels of God ascending and descending on the Holy Land of Israel where he was sleeping (Gen.18:12). He said to Nathaniel that very soon the angels would be ascending and descending, not on Bethel (in Hebrew – House of God) which Samaritans believed to be identified with Mt. Gerizim, but upon the ultimate House of God – Jesus himself (Jn.1:14).

The official Samaritan religion, as far as we know, did not include any prophetic writings, at least as far as we know from much latter sources writing about Samaritans. “The woman said, ‘I know that “Messiah” (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (vs. 25-26)  We read in Deut.18:18-19:

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.”

Though a later Samaritan text speaks of a Messiah-like figure Taheb (Marqah Memar 4:7, 12), the Samaritans of Jesus’ time only expected a great teacher-prophet. The “Messiah” as the King and Priest was an Israelite Jewish, not an Israelite Samaritan concept as far as we know. For that reason the reply of the Samaritan woman shows that this was not an imaginary or symbolic conversation (he will explain to us everything). In view of this, it seems that now the woman graciously used Jewish terminology to relate to Jesus – the Jew.[5] Among Samaritans this was not usual. Just as Jesus was choosing to climb the wall of taboos, so now was the Samaritan woman. The story of this encounter “gives guidelines about how to deal with wounds and divisions, especially those of long-standing… in the Samaritan pericope he is presented as a reconciler of ancient enemies.” We will consider this theme in this book’s application final chapter in this book entitled – the Call.

The story quickly switches to the return of the disciples, their reaction and commentary-like interaction with Jesus. This interchange is sandwiched between the encounters with the Samaritan woman and the men of her village. The disciples were surprised at seeing him conversing with the Samaritan woman, but no one challenged him about the inappropriateness of such an encounter.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”  28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,  29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”  30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.  31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”  32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”  33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”  34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. (John 4:27-39)

While it is possible that disciples were surprised he was alone with the woman the general context of the story seems to point us in the direction that disciple’s response had to do him conversing with Samaritan woman instead. Leaving behind her jar, the woman rushed to town to tell her people about Jesus. Posing an important question to them could this be the one whom Israel has been awaiting for long? Speaking as he was in the context of the encounter Jesus points out to his disciples that what he was doing was God’s will pure and simple. That doing of the will of his Father gave him his divine life energy. This divine energy enabled him to continue his work. We continue to reading:

“Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages; even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.’”

In these verses, Jesus has challenged his disciples. The writer of the Gospel of John is challenging his readers to consider the crop that is ready for harvesting. It is almost certain that the disciples of Jesus thought the spiritual harvest pertained to the Jewish community alone. Jesus challenged them to look outside their box to the neighbouring heretical and adversarial community for the harvest – a field that they had not considered until this encounter. The significance of Jesus’ commentary on the encounter was not to highlight the importance of evangelism in general but rather to bring attention to the fields that were previously unseen or thought of as unsuitable for the harvest.

While Jesus no doubt was conversing with his followers about suitability of teaching Samaritans God’s ways, he heard voices from the crowd approaching him from a distance. The faithful witness of this gospel, describes it like this:

“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (vs.39-42)

Honest Hermeneutics

Interpreting the Bible is difficult task. It is as difficult as interpreting anything else in life. We bring our past, our preconceived notions, our already formed theology, our cultural blind spots, our social standing, our gender, our political views, and many other influences to the interpretation of the Bible. In short, all that we are in some way determines how we interpret everything. This does not imply that the meaning of the text is dependent on its reader. The meaning remains constant. But the reading of the text does differ and is dependant on all kinds of things surrounding the interpretive process. In other words what a reader or listener gets out of the text can differ greatly from person to person.

One of the biggest handicaps in the enterprise of Bible interpretation has been an inability to recognize and admit that a particular interpretation may have a weak spot. The weak spot is usually determined by personal preferences and heartfelt desires to prove a particular theory regardless of the cost. We, the authors, consider that having an awareness of our own blind spots and being honestly willing to admit problems with our interpretations when they exist, are more important than the intellectual brilliance with which we argue our position.

