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Images of the woman at the well

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When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman in John , is the passage about her husbands literal, or symbolic of the five different tribes that were settled in her town? The Samaritan woman, unlike other individuals who speak with Jesus in the Gospel of John, is never named. Some interpreters have taken this anonymity as an invitation to view her as an abstraction, a symbol of Samaria itself. If she is a symbol, the thinking goes, then surely her five husbands could represent the five locations in Samaria that settlers are supposed to have been brought according to 2Kings This approach treats the Samaritan woman as a mere allegory.

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Woman At The Well - Billy Graham

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Woman at the Well

Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women

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For some, much is "wrong with this picture" of the Samaritan woman. Certain critics focus on the marriage or sexual aspects of the story Carmichael Eslinger , for example, identifies many double entendres regarding wells, living waters and springs as metaphors for sexual intercourse. These double entendres suggest that something is "wrong with this picture" in that the woman and Jesus appear to be engaged in a sexual game in violation of the cultural conventions for shame-guarding females in antiquity.

Sometimes they focus on the role the woman plays in bringing the word about Jesus to her village, thus suggesting that she assumes the role of a "missionary" or "apostolic witness. Are the different readings of John 4 merely a reflection of the gender of the commentator? It is easily verified that male critics tend to accentuate the sexual and marriage allusions in the story, while feminist readers focus on aspects of the story with potential for liberating Christian women.

Nevertheless, if the aim of biblical criticism is the recovery of the communication of the sacred author, the conversation about John 4 must continue. As we become aware of the gender perspectives of authors ancient and modern, we should likewise take into account the cultural background of the ancient writer. Admittedly this ancient Mediterranean, pre-industrial cultural background might well clash with our modern Western, post-industrial world. And this will raise difficulties for contemporary males and females in their appropriation of biblical materials.

But a full and honest reading of John 4 must take into account the ancient cultural expectations concerning males and females. Such cultural matters may even be part of the "good news" of the story.

When we recover the general cultural expectations concerning gender in antiquity, we must ask "what, if anything, is wrong or right about this picture? What is the author's rhetorical stance toward this? Merely to point out how John 4 accords with or violates gender expectations is only part of this investigation. We must investigate what rhetorical stance the author takes in regard to this issue.

What is needed, then, for a full conversation on John 4 is a more accurate description of the general cultural expectations for males and females in antiquity as the appropriate background of the narrative. We argue that the basic rhetorical strategy in John 4 requires of us an appreciation of the cultural stereotypes of females in the ancient world.

Knowing this, as did the males and females in that world, we can observe with them how the author plays with "what's wrong with this picture? As we shall see, the ancients construed the world as gender divided: males in the "public" and females in the "private" world. Males in that culture, moreover, were expected to be sexually aggressive, whereas females were deemed virtuous in terms of their defense of their sexual exclusivity Malina-Neyrey In John 4, all social taboos customarily separating males and females into separate worlds are systematically recognized, but broken and transformed.

This upsetting of cultural taboos, moreover, is conscious and intentional; it constitutes an essential part of the communication of the author. We must, then, initially assess "what is wrong with this picture. But finally, all may not be "wrong with this picture," if modern readers attend to several more pieces of the cultural background of John 4.

First, the author intends the scenario described there to be perceived as the "private" world of kinship groups. It may be narrated as occurring "out of doors," but the meetings of Jesus and the woman and the woman and the villagers should ultimately be seen as the formation of fictive kinship groups, and so they are governed by the customs of the "private," not the "public" world. Something, then, may take place "out of doors" and yet be "private," not "public.

We recall the fact that the early church never attempted to form a "public" ekklesia, but gathered in households and modeled itself after the "private" institution of the family, household and kinship group Elliott ; Verner If the "private" world of the kinship group is what the author has in view, then nothing is "wrong with this picture.

Most of our ancient documents were written by males and often portray the "public" world positively; conversely, they view the "private" world as a less important arena.

With our dearth of female evaluations of the "private" world, we are generally left with only one voice in the matter: the "public" is better than the "private" world. This viewpoint is reinforced in some modern discussions of the place of males and females in our world. In the eyes of many, the "private" world of today's household can mean second-class status for females, lack of respect for their talents, and numbing drudgery.

Thus, if we argue that Jesus invited people into the "private" world of a kinship group, this might appear to some to be a reactionary statement, that Jesus would resist welcoming females into the "public" world. Such a view would misconstrue the narrative in John 4. There was no "public" Christian world for males or females.

