This is an excerpt from Christ’s Emancipation of Women in the New Testament by Lynne Hilton Wilson that particularly focuses on two ways Jesus released women from their cultural baggage. Dr. Wilson gave this paper as part of the FAIRMormon Conference on August 6-7, 2015.

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During His ministry, Jesus Christ restored sight to the blind and mobility to the lame. He restored the higher law of love and forgiveness. He restored Melchizedek Priesthood authority to act in God’s name. Yet one of the most important things He restored is rarely discussed: He restored the sacred nature of the family and marriage by re-establishing a noble image of women and children.[1]

In order to appreciate the dramatic change that Jesus made to the role of women and their relationships, we need to place His teachings in the context of His day. How did Jewish, Greek, and Roman men treat women and children? Combing through their volumes of documents, letters, poems, plays, histories, and holy books leaves the impression that in many cases their family relations went awry.[2] We find startling differences when we compare their pages of misunderstandings, oppression, and dysfunctional relationships, to the New Testament stories of Jesus’ tender interactions with women and children.

Christ made abrupt and radical changes that restored women to a place of value with eternal potential. This book opens a window into family life during the time of the New Testament in order to better appreciate Jesus’ transformative teachings about women—teachings that are still influencing families today.[3]

Women Released from their Cultural Baggage

Jesus entered a society with many deeply instilled barriers to His teachings. He shocked his audiences with declarations of His Messiahship (i.e., Luke 4:21-28). Equally as shocking, He appreciated and validated women and children (Mark 14:4-6; Luke 7:39; 10:40; etc.). As decisively as He cleansed the temple, Jesus attacked the cultural falsehoods that surrounded Jewish family life. He tore down false practices and notions regarding women, children, and family relationships. He denounced centuries of harmful traditions that destroyed marital partnerships and led to misogyny.

The four Gospels describe Jesus refusing to follow the traditional social barricades that impeded relationships between men and women. As we read, the Lord speaks to women (John 4:7-27), incites their education (Luke 10:39-42), heals them (Mark 7:25-29), asks them to speak out as witnesses (Matthew 28:5-10), touches them (Mark 5:30-34; Matthew 28:9), and teaches the eternal nature of their marriage relationships (Matthew 5:3-11; John 17:21; Ephesians 5:25, 31). This was considered scandalous.

In order to demonstrate how dramatically Jesus changed family relationships, one must understand what Jewish family life was like and how it contrasted with what Jesus taught. By placing the Lord’s teachings and doctrine within their social context, His teachings become overpowering in their significance and beauty. This article highlights two cultural customs that affected women and then contrasts them with Christ’s empowering changes.

 Segregation–Cultural Background and Baggage

 Jewish pharisaic traditions kept men and women physically segregated.[4] Men and women “should not mingle.”[5] This physical segregation led to emotional segregation, which developed into misunderstandings. Women were seen as a cause of temptation, so they were veiled, silenced, and kept away from men as much as possible.[6] Especially in the city, Jewish women were discouraged from going outside in order to avoid being seen by men. This protocol existed in Jerusalem and extended to other large cities where Jews lived. For example, in Alexandria, the third largest city in the Greco-Roman world, the Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC to AD 50), described his view of the ideal separation of men and women in public.

Marketplaces and council-halls, law-courts and gatherings, and meetings where a large number of people are assembled, and open-air life with full scope for discussion and action – all these are suitable to men both in war and peace. The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house . . . A woman then, should not be a busybody, meddling with matters outside her household concerns, but should seek a life of seclusion.[7]

This view of segregated women was accepted for centuries as the social norm at the time of the New Testament. A more relaxed attitude about gender separation existed outside of the cities and Palestine. Although most Jewish girls and women remained at home, they, as one historian described it, were “confined at home as in a prison.”[8]

Wilson_familiesThe segregation continued inside wealthy Pharisee and Sadducee homes with separate quarters exclusive to members of their gender.[9] Shortly before and during the time of the New Testament, when these traditions were heavily entrenched in Jerusalem and beyond, contemporaries described segregated living spaces where women “were always kept in seclusion and did not even appear at the house-door, and their unmarried daughters, who were limited to the women’s quarter, women who for modesty’s sake shunned the eyes of men, even their closest relatives.”[10] Even in the home, though, if a male guest came for a meal, the women and girls were not to eat at the same table, but could silently interact with the company as a servant.[11] Pious Jerusalem families limited their interaction by gender except on rare occasions.