One opportunity to exercise an honest approach is when commentators recognizes that there is something in their interpretation that does not seem to fit with the text and the commentators do not quite know how to explain it. What we feel can be legitimately suggested as a challenge to our reading of the story of the Samaritan woman are the words the Gospel author places on her lips when she tells her fellow villagers about her encounter with Jesus. She says: “He told me everything I ever did.” What would have matched our interpretation perfectly is if her words had been,  “He told me everything that happened to me” or better yet “was done to me”.

There are several viable options for resolving this problem. Some of the options include grammar issues and hypothetical the existence of an earlier Aramaic version of the Gospel of John. While allowing for these possibilities, the authors consider that the best response is to refer to a manuscript of the Gospel of John that has the phrase in a shorter version. In this manuscript, the woman’s words do not end with “He told me everything I ever did,” but with “he told me everything”. These words could refer to either self-inflicted or other-inflicted circumstances and do not by itself present any kind of problem for our reading of the story.

The next question would be why this manuscript’s reading should be preferred to the commonly used one.  In order to explain this, we will need to introduce a very important biblical studies tool that may be unfamiliar to many readers.  However, many of you have encountered the results of applying this tool many times by people that work with new Bible translations.  For example, many modern Bibles put brackets in place of John 8:1-11 and mention that the earliest and the most reliable manuscripts do not contain the beloved story of the woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus (Mark 16:9-20 is handled the same way). This story may be true and may have been transmitted orally before being incorporated into the text of John, but it must be acknowledged that, even if this story is true, it must have been only later inserted by a copyist. The interpretive tool that was used here is called textual criticism. The nomenclature is misleading, since the text is not being criticized, but rather compared with other manuscripts and analyzed. In other words textual criticism refers to a careful analysis of a text in comparison to other texts with the express goal of determining the earlier and more precise manuscripts.

Textual criticism considers various ancient manuscripts, since we do not have a single original of any biblical book, in order to determine the text that would be as close to the original as possible. Textual criticism uses all recent and older manuscripts discoveries. Though to some Christians, proposing the relevance of such a method might imply unbelief, we are persuaded that when used responsibly this method can be a significant tool in the hands of honest, capable and especially believing interpreters of the ancient texts. How can this scientific method help?

One example is the general principle that textual criticism uses to determine which manuscript is earlier, a principle that could be called “priority of the shorter manuscript.” A shorter manuscript is preferred because the ancient scribes were more likely to expand the text they were copying than make it shorter. Expansion of the text was done with some liberty in the ancient world, in contrast to modern readers’ general discomfort with such a practice, a discomfort shared by the authors of this book.

It was of course still possible that the longer text (in our case, “He told me everything I ever did”) was the original. But the textual critical method argues that, in general, the opposite was the case. The shorter text is most likely to have been the original (in our case “He told me everything”) and only later was the text expanded by a scribe who felt that the text would be improved and its meaning clarified if he added the “I ever did” ending. If we are correct in our understanding and the context of the story argues in our favour, than it would be fair to say that the Christian scribe in his desire to help the reader with improving the flow of this narrative, actually ended up sending the reader in a different interpretive direction.

Conclusion

In democratic courts we follow the principle “innocent until proven guilty.” In a sense we are declaring here to the court of our readers that we believe we have presented enough evidence to show “the presence of reasonable doubt.” We are arguing that the charges of “immorality and not seeking spiritual truth” should be dropped against the Samaritan woman. The reasons are the lack of evidence and the presence of other likely scenarios that could explain the interaction between her and Jesus in a more satisfactory way. We argue that this story should serve as an example and a call to reconsider the message of the Holy Scriptures in its historical contexts and with greater willingness to think outside agreed traditions that may ultimately have nothing to adequately support them. Earlier in the chapter we stated that we are not presenting an airtight case. We are, however, suggesting a possible alternative to the usual interpretation. We believe our alternative is a more responsible one. Our claims are therefore modest, but remain challenging. It was Mark Twain who said “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.”

To receive more information about learning Biblical Languages with Hebrew University of Jerusalem/eTeacher Biblical program online at affordable cost, please, click here.

© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

To sign up for weekly posts by Dr. Eli, please, click here. It is recommend by Dr. Eli that you read everything from the begining in his study of John. You can do so by clicking here “Samaritan-Jewish Commentary”.

 

 



[1] It is a mistake to think that the main reason for Jewish antipathy toward the Samaritans was racial. Judaism has always had a strong tradition of Gentile conversions where the converted Gentiles became full-fledged Jews and were accepted by the community. One notable example of such an attitude is Rabbi Akiva who was not ethnically Jewish (neither he nor his parents went through a formal conversion to Judaism). It is not the non-Jewish DNA that was responsible for the Jewish antipathy. The adversarial relationship was largely religious in nature. The political component of rivalry should also not be overlooked when considering the reasons for the negative relationship between Samaritans and the Jews. For example, when Alexander the Great was passing through the region, he is reported to have paid tribute to Israel’s God in the Temple on Mt. Gerizim and not on Mt. Zion.

[2] This may have been a case of textual corruption where the end letter (“mem” was replaced by “resh”) was confused by a scribe.

[3] See Calum M. Carmichael. Marriage and the Samaritan Woman. New Testament Studies 26 (1980): 332-346.

[4] See also Ps. 60:6-7 and Ps.108:7-8 twice in verbatim repetition we are told that Ephrem is God’s protective gear – helmet.

[5] Samaritans called their Temple for “Zeus the friend of strangers” thereby avoiding trouble under Antiochus IV (2 Macc. 6:2) which cemented even more the negative feelings between Jews and Samaritans. Deut.27:3 in MT has Mt. Ebal as place where first alter was to be built, while Samaritan Pentateuch has Mt. Gerazim in its place. It is not clear whether MT changed the identity of the mountain because of Anti-Samaritan views, or vice versa.

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  1. […] The Samaritan Woman’s Story: An Alternative View […]

  2. Mike Culkin

    My thinking about Isaiah 54:11-14 is that this must refer to New Jerusalem. The parallels with Revelation chapter 21 are there for us all to read. We as humans are important, but in the cosmic scheme of things, it may be more important that God (YHVH) presents His Son Jesus [DBR-YHVH] with a new bride. This will be the New Jerusalem set in space and eternity. This will once again enable God to dwell with His people on earth, in righteousness and with the yetzer hara eliminated from the earth.
    The New Jerusalem will be the place wherein God will once again be able to dwell with His people on earth. As we know the Shekhinah lifted off the Temple Mount (Ezekiel 10:18). As for stating that the Samaritan woman is Jerusalem, this not what I said. I’m suggesting that she may be an allusion to Jerusalem, the woman who has had five husbands. These husbands could be for example the alliances with Cyrus, Ptolemy, or Seleucus. Can we seriously believe that any Semitic woman back then would have had five husbands in her lifetime? Jesus certainly knew something about her that she herself may not have known.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      It is not at all hard to think that several husbands divorced her, others died and because Samaritans had no institute of levirite marriage, she was left alone for none to take care of her. I do not see why we need to say that it was allegorical? I am usually not against allegorical interpretations, but in this case I think it is not justified at all. Dr. Eli

  3. Mike Culkin

    I am very appreciative of your insightful commentary, and I would like to offer the following brief thoughts.

    The fact that this exchange is happening near the plot given by Jacob to Joseph, might this not be an allusion to the fact that Jesus is aware at this early stage (after having recently been baptised in the Holy Spirit) that He is Messiah ben Joseph, the suffering servant?

    He must thus be fully aware that He is the suffering servant (Zechariah 9:9), just as Joseph suffered and later (as a type of king) delivered his family from famine into safety.

    Jesus as Messiah ben Joseph is thus starting to lay the foundation for the coming of New Jerusalem, His bride: “In righteousness you will be established, far from oppression, with nothing to fear; far from ruin, for it will not come near you” (Isaiah 54:14).

    One might even wonder if the Samaritan woman (who has had five husbands) is an allusion to Jerusalem. Jerusalem decided not to take God as her husband: “Flee, my beloved! Be like the deer or the fawn upon mountains of spices.” (Song of Songs 8:14).

