Season 1, Episode 8 — ‘I Am He’
Mark 1-2; Matthew 8-9; Luke 4-5; John 4
Synopsis. In the 20th century BC, Jacob and his sons dig a well on some land that he has just bought near Shechem. In the 1st century AD, a Samaritan woman named Photina goes to that well, alone, for water. Meanwhile, in Capernaum, Matthew hosts a dinner for Jesus and his followers, and the Pharisees complain that Jesus is associating with sinners. Shmuel confronts Nicodemus for failing to condemn Jesus’ blasphemy. Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law so that Simon and his wife will have less to worry about while Jesus and the disciples are traveling from town to town. Quintus is upset when he hears that Matthew has left his post to follow Jesus, and he posts signs around town saying Jesus is wanted for questioning. Jesus and his followers leave town and walk as far as Samaria, where Jesus meets Photina by the well and reveals to her that he is the Messiah. Jesus tells the disciples they will stay in Photina’s town for the next couple of days.
Gospels. The episode contains three stories from the gospels: It begins with the dinner at Matthew’s house (Mark 2:15-17, Matthew 9:10-13, Luke 5:29-32), it continues with the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31, Matthew 8:14-15, Luke 4:38-39), and it climaxes with Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42).
All three of the Synoptic gospels place the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law before the dinner at Matthew’s house, but this episode places the healing after the dinner.
The dinner at Matthew’s house in this episode is somewhat smaller than in the gospels.
Mark and Matthew both say “many tax collectors and sinners” were there, while Luke says, more discreetly, that “a large crowd of tax collectors and others” were there.
It is often assumed that the word “sinners” is a coded reference to prostitutes — and we do see one prostitute, a former neighbour of Mary Magdalene’s, at Matthew’s house in this episode — but the biblical word doesn’t require that interpretation.
Sometimes the word “sinner” is used to describe tax collectors themselves (e.g. Luke 18:13, 19:7). It is also the same word Simon uses when he tells Jesus he is a “sinful” man in Luke 5:8, and it is the same word Jesus uses when he says the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of “sinners” in Mark 14:41, Matthew 26:45 and Luke 24:7.
All three versions of this story say the Pharisees asked why Jesus was eating with the tax collectors and sinners. Luke tells two other stories in which the Pharisees mutter that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and/or sinners, in Luke 15:1-2 and 19:7 — and in those stories, the Pharisees aren’t asking questions any more, they’re just complaining.
Jesus himself mocked his critics for accusing him of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34).
The fact that Jesus probably wasn’t a glutton and a drunkard should probably caution us against taking the Pharisees’ criticisms of other people too literally, too. They may have accused those people of being whores and whatnot, but that doesn’t mean they were.
The story of Matthew’s dinner is slightly longer in Matthew’s gospel than the other two gospels, as it includes an extra bit where Jesus quotes Hoses 6:6 (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”). This episode includes that quote, and thus follows Matthew’s gospel.
When Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, he takes her hand and says, “Leave her.”
It sounds like he’s speaking to a demon, or a personification of the illness. But there may be a basis for that in the gospels. Mark and Matthew merely say that Jesus touched the mother-in-law’s hand when he healed her, but Luke says he “rebuked the fever”.
Mark and Luke specify that Simon and others asked Jesus to help the mother-in-law, but in the episode, no one asks him to do it, and Jesus essentially surprises Simon by healing her voluntarily, and telling Simon’s wife Eden he’s doing it so he won’t have Simon worrying about things back home while they walk around Galilee together.
All three versions of this story in the gospels say Simon’s mother-in-law “began to wait on them”, i.e. on Jesus and the disciples, after she was healed. (Simon and Andrew are present for the miracle in this episode, but Mark says James and John were there too.) Luke even says Simon’s mother-in-law got up and waited on them “at once”.
Many readers have been amused by the mother-in-law’s response to her healing, and the makers of this series evidently were, too, as there is a gently comedic edge to her instant recovery — and the way she starts telling the men to help her out in the kitchen.
The Samaritan woman is not named in the Bible, but in church tradition she is known as St. Photina (or Photine, or Photini), and that is the name she has in this episode.
The conversation between Jesus and Photina follows the account in John’s gospel fairly closely, though it adds some dialogue to flesh out character and themes.
For example, Jesus does not merely observe that Photina has been married five times, as he does in the gospel. He also begins to describe her husbands in a way that creates sympathy for her and fleshes out why she might have been married so many times: he says her first husband was abusive and made her doubt her faith, the second was the only godly man she’d ever been with but she felt unworthy of him, and so on.
