The King of Stories -- A Woman, a Well, and a (semi-)Triumphant Return

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

Since some of the later chapters are long enough that I'll want to break them into two parts, I'm taking the opportunity to consolidate some shorter chapters here. These have some interesting plot-notes that I'll go ahead and include in the main entry rather than deferring them to comment entries below.

The Woman at the Well

Now Jesus had to pass through Samaria (says the Evangelist, meaning on Jesus' way to the Galilee region). So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the freehold which Jacob (one of the Hebrew patriarchs) gave his son Joseph.

[Plotnote: as far as I can tell, Jesus is actually going to Nazareth now, which lies on the border between the Samarian region and the Galilee region; after which, as the storytellers know, He will go up further into Galilee. If Jesus had gone upriver from where He had been baptizing in the Jordan, after the events of His first Passover ministry, to where John most likely was baptizing, at the place of 'many waters' near Aemon and Salim; then the shortest route from there to Nazareth (though not necessarily to Cana!) might easily be along a road winding along the western river branch to Sychar: remember, there is a place on the Jordan where the eastern river Jabbok and the western river leading to Sychar flow out of the surrounding hill country. Thus, many waters. Sychar stands a little past the headwaters of this western river--the name of which I haven't discovered yet, but which did exist (although it may not anymore.) In fact, the road might not follow this brook all the way, but cut west across a pass to Sychar. The town would be about 17 miles west from the Many Waters Triad, and maybe 4.5 miles south of the headwaters of this western river. From Sychar, a trail might go north (toward and along the hook of those headwaters) to Nazareth, or else Jesus might have had to go west a little further to the city of Samaria itself to find a road going north to the town He grew up in.

Also, if Andrew, Peter and/or John had been traveling with Jesus after their first meeting this far, they will now have been left with JohnBapt back at Aemon. Indeed, bringing them back to the Baptist, if he was working along the western fork of the Many Waters, would have been a good reason for taking this route at all. (However, I doubt Peter and John were with Jesus up to this point, based on data elsewhere in the Synoptics. The unnamed disciple might have been, though...) In any case, the geographial connections to Jesus’ movements, are interesting; though unstated, they do topically cohere in not-immediately obvious ways.]

Jacob's wellspring is there. So Jesus, being tired from His journey, was sitting by the well (on the curbstone). It was (adds the Evangelist) about 6 PM.

A certain woman of Samaria is coming to draw water.

Jesus is saying to her, "Give Me a drink"--for His disciples had gone on into the city to buy food (for the trip further north along the trail. These would be Nathanael and Philip at least.)

So the Samaritan woman says to Him: "How is it that you, being a Jew, are asking a drink from me--a Samaritan woman!?" For Jews (especially the Pharisees, whom Jesus kind of resembles) have no dealings with Samaritans (explains the Evangelist).

Jesus answered her, saying, "If you knew the generosity of God, and Who is saying to you 'Give Me a drink', you would ask Him--and He would give you living water."

She says, "Sir; you don't even have a bucket. And this well is deep. Where then do you get this 'living water'? You aren't greater than our father Jacob, are you?--who has given us this well, and drank of it himself, along with his sons and the cattle he fed."

Jesus replied, "Everyone who drinks of this water shall be thirsty again; but whoever may be drinking of the water I shall be giving, shall under no circumstances whatever be thirsting again--forever. The water I give, shall become in him a well of water springing up into God's own life."

The woman is saying in His direction ('toward' Him--perhaps over her shoulder while she's working): "Then give me this water, sir, that I may not be thirsting, nor coming out to this place to draw!"

[Plotnote: it should be probably noted that the prophetic reference Jesus is making, not only is to something God Himself would be fulfilling, but uses language-imagery that might be considered a bit risque! Considering the woman's character, and how friendly Jesus is being, there's a good chance she would think He was trying to flirt with her.]

Jesus says, "Go call your husband, and come back here." [Plotnote: which would put a stop to any impropriety on her part, or at least gently signal that He isn't trying to flirt with her.]

The woman replies, "Not a husband do I have." [Plotnote: a bit of a sigh to that!--and a possible attempt on her part to check if He's only checking about whether she's available.]

"You put that very well," says Jesus, "'I do not have a husband'... for you have had five husbands!--and the one you are 'having' now is not your husband! So, you have certainly spoken the truth."

"... ... Sir. I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers have worshiped on this mountain; but you (Jews) say the place we should worship is in Jerusalem."

