Cahiers du Cercle Ernest Renan, no. 11 (1956)
Edited and translated from the French by R. Salm (April, 2012)
Note: Bracketed editorial additions are in green and signed “R.S.”
Original page numbers are in brackets.
The Simonian origins of Jesus and the woman at the well (Jn 4)
Several indications have suggested—as Prosper Alfaric proposed—that the messiah of Samaria had become subordinated to the Judean messiah. It appears to us, also, that the Judean messiah eventually totally replaced the Samaritan while appropriating the latter’s gospel and his various writings.
Towards the year 30 of our era, the opposition between Judea and Samaria was at its height. At the same time, Jesus showed an extraordinary goodwill to the Samaritans. He even treated them with respect and his disciples continued to act similarly after the Resurrection. Jesus designates Samaria as the first area to be evangelized, he cites it before Judea, and it is in Samaria that Philip goes to preach (Acts 8:5-13).1
Jesus passed through Samaria (Lk 17:11, Jn 4) while the Jews avoided the province.2 It was at Sychar, next to the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph, and in front of Jacob’s well itself that Jesus was to encounter the Samaritan woman.2b Not only is the framework of this solemn story Samaritan, but its substance has remained simonian despite subsequent editing.
The editor has been obliged to explain to the disoriented reader why a Jew requests a drink from a Samaritan woman since “Jews do not have dealings with Samaritans” (Jn 4:9). This suggests that the story was part of a primitive text, that it was known, and that it was not possible to suppress it but that the editor sought to blunt its significance.
 We have here a scene between Simon and Helena.3 The Samaritan woman is the one with five husbands. Furthermore, by this story, Jesus is shown to be the agent of a universal religion.
“This mountain” (Jn 4:20), whose name is not divulged, is Mt. Gerizim. The interpolated verse 22 demonstrates that Jesus taught the unknown god of gnosticism: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know…” This is the unknown god—eventually to be revealed—whom John the Baptist also preaches in Jn 1:31:
“I did not know him myself, and yet my purpose in coming to baptize
with water was so that he might be revealed to Israel.”
At first Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for something to drink. He then tells her: “If you only knew the gift of God, and who it is3b that is saying to you, ‘Give me something to drink,’ you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.” One has need of the other—Jesus of water, and the Samaritan woman of that which god bestows. Jesus gives a teaching about living water that she has forgotten, while she holds the actual water. The scene is a version of a classic biblical encounter: the meeting at the well of the hero with the woman who will be his wife. Thus it was with Jacob and Rachel,4 with Moses and Zippora. In taking the place of the fiancé, Jesus announces—in masked language—that Samaria has but one genuine husband and it is him.
According to Philo [Cf. Legum Allegoriae I:28-29], the best fountain is the Father of the Living, the Fountain of Life. Jesus—the son of this Father—is similarly interested in ‘living water.’ What is most interesting in all this is the recognition that the origin of this Father was in Samaria, where his son Jesus goes.
In Lk 10:25-37 Jesus ennobles the Samaritan name, a name which was synonymous with the demon. He recounts the following parable: While a priest and a Levite furnished no aide to a man left half-dead by brigands, a Samaritan approached, bandaged his wounds and paid for his bill at a hostel, including whatever might additionally be necessary. Now, the doctor of the Torah to whom Jesus was talking did not even dare pronounce the name ‘Samaritan.’
What is most remarkable in this incident is that Jesus symbolically places the good Samaritan above the priests and the Levites, while a Samaritan village refused to even receive him and his disciples (9:53-56). Such a contradiction seems improbable in the primitive text and leads to the suspicion that the passage in which Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans comes from the hand of a Jewish interpolator desirous of suppressing any relationship between his Jesus and the Samaritans.  The presence of Jesus in Samaria greatly discommoded the Jewish-Christians.
Similarly, in the miracle of the ten lepers (Lk 17:11-19) only the Samaritan retraces his steps in order to thank Jesus—something which none of the nine Jews did—and as a result, only that Samaritan was “saved” (v. 19).
