Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Post About One Chapter of Dr. Pitre's "Jesus the Bridegroom"

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Chapter 3: The Woman at the Well

I didn’t read the whole book. Forgive me. I got it for the one chapter. I’m learning that this is the only way to have time to do more reading and stay on topic.

I first scanned this chapter standing in the Barnes and Noble near TCU’s campus. I read something about Rachel coming to the well at the heat of the day, gasped and yet walked away. I kept thinking about that. I couldn’t remember why Pitre commented on it, considering that so many have used the hour that the WatW comes to the well as an argument for her low social standing. But if Rachel came to the well at the same time….

Fast forward two weeks and I’m in the Barnes and Noble near LSU’s campus. I marched straight for the “Christian Living” section and snatched the book up and bought it as a Valentine’s day present to myself and a nod to Louisiana for producing men like Pitre  (and my husband, naturally). Plus, it’s Jesus the Bridegroom for crying out loud. How romantical can you get?

Dr. Pitre does indeed mention the hour that Rachel comes to the well:

“And just as Jacob encounters Rachel at the well at ‘high day’ or ‘midday’ (Genesis 29:7) so too Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at ‘the sixth hour,’ right around noon (John 4:6).”  

*rant warning. feel free to skip this part in purple and move on to the grey text.*

Dear Every Preacher in America and the World,
Stop using time of day as evidence that the Samaritan woman was a slut and an outcast. Unless you are gonna call Rachel one too 
because of the time of day she went to the well. 
Not gonna do that? 
OK then.


The above quote is in the discussion regarding the Jewish perspective that a story of a man and a woman meeting at a well is taken immediately as a courtship story. It is, apparently, the "meet-cute" of the OT. Pitre goes on to say that the disciples were not shocked to see Jesus talking to a woman- he cites verse references which indicate that it wasn’t usual for Jesus to interact with women- but that they are  “surprised that he is talking with a strange woman at a well. Although the disciples are sometimes dense, they know Jewish Scripture well enough to figure out that this kind of encounter between a man and a woman usually leads to a wedding.”

Pitre’s aim is to show the ways in which the Samaritan woman is a figure of the bride of Christ, and I don’t think there’s much to deny in that argument. The language that the author of the fourth gospel uses is packed with symbolism, but considering that the narrative doesn't stop there, it’s plausible that there was some real encounter, and that this woman was the facilitator of the first group of non-Jewish people coming to believe in Christ as the Messiah.

I’m very comfortable with the courtship metaphor as long as it remains the level of a metaphor, and Pitre does a great job of elaborating on all the elements of the story that reflect the relationship between Jesus the Bridegroom and gentile believers becoming accepted as part of His church- the bride.  It’s a beautiful allegory.

AJ Levine (bless her straightforward and brilliant heart)  in The Misunderstood Jew elaborates on the *cough* sexual *cough* overtones of this encounter. When I start to think about the Samaritan woman as real and the possible implications of this meeting, the ground feels a bit wobbly. I’m really not sure how to move on and separate the figurative from the literal. Maybe I don’t have to at all. Maybe when Jesus repeated the encounter to the disciples verbatim, they were like “Oh man! She had five husbands? That’s how many gods the Samaritans worship!” I doubt it. But I still am not sure what to do with it.

Back to the book. I really like Pitre’s writing style. I trust that his scholarship is rigorous, and that makes his accessible prose all the more wonderful. He’s Catholic, so my mom probably won’t want to read it, but all her relatives will, and I think, should.

Click HERE to get your own signed copy!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Reading Into the Character of the Samaritan Woman [spoiler: the answer is d) all of the above]

You never know. 

Sometimes I sit and read and think and feel like studying the NT is just falling down some sort of weird rabbit hole consisting of an endless stream of book reports about book reports about book reports. 

Sometimes I sneak away and read for approximately ten seconds and find what feels like a game-changer: 

"thus the reader is led to believe from the beginning that consideration of the blind man's past should not be an issue in understanding his character, but only what will unfold in the course of the narrative. In some ways, this is a more explicit expression of what is implicit in the conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus regarding her former life, i.e., the reference to her past husbands (4:16-18) has no bearing on her characterization as co-worker of Jesus." 
-Men and Women in the Fourth Gospel, Gender and Johannine Characterization (Colleen M. Conway) 

A year ago, I would have read this and built a platform for a theological approach based on the theory that the Samaritan woman wasn't an outcast. There is plenty of scholarship that supports the idea that she was a citizen in good standing, but the only thing that keeps me from throwing my hat over that wall has to do with how moved I've been by her story. I love the implication that God took the very lowest of the low (woman, Samaritan, whore, outcast) and through her, revealed himself as Messiah to a whole city. When you cast her as a strong, capable, smart, outspoken women to whom the whole city already listens, it turns down the fire a bit. It's not such great drama, honestly. 

This quote speaks to me because it sort of negates the idea of someone's past affecting their relationship with Jesus. What I compose in my head is this: the past, whether it's good or bad, is a non-issue when it comes to being a co-worker of Jesus. But here's the trick: the author doesn't really say that, does she? She says "characterization as a co-worker of Jesus." That's where the platform starts to crumble for me and I feel the tantrum of the three year old who had his sandwich cut wrong coming on. "WHY does it have to be so complicated???" "WHY are there so many approaches to studying the gospels?" "WHY do I have to go back and study about the different approaches to the study of the NT?" "Oh, and GREEK too. HAH." "WHY do I even care?" 

Luckily, that line of questioning has slowed down, and a new, more productive line of questioning is emerging.

"Is this only applicable from a literary reading of John?" 
"There is no footnote for this, so is it even viable?" 
"Can we compare these two stories in any way other than the standpoint of gender studies?" 
"How many more books do I actually have to read before I start to feel like I have a grip on this?" 

That last question is multiple choice. 
Is it: 
A) more books
B) infinity books
C) books that have not yet been written
D) all of the above