[Plotnote: taking Him rather more seriously now! Jesus' kind humor about a touchy situation is probably helping, too.

At least two people-groups lived in this region, commonly known as the Samarians and the Samaritans. The former were pagans brought in to repopulate the region centuries earlier after the fall of the Northern Kingdom and the depopulation of ten of the tribes of Israel into exile. The Samaritans were the people they had intermarried with; Jews who still tried to worship God, but who were considered pagans for living and having families with the Gentiles. Mount Gerazim, near Sychar, was and still is a place for Samaritan Jews to worship God, rather than in the Temple at Jerusalem, especially once the original Temple fell centuries before Jesus' day. The Temple being used and referred to in the Gospel stories, was begun by Herod the Great and completed (though not finished) by his sons; and many Jews, including naturally the Samaritans, did not consider it to be a legitimate Temple of God. This was the source of much political and religious strife.

The Samaritan woman wants to know what kind of prophet He is--which side of this dispute is He on?]

Jesus tells her: "Woman, believe Me--an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall you be worshiping the Father.

"You are worshiping without really knowing what you are doing; whereas we do know what we are worshiping about--for salvation is of the Jews.

"However--an hour is coming... and even now is!... when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit, and in truth; for these are the kinds of people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is a Spirit; and those who are worshiping Him must worship in spirit and truth."

"... ... I have heard Messias is coming," says the woman, meaning He Who is called ho Kristos (adds the Evangelist for his audience, i.e. the Anointed, a royal title) "Whenever he should be coming, (it is said that) he shall be declaring all things to us."

Jesus says to her: "I am the speaker to you." ('ego eimi ho lalon soi'; possibly "I AM (is) the speaker to you")


At this point (says the Evangelist), His disciples returned; and they marveled that He spoke with a woman! However, no one said to Him, "What are You doing!?" or "Why are You talking to her!?"

So the woman leaves her water pot, and goes into the city, saying to the people: "Come here! See this man who told me everything I have ever done! This is not the Anointed King--is it?" So they went out of the city and came to Him.

Now in the meanwhile, the disciples were insisting, "Rabbi--won't You have something to eat?"

But He said to them, "I have food to eat, that you don't know about."

So the disciples said to each other: "No one has been bringing Him food to eat... have they?"

Jesus tells them: "My food, is that I should be doing the will of the One Who sends Me, and should be perfecting His work!

"Do you not say, 'Still four months, and then the harvest comes?' Look! I am saying to you, lift up your eyes, and see the fields!--they are white for harvest already!

"He who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for God's own life; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case, the saying is true: 'Over here is the sower, over there is the reaper.'

"I commission you (therefore), to reap what you have not toiled; others have worked, and you have entered into their labor."


So from that city (says the Evangelist), many of the Samaritans put their trust in Him, because of the word of the woman who testified, 'He told me all whatever I do!' And when the Samaritans came out to Him, they asked Him to stay with them--and He did stay with them a couple of days, with many more trusting Him because of His words, so that they now were saying to the woman, "We aren't only believing any longer because of what you have said, but because we have heard Him ourselves--and so we know: this truly is the Savior of the world, the Anointed King!"

And after two days, Jesus continued on up (all the way) into Galilee...

...for as Jesus Himself has testified, a prophet has no honor in his own country...

The (semi-)Triumphant Return

Now (says the Scholar) when Herod (Antipas, son of Herod the Great) the tetrarch (of Galilee, under the Roman occupation) was publicly denounced by John the Baptist, for what he had done concerning Herodias, the wife of his brother--as well as for all the other evil things he did--he added this above the rest: he locked up John in prison.

John had been saying (adds the Disciple) that it was not lawful for Herod to marry Herodias, who was the wife of Philip, his brother; and this is why Herod put John in chains. But although Herod wanted to execute him, he feared what the people would do--for they considered John to be a prophet.

It was after John had been delivered up into custody (the Follower agrees) that Jesus went back into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

Now Jesus returned to Galilee (agrees the Scholar), being about 30 years old when beginning, and empowered by the Spirit. And His fame spread throughout the surrounding district; and He taught in their synagogues, being praised by all.

But He went to Nazareth (first), where He had been raised (as a boy)...


That Sabbath-day (the Scholar tells us, taking up his turn of the tale), Jesus went to the synagogue, as was His custom; and stood up (by request) to read.