They met in "private" space and adopted the customs appropriate for households and kinship groups. What seems to be needed is a more culturally sensitive evaluation of the "public" and "private" worlds in antiquity. Some ancient writers reflect that the "public" world was characterized as an agonistic place where males engaged in constant honor challenges Malina-Neyrey , Hierocles, admittedly a male voice which may idealize the "private" world, questions the prevailing myth of the "public world":.

But when a wife is present she becomes a great comfort in these circumstances by asking her husband about non-domestic matters or bringing up and considering together with him matters concerning the home, thus causing him to relax, and she cheers him up by her unaffected enthusiasm" On Duties , On Marriage Yet, if nurturing, security, and mutuality for females and males can be found anywhere in antiquity, they are more likely to occur, not in the "public" world, but in the "private" world of the kinship circle.

Thus, further appreciation of the "private" world of the fictive kinship group may be necessary to appreciate what the author of John 4 is doing by welcoming the Samaritan woman into a new network of social relations. We should, then, attend to the cultural clues in the narrative. To do this, we must recreate the cultural world of the author and begin to see things as he and other males and females saw them.

In true reader-response criticism, how would ancient readers hear this story? What aspects of their culture are inextricably embedded in the narrative, which we of another culture cannot readily see?

What do modern readers need to know of that culture to be informed and respectful tourists in another country? We recognize that the ancients viewed the world and everything in it as gender divided. This implies consequent cultural expectations about honorable males and shame-respecting females.

To grasp this, we need knowledge of the typical and ordinary cultural expectations about the behavior of males and females in antiquity. In short, we need to develop a stereotype of that gender-divided world, the cultural expectations of males and females in it, and notions of what constitutes a shame-respecting or shameless female.

Implied in all of this is a clearer assessment of what constitutes a "private" world and what social dynamics are appropriate there. Cultural anthropologists argue that the ancient peoples of the eastern Mediterranean viewed all reality in terms of gender division, that is, in terms of honor and shame, especially as these apply to males and females. We examine, then, the ancient distinction between "public" and "private," with the attendant focus on the kinship network as the prime example of the "private" world.

This is best illustrated by reference to ancient topoi on the topic in which the cultural stereotypes of male and female are described. Philo offers a summary of what we call the gender division of society. He distinguishes both male and female space as well as male and female tasks:. Market-places and council-halls and law-courts and gatherings and meetings where a large number of people are assembled, and open-air life with full scope for discussion and action -- all these are suitable to men both in war and peace.

The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house, within which the middle door is taken by the maidens as their boundary, and the outer door by those who have reached full womanhood Special Laws 3. The proper place for males is in public, doing public things, whereas females belong in private space.

Although Philo does not spell out what women do "in private," in another place he comments on the popular perception of male and female physiology: ". Thus we learn that females do tasks associated with private space or the domestic life "the house" , namely, food preparation, clothing production, and child rearing. Philo's description of the gender-divided world of antiquity is itself a topos easily traced back to classical Greek writers, who themselves only reflect common opinion on the topic.

Xenophon's summary is worth noting:. Nevertheless, those who mean to win store to fill the covered place, have need to someone to work at the open-air occupations; since plowing, sowing, planting and grazing are all such open-air employments; and these supply the needful food.

Then again, as soon as this is stored in the covered place, then there is need for someone to keep it and to work at the things that must be done under cover. Cover is needed for the nursing of the infants; cover is needed for the making of corn into bread, and likewise for the manufacture of clothing from the wool. And since both the indoor and the outdoor tasks demand labour and attention, God from the first adapted the woman's nature, I think, to the indoor and man's to the outdoor tasks and cares" Oeconomicus 7.

Their respective tasks are gender-divided as well: males work at "open-air occupations" such as plowing, sowing, grazing, etc.

A third example of this commonplace illustrates how the ancients generally perceived the world divided according to cultural notions of gender:. Before anything else I should speak about the occupations by which a household is maintained. They should be divided in the usual manner, namely, to the husband should be assigned those which have to do with agriculture, commerce, and the affairs of the city; to the wife those which have to do with spinning and the preparation of food, in short, those of a domestic nature Hierocles, On Duties The world of the ancients, then, was divided according to cultural perceptions of gender into "male" and "female" space.