Synagogue worship was also segregated.[12] Men were commanded to attend their Sabbath worship services, but women were not. If a woman chose to attend a synagogue service, she sat separately. Within a few decades after the time of the New Testament, rabbis added separate entrances for men and women and lattice barriers to keep the women unseen and unheard.[13] Women did not read the Scriptures, give their opinion, teach, or pray verbally during the service, but they were allowed to listen in silence.[14] Gender separation and silencing in religious meetings led to prejudices about the religious nature of women.[15] If participating in the synagogue worship taught one to be more holy, then women missed out.

Inside one’s home, women participated in religious worship, especially in maintaining the kosher food laws, Sabbath observance, lighting the candles, offering table blessings, and reciting the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; and Numbers 15:37-41).[16] Much of the Jewish worship was communal and occurred outside the home, and in that sphere, women’s worship was restricted compared to men’s. Men felt it an honor to have 613 commandments and pitied women who were only required to live six commandments.[17]

An element of protection underscored these rules: girls were segregated in hopes of keeping them chaste. From the Apocrypha, the Jewish leader Ben Sira counseled fathers to keep an eye on their unmarried daughters, even inside their homes, to avoid all risks of their being defiled, “lest she make thee a laughingstock to thine enemies, and a byword in the city, and a reproach among the people, and make thee ashamed before the multitude.”[18] The Jewish code of law, or Mishnah, recorded an example of “a young maid [who] once went out to draw water from the spring and she was forced.”[19]

Yet for the most part, these confining regulations oppressed and demeaned women.[20] They created a culture of fear and mistrust between the sexes.[21] This gave rise to a lack of appreciation and reinforced negative gender stereotypes of women as dangerous temptresses.[22] Segregation often inhibited a woman’s ability to contribute within her community, to serve outside of her home, to join in public worship, and to access education.[23]

 Changes by Jesus

Jesus did not live by these segregating restrictions for women. He refused to isolate women and treated them as valued individuals. He allowed women and children to join the group of five thousand and later the group of four thousand who gathered to hear Him teach in Galilee (Matthew 14:21; 15:38).[24] He refuted those who wanted to send the women and children away (Mark 10:13-14; Matthew 15:23). He welcomed women to stay in the same room as men (Luke 7:38-40). He did not segregate the unclean, whether they were sick or sinful or social outcasts.

All three synoptic Gospels recorded Jesus’ remarkable interaction with an unclean woman on a crowded street in Galilee (Matthew 9:19-22; Mark 5:24-34; Luke 8:43-48). The story begins with a throng of people accompanying Jesus across town to the home of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, to heal Jairus’ daughter. En route, an “unclean” woman tries to touch Jesus to receive His healing virtue. This woman was labeled “unclean” because, for over a decade, she had an “issue of a blood,” possibly a hemorrhaging uterus.[25]

More specifically, for the past twelve years, the Mosaic law forbade her from going out in public, touching anyone, worshipping in the synagogue or temple, or sharing her husband’s bed (Leviticus 15:19-28). As a result of her condition, her husband had probably divorced her (Deuteronomy 24:1).[26] Since physical disabilities were seen as the consequence of sin, and a woman’s menses made her “unclean” (Ezekiel 36:17-18), we assume that at least some of her neighbors and family had probably accused her of wickedness and rejected her.[27] The Gospel of Mark also included that she was destitute because she spent all her money on medical help (Mark 5:26).


Yet this faith-filled and determined woman sought healing from the Lord: “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (Matthew 9:21; Mark 5:28). To do so, she broke the segregation protocol that had banished her to a life of seclusion—she went outside into a crowded street and tried to hide herself in the pack following Jesus. When she touched His outer garment, or the hem of His tunic, Jesus immediately felt that “virtue has gone out of me,” or more literally, “power has gone forth from me” (Luke 8:46 KJV and RSV). Jesus gave part of Himself in order to heal the woman physically. This in turn led to her healing socially and emotionally as well. It took amazing bravery for the woman to answer Jesus’ direct question, “Who touched me?” (Mark 5:31).

