This blog is a corrective to part of blog 2041, as indicated in the comment by ksarant and my reply. The scholarly suggestion that the “five husbands” of the Samaritan woman are an ironic reference to the five books of Moses seems unlikely because the Samaritans in Jesus’ time were still “married” to those biblical books, and could not be accused of having abandoned them. But I have followed a hint from a Spanish commentary that 2 Kings 17:24-33 is relevant. Here it is:
24 The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities. 25 When they first settled there, they did not worship the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, ‘The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land; therefore he has sent lions among them; they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.’ 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, ‘Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there; let him[a] go and live there, and teach them the law of the god of the land.’ 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel; he taught them how they should worship the Lord.
29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived; 30 the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the people of Cuth made Nergal, the people of Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also worshipped the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.
I should emphasise that this is a Jewish version of the origin of the “Samaritans” which denigrates them as foreign settlers with idolatrous beliefs, who combined these with some allegiance to “The Lord.” This account is energetically contested by Samaritan sources and modern scholars. But it is doubtless the account which was available to Jesus and the author of John’s Gospel. So we can note that there five “nations” here who worship five Gods.
This seems to provide a likely point of reference for the “five husbands” of the story. We don’t need to interpret the story as a simple allegory about Samaritan religion, as the woman is a significant character as described, but I suspect that the narrative in 2 Kings has influenced the the plot of the Gospel story. In fact the history of the Samaritan faith, which still exists today, accustoms the reader to a crucial distinction between Smaritans and Judaeans, both of whom are in effect Jewish, an identity scornfully denied by judaean Jews in Jesus’ time and today.
For other reasons I have chosen to translate the Greek “iudaioi” as Judaeoi rather than as “Jews”, that is, designating a particular faitb community rather than a racial. It may be that the Gospel writer is using a Samaritan way of speaking about those who separated from them since the time of King Jeroboam. There is therefore an interesting question about the possible relationship of the Jesus community to which the Gospel writer belonged and the Samaritan community, around 100 CE when the Gospel was probably written. I am not competent to do so, but think it might help to explain some unique fearures of the fourth gospel.
I will return to this matter in my next bible blog.
Interesting, but I’m not convinced. It reminds me a bit of the kind of forced allegories or typologies that the Church Fathers liked to find. Here is a poetic reflection of this passage from Romanos the Melodist (6th century), an influential hymnographer in the Eastern Church. He sees five ‘gods’ – as you also suggest, though not conclusively.
“Go, then, and call your husband and return.”
The woman said, “I think that I have no husband,” and the Creator said to her:
“Truly do you have none? You have five, the sixth you do not possess,
So that you may receive
Exceeding great joy and redemption.”
O wise enigmas! O wise characteristics!
In the faith of the holy woman is pictured
All the features of the church in true colors which do not grow old;
For the way in which the woman denied a husband when she had many,
Is just the way the church denied many gods, like husbands,
And left them and became betrothed to one Master in coming forth from the water.
She had five husbands and the sixth she did not have; and leaving the five
Husbands of impiety, she now takes Thee, as the sixth, as she comes
From the water,
Exceeding great joy and redemption.…
The espoused church of the nations, then, left these things,
And she hurries here to the well of the baptismal font
And denies the things of the past, just as the woman of Samaria did;
For she did not conceal what had formerly been true from Him who knows all in advance,
But she said, “… Even if I formerly had husbands, I do not now wish to have
These husbands which I did have; for I now possess Thee who hast now taken me in Thy net;
And I am by faith rescued from the filth of my sins
That I may receive
Exceeding great joy and redemption.”