Samaritan Israelites and Jews under the Shadow of Rome: Reading John 4:4–45 in Ephesus
1. Introduction: Moving around the Boundaries of John 4:4–45
2. Preliminary Assumptions: Ephesus, Samaritan Israelites, and Jews
3. Genealogy: Samaritan Israelite and Judean Subgroup Identity Negotiations
4. Knowledge: Affirming Samaritan Israelite and Judean Knowledge
5. Purity as Another Cross-Cutting Characteristic
In light of the foregoing analysis, the use of water for purification in the Fourth Gospel does not seem unusual or innovative in Second Temple Judaism. It is simply inaccurate to say that the author is only using water as a symbol to renounce the past, which will be replaced by Jesus. Rather, the writer uses water ablutions as they would have been understood in contemporary Judaism—not just a doing away with impurity and the past, but a way in which the purifier was asked to prepare for and focus on the activity of the Spirit of God.
6. Tying up Loose Ends: Identity, Knowledge, and Purity
7. Summary: A New Family
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Conflicts of Interest
The term “Samaritan Israelite” is used in this chapter to encourage recognition of Israelite identity as a socially complex phenomenon that merges various expressions of its subgroups (Chalmers 2021, p. 47). Merger identities and social identity complexity is discussed below.
In the pericope as a whole, there are present tense verbs in the main clauses in vv. 1, 4–5, 7, 9, 11–12, 15, 17b–26, 28b–29, 34–38. Jo-Ann Brant, too, recognizes the frequent use of the historic present in this passage (Brant 2011, p. 82). Piotr Kot offers a different analysis which centers 4:10, but does not take into account the tenses of the verbs (Kot 2020, pp. 618–19).
For a particularly egregious interpretation, see John Calvin who calls Samaritans “the scum of a people”, accuses Jews of using the law as a cover for their “carnal hatred”, and calls Photini a “prostitute”, suggesting that she occasioned her own multiple divorces by her contrariness (Calvin 2010, pp. 146, 148, 153). For a modern-day example, we have the suggestion that the “woman speaking to Jesus believed in YHWH, but she also lived a life of idolatry (she had many husbands)” (Kot 2020, p. 633). Note in Kot’s bibliography the almost nonexistent engagement with women scholars. For the effects of such characterizations, see (Warren 2021).
Note my usual caveat: Bayes is not immediately transferrable to Biblical Studies where probabilities are often subjective. Additionally, it produces self-contradicting results when applied to extremely improbable events. However, Heilig has demonstrated that it offers helpful ways to conceptualize less traditional questions about the text. Thank you to Prof. Samuel Cohen from the Mathematical Institute at Oxford University, and to the Bayes and Bible group led by Christoph Heilig and funded by the Cogito Foundation, for these warnings.
While the vagaries of preservation cannot be relied upon for definitive assertions, archaeology has preserved more public use of Latin in Ephesus than in other cities often associated with John’s Gospel (Hunt 2019, pp. 91–119).
For cautions and corrections regarding B/CE terminology, see (Horrell 2020, pp. 16–18).
“make it likely that from the third century BCE to the seventh century CE members of the Samaritan faith community settled across the whole ancient world” (Van der Horst 1988, p. 144).
For more on early Christians as networks, see (Alexander 2003).
On Jews in Ephesus more generally, see (Tellbe 2009, pp. 65–75).
For an analysis of the social groups interacting during this period, see (Penwell 2019, pp. 53–54 and n. 31).
For example, in one reckoning, Isaiah is Paul’s most cited source in Romans (20 times); (Philipps 2009).
See, somewhat similarly, (Dube 2002, pp. 61–62). Pace Keener (2003, p. 1.587) who does not think that Samaritan–Judean relations would be relevant in the diaspora. On commerce, see (Hingley 2005, pp. 107, 115–16). On the connection between the fiscus Judaicus and Jewish identity, see (Goodman 1989).
Note that this often happens when scholars themselves engage in ingroup projection, assuming that it would be possible for ancient people to abandon what we may label “ethnic” identities to adopt a Christian “universalism” that in the end looks suspiciously like some version of present-day Christianity.