In that throng of townspeople hurrying through the village to Jairus’ home, she showed her faith, courage, and humility; “When the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately” (Luke 8:47). Jesus offered no reproach for her breaching social propriety—instead he praised the depth of her faith: “Your faith has brought you salvation” (Luke 8:47, ABT). And then Jesus offered a departing blessing, “Go in peace” (Luke 8:48).[28] In this poignant story, Jesus defied the cultural norms that marginalized women. By acknowledging, touching and healing this woman, He set a new standard for the way women should be treated.

Communication–Cultural Background and Baggage

 An obvious extension of the fact that men and women were segregated was that they did not directly communicate with each other. Simply stated, Jewish men were instructed not to speak very much with women. The Mishnah directed, “Talk not much with womankind,” followed by the appalling phrase, “they said this of a man’s own wife: how much more of his fellow’s wife!”[29] Along the same vein, Ben Sira recorded, “A silent wife is a gift from the Lord; her restraint is more than money can buy.”[30] Equally extreme, a renowned Rabbi Joshua claimed that any girl or woman found speaking to a man in the street was guilty of breaking the law of chastity unless there was evidence to the contrary.[31] With or without that extreme inference, speaking with the opposite gender was avoided for fear it might result in something scandalous: “Do not speak excessively with a woman lest this ultimately lead you to adultery!”[32]

Another Jerusalem rabbi taught that men who talked to women demonstrated misplaced priorities that would end in damnation: “He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself, neglects the study of The Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna [hell].”[33] Another rabbi misused the Scriptures to defend the lack of communication with women: “We have not found that the Almighty spoke to a woman except Sarah.”[34] In his view, because the Holy Book did not record God speaking to women, neither should men.

This cultural background sheds light on why it seems that the young Mary and her betrothed Joseph barely communicated with each other. During Mary’s espousal to Joseph, he discovered her pregnancy, “before they came together” (Matthew 1:18). As an upright law-abiding Jew, Joseph felt bound to obey The Law and divorce Mary. At that point he did not understand the miraculous nature of Mary’s conception.

One has to wonder if Mary had tried to explain angel Gabriel’s visit to Joseph. Had she told Joseph why she left Nazareth? Had she tried to resolve the misunderstanding? Luke later tells us that Mary “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Perhaps she was culturally not allowed to speak privately with Joseph. Fortunately, God found another way to transmit information to Joseph, sending an angel to share the good news of the miraculous conception. In response to the angel’s call, Joseph immediately finalized the marriage (Matthew 1:23-24). By the time the couple journeyed south to Bethlehem, they had been married several months, though the narrative attests that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matthew 1:25).

 Changes by Jesus

 Jesus did not silence women, but spoke with them respectfully. In Bethany, he spoke directly with both Mary and Martha (Luke 10:42). In Samaria, He conversed with the woman at the well (John 4:7-27). In Galilee, He called to a crippled woman, bent over perhaps from osteoporosis, and spoke the healing words to her, “Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity”

The longest recorded conversation that Jesus had with a woman is His encounter in Samaria with the woman at the well (John 4:7-28). Only John’s Gospel records this dialogue that took place thirty miles north of Jerusalem in the Samaritan capital city of Sychar.[35] By the time of the New Testament, sharp animosity had existed for over a thousand years between Judea and Samaria. The mutual disrespect, blasphemy, retaliation, and impertinence on both sides grew from generation to generation.[36] When traveling between Jerusalem to Galilee most Jews chose to avoid Samaria by taking a longer route around it. Jesus did not.[37](Luke 13:12). In Jericho, He conversed with Salome, the mother of James and John, politely asking her, “What do you wish?” (Matthew 20:21, NASB). She felt safe to make her request as well as to receive His answer, even though it included a gentle reproach: “Ye know not what ye ask . . . to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but . . . my Father[’s]” (Matthew 20:22-23). In Jerusalem, on the road to Golgotha, He sensitively observed the women crying and comforted them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me” (Luke 23:28). Over and over again, Jesus’ example cut through layers of segregation and silence to offer dignity and deference to women.