In male space market places, public squares, open fields , males did male occupations, whereas in female space houses, wells, ovens , females did female occupations. Objects, moreover, were likewise classified as male or female, depending on whether they are for "public" or "private" use: agricultural implements, and weapons of war were male, whereas domestic implements, cooking utensils, and looms were female.

We must next ask about the implications of ascribing to females "private space" and how this contributes to a stereotype of ideal female behavior. This commonplace in the gender division of the world invites a closer examination of female space. As noted above, females are perceived as part of the "private" world, that is, the house and spaces related to household duties, such as ovens and wells. What are the cultural expectations about a typical female space?

The three topoi quoted above indicate that females are expected to dwell in "private" space, primarily their homes and secondarily places where female tasks are performed. Women's quarters might be on the second story of a house Lysias, On the Murder of Eratosthenes 9 or in a part of the house guarded by a strong wall Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans C.

Infants and children were kept in these quarters. Lucian likewise describes the women's quarters as the place where children are raised: "You come in too, Micyllus, and dine with us. Our survey of this term for women's quarters indicates that it: a describes the living arrangements of Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Romans and Jews see War 5. Cornelius Nepos indicates that gender expectations about females in the Greek East were modified somewhat in the Latin West, at least by some elite females:.

Many actions are seemly according to our code which the Greeks look upon as shameful. For instance, what Roman would blush to take his wife to a dinner-party? What matron does not frequent the front rooms of her dwelling and show herself in public?

But it is very different in Greece; for there a woman is not admitted to a dinner-party, unless relatives only are present, and she keeps to the more retired part of the house called "the women's apartment" gynaeconitis , to which no man has access who is not near of kin Cornelius Nepos, praef. In her recent book, Kathleen Corley discusses the prevailing cultural expectations concerning "private" women at "public" meals, the relaxation of those rules for elite Roman women, and the subsequent social reaction to those changes Although she focussed on the presence of women at meals, her data confirm the general stereotype of a gender-divided world described here.

Appreciation of the cultural expectations for females in a gender-divided world should help us to grasp the intended shock in John 4 of a noonday meeting between Jesus and the woman in public space. Ancient discussions of female tasks tend to compare and contrast what is proper to them with what is expected of males.

Xenophon provides a useful example. Males, whose proper gender space is the "open air," do tasks appropriate to that space: "plowing, sowing, planting and grazing are all such open-air employments. The remark of Hierocles quoted above repeats the commonplace that males engage in public affairs, whereas females "have to do with spinning and the preparation of food, in short, those of a domestic nature.

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Post by Guest Author. She was talking about how she felt in her Church. Her comment has haunted me. The image I have of Jesus from the Gospels is of one who went out of his way to welcome women at the table and in his ministry. Jewish culture in the first century was decidedly patriarchal.

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Woman at the Well: A Story of a Loving God

The Samaritan woman at the well is a figure from the Gospel of John , in John — The woman appears in John 4 :4—42, However below is John — But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar , near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.

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Samaritan woman at the well

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SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Bishop Barron on The Woman at the Well

For some, much is "wrong with this picture" of the Samaritan woman. Certain critics focus on the marriage or sexual aspects of the story Carmichael Eslinger , for example, identifies many double entendres regarding wells, living waters and springs as metaphors for sexual intercourse. These double entendres suggest that something is "wrong with this picture" in that the woman and Jesus appear to be engaged in a sexual game in violation of the cultural conventions for shame-guarding females in antiquity. Sometimes they focus on the role the woman plays in bringing the word about Jesus to her village, thus suggesting that she assumes the role of a "missionary" or "apostolic witness.

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The meeting between Christ and the woman of Samaria at the well is only recounted in the Gospel of Saint John. Christ, travelling to Galilee, reached the Samarian city of Sychar. While the disciples went ahead into the city to buy food, Christ sat down to rest by a fountain. A woman approached the well to draw water and Christ requested water to drink.

Woman well

The story of the woman at the well is one of the most well known in the Bible; many Christians can easily tell a summary of it. On its surface, the story chronicles ethnic prejudice and a woman shunned by her community. But take look deeper, and you'll realize it reveals a great deal about Jesus' character.

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It shows the images with a short description of what is happening in each scene. You can print this and add your own notes. We are a team of Christians creating a visual journey through the Bible as a resource for teaching all ages — available for free download by anyone, anywhere at any time.





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