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Mike and thank you for your kind words. Messiah Ben Yosef… perhaps, the problem is tradition about dividing up Messiah on Messiah Son of David and Messiah Son of Joseph is a later in times that the Gospel of John itself. Therefore, we can not say this with confidence, but is it possible? Sure. That Jesus was aware of his own mission (to come and suffer, etc) I think is clear from the Gospel.

      However, I did not understand how you connected that point with Is. 54, perhaps, you can elaborate or Samaritan woman as Jerusalem (you really lost me there) :-). I am ready and willing to learn, so please explain. Blessings, Dr. Eli

  4. kostya

    Thanks for this very valuable material on the Samaritans. You mentioned that they did not believe in the pre-eminence of the Davidic dynasty in Israel and rejected the prophets in that regard. Did they still believe that the Messiah would come from David? Did they have a different idea about the Messiah? The story seems to indicate that they had a common view with regard to the Messiah as the Saviour of the world V42

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      We don’t know about early Samaritan belief regarding the Messiah. It is possible that the woman he simply used the Judean language (Messiah) for her Israelite Samaritan theological concept based only upon Deut.18 and not much else. There is a great book (collection of scholarly articles) called “The Samaritans” by Alan Crown (he passed a way. He was from Sidney U.). You should be able to get the book easily.

  5. Kat Hobaugh

    Rereading “Rereading her story” is helping me to reread my own story in light of John 5:19. It is good for my focus on the past to shift from here “I cried out to God for help” to here “I will remember the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 77).

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      amen.

  6. Della Emmett

    Dr. Lizorkin: I have been off my computer for awhile, but I want you to know I especially enjoyed this article on the Samaratin woman. You help me to think deeper when reading scripture: not just on the surface. Blessings to you and thank you.
    Della Emmett

    1. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am very encouraged to hear from you, Della! Let us keep thinking together! Dr. Eli

  7. Paulette

    I am truly excited about this study. It was very refreshing to read a different perspective on a biblical event that has always been interpreted and taught one way. It has opened my mind to reviewing other events and considering alternative interpretation.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Paulette, welcome to the study group! Dr. Eli

  8. Rev. Dr Jeffry Camm

    No verses in the Bible are there to make the book bigger, therefore we must always try to understand “why” God has included each verse, (for our edification, correction and/or comfort, etc.)

    1. When Jesus said: “He had to go to Samaria” clearly needs examination. As I have stated, Jesus did not “have to do anything” – EXCEPT THE WILL OF THE FATHER WHO SENT HIM. Therefore Jesus is on an assignment from the Father and this assignment is in Samaria.

    2. The Jews hated the Samaritans & the Samaritans hated the Jews. Why? What was the reason? Why was this verse specifically included? Does it start to give us insight into WHY Jesus must go to Samaria? Jesus had said elsewhere in the gospels. It has been said of Old to love your neighbours and hate your enemies – BUT I have a better way – Love your enemies also. Was Jesus going to be a living demonstration of this statement among the rebellious 10 tribes of Israel who had left Jerusalem and established their city in Samaria?

    3. In the encounter with the Samaritan woman: Jesus demands water – He does not ask for it.

    4. Later He tells her to go get her husband and she replies that she does not have a husband. This is where “Western” theology gets it wrong. Throughout all of scripture, whenever Jesus was confronted by sin – any type of sin, Jesus dealt with it there and then. But in this conversation exchange He tells the woman that she is telling the truth. Then, using the gift of REVELATION KNOWLEDGE Jesus tells her, her history. Yes, she has had 5 husbands and the person that she is now living with is NOT her husband – but He does not condemn her, nor say that the living arrangement is a sin. Why? Because Jesus knew her circumstances. Yes, she had previously been married 5 times, had 5 husbands, had 5 funerals, had been 5 times living in the house of a relative for 1 year (to make sure she was not pregnant – because the child would have an inheritance) The man she was now living with was a relative of her late departed husband and this was NOT a sin under Jewish custom.