Jesus also asks why Photina is coming to the well by herself, in the middle of the hot day, instead of in the morning, with other women, when it is cooler outside. This allows the episode to flesh out Photina’s ostracization from her fellow Samaritans.
Jesus tells Photina, “I know Jacob.”
Jesus does not say this in the biblical version of his conversation with Photina, but the statement has echoes of other passages in which Jesus indicated that the spirits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive and awaiting resurrection (Mark 12:26-27, Matthew 22:31-32, Luke 20:37-38). It may also reflect how Jesus indicated that he, as God, was around before and during the lives of Abraham and his offspring (John 8:58).
Photina is shouting the good news about Jesus while she runs down the road, but there are no people around except for Jesus and his followers, and the town is far away.
Earlier scenes showed Photina being shunned or harassed by most of the people she met in town, so it would be interesting to see how she shares her good news with them.
Episode 7 showed the disciple John eavesdropping and taking notes while Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, the implication being that the account of that conversation in John’s gospel was based on those notes. But there are no witnesses to Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, and thus no hint as to how it, too, ended up in John’s gospel.
John 4:3 says Jesus met the Samaritan woman while he and the disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee, but in this episode they are going in the opposite direction.
The relationship between the Jesus movement and the Samaritans was… complicated.
John’s gospel does describe how Jesus and his followers spent two days in Photina’s town after Jesus befriended her, as depicted in this episode (John 4:39-42).
But Luke’s gospel says Jesus tried to make arrangements to stay in a Samaritan village, and the people rejected him, so the disciples James and John asked if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Jesus rebuked his disciples and they all went and stayed in another village instead, possibly a non-Samaritan one (Luke 9:51-56).
Later, that same gospel says Jesus was walking “along the border between Samaria and Galilee”, as if to say he was avoiding going too deep into Samaria itself (Luke 17:11).
And in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told the disciples to avoid the Samaritans and their towns altogether when he sent them out to preach and perform miracles (Matthew 10:5).
There are other references to the Samaritans in the gospels, and all of them presuppose some degree of friction between the Jews and the Samaritans.
Some of Jesus’ enemies insulted him by calling him “a Samaritan and demon-possessed” (John 8:48). Jesus praised a Samaritan ex-leper for showing more gratitude than nine other ex-lepers (Luke 17:11-19). And Jesus told an entire parable about a “good Samaritan” who counter-intuitively loves his wounded Jewish “neighbour” (Luke 10:25-37).
Eventually the Church did spread through Samaria (Acts 1:8, 8:1-25, 9:31, 15:3).
Jesus tells Photina she is the first person to whom he has revealed that he is the Messiah. This surprises Simon, who says, “You told her? And she can tell others?”
The disciples themselves have been calling Jesus “the Messiah” since Episode 4.
Jesus did tell the leper he healed in Episode 6 to keep his healing a secret, but later in that episode, Jesus publicly forgave a paralytic’s sins, healed him, and called himself “the Son of Man”, a term with clear messianic overtones (in the Book of Enoch and elsewhere).
So this isn’t quite the first time Jesus has revealed his messianic status.
Jesus and the disciples have money to pay for lodging as they go on their journey. They also have bags and pouches for carrying this money and other supplies.
In the gospels, Jesus eventually sent his followers to different towns, two by two, and told them not to take any purses, bags, money or food with them. Instead, they were to rely completely on the hospitality of the people that they met (Mark 8:7-11; Matthew 10:1-15; Luke 9:1-5, 10:1-12). Jesus eventually rescinded this instruction at the Last Supper, and told them to start carrying purses and bags after he was gone (Luke 22:35-37).
However, there is also evidence that Jesus and his followers had a “money bag” while he was with them, and that Judas Iscariot was put in charge of it (John 12:6).
Jesus is sad when Nicodemus does not join his movement. “You came so close,” he says.
This scene does not take place in the gospels, but it echoes another story in which Jesus told a rich man to give all his money away and follow him — and the man did not, because of his wealth (Mark 10:17-25, Matthew 19:16-24, Luke 18:18-25).
Matthew calls the rich man “young”, which Nicodemus is not, and Luke calls him a “ruler”, which Nicodemus is (as a member of the Sanhedrin). Mark says Jesus “loved” the man, which suggests an emotional connection similar to what Jesus shows here.
Jesus says Simon will show the others what to do if they are attacked.
