Tuesday, May 08, 2007

St. Photini the Samaritan Woman

Saint Photini

Samaritans c. 1900 by Palestine Exploration Fund, 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia

I've been musing on something about Saint Photini, the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well (St. John's Gospel, Chapter 4).

Without at all denying the truth of St. Photini's irregular marital status, the fact of the number of 'husbands' and the one living with her who is not a husband is 5 and 1 respectively gives me pause to wonder.

Numerical information like this can often be quite important, indicating a deeper spiritual meaning. I DO NOT CLAIM that this IS the case with the story of St. Photini. But it's possible.

The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch which may represent an earlier (pre-Babylonian captivity) text of the Law. While this bears some more sleuthing (please note that the Wikipedia article is a reprint of the text of a Bible Dictionary . . . there may be more recent scholarship in this area), it is interesting to note that the Samaritan text reportedly follows the Septuagint text in most respects (it notably diverges about the whole Mt. Gerezim/Jerusalem question). A copy of this text was brought west in the 1600s by a Calvinist turned Catholic who ended up rejecting the Masoretic Text the Protestants were adopting in favor of the Septuagint . . . and also rejecting Calvinist viewpoints.

Anyway, 5 husbands, five books of the Law? Last one she has been living with not a husband, could this refer to the Samaritan's capitulation in the Hellenistic period, that they allowed their temple at Mt. Gerezim to be dedicated to Zeus? Or something else? Some commentators have seen in the 5 husbands a connection to the 5 nations, with their gods, that were reputed to be the foundation of the Samaritans, and those commentators suggest that the unmarried one is the LORD.

[Update: But Blessed Augustine says of this

And the Lord said to her, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband.” How then didst Thou say, “Call thy husband”? Now hear how the Lord knew well that she had not a husband. “He says to her,” etc. In case the woman might suppose that the Lord had said, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband,” just because He had learned this fact of her, and not because he knew it by His own divinity, hear something which thou hast not said: “For thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband; this thou hast said truly.”

Once more He urges us to investigate the matter somewhat more exactly concerning these five husbands. Many have in fact understood, not indeed absurdly, nor so far improbably, the five husbands of this woman to mean the five books of Moses. For the Samaritans’ made use of these books, and were under the same law: for it was from it they had circumcision. But since we are hemmed in by what follows, “And he whom thou now hast is not thy husband,” it appears to me that we can more easily take the five senses of the body to be the five former husbands of the soul. For when one is born, before he can make use of the mind and reason, he is ruled only by the senses of the flesh. In a little child, the soul seeks for or shuns what is heard, and seen, and smells, and tastes, and is perceived by the touch. It seeks for whatever soothes, and shuns whatever offends, those five senses. At first, the soul lives according to these five senses, as five husbands; because it is ruled by them. But why are they called husbands? Because they are lawful and right: made indeed by God, and are the gifts of God to the soul. The soul is still weak while ruled by these five husbands, and living under these five husbands; but when she comes to years of exercising reason, if she is taken in hand by the noble discipline and teaching of wisdom, these five men are succeeded in their rule by no other than the true and lawful husband, and one better than they, who both rules better and rules for eternity, who cultivates and instructs her for eternity. For the five senses rule us, not for eternity, but for those temporal things that are to be sought or shunned. But when the understanding, imbued by wisdom, begins to rule the soul, it knows now not only how to avoid a pit, and to walk on even ground—a thing which the eyes show to the soul even in its weakness; nor merely to be charmed with musical voices, and to repel harsh sounds; nor to delight in agreeable scents, and to refuse offensive smells; nor to be captivated by sweetness, and displeased with bitterness; nor to be soothed with what is soft, and hurt with what is rough. For all these things are necessary to the soul in its weakness. Then what rule is made use of by that understanding? Not one to discern between black and white, but between just and unjust, between good and evil, between the profitable and the unprofitable, between chastity and impurity, that it may love the one and avoid the other; between charity and hatred, to be in the one, not to be in the other.