On one such trip, the Lord and His disciples arrived at Sychar around the time of their midday meal.[38] He rested near Jacob’s well and sent His disciples into the city to buy bread for their noon meal (John 4:8). As He rested, “a Samaritan woman came to draw water, [and] Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’” (John 4:7, NIV). This was an unusual request because a religious Jew would never eat anything touched by someone ritually “unclean,” especially a Samaritan. The whole trip would have been repulsive to a devout Jew from Jerusalem: walking on a Samaritan road, going into a Samaritan town, eating Samaritan food, and drinking Samaritan water.[39]

Yet, when Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water from her pot, He had higher motives in mind than simply quenching His thirst. John explained that this Samaritan woman chose to walk further out of town to get her water from Jacob’s well (John 4:12). As the chore of hefting water was physically taxing, and carrying it difficult, one wonders why she chose the “sixth hour” or noon—the hottest time of day.[40] This was not a common hour to go to the well; most people went in the cool of the early morning. Also, archeologists speak of a copious spring on the other side of town that would have been closer and easier to draw her water.[41] Both of these details suggest that the woman unnecessarily added more hardship to her task.

However, when we learn about the details of her life–her past divorces and current sins–we imagine that she may have tried to avoid the social gathering place—filled with the daily gossip or scorn of her neighbors—by walking alone further out of town. The extra work involved in the unusual time and location may have been worth the isolation.

John’s record includes the woman’s astonishment at Jesus’ breach of social rules.[42] The woman correctly asked Him, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). Jesus’ behavior slashed through strongholds of Judaic social norms: He spoke to a woman, He spoke to a Samaritan, and He asked to drink water from an unclean pot. His actions reinforced His message that God is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7; Acts 10:34).[43]

Yet, the Lord’s conversation pulled His listener in a different direction than she anticipated. The woman questioned the social and religious propriety of His request, so Jesus proposed that she ask Him for living water—reversing their roles. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4:10). In the New Testament, the doctrines of Christ become living water for disciples. The Old Testament uses “living water” to describe a spring or running water, in contrast to “dead” or stagnant water stored in a cistern.[44] Living water was a rich prize.[45] Christ redefined “living water” as something even more valuable: the doctrines, the truths, and the revelation that flow from Him.

However, the Samaritan woman was initially deaf to this higher symbolism. Ironically, she responded, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well?” (John 4:12).[46] To which Jesus answered, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14). Only aware of her literal need for sustaining water, the woman thought on a physical plane: “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw” (John 4:15).

The challenges of getting water from a well, in addition to the social stigmas of her life, would have made the prospect of never again thirsting a welcome offer—but that was not the Lord’s message. He patiently taught her to look beyond her sphere of understanding, and explained that He was not referring to sustaining her physically, but eternally (John 4:14). Jesus wanted to emancipate her from her spiritual bondage, so He opened the doorway for her repentance by revealing His divine mantle and omniscience.

After Jesus divulged His knowledge of her five divorces in her tainted past and the fact that she currently was living in sin, she humbly acknowledged, “I perceive that thou art a prophet” (John 4:19). Her response after such a humiliating and embarrassing disclosure from a complete stranger spoke of the open and humble condition of her heart. Rather than feeling defensive, running away, or retreating in self-pity, the woman acknowledged Jesus as a prophet and then moved to the next logical step of asking for His prophetic insight into a standard doctrinal question that often surfaced between the Jews and Samaritans. In fact, the woman’s question gave evidence to her faith in Jesus as a prophet (John 4:19-20). She asked Him, “Where is the correct place to worship?” Mount Gerizim in Samaria (as the Samaritans believed) or Mount Moriah in Jerusalem (as the Jews believed).

