Samaritan woman at the well

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The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17–18th century
Photine, Samaritan woman, meets Jesus (Orthodox icon)

The Samaritan woman at the well is an episode in the life of Jesus from the Gospel of John, in John 4:4–26.[1] In Eastern Orthodox Church tradition, she is known as Photine (from φως, the luminous one). There is an extensive extra-biblical tradition related to her, in which she is known as Saint Photine or Photini/Photina (of Samaria), and regarded as a Christian martyr.

Biblical account[edit]

According to John 4:

4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)[2]

This episode takes place before the return of Jesus to Galilee.[3] The Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and their attitude was often hostile, although they shared many beliefs. The two communities seem to have drifted apart in the post-exilic period.[4] Both communities share the Pentateuch, although crucially the Samaritan Pentateuch locates the holy mountain at Mount Gerizim rather than at Mount Zion, as this incident acknowledges at John 4:20.

The Gospel of John, like the Gospel of Luke, is favourable to the Samaritans, unlike the Matthew Gospel which quotes Jesus as telling his followers not to enter any of the citites of the Samaritans.[5] Scholars differ as to whether the Samaritan references in the New Testament are historical. One view is that the historical Jesus had no contact with Samaritans; another is that the accounts go back to Jesus himself. Note that in Acts 1: 8, Jesus promises the apostles that they will be witnesses to the Samaritans. [6]


Scholars have noted that this story appears to be modelled on a standard betrothal scene from Hebrew scriptures, particularly that of Jacob in Genesis 29.[7] This convention, which would have been familiar to Jewish readers, is subverted by presenting Jesus as the bridegroom of the Jewish people, in a scene which follows on from a scene in which John the Baptist compares his relationship to Jesus with that of the friend of a bridegroom.[3]

This Gospel episode is referred to as "a paradigm for our engagement with truth", in the Roman Curia book A Christian reflection on the New Age, as the dialogue says: "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know" and offers an example of "Jesus Christ the bearer of the water of life".[8] The passages that comprise John 4:10–26 are sometimes referred to as the Water of Life Discourse, which forms a complement to the Bread of Life Discourse.[9]

In Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico, a celebration of the Samaritan woman takes place on the fourth Friday of Lent. Churches, schools, and businesses give away fruit drinks to passers by.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ponessa, Joseph; Laurie Watson Manhardt (2005). The Gospel of John. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing. p. 39. ISBN 1-931018-25-1. OCLC 62332815. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Lincoln, Andrew T. (2005). The Gospel According to Saint John. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. pp. 170–1. ISBN 1-56563-401-2. OCLC 61129929. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  4. ^ Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 534. 
  5. ^ V. J. Samkutty, The Samaritan Mission in Acts (Continuum, 2006) page 85.
  6. ^ V. J. Samkutty, The Samaritan Mission in Acts (Continuum, 2006) page 100-101.
  7. ^ Kevin Quast, Reading the Gospel of John: An Introduction (Paulist Press, 1991)page 29.
  8. ^ Pontifical Council for Culture; Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (2 March 2003). Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the "New Age". Vatican City: Internet Office of the Holy See. 
  9. ^ Barrett, C. K. (1978). The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction With Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-664-22180-7. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 
  10. ^ "La Samaritana 2011 en Oaxaca" (in Spanish). Vive Oaxaca. Retrieved 3 June 2013. 

Unannotated references[edit]