This is presumably a nod to how Simon will eventually strike the high priest’s servant on the night that Jesus is arrested (John 18:10-11; cf. Mark 14:47, Matthew 26:51-54, Luke 22:48-51), though we already saw John brandish a sword or knife in Episode 6.
Andrew says Simon is “a terrible runner,” and Simon blames it on his “bad shins”.
In the roundtable discussion of this episode, available on the series’ app, director Dallas Jenkins says the fact that Simon can’t run very well is a nod to how the beloved disciple (i.e. John) outran Simon when they went to see the empty tomb in John 20:4.
Quintus dictates a decree that is to be posted around Capernaum in Aramaic, Latin and Greek — though the sign we see has Hebrew letters only. This echoes how the sign on Jesus’ cross was written in all three of those languages (John 19:20).
Old Testament. The prologue shows Jacob and three of his sons digging a well on the land that they bought in Canaan from the sons of Hamor (Genesis 33:19).
Jacob greets one of the locals, whose name is Yassib, by saying, “Shalom.” When Yassib says he doesn’t know that word, Jacob says it means “peace”. Yassib replies that there isn’t much peace in Canaan. He goes on to say that “the gods are not nice here.”
It’s an unintentionally ironic exchange, as, in the original biblical story, two of Jacob’s sons end up killing Hamor, his sons, and all of the men in their city as revenge after Hamor’s son rapes Jacob’s daughter and then asks to marry her. Jacob is furious with his sons afterwards and tells them they have made him many enemies (Genesis 34).
So, as bad as the Canaanites and their gods might be, Jacob’s sons weren’t any better.
Eventually the land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor became a burial plot for Jacob and his family. Joshua 24:32 says Jacob’s son Joseph was buried there, and Acts 7:15-16 — which says Abraham bought the land — says Jacob was buried there too.
Jacob tells Yassib his god is called “El Shaddai”.
That is the name Isaac used for God when he sent Jacob into exile (Genesis 28:3), and it is the name God used for himself when Jacob returned (Genesis 35:11). Jacob himself uses that name for God when speaking to his own sons (Genesis 43:14, 48:3, 49:25).
Jacob, in telling Yassib about his God, refers to “this one time he broke my hip.”
In Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestled with a mysterious man who was almost overpowered by Jacob, until the man touched the socket of Jacob’s hip. Jacob still refused to let go of the man unless he blessed Jacob, and the man called him “Israel”, meaning “he struggles with God”, because Jacob had “struggled with God and with humans and … overcome.”
Jacob then said he had seen God face to face, “and yet my life was spared.”
Jacob tells Yassib he is just passing through the region, and when Yassib asks what he is looking for, Jacob replies, “A land our God promised my grandfather, Abraham.”
This is a somewhat odd comment, as Jacob is already in that land, i.e. Canaan. In fact, the first time God told Abraham he would give the land to Abraham’s descendants, it was after Abraham had arrived in this very location, near Shechem (Genesis 12:6-7).
God repeated and expanded on the promise in Genesis 13:14-17, 15:7-21 and 17:1-8.
Photina tells her husband the Law of Moses permits him to give her a bill of divorce, and she says the Law specifically permits him to do this if she sleeps with another man.
It is true that people in Jesus’ day said the Law of Moses gave permission for men to divorce their wives (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-12). But it might be more accurate to say that the Law assumed and accepted that men would be divorcing their wives, so it set limits on how and when they could do it (Deuteronomy 22:13-19, 28-29; 24:1-4).
The Law of Moses does not say specifically that a man can divorce his wife if she sleeps with another man, though Jesus basically says that in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. (In the other gospels, Jesus forbids divorce altogether, without any loopholes; cf. Mark 10:2-12 and Luke 16:18.) The closest the Law gets to this is in Deuteronomy 24:1, which simply assumes that a man might divorce his wife if he “finds something indecent about her”.
Adultery committed by a woman who was married or betrothed was generally punishable by death, for both the woman and the man she slept with (Deuteronomy 22:22-27).
As noted above, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”) when talking to the Pharisees outside Matthew’s house, just as he does in Matthew 9:13.
The Pharisees say Matthew doesn’t make guilt offerings at the Temple. The laws defining the basic guilt offerings are spelled out in Leviticus 5:14-6:7 and 7:1-10. Guilt offerings are also prescribed for cleansing from skin diseases (Leviticus 14:1-32) and for when a man sleeps with a slave who has been promised to someone else (Leviticus 19:20-22).