To the Samaritans, Mount Gerizim was the most holy place on earth. In addition to the location of their late temple, they believed Mount Gerizim was sacred because it existed before the creation; that it was the first land to appear after the waters were gathered together; that it was as a twin of the Garden of Eden; and that it was the only land not covered by the flood.[47] Although the Jews had destroyed their temple, they believed the sacred site would someday house the true temple, and that it would be the only place to survive at the end of the world.[48]

The woman asked again for earthly evidence while Jesus’ answer stretched her upward to heavenly principles. He explained that the location was not the key issue in worship; it was who, why, and how one worshiped. True worship comes from the condition of one’s heart, “true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). This dramatic conversation broke through walls of ethnic bigotry.

This became the earliest Johannine scriptural reference of Jesus’ announcing His Messiahship. “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He” (John 4:25-26). This bold declaration stands in contrast to the many times in the Gospels when the Lord limited what He divulged due to the skepticism of His audience (Mark 13:4; Luke 20:2-8; 22:67; John 3:10-12; 3 Nephi 17:2; etc.). But here He forthrightly communicated with a woman (in particular, a sinning Samaritan woman), honoring her with great insight.

John’s description of what happened next offers profound symbolism: she left her water pot. Her pot can be seen as emblematic of the cares of the world, her old life, and her old source of sustenance. She left it all behind for her new life that led her to share the living water or good news—the gospel—of Jesus the Messiah with her community, who may have become the first branch of believers.

The story ends with two other social shocks. Unlike their Jerusalem neighbors, the Samaritan community listened to and acted on a message from a woman—and not just any woman, but a sinning adulteress. Second, the author chose to mention that Jesus and His disciples stayed with the Samaritans preaching the gospel for two days and that many believed, “for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).

Commentaries on this story often illustrate Jesus’ rejection of racial prejudices, yet just as profound, we see that Jesus speaks to and teaches a woman with remarkable openness. He broke down enormous social barriers and trusted her to witness the truth of His Messiahship. He trusted her with the mysteries, and He trusted her to change. In this manner, Jesus empowered her and those of us who also have water pots to leave behind.


[1] Many scholars have looked at family life in the ancient world. See the bibliography for studies used in this study.

[2] For example, from the Apocrypha: Joshua ben Sira in, Ecclesiasticus (also known as Wisdom of Sirach or Sirach, 180 BC), Esdras (c.90 BC- AD 96), and Fourth Maccabee (63 BC). There are many writings from contemporaries of New Testament figures such as Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (20 BC to AD 50), Titus Flavius Josephus, the Jewish-Roman historian (AD 37-101), Apocalypse of Moses, Assumption of Moses (AD 7-29), Apocalypse of Baruch (c. AD 50-100), First Book of Enoch (c. 167 BC-AD 14), Second Enoch (c. AD 1-50), The Psalms of Solomon (c. 69-40 BC), etc. To gather context, even though the Mishnah was not redacted until AD 220, it claims to record rabbis from the Pharisaic tradition who lived during the late Second Temple era.

[3] The impact of the Lord’s teachings continues to bless the world. Bruce C. Hafen, “Covenant Hearts: Why Marriage Matters and How to Make it Last,” (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005). Shortly before he presented the “Proclamation to the World,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “In my judgment, the greatest challenge facing this nation is the problem of the family, brought on by misguided parents and resulting in misguided children.” Lisa Ann Jackson, “Strong Families Key to Future, President Hinckley tells Colorado Forum,” Ensign (July, 2003).

[4] John H. Elliott, Anchor Bible: 1 Peter (New York City, NY: Random House-Doubleday, 1964), 568. “As roles and status were gender-specific and clearly demarcated, so was the social space that was proper to males (public) and females (domestic, private).” Then he quoted Xenophon (c.430-353 BC), an Athenian soldier: “God from the first adapted the woman’s nature, I think, to the indoor and man’s to the outdoor tasks and cares. For he made the man’s body and mind more capable of enduring cold and heat, and journeys and campaigns; and therefore imposed on him the outdoor tasks. To the woman, God assigned the indoor tasks” (ibid., 569).

[5] Mishnah, Middot 2.5; also see Charlesworth, Jesus and Temple, 15.