[Plotnote: the scholar’s account here shows, in a very abbreviated form, Jesus fulfilling the role of a traveling Sheliach Tsibbur, or delegate of the congregation. Such visiting preachers were highly popular in synagogues, and a number of interesting conventions grew up around them--some of which Jesus probably wouldn’t do, such as read from the Prophets in as quiet a voice as possible while someone standing nearby translated into the local vernacular for the audience. The two most important though unofficial elements, however, are key to the plot of this anecdote: the visiting preacher must be attractive to the audience; and under no circumstances must the visiting preacher criticize Israel.]

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him; so, opening the scroll, He found where it was written (and so read aloud):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me;
for this reason He anoints Me: to preach the good news to the poor!
He has commissioned and sent Me to herald a pardon to captives whose hearts are contrite,
healing them, and promising recovery of sight to the blind!
--to send free with a pardon those captives who have become crushed!
--to proclaim the year of acceptance and favor, of the Lord!

Then, furling the scroll and giving it back to the deputy (the attendant in charge of the synagogue's scriptures), He sits (in the teaching chair where a visiting preacher would conduct a question and answer session after the service)--with the eyes of all in the synagogue focused intently upon Him.

And to them He begins (the Q/A session) in saying: "Today, this Scripture is being fulfilled as you listen!"

The people were complimenting Him to each other, and wondering at His joyous words and manner; and they said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" [Plotnote: shallowly appreciating that Jesus has fulfilled the first unofficial requirement of a Sheliach Tsibbur; and evidencing the start of mere local pride in having such an accomplished speaker coming from their community.]

But He said to them, "No doubt, you now will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal thyself!' [Plotnote: not the full proverb but the “sting” of the it. The moral of the full proverb, known to later rabbis, too, could also be phrased, “Charity starts at home.” As Jesus proceeds to illustrate by his rephrasal...] 'Do for us here in your home town, what we have been hearing rumors about from Capernaum!' [Plotnote: remember, Jesus had chosen to go down to Passover, followed by His mother and brothers, with the caravan from Capernaum this year; not from the Nazareth staging area.]

"I tell you the truth: no prophet is welcome in his own town.

"Yet... I will say to you: on truth! --there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah (the greatest prophet-hero of Israel after Moses), when the sky was sealed, and for three years and a half a great famine covered the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a widow in Zarephath of Sidon. [Note: a 'pagan' town on the western Syria coast, just over the northern border from Israel.]

"And there were many lepers in Israel under Elisha the prophet (heir of Elijah); but none of them were cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." [Note: a Syrian military officer who had been staging raids into Israeli territory.]

Hearing these things infuriated everyone in the synagogue.

[Plotnote: Jesus has now violated the second unofficial requirement of a Sheliach Tsibbur: under no circumstances criticize Israel. Not incidentally, the portions of Isaiah excerpted in this anecdote, involve God announcing the freedom of Israel from punishment after their misbehavior--insofar as they are penitent. Jesus has exposed what they are being impenitent about. They don’t want God to be also caring for the oppressive pagan overlords and traditional enemies of Israel.]

So they rose up and cast Him out of the city, leading Him to a brow of the hill on which their city is built, in order to throw Him down the cliff (probably to stone Him to death afterward--similar to the injunction of Moses in the book of Numbers chp 15:35.)

But passing through them, He went away.

[Plotnote: the general image is of them hounding Jesus out of the settlement, surrounding Him in a protesting crowd. If Jesus follows a road around the brow of the hill, sooner or later He will either have to keep following the road around to the place where it goes down the hill to the south, or He’ll have to turn left and go north instead into Galilee--toward Cana, among other places. When the outcry starts to verge into actual threat, Jesus turns north “passing through them”, away from any incline nearby.

Geographically, three things should be remembered: first, we’re almost certainly talking about a small settlement near a watchtower traditionally placed on one of the two ends of the horsehoe-shaped slope down to a fertile plain and nearby road from the Mediterranean coast (leading to the Southern Galilee Lake region.) We aren’t talking about a large town, which would probably be nearby Sepphoris. Second, there’s been about 2000 years of erosion in the area, some of it intentional during subsequent military occupations, so the geography isn’t going to be quite what it used to be. Third, while traditionally people imagine some kind of great escarpment off of which Jesus would be tossed, that really wouldn’t be necessary for a mob to fulfill the injunction from the book of Numbers. A six or seven foot bluff would work fine; anything so that the crowd would be above the victim and able to throw stones.]

Matthew 4:12
Matthew 14:3-5
Mark 11:14
Luke 4:14-30
John 4:4-44

[Next time: the Nobleman, the King, and the First Night in a New Home]


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