Finally, in the Gospel of John, Jesus talks of God to “the Jews” and tells them that they are “of the devil” (8:44).5 Those Jews exclaim: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and possessed by a devil?” Now, what is Jesus’ response? He says (v. 49), “I am not possessed; but I honor my Father and you deny me honor…” He does not deny that he is Samaritan. (In fact, Jesus intimates that he is Samaritan as is his Father.) This is critical. In the primitive text, Christ must have proclaimed himself a Samaritan.
1. Some scholars assert that Philip and Apostle and Philip the evangelist were two different people. However, both Philips were widely known as one and the same person in antiquity, cf. Papias, Polycrates, Clement of Alexandria, and the Gospel of John (see IDB 1962, 3:785ii).—R.S.
2. According to Mt 10:5, Jesus had given instructions to his disciple to avoid the villages of Samaria, but we are dealing here with a modification of the text by a Judeo-Christian editor who did not countenance that Jesus could have gone to Samaria.—G.O.
2b. The extreme significance of the site is little known. Sychar is located between Mounts Gerizim and Ebal—thus at the very center of Samaritan sacred territory and religion. It was there that the patriarch Joseph was buried, in the tomb that his father Jacob purchased from Hamor (Gen 33:19; Josh 24:32). Luke gets this wrong (Acts 7:15–16) in what scholars generally consider a “startling blunder” (R. Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus p. 610). However, the error may have been intentional—to suppress the northern Samarian/Ephraimite “King Joseph” theology and tradition.
Astonishingly, The Samaritan chronicle of Abul Fath reports that Levi, the first martyr-follower of Dositheus “was stoned in the field of Joseph.” Furthermore, this occurred on the eve of Passover (Bowman, Samaritan Documents 1977:167). The multiple striking parallels with the death (by stoning) of Yeshu ha-Notsri/Stephen/James the Just and also with the Passion of Jesus cannot be simple coincidences.
Furthermore, Acts 4:36–37 reports: “There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Here we have several elements in common with Samaritan tradition: the name Levi (“Levite”), the sale of a field, and the name of the seller—“Joseph”! Most revealing, the seller goes by the name “Barnabas” (Aramaic: “Son of the Prophet,” not “son of encouragement”—another suppression by Luke?). Incidentally, according to the scholar Rod Blackhirst, the (astounding) Gospel of Barnabas was written in Cyprus.—R.S.
3. This expression, ‘the woman with five husbands’ is common to both the woman at the well and to Helen of Troy (whose husbands were Theseus, Menelaus, Paris, Diophobus, and Achilles). Helen of Troy becomes relevant because, according to the simonian legend, Simon Magus is supposed to have have rescued in Tyre a certain prostitute Helen and married her. The legend has it that this Helen was a reincarnation of Helen of Troy. The mention by Jesus of “five husbands,” then, is a clear indication that the Lucan evangelist was quite familiar with the simonian legend.—R.S.
Helen [of Troy] and the Samaritan woman may be but the debris of a primitive oriental legend of foreign provenance, one whose meaning had been forgotten. In Hindu mythology, the goddess Draupadi had five princes as husbands, all brothers of the family Pandava. Among the five were two twins, equestrian gods identical to the Greek dioscuri. Another comparison: Jesus had four brothers of which one (Thomas) was his twin.—G.O.
3b. It has been observed that this strange dialogue may include a veiled play on the name Dositheus. “If you only knew the gift of God [tén dwrean tou theou = Dositheus] and who it is…—R.S.
4. Simon’s mother was also called Rachel.—G.O.
5. These Jews whose father is the devil were Jews “who believed” in Jesus, i.e., Jewish Christians (Jn 8:31, 44). Also, the long-standing hatred between Samaritans and Jews (from Judea) must come into play here and helps explain the strident anti-Jewish stance of the Fourth Gospel.—R.S.