    5. This is also borne out in the interchange with the elders of the city (who sat in the gate taking care of city business) They respected her, (they did not reject her in public) they listened to her story, they accompanied her back to the well and then invited Jesus to come and preach to them for 3 days.

    6. In verse 44 it is made clear. Now, not by your words but we have heard Him ourselves. In fact this woman became the first evangelist to the Samaritan people, by bringing them into contact with Jesus.

    7. In Acts 1:8 Samaria is included in the instructions given by Jesus to the disciples, so confirm who He is, that He is risen and that all the promise said about the Messiah refer to Him.

    8.Finally, The Syriac version of the Bible is one of the most accurate translations because it has not changed. They still speak the same language in this region today.

    Just my thoughts, based upon my understanding of Jewish history & Jewish customs.

  9. Amos

    Thanks for the deeper information on this study. It helps me a lot to give a second look to stories in the Gospel.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Amos, thank you for your feedback! Please, continue to take part in discussions. Dr. Eli

  10. […] kept in mind as we read the rest of John’s Gospel, then the Samaritan themes, especially John 4 (Samaritan woman encounter), would become much […]

  11. […] imagine the same Jesus who told the Samaritan woman that he was the Messiah, expected by all the ancient Israelite movements, who now says to the representatives of the […]

  12. Susan W

    Dr Eli, my compliments to you & Lisa Loden. Excellant teaching/commentary. The story makes alot more sense from your perspective of time, place & history. I think we all have a tendency to form opinions/belief systems from what we are taught; even if incorrect. I don’t believe that the Samaritan woman would have had the influence with the towns people, that she was of a woman of ill repute or that her exchange with Jesus was sarcastic or evasive. I don’t believe she could have been living by the ancient laws of the “Keepers” and simutaneously living in blatant sin (as taught). Who knows, her providential encounter with the “Renewer of God’s Coventant – God’s Royal Son Jesus” was in or near a city of refuge. Maybe she was there, in the city of refuge, for a reason only God knows.
    Enemies, imposters or rivals, it all still appears to be alive & well today. Denominations/divisions, I believe are created by differences in exclusiveism and superiority. They all, including the ancients, believe they are the only ones enlightened and superior to all the others. Which is in exact opposite to what Jesus portrays & wants for all people. How does it go, “there is no Greek, nor Jew, male or female, there is but one new man…in Christ Jesus” Your citation of Hebrews 12:1-24 is fitting and spoke to me. Bravo, my brother.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Susan. I will pass this on also to Lisa Loden without whom this chapter would not be possible. Thank you. Dr. Eli

  13. Kansas Dad

    Dr. Eli, again I say “Context, Context, Context”. This is why I have been drawn to the Hebrew Roots community, as they search for the context of scriptures; if you don’t know the context (background) of political, spiritual, ethnicity of the writers, you don’t know how to interpret what was written. You cannot just ‘read’ the scriptures, there are too many ‘Hebrewisms’, historical references (Josephs Bones), etc. in the scriptures. Thank you for brining out all of this information, so that we can better interpret what the writer wanted us to understand.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Is context is the king 🙂 that is for sure. Thanks for your comments. Blessings, Eli