[6] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, B.L. Bandstra and A.D. Verhey, “Sex,” 4. 431. To “avoid tempting another to immorality; thus they were veiled in public and segregated as much as possible from men. At the synagogues and Herod’s Temple they were excluded from the court of the men.”

[7] Judaeus Philo, Special Laws III., 7 vols. (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1967), 3.169, 171.

[8] Skolnik, Encyclopedia Judaica, 21:161.

[9] Philo, Philo’s Flaccus, 70.

[10] Philo of Alexandria, Pieter Willem van der Horst, trans., Philo’s Flaccus: The First Pogrom (Boston, MA: Brill, 2003), 70. Scholars refer to this time as the Hasmonean (140 BC to 37 BC) and Herodian (37 BC to AD 68).

[11] Leonard J. Swidler, Jesus was a Feminist: What the Gospels Reveal about His Revolutionary Perspective (Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 76. John Baggett, Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus: His Revolutionary View of Reality and His Transcendent Significance for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 128.

[12] Michael Avi-Yonah, “Synagogue Historical Roots,” Skolnik, Encyclopedia Judaica, 19. 364-366; also 354-355. In the diaspora there is evidence of “women [acting] as donors to the synagogues and participants within manumission ceremonies. In general, the climate within the diaspora seems to have been more conducive for allowing women to assume more active roles within the synagogue.” The New Testament mentions specific synagogues in Capernaum (Mark 1:21), Nazareth (Luke 4:16), Damascus (Acts 9:2), Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14), Iconium (Acts 14:1), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), Berea (Acts 17:10), Corinth (Acts 18:8), and Ephesus (Acts 18:19). In addition there were synagogues in Jerusalem for specific immigrants such as the synagogue of the Libertines, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians (Acts 6:9).

[13] Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 374. Archeologists found a lattice separation for gender in a Mesopotamian synagogue from AD 245. Between the third and seventh century, galleries were built to keep the women on separate floors from the men in addition to their separate entrance. Michael Avi-Yonah, “Synagogue Historical Roots,” Skolnik, Encyclopedia Judaica, 19. 364-366.

[14] Mishnah, Kiddushin, 4:13. Dan W. Clanton, The Good, the Bold, and the Beautiful (New York, NY: T & T Clark International, 2006), 23; “There is no firm evidence for women functionaries” in leadership roles. Most women were illiterate, but even those who could read were discouraged from reading the Law or Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

[15] As an example of the evolution of limitations placed on woman’s religious opportunities, we read in Deuteronomy 11:18-19, “Lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul. . . . And ye shall teach them your children.” But sometime before 132 BCE when the Greek Septuagint (LXX) translated this passage, they interpreted it as “you shall teach them to your sons.” Later still, after the destruction of the temple and the rabbinic schools took over Judaism, we read a commentary on these verses in Sifre Deuteronomy 46, “. . . your sons and not your daughters.” Different schools of thought debated how much religious law a father should teach his daughter as we will discuss in chapter 7, but all sons had the religious duty to learn the Torah.

[16] Clanton, The Good, the Bold, and the Beautiful, 24; “From kosher laws to the recitation of the shema, from private prayer to Sabbath practices, not only would women have been present, they would have been active participants due to their dominance in the private, domestic sphere.”

[17] Mishnah, Berakhoth 3:3, outlines the six commandments for women: 1) Light the Sabbath lamp or candles in their homes, 2) Offer table blessings over the food (also required for children and minors), 3) Prepare the dough offering, 4) Say eighteen benedictions (see footnote 51) which was also required for slaves and minors, 5) Maintain the mezuzah on the door of their homes, 6) Observe the laws of niddah that dealt with menstruation.

[18] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 42:11.

[19] Mishnah, Ketuboth 1:10.

[20] Ben Witherington III, Grace in Galacia (London and NY: T&T Clark International, 2004), 271, credited to Rabbi Judah b. Elai (c. AD 150) in Berakoth 7:18 and Jer Berakoth 13b; and to Rabbi Meier (c. AD 150) in Bab Menahoth 43b. Jewish rabbis from the second century after Christ supposedly began their morning prayers by saying, “Blessed be He that He did not make me a Gentile; blessed be He that He did not make me a slave; blessed be He that He did not make me a woman.”

