Was the woman at the well promiscuous?

Over the past several months, I’ve been working on a book that I’ve been “ghost-writing” for an up and coming Christian author. In one of the chapters, I wanted to make the point that Jesus was elusive about his identity with people, “unless of course, you were a promiscuous Samaritan woman.” Point being that Jesus had a funny habit of preferring the sinful outcast over and against the rich, the powerful, and the pious. I think the point is still valid, but I’m wondering if I’ve overstated my case by calling the woman at the well a “promiscuous Samaritan woman.” Do we really know that she was promiscuous? Most authors and preachers I know assume that she was, but I recently read an article entitled Misogyny, Moralism, and the Woman at the well that has challenged that assumption.

So what do you think?

Jesus said to the woman, “You’ve had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.”

What makes us think she was promiscuous?

Jesus said she’s had five husbands, not five lovers.

And the fact that she was with a man that was not her husband? As the author of the article points out, she could have been in a Levirate marriage, which was an arrangement that if a woman’s husband died without a male heir, she was obligated to “marry” her husband’s brother to produce a male heir. So the husband’s brother was sort of like a “husband”, but not really.

The author’s point is that too often we read the Bible through misogynistic glasses, and sometimes those misogynistic glasses lead us to read passages with moralistic assumptions that miss the point. His point could very well be true, but the point that I took away from the article was much more mundane: How often am I careless about my assumptions period? How often do I read something into the Scriptures that’s simply not there?

So what do you think? Was the woman at the well promiscuous, as tradition says? Or could the point of the story be that Jesus gives dignity to people despite their low social status? What are the spiritual truths of the story that don’t depend on the interpretation that the woman at the well was promiscuous? Might the story be more meaningful without that assumption?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can read the story of the woman at the well here:

Thank you for the help.

Posted on March 24, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I don't believe the woman in the well was in a levirate marriage. The bible does not give any indication that she was. The story of Ruth and Tamar are clear examples of levirate marriage.

  2. Typo "at the well" not in the well

  3. True, but neither does the Bible say she was promiscuous, which was the point of the post. We've made assumptions with the text.

  4. Okay- this is months after your blog was written, but I'm doing research tonight on the Woman at the Well and have had these thoughts: Men gave the certificate of divorce in those days and it could be for any reason: not being a good enough cook, lover, housekeeper, etc. Obviously this woman must have had enough positive qualities that men wanted to marry her, even after others had given her up. A woman in those days didn't just leave because she was unhappy or bored in her marriage. So- something happened that she had been freed from her obligations. Maybe her other husbands had died and she had chosen to be married instead of remaining a widow. Maybe she was a bad "chooser" of the men she was marrying. She may have been promiscuous, but there is not enough information. In any case, the shame she felt for her status is apparent in the way that she went to the well at midday. Thanks for the topic, Aaron!

  5. That's a good point Daisy. I think that regardless of whether she was promiscuous, a bad chooser, or just plain back luck (they all could have died), the fact that she chose to go to the well alone at mid day is likely a sign of shame. That Jesus chose to reveal himself to a woman shamed by society shows us how he feels about outcasts.

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