Woman at the Well

     The long and complex ‘Woman at the Well’ scene in John 4: 4-42 is reflective of Mary Magdalene and best defines her relationship to Jesus as will be shown below and is nestled in a book that could more accurately be called the Gospel of Mary rather than the Gospel of John since she plays a central role from beginning to end in the Gospel. It will be seen that she is the central secret of the Gospel of John: the “disciple who Jesus loved” that allowed Samaritan communities into a conversation about her role but did not scandalize others who could read into it what they wished.

     Mary Magdalene is defined or (redefined) to a greater extent in John than other personalities are because she is linked with Mystery School or Bridal Chamber Christianity (marked by soul travel) which still existed as a greater threat than the remaining Baptist movement (although the strong and defensive emphasis on the Baptist reveals a strong Baptist movement as well or at least a strong memory of John among Samaritans) or the remnants of Jewish Christianity decimated by war whose heroes were John the Baptist, James the Just, Peter, and Judas Thomas. Yet, she looms so large in all four Roman Gospels as well as in Nag Hammadi literature, generally, as the elephant in the living room of the first century among Samaritans, Jewish Christians, Herodians, and Syrians alike. We will see why she loomed so large shortly.

     A consensus of many scholars is that the Gospel of John (probably composed in the 90’s CE) was written as a response to the Gospel of Thomas of Syrian Bridal Chamber Christianity (probably composed after the Synoptics about 90 CE) since it deprecates the role of Thomas who is characterized as not believing until he places his hand in the wound of Jesus. In addition there is the Logos theology absent in the Synoptics which one-ups the Gospel of Thomas whose theology is expressed more diffusely and complexly.

     In opposition to the ‘seeking’ mode of Thomas in speaking of soul travel and personal spiritual growth the Gospel of John affirms that all one needs to do is ‘believe’ in the Logos to be ‘saved’. In John one doesn’t need to go anywhere or do anything especially spiritual. And, if you do not believe but are just a seeker then you are condemned already. The judgmentalism of this type constantly repeated in John reflects the insecurity of Roman Herodian Christianity vis-a-vis the Gospel of Thomas and Syrian Bridal Chamber Christianity.

     While Mark was written to separate Christians from Judaism and Luke is trying to engage a greater audience in the Roman Empire, John continues the direction of Matthew which is intent on co-opting the remaining Jewish communities in the Empire.   John is focused, rather though, on co-opting the Samaritan communities who were overt followers of Simon Magus and his consort, Helen, according to Justin Martyr. Bridal Chamber Christianity with its element of the Sophia Mythos must have had a strong Samaritan flavor.

     John clearly has Samaritans in mind from the over-arching themes from the time of Moses (the great hero of Samaritans) to specific vignettes of Samaritans. In addition, Peter, as a representative of Jewish Christianity is deprecated. The scholar, Robert Eisenman, has made the point that Peter could have been a much more conservative, Jewish figure than New Testament viewpoints reflect. John reflects this Samaritan dislike of Peter by showing him denying Jesus three times and not affirming his belief at the empty tomb. The other disciple who beats him to the tomb does affirm belief at that point but not Peter.

     Along with slighting the Jewish-Christian Peter, a reason to slight Thomas is that besides being the hero of the Gospel of Thomas he had a strong association with the Jewish Christian James the Just. Eisenman portrays Judas Thomas as being the right-hand man of James after the death of Jesus in delivering a pastoral and directive letter to a foreign king who was probably the Jewish convert, King Izates, of Adiabene outlining the parameters of the movement like James the Just does in discussing gentile converts to Jewish Christianity.

     The Woman at the Well is clearly outside the Jewish-Christian sphere. She is a foreigner who has been married five times and scandalously speaks with Jesus alone and as a Samaritan. Jesus speaks to her of living water which reprises the previous themes in John which all reflect the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus will come and baptize with the Holy Spirit. The disciples begin following Jesus due to nothing much more that the leading of the Holy Spirit with Nathaniel being told he would see heaven opened up with angels ascending and descending on “the Son of Man”. The next section is where Jesus turns water into wine which can be seen as a ‘living water’ Holy Spirit reference. This is followed by Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple in making the point that the spirit opposes fundamentalist religion but also plays to the Samaritan hatred of the Jewish Temple cult which had historically destroyed the Samaritan Temple on Mt Gerizim several times. Next, Nicodemus pops up in a fairly long section and is taught that one needs to be born of “water and the Spirit”. The last section preceding the Woman at the Well has the Baptist, again, witnessing to Jesus as the ‘Son’. Here, again, the Baptist associates the Spirit with Jesus that God gives him “without limit”.

