The Samaritan Woman’s Story by Caryn A. Reeder engages the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 both in interpretive history and in light of modern questions.
The book is split into two parts. The first part surveys the history of interpretation of this passage, all the way up to the modern day. The second part puts the story in context, looking at the meaning of the text and the people involved in their own day.
The history of interpretation of John 4 is fascinating, and Reeder offers numerous highlights throughout these early chapters. Several of the earliest readers of the Samaritan woman saw it straightforwardly as her being in some kind of sexual sin or as a prostitute, and engaged the story on a level that operated with those assumptions. Often, these interpreters also carried misogynist baggage from their cultural context. Intriguingly, one exception was Origen, whose reading completely avoids casting the Samaritan woman in a poor light not because he was enlightened on women’s issues but because he held to an allegorical reading of the story (34-40). In each chapter, Reeder surveys specific interpreters, and boxes in the text highlight specific contextual or historical points of interest related to the main text. After looking at the early church, Reeder advances through John Calvin, Dwight Moody, and others into the present day. Here, she draws attention to the #ChurchToo movement and its highlighting of the abuses done to women within the church. The interpreters and interpretations she focuses on in this latter section are still diverse, and highlight a number of ways people within the church have re-centered the story to discuss modern problems.
The second part provides readers with a number of tools to look at the text, whether it’s the background of what women’s lives were like in Jesus’s time or how marriage worked in the ancient world. Reeder finishes with a reimagination of the story that puts her forward as a model of Christian discipleship, among other things. The reading she provides is in context and grounded in historical reality and the text.
The book has discussion questions at the end and could be used for a group study.
The Samaritan Woman’s Story is a timely text that will engage readers with John 4 in highly relevant ways. But it’s more than that, it also provides a broad look at a much-interpreted and much-misunderstood text. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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