Woman at the Well

Woman at the Well March 24, 2015

My latest contribution to the Bible Odyssey website is up. It is in the “Ask a Scholar” section, and is a response to this question:

When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman in John 4:17-19, is the passage about her husbands literal, or symbolic of the five different tribes that were settled in her town?

Click through to read it.

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  • Paul E.

    Interesting post! I find that story really fascinating. There are interpretations that read the symbolism aspect a little differently, and see her as a symbol of “womanhood” in addition to a symbol of the Samaritan nation. I guess I have never really thought of that symbolic interpretation as denigrating, but as an acknowledgement of the particular, and almost necessarily, “feminine” aspect of the creation of a new Israel by Jesus, who is greater than the previous “creator,” Jacob.

  • John Thomas

    Evaluation of five husbands of the Samaritan woman in context of 2 Kings 17:24 makes perfect sense to me. In the Old Testament especially in prophetic writings, there are verses which compare Israel’s engagement with surrounding nations for support to a woman prostituting with other men rather than being faithful to her husband. The engagement of Jesus with woman from Samaria seems to represent Jesus trying to reconcile people of Samaria with Jews, which is exactly what is said to have happened after the conversation. Thanks for bringing this to light.

    • I am not persuaded, not least because there is no hint in the story in John of the woman “prostituting.” She has either been widowed multiple times, or divorced multiple times. The way she is turned from a tragic figure into a debaucherous one should disturb anyone who pays close attention to the text in its cultural and historical context.

      • John Thomas

        I agree that there is no implication of her prostituting in John’s account. But her having five husbands and one who she lives with is not her husband, seems to me similar to Old Testament imagery of a region in alliance with a surrounding nation being portrayed metaphorically as some form of sexual relations be it in marriage or prostitution.

  • Mark Erickson

    Link is dead. Weird that custom error page “home page” link is wrong too. Wait, it’s from the SBL. Ah.

  • The link I originally shared had something wrong with it, but here is one that works: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/woman-at-the-well.aspx