[21] Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, 2.134. See page 4 in this book, and Evelyn and Frank Stagg, Woman in the World of Jesus (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1978), 34.

[22] Skolnik, Encyclopedia Judaica, 21:161

[23] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 26:14-15.

[24] Interestingly the Scripture records there were “five thousand men, beside women and children,” meaning that the women and children were allowed to be there by the Lord, but not counted by whoever recorded the event (Matthew 14:21; 15:38). This gives us a feel for the cultural practices that did not include women in their tallies.

[25] Julie Smith, “A Redemptive Reading of Mark 5:25-34,” Interpreter (2015). Smith skillfully argues that “the story of the woman with the hemorrhage of blood redeems the story of the fall of Eve by paralleling and then inverting that text.”

[26] Mishnah Gittin, 9.10; Yebamoth, 14.1.

[27] Their culture assumed that God sent death, illness, or deformities, because of sin (Job 20:11; Exodus 20:5; John 9:2; etc.). The opposite also held, that the righteous are spared pain. See footnotes 591, 592, 593 in this book.

[28] 1 Samuel 1:17 also repeats this same promise given to another woman of great faith, Hannah. The high priest Eli prophesied of a forthcoming son as she prayed in the Tabernacle and then said, “Go in peace.” We can find many parallels between Luke’s birth narratives and Hannah’s account. Brown, Birth, 335, 357.

[29] Mishnah, Avoth 1:5. In 1963 Philip Blackman translated the same passage “engage not in much gossip with womankind.” The text of the Mishnah varies significantly with different translators.

[30] Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 26:14-15. Ben Sira’s request for silence may be literal, but just as likely, it may refer to a wife who did not speak against her husband, but honored his will.

[31] Mishnah, Ketuboth 1:8. “If they saw her speaking with some man in the street and said to her, ‘What manner of man is this?’ [and she answered], ‘His name is NN and he is a priest,’… R. Joshua says: We must not rely on her word, but she must be presumed to have suffered intercourse . . . unless she can bring proof for her words.”

[32] Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim. 20a. The Talmud postdates the New Testament but is occasionally cited as an example of the ripple effect that earlier thinking had on Judaism over time. It gives evidence of how the prohibitions of communication spread to extreme conclusions.

[33] Mishnah, Avoth 1:5.

[34] Jerusalem Talmud, Sotah. 7.1, 21b.

[35] The New Testament refers to Samaritans throughout its first five books as both enemies and neighbors of Judea and Galilee. In addition to this account in John 4, the New Testament mentions Samaritans in the following examples: Jesus is called a Samaritan (John 8:48), in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:33), and finally the healing of the Samaritan leper (Luke 17:16). Some scholars suggest that Stephen was a Samaritan as he quotes the Samaritan Bible in Acts 7, not the Septuagint. Darrell L. Bock, Acts: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2007), 284.

[36] F. F. Bruce, New Testament History, 342. In AD 51, a pilgrimage of Galileans opted to take the shorter route through Samaria, but they were “roughly handled” by the Samaritans, resulting in at least one dead. In retribution, a group of Jewish Zealots massacred the Samaritan district indiscriminately.

[37] Josephus, Antiquities, XVII.10.9; XX. 6.1; Wars, IV. 8.1; Life, 52. Three major routes led from Judea to Galilee during the period of Herod’s Temple. The shortest route went directly through Samaria. Josephus reports that Roman troops chose the shortest route through Samaria, and a few Galilean Jews chanced it. But rarely would a Judean Jew contaminate himself by traveling through that “impure” country. Instead, Jews from Jerusalem chose the safest routes by avoiding Samaria entirely, even if it added an extra day to their journey.

[38] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 343. Archeologists have found two ancient cities near Jacob’s well that may be ancient Sychar. Shechem was two miles from Jacobs well and Askar, about one mile north of Jacob’s well.

[39] The imagery of water is also poignant because water was a most critical issue in Palestine—politically, socially, and physically. The availability of water governed many of life’s decisions. In this story, it appears that there was plenty of water in the well and Eastern hospitality ensured service, even by a woman in Samaria.