This husband had not yet succeeded to those five husbands in that woman. And where he does not succeed, error sways. For when the soul has begun to be capable of reason, it is ruled either by the wise mind or by error: but yet error does not rule but destroys. Wherefore, after these five senses was that woman still wandering, and error was tossing her to and fro. And this error was not a lawful husband, but a paramour: for that reason the Lord saith to her, “Thou hast well said, I have not a husband. For thou hast had five husbands.” The five senses of the flesh ruled thee at first; thou art come to the age of using reason, and yet thou art not come to wisdom, but art fallen into error. Therefore, after those five husbands, “this whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” And if not a husband, what was he but a paramour? And so, “Call,” not the paramour, but “thy husband,” that thou mayest receive me with the understanding, and not by error have some false notion of me. For the woman was still in error, as she was thinking of that water; whilst the Lord was now speaking of the Holy Ghost. Why was she erring, but because she had a paramour, not a husband? Put away, therefore, that paramour who corrupts thee, and “go, call thy husband.” Call, and come that thou mayest understand me.

“The woman saith unto Him, Sir, I see that thou art a prophet.” The husband begins to come, he is not yet fully come. She accounted the Lord a prophet, and a prophet indeed He was; for it was of Himself He said, that “a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country.” Again, of Him it was said to Moses, “A Prophet will I raise up to them of their brethren, like unto thee.” Like, namely, as to the form of the flesh, but not in the eminence of His majesty. Accordingly we find the Lord Jesus called a Prophet. Hence this woman is now not far wrong. “I see,” she saith, “that thou art a prophet.” She begins to call the husband, and to shut out the paramour; she begins to ask about a matter that is wont to disquiet her.

- From his homilies on the Gospel of St. John

I admit - entirely wild speculation. [Update: but I'm gladdened to find that such ideas were not poo-poohed by Augustine, although he takes a different interpretation]. But there is a great deal going on here - baptismal imagery, trinitarian worship (worship of the Father in Spirit and in Truth [Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life according to St. John?? That would be the Son]), and so much more.

Eh - anyway - something to muse on.

BTW - Samaritans, which now have dwindled and number perhaps 750 or so, are interesting in that they have retained sacrificial Judaic worship of an extremely ancient type - and apparently they used to send their virgins up on Mt. Gerezim for a time in hopes that a virgin would conceive and bring forth the Restorer [see, e.g., John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land, Vol 2, p. 308 available at Google Books] - which says something about the naysayers concerning the understanding of the prophetic texts. So we have in the Samaritans, who did not abandon the sacrifices like Rabbinic Judaism, a sort of remembrance of traditions that have otherwise largely died out in the world.

It would be quite a field trip to do what Stephens did, to sojourn with the Samaritans and observe their worship - talk about living history!


Blogger Mimi said...

Fascinating information, thank you. I've also been pondering St. Photini this week.

11:05 AM  
Blogger mbs said...

I greatly appreciate your research done here. I wanted to add some info found in a recently completed copy of an orthodox bible that I came across. The note found for John 4:9 states "The Samaritans were a mixed race and traditional enemies of the Jews. Although they worshiped the God of Israel and were awaiting the Messiah, the accepted only the first five books of the OT (the Pentateuch) as their Scriptures. They had built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim, which the Jews destroyed in 128 BC." Notes continue with regard to husband/s with 4:16: "Jesus perceived that she was living with a man without being married, and as He knew of her string of husbands, the woman perceives He is a prophet. As the Samaritans did not accept any prophets after Moses, the only prophet they expected was teh Messiah whom Moses foretold (Dt 18:15-18)." Condensing the remainder of notes through John 4:26, Jesus being the true prophet settles the historical argument about where one was to worhip and elevates the discussion to the manner in which one should worship and more importantly to the one that should we should worship: God Himself. "The Father is worshiped in spirit - that is, in the Holy Spirit - and in truth - that is in Christ Himself (14:6) and according to Christ's revelation." I Googled you blog, grateful for more info on St. Photini, and wanted to share - thanks!

8:09 AM  

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