     The Woman at the Well is finally presented with the living water. Clearly there is something going on here. The Gospel of John is not only terribly defensive about the Baptist movement and Syrian Christianity but about the whole Sophia Mythos which underlies Bridal Chamber Christianity in emphasizing that the Holy Spirit only comes from and through Jesus. The Sophia Mythos, in contrast, posits that the first emanation from the godhead was feminine (the Holy Spirit) and that a feminine power of the godhead (Sophia) began creating in matter without her male counterpart. This resulted in the demiurgic forces that rule the world and the human race which is trying to evolve beyond them. Sophia, herself, became entrapped in matter until the arrival of her divine counterpart who came to help assist all souls in their attachments to matter. The point of the Sophia Mythos is that all creation partakes of a co-creative and equal syzygy of male and female.

     The Woman at the Well passage is the Roman over-write for Saying 13 in the Gospel of Thomas where Jesus replies to Thomas: “I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measure out.” This sense of equality is later reiterated in Saying 108: “He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.” This ‘bubbling spring’ and this ‘drink from mouth’ are references to divine Wisdom or Sophia or the Holy Spirit.

     Simon Magus reflected well this syzygy or co-creativity by not only channeling the Samaritan messiah but in affirming that his consort, Helen, channeled the fallen Sophia who had incarnated many times and once as Helen of Troy. Helen, the consort, according to the enemies of Simon, had been picked out of a bordello in the city of Tyre. This may, somewhat, reflect Helen of Troy who was highly desired by men and had five husbands.

     It is exceedingly odd as well that a leading disciple of Jesus, the Magdalene, who was the primary witness to the Resurrection in all four Gospel accounts also seemed to have some kind of unspoken but fallen past. Mary anointed Jesus with oil, mixing her tears in. She sat at his feet as a legitimate disciple. She was the first witness to the Resurrection. The non-canonical gospels hold that Jesus loved her the most and would kiss her often on the lips. This combined portrait of Jesus and Mary is entirely equivalent to that of the portrait of Simon and Helen.

     Both Mary Magdalene and Helen, the consort, are heavily fictionalized characters but there is a third personality from that same period in Jerusalem who was an historical person written about by Josephus who even left artifacts. She was known as Helen, the Queen of Adiabene. One can see the name similarity in ‘Helen’ and between ‘Adiabene’ and ‘Magdalene’.

     Adiabene was a small part of a larger country called Osrhenia which included Edessa as the Western Capitol of a country in the Parthian Empire. The Queen was converted by a ‘non-circumcision mission’ sometime in the 20’s CE. This could only have involved the John the Baptist group. Tradition has it that Judas Thomas was a part of this effort. Early in the 30’s CE after her son, Izates, had ascended the throne of his father she relocated with five grandchildren (here we have the number five again) to Jerusalem. She built palaces and a tomb. The tomb still exists and her sarcophagus is a museum relic.

     Queen Helen was a big sponsor of the Temple and undertook three seven year periods of penance. In the terrible drought of 44-46 CE she supplied Jerusalem with grain imported from Egypt.

     Since John the Baptist was probably executed in contiguity with the war between Herod Antipas and King Aretas in 35 CE, the Crucifixion probably occurred in 36 CE just before Pilate was recalled to Rome in 37 CE due to the Samaritan Massacre reported in Josephus. This would have given plenty of time for Queen Helen to associate with Simon-Jesus in the early 30’s though they could have had contact for a decade. They both would have been roughly in their late forties in the 30’s.  As a probably secret but prominent disciple of John the Baptist and a sponsor of Simon it would not be surprising to see her officiating at the initiation of Jesus into the leadership of the Baptist movement as portrayed in Mark with oil on the head worth a year of a laborer’s wages.

     Helen, the Queen, was part of a harem which lent itself to the ‘bordello’ slur. In addition, her close relationship to Simon didn’t help either. Even the Gospel of Philip admits that he kissed her often on the lips. One can make the argument, though, that this was not just a salacious kiss but a kiss of ‘gnosis’. The First Apocalypse of James and the Second Apocalypse of James from the gnostic Jewish Christian tradition attribute a holy kiss of gnosis from Jesus to James. The Gospel of Philip also refers to this as a cultic practice of Syrian Bridal Chamber Christianity: “It is by a kiss that the perfect give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another.”