  14. RamonAntonio

    Ji, ji, I was worried I was being too preachy in my comments, which is not my intention in this forum. But its getting harder all the way because our quest through John walking with him in the company of Jesus makes us to question our deepest beliefs and ultimately our faith.
    That’s what amazed me of the original comment by Dr. Van der berg who was the first in the forum to note that his reading of the Scripture within the context of this discussion hosted by you needed us, at least him, to reframe his position and read the text as if Jesus was at his side making the statements. Such was the coming alive of the text that we are witnessing here.
    My last comments come directly from the crux of the origin of the samaritans as you masterly summarized in your comment. The context of the conquest of Israel and the Exodus (2nd? Or else?) to Babylon is the direct cause of the schism (as we amy call) of the samaritans. They were originated as a people by cause of the fracture of Israel which divided the population in those who left forcefully and those who remained by whatever reason, their wish one of the least. Most were simply left behind (what a term!).
    It is in and within Babylon that Ezequiel profetizes the resurrection of the bones and the creation of new people from those bones. Tradition looks the return of the now called Jews (formerly israelites) as the fulfillment of the ressurrection of the people. They brought the sinagogue as the remnant of the Temple and then restored the Temple in the Mount.
    But the remaining people of Israel continued their cult in Mt Gerizim, were not subject to external dominion, and continued the traditional line fo Scripture through their now known as samaritan legacy by reason of their continuity in Samaria. Thus, their resurrection of bones tradition was nonexistent. Instead they kept custody of the bones of their ancestors in their safeguarded sacred places.
    Then comes Jesus, a master of the law and scripture and author of overwhelming signs all around the land. He comes into Samaria and stops in the sacred mount area where Jacob saw the angels going up and down the stair to heaven and tradition maintained that the “sar happanim” the angels of the presence who doubled as some men in earth while being in heaven at the same time manifested themselves, Jacob being one of them. Some traditions preserved in non biblical accounts detail that the angels were looking the face of Jacob inscribed n heaven while seeing him sleeping down in earth. In the same sacred mount area where the ancient well was located and n the same sacred area where the sacred bones of Joseph were buried as testament of the covenant with El’Shaddai.
    Location, location, location we may say…
    It is in this context that Jesus conversation gets through to the heart of the samaritan woman. By being who he was, the first rabbi, being precisely there alone and speaking with her, and knowing everything in her heart she knew that a portent was at her front. Someone who spoke of giving life giving water coming from himself to anyone who wanted that water. A water that was equated with life in those times. The promise of everlasting water by Jesus was a promise of eternal life made according to the covenant of both people, of the samaritan people because of spoken in the place where angels travel to and from heaven and to the jews because hte jews believed that God had made a promise to rebirth bones, thus to rebirth life and Jesus was literally over the bones of Joseph.
    Thus, the samaritan woman was no rn of the mill simole woman but a woman that spoke with authority and knowledge and was respected as such. Tha’s why their people believed in her and then in Jesus when they met Him and He was as she told.
    Then again, according to Dr. V, we have re-read the Great Commission by Jesus in a new way. Jesus was comanding to the apostles and the disciples to go and do exactly what the samaritan woman had done before, to speak that the Kingdom of Heaven had arrived in the person of Jesus and to preach His Gospel wherever and to whoever. And those who believe in what they would tell would receive eternal life in Him through Him.
    Then finally, does believing in Jesus equates to being Catholic? Does an ateist denies Jesus or the Church? Can an ateist be saved?
    Only Jesus knows the heart of everybody. Only he will judge.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Ramon.

  15. RamonAntonio

    Thank you for this wonderful voyage of investigation and discovery. The samaritan woman encounter is, for me, a central and pivotal moment in Jesus ministry.
    1. Central, for the Gospel clearly states that He MUST go through Samaria although the author doesn’t explicitly states why. But MUST He had and He did. So the centrality in established by the text in a direct way. That centrality merits our attention and your excellent focus and call to read, re-read and ponder on this text.
    2. Pivotal because this is one of the most clear self definitions by Jesus that He is, in fact, the Saviour, the Messiah. If we re-read your article we will have to come to accept that almost all the conversation was about Himself and what He wants to give and gives to anyone that wants to receive.
    It is because of this encounter that Jesus explains to His disciples His mission (24-42) and it is here that almost a complete summary of His ministry is spoken by Jesus Himself to the disciples and thus preserved by John. It was here, in the first half of his ministry, and before most of His parables that Jesus reveals who He is, whatHe comes to do and from Whom He comes from.
    And it is to a woman, for some a phopheteeze, a woman whose word commanded authority in her fellows for we are told that the people came by her calling and accepted not only her account but the truth of her account. So this is another time that Jesus teachings lean heavily on the participation and later testament of a woman who probably was the source of the story together with Jesus Himself teachings to His disciples.
    After this central and pivotal encounter, the parable of the Good Samaritan takes a new and central position. Not for nothing Pope Francis recently called into question the Catholic position of salvation of those who do not believe (samaritans?). And his position is clear, those who act good have salvation within their reach. That is the parable of the Good Samaritan. And it began here, in the encounter with the samaritan woman over the bones of Joseph.
    Is not Jesus resurrecting those bones and giving them flesh and life, His Own, by preaching over them to the samaritan woman? Why all Catholic temples have a relic of a known saint under their tabernacle? Strange as it may sound, we praise the Lord over the presence of the saints. Maybe extremely literally.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ramon, I am truly fascinated by your the last section of your comment. Can you expend this a bit for my benefit and for benefit of others?

