Friday, June 27, 2008

Woman at the well

One of my major pet peeves in Bible studies and sermons is how people treat certain folks in the Bible. Plain and simply, they are scapegoats. And our racial, sexist, and xenophobic attitudes have influenced how we see them...and how ministers talk about them. I have been known to walk out of services when someone starts dissing Michal (David's wife -- nothing personal but David was a real crappy husband and father), Absalom, Shechem, The Woman at the Well, Zipporah.

I walk out because I start thinking the minister discussing these folks is either listening too much to other ministers and not looking at the text, or that they are just plain hateful and they don't want to see that they have turned certain Bible folks into sacred cows and others into scapegoats. For instance, I see Sarah's wife as a racist. I can't help it. The King James Version says she got upset when she saw her son mocking Hagar's son and so she said "This handmaid's son will not be heir with my son." Well, those KJV translators could have used the other meaning of the word, which meant "playfully teasing." But by choosing the translation they did, they have made Ishmael a bad person and Hagar uppity and excused Sarah who simply hated the kid...and mainly because she saw the love between the two brothers.

Another example: Zipporah. In the Jewish tradition, she is considered one of the three circumcisers of Israel. A very honorable position. Moses and the rest of the Israelites had forgotten the ritual but it took his being married to a descendant of Keturah another of Abraham's wife for him to remember the covenant of circumcision. (BTW, the Talmud says that Keturah and Hagar are the same people. Wonder what those Christian who hate Hagar think of that?) In that story, Zipporah gets Moses circumcised and says to Moses, "You are a bloody husband to me." (KJV translation.) Christians who know nothing about this kind of thing have blasted her for picking on Moses' bloody penis. I mean, honestly!!!!! When people judge something with their own limited knowledge it just makes things sound silly. But if one looks at the entire story what she is saying is something like "There is a covenant of blood between us." Yet this poor woman has been maligned in so many sermons I just want to scream.

Well, here is one of my major pet peeves: the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritan woman who spoke to Jesus at the well is often used as an example of a "bad" woman. Modern readers don't understand that middle eastern men of that time could easily divorce women for any kind of reason, childlessness, talking back, old age. They also forget that during Bible times, poor women without families had few choices when life dealt them a harsh blow. The much-divorced Samaritan woman may have had a big mouth or been unable to bear children. The fact that she ended up with a man who was "not her husband" is more likely the effect of destroyed self-esteem rather than sin. The plain truth is we cannot easily judge a situation we know so little about. John didn't tell us the backstory. People always forget that back in the day a guy could divorce a woman simply because she was childless or had a big mouth or --god forbid-- was sickly.

Many Christians behave as if the “woman at the well” divorced herself or had been the one who initiated the divorces. From what I can see from her conversation with Jesus, this woman had a mouth on her...and spoke her own mind. A good trait perhaps but back in the day, women weren't supposed to answer back or have their own minds.
When people go on about how bad she was for "having so many men" I say, the woman tried to have good marriages but somehow she was constantly being rejected. She finally fell in with some guy who was either using her, or still married to another woman or who was as much a loser as she was.

The other thing they completely miss --the most important thing-- even though they talk about Jesus being the "seventh man" in her life, is that a man meeting a woman at a well is always used in the Bible as a symbol for marriage. Sure Jesus didn't marry the woman, but that John chose to use the old patriarchal symbol for marriage to show that Jesus was symbolically married to the woman as a symbol of Jesus being married to the church is something they don't even touch.

I think what annoys me most of all is the lack of true thinking that occurs in many sermons about the "bad" people. We Christians have a kneejerk dislike for evil even though we're supposed to be aware of our own sinfulness.

But when I think of the Woman at the Well see a woman literally thrown out, who has to fend for herself. She is offered marriage and a home time and again, but not an accepting patience husband. But Guess what!! She was the first non-Jewish woman missionary to spread the good news!
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