Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean

 Stuart WordPress photoThe story in the Gospel of John of the encounter Jesus has with a Samaritan woman (hereafter, ‘the Samaritan’) at Jacob’s well (4:7-29) has attracted considerable scholarly attention.  For an overview of some of the interpretive issues raised by it there is a video of a conversation about it between H. W. Attridge and D. L. Bartlett of Yale Divinity School available on Youtube here.  I intend to focus primarily on only four verses, John 4:16-19.

Here is my translation (the underlying Greek and links to interpretive resources can be found here):

16 [Jesus] said: “go tell your ‘man’ and come back here.”
17 The Samaritan answered, “I do not have a ‘man.”’ Jesus said to her “Beautifully you said ‘I do not have a man.’
18 You have had five ‘men,’ and the one whom you have now is not your ‘man.’  You spoke truthfully.”
19 The Samaritan said to him: “Sir, I see you are a wise listener.”

My translation is intended to bring out what I take to be a play on the meaning of the underlying Greek word for man.  Before I explain exactly what the play on meaning is about I want to justify the assumption that there is some sort of play in the first place. Some have argued that the reference to the bride and bridegroom at John 3:29 foreshadows the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan as a spiritual wedding.  The theme of a spiritual wedding is arguably also foreshadowed in how John starts the book itself, for ‘beginning’ is a feminine noun in Greek and ‘word’ is masculine, making ‘in the beginning was the word’ sexually symbolic; that, in turn, suggests that the well before which Jesus and the Samaritan stand, or the water in it, symbolizes God, or at least the spirit of God. Continue reading “Jesus, the Woman at the Well, and the Meaning of ‘Man’ by Stuart Dean”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III

Rescuing Martha – A Hermeneutic of Retrieval
This is the last part of a three part post. Read Part I here and Part II here

Discovering another tradition means being open not only to artistic witnesses but to myth, legend, and to feminist theory. But to begin with what is uncontested: both sisters, Mary and Martha, were friends of Jesus who loved them and their brother Lazarus. Martha seems to be the householder. We are told nothing about the parents of the three – perhaps they had been caught up and killed in one of the Zealot uprisings. The Church that sprang up at the site of Bethany was one of the earliest Christian pilgrimage places.  The legends that grew up held Lazarus and his 2 sisters in great respect. And this is a sharp contrast with the tradition I began with.

Secondly, to disparage responsibility for housework as a lowly role is an anachronistic viewpoint. It is likely, as in most poor agricultural communities today that domestic work goes alongside income- generating work either inside or outside the house. Many rural women in India and Africa cope with domestic work, child care and a full day’s work in the fields. In the life-time of Jesus, women would be involved in cleaning fish and mending nets – though the Gospels do not tell us this.  Nor was this the work of the sisters at Bethany who did not live near Lake Galilee. The public/ private split between unseen work in the household and public work belongs to a much later date. Thirdly, it is diakonia or service that is at stake here, and this was part of a creative tension in the early communities. Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part III”

Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II

What do the Gospels of Luke and John tell us?
This is the second part of a three part post. Part I is here and Part III is to follow tomorrow. 

I now return to the story of Mary and Martha in the gospel of Luke: what was its purpose for the evangelist and his community? The text itself has been a subject of multiple interpretations. An abstract interpretation sees the sisters as representing two different principles, one as justification by works and one by faith. Augustine (d.430) saw them as symbolising either the labours of this world and the bliss of the world to come. Origen (185-254), famous for his allegorising interpretation of Scripture, understood them as life according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. So, as Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza points out in But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (1992:58), this typologising contrast was already established by the end of the 2nd century.  In a contemporary context Martha and Mary continue to exemplify the two vocations that the church offers to women, contemplative love of God (Mary), or social activism through service of neighbour (Martha). Continue reading “Rescuing Martha from the Dishes: A Challenge of Retrieval and Proclamation by Mary Grey – Part II”

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