We know the story in John 4, right? Jesus travels through Samaria and stops at noon by a well in Sychar, where he meets an immoral woman. This woman is so shunned that she comes to the well at the hottest part of the day to avoid interacting with the rest of the inhabitants. Jesus confronts her sinful behavior of “having 5 husbands and living with a man” and offers her “living water.”
But I want to suggest something different from this fairly common retelling. Come along with me for a few moments…
It seems we love scandal, gossip, and all the juicy details of other people’s lives. If this were not the case, shows like the Bachelor would probably disappear forever. Which might not be such a bad thing…but I digress.
When it comes to reading the Bible, we encounter numerous stories of sin and grace. (PTL for grace!) And sometimes, it’s not hard to make them a little more dramatic…it makes for better sermons. Other times, we cater too much to certain traditions and ideas. Or, other times, some stories simply come across to modern readers as sounding different than they really were.
The rest of this week I hope to look at a few of these stories, which I think tend to be overdramatized or misunderstood in their retelling.
Many could make the list, but here are a few examples:
- Mary Magdalene often gets referred to as a prostitute with little to no evidence to suggest this.
- Bathsheba gets referred to as a woman who seduced King David into an affair instead of a victim who was raped by a powerful king.
- The woman at the well is often called immoral instead of a virtuous woman respected by her town.
- We say Jephthah sacrificed his daughter on an alter instead of saying that she was dedicated to temple service for the rest of her life.
Earlier this summer, four young men from North Carolina State University attempted to design a nail polish that would help protect women from date rape by detecting unwanted drugs in their drinks.
The nail polish (which unfortunately doesn’t seem to actually work) generated some concerns. While it’s good to promote steps to help women protect themselves, many point out that this treats the symptoms rather than the problem (i.e. teaching people to avoid getting raped instead of don’t rape). Advocates against rape also worry that this sort of thing may promote more victim blaming. Read more
My formal research on Bathsheba revealed a variety of opinions about Bathsheba, which I divided into three categories: (1) immoral and complicit, (2) reformed sinner, and (3) helpless victim.
Some people think that Bathsheba had no qualms about having sex with the king, perhaps even instigating it herself. Some take this view a step further by claiming that she was a repentant sinner whose sin God redeemed. The third group views her as a victim, not a sinner, and in no way at fault. Read more
Bathsheba’s story captures our attention. Painters, such as Jean-Léon Gérôme or Rembrandt, have depicted her bathing provocatively. Actress Susan Hayword brought her story to life in the 1951 film “David and Bathsheba,” nominated for five Academy Awards. Authors speculate on her life in historical fiction works. Read more