  16. Ruthie K

    I loved the depths of historical coloration in this topic.I had learned about the animosity between these 2 ethnic groups and the vivid details of the encounter between the Shepherd Of Israel reaching out to the lost sheep of HIS(elect)House was definitely part of HIS DIVINE mission.The total fascination to me was the RED THREAD of connection between the prophetic fulfillment(which is continuing today)of the
    prophecy of Joseph’s seed (who is like a vine covering the whole )being harvested. Joseph.s offspring were also of mixed races.
    Great study! THANK YOU

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ruthie, welcome to our study group! Thanks for your initial comments.

      Dr. Eli

  17. Michelle

    Wow. I really appreciate this description of the story of the Samaritan woman. I agree with Bonnie, the historical and geographical details you shared add so much to the story. How sad that a lot of Christians, myself included, have been taught through the years that this woman was of ill repute, simply because she came to the well at a time when no one else was around.

    As I read your post, I wondered how many other stories in the New Testament would have different interpretations if the historical information were included? What other cities and areas, where Jesus’ miracles and interactions took place, have “silent witnesses” that would give us a more accurate picture of what was transpiring?

    Thanks for sharing this with us!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Michelle, I wonder this myself, when I reread my own posts :-). Thank you so much for taking part in the discussion and I am so glad you like our studies here. Let’s keep on thinking together! Dr. Eli

      1. Michelle

        Just had another thought, Dr. Eli. Was this woman a “thinker?” In other words, was she lost in the world of her own thoughts? Now, I’m beginning to wonder about that. Perhaps she was alone at the well, simply because she was alone all the time, simply because she was caught up in her own thoughts. Perhaps she struggled with the difference between Jew and Samaritan; perhaps she didn’t like that difference and was searching for what would reconcile that difference. Perhaps that is why she asked the question “where does one worship?” Perhaps she knew there was more than the Jewish way of doing things, more than the Samaritan way of doing things, but she couldn’t find that way, and her heart was aching to find that way. Perhaps her excitement when she went to her people was because she had found that connection, that way above the Jewish way and the Samaritan way. And that connection happened to be Jesus.

        The things you share with us open up whole new ways of thinking, which translate into whole new worlds. As I read your blog, I feel like I can say, “NOW I see! NOW I understand!” It’s as if you’ve opened a door and said, “Welcome to first century Israel!” Totally love it. 🙂

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Encouraging and exciting. Thank you, Michelle.

  18. Rosa Juarez

    Thanks so much, Dr Eli! I consider this chapter very important. When I read about Samaritans People visualizing all the ways that they related between the Jews, I asked why? How it is? They are family. This article is very helpful! I just i read the half, but I will continue some making stops a long the way to process it all! shabat Shalom tov.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Rosa. Enjoy! Glad you find it helpful. Dr. Eli

  19. bonnie solomine

    All I can say is WOW! This article really made me reevaluate a lot of what I was taught concerning the Samaritan woman. Thank you for transporting me into the historical setting, giving me valuable information on the Jewish/Samaritan relationship at that time and bringing in Scriptural references I had never thought of especially that of Joseph and the biblical history of Shechem. Amazing how just by overlooking the biblical history of Shechem,it can change the interpretation of this dialogue between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. I have truly been blessed and thank you for your willingness to challenge me to think out of the box of my preconceived thoughts and teachings.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Bonnie! Pass it on to all your friends, please. Copy the link and send it to as many people you can with your encouragement to read it of course. Dr. Eli