     It is the status of Queen Helen that allowed Simon to believably state that she was the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, another incarnation of Divine Wisdom. One of the key signatures in the Woman at the Well pericope identifying that we are speaking of Mary Magdalene/Helen, the Consort/Helen the Queen of Adiabene is that both the Woman at the Well and Helen of Troy had five Husbands. The husbands of Helen of Troy were Theseus, Menelaus, Paris, Deiphobus, and Achilles. When the Woman at the Well replies to Simon-Jesus: “I have no husband” it refers to the fact that her husband, the King had passed away a few years earlier. When Simon-Jesus comments “the man you have now is not your husband” it can be seen to be a snickering comment about Simon-Jesus, himself.

     Another signature that we are talking about Queen Helen relates to the presence of food and agricultural references. When his disciples return Simon-Jesus sermonizes in a long passage: “I have food to eat you know not of…look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest….you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (Jn 4: 31-38)

     The Gospel of Thomas in Saying 21 replays many themes allegorically as well. “Mary” is specifically identified. The number “21” is an obvious reference to the three seven year nazarite periods of penance that Queen Helen undertook. The content of the saying is especially renunciate. At the end, here again, we find an agricultural reference: “When the grain ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand and reaped it.”

     The entire Woman at the Well passage lends itself to allegorical interpretation since it happens at “Jacob’s well” which is a highly charged sexual reference involving the exchange of fluids in an intimate situation. This is John’s opportunity to discuss all the innuendo and rumor flying around the relationship between Simon and Helen.

     Jacob met his wife, Rachel, at a well. This happened early in the day as well when fewer people were around to interrupt their interactions: “Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud.” This would have been a traditional greeting kiss as relatives, though.

     Abraham’s servant, as well, found a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac, at a well when Rebekah showed her kindness in watering the stranger’s camels.

     Moses, the Samaritan hero, found his wife at a well in Midian when he chased off shepherds harassing the seven daughters of Jethro and watered the flock of the girls. Here, again, we have Moses giving water like Jesus offered ‘living water’. Both Moses and Jesus interact with foreign women early in the day at a well and are invited to stay with them later. Jesus is asked by “Samaritans” to stay with them “two days”. After Moses and Zipporah marry she gives birth to two sons just as Helen, the Queen of Adiabene had two sons.

   The Woman leaves her “vessel” with Jesus to round up some of the town’s people. Jesus tells his disciples: “I have food to eat you know nothing about.” Of course, this is explained away by Jesus saying he was doing the will of God. What ‘drink’ and ‘food’ Jesus derived from the Woman are omitted but these very, very subtle references are included as a nod to the Woman.

     It is striking that Jesus dramatically makes his messianic declaration to the Woman: “I who speak to you am he” after the Messianic Secret ideology of the Gospel of Mark and the dynamic in Matthew and Luke where nobody understands Jesus. Finally in Mark it is the Roman Centurion of all people who makes his declaration of faith! Earlier in John it is the Baptist who testifies to Jesus and Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel who believe in Jesus as the messiah begin to follow him but it is to the Woman that he makes his stunning declaration of messiahship. Not only is the Woman found worthy beyond everyone else in Palestine to receive this declaration but she acts as an apostle to some of her town’s people who become followers. This Samaritan group is really the first group of followers although many other disciples and witnesses of miracles are listed prior. This is an acknowledgement that the earliest followers as a group were actually Samaritans and that the Woman had a significant relationship to them.

     The first actual appearance of Mary by name comes in John in the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ scene. Just as The Woman at the Well scene was the over-write for Mary as the consort of Jesus and incarnation of Wisdom/Holy Spirit so this scene is the over-write for the original text of Mark which included the ‘Secret Mark’ scene between Mark 10:34-35 found by Morton Smith and attested to by many modern scholars as probably original. Secret Mark makes it clear by the irritation of Jesus and delay in approaching the tomb that the ‘death’ of Lazarus was really a spiritual initiation. Jesus ends up going to the house of the youth, spending six days instructing him further, and where Jesus “remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom God”

     “Lazarus” can actually be seen to be the son of Queen Helen named Izates who was also converted by this ‘non-circumcision mission’ in the late 20’s CE according to Josephus. King Izates was born about the year 1 and ascended to his throne about the year 29. It was a great propaganda coup to claim Izates as an initiate of Jesus/Simon. The dates for the birth and coronation of Izates were obviously employed for the birth and the beginning of the mission of Jesus to make the point that Simon was the real king.

   “Martha” can be seen to be the wife of Izates who was named Samacho. “Martha” literally means ‘mistress’ as an appropriate name for King Izate’s wife. Queen Helen, Izates, and Samacho are appropriately designated as spiritual siblings although not real ones.