In Luke, Jesus only travels along the border between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11), and in Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples away from both gentiles and Samaritan Israelites (Matt 10:5).
On the recognition of common ancestry combined with a desire to reject the Samaritans from a Jewish point of view, see (Paul 2021, p. 130).
For the fatherhood of God in Judaism in particular, see (Girsch 2015, pp. 58–61).
Horrell points out that even kinship that we might call fictive because it is not based on genetic relations nevertheless, when constructed, results in this-world behaviors (Horrell 2020, p. 111).
Keener brings this transcendent worship up again and equates it with worship in Revelation, citing, i.a., 7:9. However, besides there being no necessary connection with the Fourth Gospel, worship in Rev. 7:9 is specifically not transcendent of ethnicity. It is not that the barriers of impurity, gender, and traditions have been overcome, but that they have been incorporated (pace Keener 2003, p. 1.619).
BDAG, 646 (3), 649.
Tom Thatcher locates quite of few of the μή questions within passages identified as riddles on other grounds (Thatcher 2000, pp. 278–80, 219–21, 238).
Although there is no space to discuss it here, Jesus as God’s gift may reference the living water from the well of wisdom, the wandering Israelites’ traveling well, and God’s gift of Torah through Moses (Neyrey 1979, pp. 421–23; Keener 2003, pp. 1.602–604; Lincoln 2005, pp. 173–74; Coloe 2013, pp. 187–88). For further connections between water and Jacob’s well, see (Kot 2020, p. 630). However, note the dating issues mentioned in n. 5. Furthermore, the question for targumim as background to John 4 is not whether “the woman of Samaria who comes to the well must have known the non-Biblical texts”, but whether authors and audiences might have known them. In this article, however, I focus on living water as running water (both described as ὕδωρ ζῶν) used for purification.
A full discussion of the Taheb cannot be entered into here.
For a roundup of sources on the debate about whether προφήτης is definite or not in v. 19, see (Paul 2021, pp. 181–84).
On Messiah language in Second Temple Judaism, see (Novenson 2016, pp. 57–63).
Paul suggests something similar as well; (Paul 2021, pp. 200, 202).
Keener suggests something similar but sees them both as superseded (Keener 2003, p. 1.615).
On Deut 32:1–43 and its relation to Deutero-Isaiah, see (Williams 2000, pp. 42–50). And on the connection to Samaritan belief, see (Williams 2000, pp. 74–85, 258–59). Note that Williams does not assume that later eschatology was current at the time of composition but does suggest an early belief in a returning Moses-like prophet, p. 259.
The term “heterarchy” is useful for multiple centers of identity that interact without clear hierarchy (Crumley 1987).
Sychar was likely a small town; (Zangenberg 2006, p. 418).
Power relations exist between Jesus and Photini, as well; however, the relative power of a ‘Jewish’ man and a Samaritan Israelite woman when they are sitting by a well in Samaria is difficult to gauge. It would be interesting to look at the ways the Fourth Gospel claims superiority for Jesus (1:30; 8:23) and yet also gives authority away (1:12; 20:23), but that will not be attempted in this article.
Kubiś clearly makes this case, despite his relative lack of interaction with 21st century or women scholars. His citations of Aulus Gellius demonstrate that even in Rome, although the day begins at midnight, the hours of the night are counted starting at sunset, such that “the sixth hour of the night” is midnight (Kubiś 2021, p. 254).
See also Keener’s note that the Ankore of Uganda “rest at noon and draw water about 1pm” (Keener 2003, p. 1.593 n. 86). The one-hour time difference does not seem enough to distinguish clearly between proper and shameful visits to a well, however.
My point is not so much to argue that Jesus is not alone, but to recognize that a private space is not a necessary interpretation of this scene.
Embodied purity is not unrelated to Moore’s “spiritual material” water (Moore 1993, p. 222).
Pace Paul who sees no references to purity in this passage (Paul 2021, p. 145). However, she does not seem to be aware of the double meaning of ὕδωρ ζῶν. For Paul, the rift between Jews and Samaritans expressed in vv. 1–9 is specifically grounded in the two opposing places of worship (Paul 2021, p. 148).