[40] Day lasted from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and night was divided into three or four watches (depending on whether the watch was Jewish or Roman). In the Jewish world, the new day began with night just as in the creation it was dark before light.

[41] Clinton E. Arnold, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 2877.

[42] Tensions arose between northern and southern Israel dating back to King Solomon’s death and split of the kingdom. Problems flared up worse than ever after the Babylonian captivity. Ezra 4:1-4 and Nehemiah 2:19-20 explain that the Jews returning from their Babylonian captivity refused the Samaritans’ help to rebuild the temple. Zerubbabel’s team turned away the Samaritans who had no proper genealogical evidence of Levitical descent. In retribution, the Samaritans conspired with the foreign overlords to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, reconstructing the city, and rebuilding the temple. Samaritans retaliated by claiming the Jews apostatized and built their own temple on Mount Gerizim (2,890 feet) near their capital city, Shechem, in the fourth century BC (around the time of Alexander the Great). In 128 BC, any hope of healing their rift was shattered by the Jewish retribution. Under orders from the high priest, John Hyrcanus, Jewish activists destroyed the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim and captured the city of Shechem. The demolition of the temple on Mount Gerizim could not have been more offensive. For more information on the return from Babylon, see appendix 1.

[43] This raises the interesting question of whether or not Jesus considered the Samaritans part of the tribe of Israel. He told the gentile Syrophoenician woman that His mission was to preach only to Israelites (Matthew 15:26-27; Mark 7:26-28; Luke 16:20-22), yet John 4:42 says that the Lord’s first community of followers were Samaritans.

[44] The Scriptures often associate living water with the temple and eternal life (Jeremiah 2:13; Isaiah 8:6; 1 Nephi 11:25). The Book of Mormon affiliates “living waters” with the tree of life, the love of God, and salvation (1 Nephi 11:25).

[45] In the Babylonian Talmud, “Torah” was used as a symbol of water: “Oh ye who are thirsty, come to the water.” Talmud, Abodah Zarah, 5.7. “What is meant by ‘water’ is Torah.” Similarly, in apocryphal 2 Esdras 14:37 (also known as 4 Ezra 9:26): ‘“Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you.’ So I opened my mouth, and was handed a cup full of what seemed like water, except that its colour was the colour of fire. I took it and drank, and soon as I had done so my mind began to pour forth a flood of understanding.” The Eastern Orthodox Church canonized Ezra, which dates to sometime between 165 BC and 50 BC.

  • [46] Note that the woman mentioned Jacob—one of the patriarchs. This is in keeping with Samaritan belief that accepted the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), but not many of the Old Testament prophets. The Samaritans’ core beliefs came from the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and were handed down orally:
    1. Belief in one God.
    2. Moses as the greatest and final, or “seal,” of the prophets
    3. The Torah as the word of God, and rejection of all else as Scripture
    4. Mt Gerizim as the chosen place for God’s Temple.
    5. Expectations of a final day of rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.

Bruce W. Hall, Samaritan religion from John Hyrcanus to Baba Rabba: A Critical Examination of the Relevant Material in Contemporary Christian literature, the writings of Josephus, and the Mishnah (Sydney, Australia: Mandelbaum Trust, University of Sydney, 1987), 270. Other scholars add a sixth tenet that includes appearance at the end of time of a “Restorer” who would appear to usher in a new dispensation, teach the law, and restore the proper modes of worship. Kent Jackson, and Robert Millet, Studies in Scriptures: The Gospels (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1986), 5.205.

[47] Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 352-358. They taught that Mount Gerizim was the place where Noah disembarked from the ark, the place where Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed, the burial site of Joseph their patriarch, and the location of the final judgment. Alan David Crown, Reinhard Pummer, Abraham Tal, eds., A Companion to Samaritan Studies (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1993), 100.

[48] In 128 BC as part of Jewish revolt to cleanse their land of foreigners, a group of Jewish activists, working under the direction of the high priest, demolished the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim. See footnote 98, on page 32, and appendix 1.