     The next time we see Mary she is at the foot of the Cross with the mother of Jesus, the aunt of Jesus, and “Mary the wife of Clopas”. No males are mentioned as standing nearby but Jesus hands over his mother to the care of the “disciple whom he loved” who took her to “his home”.

     Along with “The Woman at the Well”, “Mary” in the Lazarus scene, and “Mary Magdalene” at the Crucifixion and Empty Tomb scenes there are two more characters in John who also act as stand-ins for Queen Helen. They are Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who are both rich and powerful as well as secret disciples.

     The name of ‘Arimathea’ is in the same pattern as ‘Adiabene’ and ‘Magdalene’. It has been conjectured that ‘Arimathea’ may have come from a bastardization of ‘bar Matthew’ or ‘son of Matthew’. The disciple Matthew was very closely related to Mary. They are two of only three disciples mentioned in the earliest Christian material that was collated and called the ‘Dialogue of the Savior’. In addition, Matthew (who is called by the Hebrew form of his name of ‘Levi’ as he is also in the Gospels) appears as a spiritual teacher of Mary in the allegorical ‘Joseph and Asenath’. The earliest Jewish Christian gospel of all is ascribed to Matthew. This is not the current ‘Matthew’ but one written in Aramaic in Hebrew script. It can be well thought that after the death of Jesus that Matthew took on the role of spiritual teacher to Mary.

     The name of ‘Joseph’ for Mary refers to the Samaritan character of the early movement. All Samaritans were ‘sons of Joseph’ just as Jesus was the ‘son of Joseph’. Joseph of Arimathea goes back to the Synoptics and the Gospel of Mark. However, it was Queen Helen of Adiabene who sponsored and funded Simon who had the right as well as the political sway to demand of Pilate the body of Jesus. She also had the wealth for the costly ointments and the empty tomb.

     Nicodemus makes his appearance only in John. This is very odd in light of his prominent role in that Gospel. It is Nicodemus that provides the opportunity for the first long discussion by Jesus concerning who Jesus is and what is incumbent upon a person. It is Nicodemus who is found defending Jesus to the Chief Priests and Pharisees who want to arrest Jesus. Finally, it was Nicodemus who accompanied Joseph of Arimathea and who brought seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes to wrap the body with.

     The reason why ‘Nicodemus’ makes no appearance in the Synoptics is because his name hadn’t been invented yet. It comes from Jewish sources. The Babylonian Talmud discusses a person named ‘Nakdimon ben Gurion’ who is fabulously rich and pious who filled the twenty-one Temple water cisterns during a time of drought. He also promised twenty-one years of grain. The number obviously relates to the twenty-one years of Queen Helen’s Nazirite penances and her grain-buying during the great 44-46 drought period. Josephus reverses the name to ‘Gurion the son of Nakdimon’ (See Chapter 8 of Robert Eisenman’s ‘New Testament Code’ for this discussion.) Eisenman quotes Rabbinic sources as explaining that ‘Nakdimon’ comes from a Hebrew root meaning ‘to pierce or break though’ like the sun does. This is a ‘rain-making’ miracle-working inference that would have appropriately related to Queen Helen’s saving of Jerusalem during the three year drought. Eisenman explains that the name ‘Nakdimon’ is exactly equivalent to ‘Nicodemus’ and was interchangeably used in some sources.

     It has always been clear that the Gospel of John is not being totally forthright. Who is the ‘disciple which Jesus loved’ and why is it such a big secret? Is it a secret just out of humility by the author who continually, then, refers to himself by this designation? Is that humble?

     Why is the name of the ‘Woman at the Well’ secret? This was, obviously, an early and formative event where the Woman was acting as an apostle in bringing an early bunch of Samaritan disciples to Jesus.   Many little details and the conversation are remembered but her name isn’t? That strains credulity.

     Why is ‘Mary’ in the Lazarus scene not identified as the Magdalene? This leaves the impression that maybe she isn’t—which is exactly the Greek Orthodox position of today that the sister of Lazarus and the Magdalene were different people although many people hold to the ‘composite Mary’ hypothesis. The sister of Lazarus was obviously a disciple since she was described as sitting at the feet of Jesus.   This is exactly the ancient image of a disciple—where you sit at the feet of your teacher.

Why does Nicodemus pop in to history in the Gospel of John and then disappear out of Church history? Why does Joseph of Arimathea pop into history in the Crucifixion of Jesus in all the Gospels and is never heard from again? There are too many secrets in John that make the case that John is hiding things and make it legitimate to go on the treasure hunt to find out what they are.

John Munter

Warba, MN

Feb 16, 2014