Although Σαμαρῖτις may be an adjective in the second attributive position, the word may also be taken as an appositional noun, giving equal weight to both identities. Although Fehribach analyzes the Greek somewhat differently, she also concludes that both Photini’s gender and ethnicity are emphasized (Fehribach 1998, pp. 71–72).
Paul does not recognize the importance of this double meaning, but does list the verses in the LXX and the SP that refer to running water for purification: Lev 14:5, 6, 50, 51, 52; 15:13 (that last only in the SP) and Num 19:17 (Paul 2021, p. 160 n. 55).
Purity concerns are foreshadowed in John 3:25, too.
On purity, see (Brant 2011, p. 68; Miller 2009, p. 75). It is possible, in fact, that a shared revulsion among the audience to the idea of Jesus requesting to drink from Photini’s jar (v. 7–9) would have decreased the social distance between Judeans and Samaritans. Although not discussed further in this article, there could be many interpretations of the reason for Photini to leave her jar behind (v. 28). It could characterize her as a disciple, meaning that she will return; it could provide a means for Jesus and the disciples to drink in her absence; it could demonstrate that she has no more need of well water now that she has Jesus’s water, or that she has left her symbol of servitude or a specific view of purity behind (Brant 2011, p. 87; Monro 1995, p. 719; Schneiders 2003, p. 141; Botha 1991, pp. 163–64; Lincoln 2005, p. 179).
For this reason, Wil Rogan omits John 4 in his analysis (Rogan 2023, p. 43).
Lincoln, too, notes the shame she would have carried (Lincoln 2005, p. 175).
See, similarly, the construction of “the community as a living temple” in 1 Peter; (Horrell 2020, p. 206). The tension between individual and communal purity and worship deserves further discussion.
For connections between metaphorical temples, gardens, and living water, see (Wassen 2013, pp. 62, 65, 73–74).
See, similarly, Holmén who argues that Jesus demonstrates an “inverse strategy of ritual (im)purity” (Holmén 2011, p. 2723).
For other options, see (Keener 2003, p. 1.626).
This is an elaboration of Botha’s discussion (Botha 1991, p. 174). It is also possible, based on the sexual overtones of the dialog between Jesus and Photini, that Jesus, as the groom, is the sower (Fehribach 1998, pp. 53–58; Lincoln 2005, p. 173). However, because of Photini’s active testimony (λόγος; v. 39), I see her role shifting immediately to fellow harvester (pace Fehribach 1998, pp. 72–73). Fehribach’s critiques, particularly regarding the author’s emphasis on Photini’s function over any valorizing of her character, deserve further discussion (Fehribach 1998, pp. 75–79).
Many have noted the awkwardness of vv. 34–38, including (Botha 1991, p. 171).
L&N, s.v. On linking more than one text, see (North 2020, e.g., p. 81.)
It is quite possible, as well, that some would read this reference as a warrant for conquest, ideological or otherwise (Dube 2002, p. 65).
See also v. 27. Of course, these are the related verbal forms and not the nouns.
The belief of the Samaritans thus fulfills the divine necessity from the beginning of the pericope (v. 4) (Lincoln 2005, pp. 177–78).
However, I disagree on Koester’s characterization of the scene as an adventus (Hunt 2019, pp. 166–67).
Jesus in John 4 calls himself ἡ δωρεά and throughout Leviticus a sacrifice is τό δῶρον, the neuter noun of the same root.
It is interesting to me the way Photini can, in certain cases, be characterized as both promiscuous and inhospitable, criticized both for her perceived openness to Jesus and for her perceived rejection of him.
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Hunt, L.J. Samaritan Israelites and Jews under the Shadow of Rome: Reading John 4:4–45 in Ephesus. Religions 2023, 14, 1149. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091149
Hunt LJ. Samaritan Israelites and Jews under the Shadow of Rome: Reading John 4:4–45 in Ephesus. Religions. 2023; 14(9):1149. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091149Chicago/Turabian Style
Hunt, Laura J. 2023. "Samaritan Israelites and Jews under the Shadow of Rome: Reading John 4:4–45 in Ephesus" Religions 14, no. 9: 1149. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel14091149