Who knew Samaritans were idol worshipers and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead? In this post, I will briefly discuss Samaritan biblical history and the mutual tension with Jews. That background will provide a interesting backstory to the Samaritan woman story in the Gospel of John.
The Assyrians moved colonists into the land of Samaria from among the other nations they had conquered upon exiling the northern kingdom Israel (2Kings 17:24-41). These foreigners brought with them their idols. Josephus mentions this import of “five” idols in Antiquities 9.14.3. These idols did not help them settle the land and many bad things happened. So Assyria sent former northern kingdom priests to teach these colonists how to worship the God of the Land. Livelihood improved, but the people blended in their worship and service to their idols along with fear of the God of Israel.
The Samaritans continued to be trouble for the Jewish people after the exile to Babylon as told in Ezra 4:1-24. The distrust was strong. The Samaritans aided the Syrians who warred against the Jews. The Jews burned down Mt. Gerizin’s shrine in 128 b.c. The Samaritans had their own Torah and interpretations. For instance, Samaritan Deuteronomy 27:4 taught that Joshua shall build a shrine on Mt. Gerizin near Shechem. On and on, the striving between the Jews and Samaritans continued, and the Samaritan interpretation of Torah was certainly a topic of discussion.
According to Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 90b), the Samaritan’s interpreted that there is no resurrection derived from the Torah. Jews, on the other hand, did interpret resurrection as derived from the Torah. Yeshua’s discussion with the Samaritan women is a teaching about the Torah as Living Waters leading to eternal life.
I think the gospel writer of John uses irony, a literary device and has a Messianic Jewish audience for whom he is writing. The Samaritan woman says the truth exactly but she is unaware. Here is a chart of the conversation. (read 1-1, 2-2, etc.)
- Please give me a drink.
- You would ask for living water from Him
- The water in the well is temporary; Yeshua gives eternal life which comes from the Messianic era (see Ezek 47) and permanent refreshment with His water.
- Yeshua asks her to bring her husband. (I think there is an intentional allusion for the reader to pick up from Hosea 2:4-19. Obviously, Hosea was speaking concerning Israel, not about the much later Gospel’s Samaritans, but I do think the prophecy helps to interpret the imagery and meaning.)
- “You have had five husbands…” referring to the foreign gods previously. “and the one you have now is not your husband”, for He is the Jewish peoples’ Husband.
The Samaritan Women’s response
- Jews don’t drink from Samaritan vessels, and Yeshua did not drink from the well, or from her vessel.
- She remarks the well water is inaccessible to Yeshua, but He wasn’t concerned with that well’s water anyway.
- Give me that water (i.e. from the Jerusalem Temple) and I will never come back to this well (i.e. Mt Gerizim) again.
- She replies, “I have no husband.” Yes, she is right and has no human husband. But she also does not know the God of Israel, and He is not a Husband to the Samaritan people.
- “This mountain… but you say Jerusalem…” Well put! Note she observes Yeshua is a prophet, and ironically she says that He says she must worship in Jerusalem.
How familiar do you think the Gospel’s audience would have been with the ideas I have suggested? Why or why not?