Nicodemus and his wife recall how Hagar called God “El Roi”, which means “the God who sees me”. The passage they’re alluding to is Genesis 16:13.
Shmuel has figured out that Jesus was alluding to Daniel 7:13-14 when he called himself the “Son of Man” in Episode 6, and he quotes this passage to Nicodemus.
Jesus says Eden is “one flesh” with her husband Simon.
The idea that a husband and wife become “one flesh” comes from Genesis 2:23-24, where God creates the first woman, Eve, from a rib that belonged to the first man, Adam.
This Genesis passage was eventually cited by Jesus in his teaching against divorce (Mark 10:2-12, Matthew 19:3-12). Paul went even further and argued that sex with anyone — even a prostitute — makes two people “one flesh”, and it was because of this principle that Paul said people should flee sexual immorality (I Corinthians 6:12-20).
Jesus and his disciples discuss the history of enmity between Jews and Samaritans.
John says the Samaritans fought on the side of the Seleucids, against the Jews, during the Maccabean revolt circa 165 BC. Jesus replies that the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple “100 years ago”, though it was more like 140 years, circa 110 BC.
John’s brother James also passes along the rumour that some Samaritans had defiled the Temple in Jerusalem more recently by scattering human bones in there during the Passover, circa AD 6 (as reported by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews 18.2.2).
Themes. In the prologue, Jacob says El Shaddai has no temple, just the altars that Jacob and others build wherever they go. Similarly, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the true faith he represents has no use for mountains and temples, “just the heart.”
This theme is also reflected in the quote from Hosea (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”).
Jesus takes time to speak to Simon’s wife Eden, and to let her know that she has a role to play in Simon’s work even though she is not traveling with Simon and the others. The subtext for this is the sacrifices that are made by ministers’ spouses even today.
The inclusion of this scene is interesting, as the Jesus of the gospels praises his followers for abandoning their families to follow him (Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 18:28-30), but there are no passages in which he speaks to the families or spouses themselves.
Historical quibbles. The Pharisees say they have checked the priests’ records at the Temple and determined that Matthew never made any guilt offerings there. This suggests a stronger institutional connection between the priestly hierarchy in Jerusalem and the Pharisees in Galilee, who were basically laymen, than I suspect was the case.
Matthew says Gaius’s people, the Germans, surrendered to Rome.
Matthew is technically correct about that, though it bears mentioning that the Romans lost much of their Germanic territory permanently in AD 9, when a Germanic officer within the Roman army betrayed the Romans and led an alliance of German tribes at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, destroying three Roman legions along the way.
That battle, one of Rome’s worst defeats, took place only 17 years before this episode.
Geography. The disciples say it will take six days to walk from Capernaum to Jerusalem if they go around Samaria but Jesus says going through Samaria will take only three days. Google Maps says it would take 35 to 40 hours to walk from Capernaum to Jerusalem directly, so, allowing time for sleep, it could be done in three 12- or 13-hour walks.
Miracles. As noted above, Simon’s mother-in-law is healed of a fever.
Humanization. The episode doesn’t make Jesus look fallible, per se, but it does show him apologizing to the Samaritan woman for the way he speaks to her at first.
Jesus critiques his disciples at least twice in this episode.
First, before Jesus and the disciples leave Capernaum to visit other communities, he tells Eden he is going to heal her mother not just for their sake, but for his as well: “Normal Simon is difficult enough. You think I want to travel with a worried Simon?”
(The healing itself is followed by a comically awkward moment when Jesus says “maybe” he should leave the room to help Eden’s mother prepare the goat cheese.)
Later, when the disciples protest his decision to go through Samaria, Jesus says, “Listen, if we’re going to have a question-and-answer session every time we do something you’re not used to, it’s going to be a very annoying time together for all of us.”
The biblical Jesus certainly critiqued his disciples at times (e.g. when he asked them, “Are you so dull?” in Mark 7:18 and Matthew 15:16). But it’s striking how the Jesus of this episode draws attention to the way his disciples’ behaviour is making him feel.
Timeline. The prologue with Jacob and his sons is set in 1952 BC.
This is somewhat surprising, as the previous episode had a prologue with Moses that was set in the 13th century BC, and Moses was Jacob’s great-great-grandson, only four generations removed from Jacob (Moses was the son of Amram, who was the son of Kohath, who was the son of Levi, who was the son of Jacob; Exodus 6:16-20).
In fact, Moses was only three generations removed from Jacob if you go through Moses’ mother Jochebed, who was Kohath’s sister and, thus, one of Levi’s daughters. (That’s right: according to the book of Exodus, Moses’ parents were aunt and nephew.)
Historians have proposed a range of dates when people like Jacob and Moses might have lived. In Moses’ case, the series went with one of the later dates, but in Jacob’s case, it goes with an unusually early date. Even Bishop Ussher, whose famous chronology said the Exodus took place in 1491 BC, would have dated this prologue to about 1750 BC.
Jesus and his disciples are apparently going to Jerusalem, and Jesus says it will take only three days of walking — not six — because they are going straight through Samaria.
This is problematic, as Jesus said in Episode 7 that they would be leaving Capernaum on “the fifth day”, i.e. Thursday. So a three-day journey would last until Saturday night or Sunday morning. But Jews aren’t supposed to walk very far on the Sabbath.
The rabbis said no one should walk more than 2,000 cubits — or a little more than half a mile — on the Sabbath, because Exodus 16:29 says everyone should stay in their place on the Sabbath, and Numbers 35:5 says one’s place has a range of 2,000 cubits.
This principle was established by the first century, as Acts 1:12 says the Mount of Olives, which is across a valley from Jerusalem, is “a Sabbath day’s walk from the city”.
It is not clear that Jesus and his disciples actually followed this rule, as there is a story about them walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23, Matthew 12:1, Luke 6:1), and you have to wonder how far they walked just to get there, etc. Certainly that story shows them flouting other rules, e.g. by picking heads of grain on the Sabbath.
Still — particularly given the emphasis on Sabbath observances that we saw in Episode 2 — it seems like the group would at least have raised the question, as to whether they should rest for a day or just keep walking straight through the Sabbath.
The group leaves Capernaum in the morning, and Simon says they’ll make it to Tiberias by nightfall. But Google Maps says the walk should take only three and a half hours.
The group then approaches Jezreel, the southernmost city in Galilee — so if they reached Tiberias at night, it must be the second day of the journey, or Friday, now. (Walking to Jezreel from Capernaum takes about 13 hours, and it’s daylight when the group arrives near Jezreel, so it makes sense that this would be the day after they started.)
We then see another sunrise or sunset, and the disciples leaving some houses where they have spent the night. (Did they stay with Samaritans?) So the group arrives at the Samaritan woman’s well on the third day of the journey, which is Saturday.
Google Maps estimates it would take another 16 or 17 hours to get to Jerusalem from the Samaritan village, so there’s at least another day’s travel ahead of the group.
Nicodemus and his wife talk about the fact that it is their last day in Capernaum.
In Episode 4, which took place a week ago at most, Nicodemus said they would be staying in Capernaum for “another fortnight”, i.e. for another fourteen nights, or two weeks.
Language issues. The Samaritans seem to be using Greek words for Hebrew concepts, such as “Pentateuch” instead of “Torah” and “Christ” instead of “Messiah”. Presumably this is intentional, to underscore the differences between Samaritans and Jews.
Barnaby’s friend Shula, who is blind, makes a deliberate pun at one point when she says, “Somehow I can’t see that.” Does that pun work in Aramaic, or Hebrew, etc.?
Some of the dialogue continues to sound a bit modern to these ears, as when Simon says to a Pharisee, “You seem to be having trouble finding your words, man.”
Jesus asks if Simon thinks he should have called only “single people” to follow him.
Merriam-Webster says the word “single” has been used as an adjective to describe people who are not married since the 14th century, but to my ears the word conjures up memories of “singles’ groups” at church, etc. The word “unmarried” — or a phrase like “people who are not married” — wouldn’t have had those modern connotations.
Miscellaneous. The episode ends with a blues-rock song (‘Trouble’), which harks back to the blues-rock song (‘Walk on the Water’) that plays over the show’s opening credits.
These songs help set The Chosen apart from other Jesus films and TV shows, most of which have relied on symphonic scores or on music that has a more period “ethnic” sound.
Two exceptions would be Roger Young’s Jesus, which used Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Pie Jesu’ during the crucifixion sequence and LeAnn Rimes’ ‘I Need You’ over the closing credits, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew, which used songs by Odetta and Blind Willie Johnson in addition to pieces by Bach and others.
And then, of course, there are outright musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and The Gospel Road, plus genre parodies like Monty Python’s Life of Brian — but that’s different.
Clip: Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law:
The Chosen in Israel: Why is the woman at the well so important?:
The entire episode was also livestreamed on April 5, with an intro by director Dallas Jenkins and a chat with Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus.
TV show recaps: