The early equality of men’s and women’s roles and rights within the fledgling new Christian religion–women preaching and teaching and hosting early church gatherings–was soon swept away, and still needs to be re-found in many places and many churches. The author Rena Pederson, who wrote “The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia,” included basic context about the surrounding Roman and Greek social order at the time Christianity was getting started. If she’s right, it strikes me as critically important that only men could initiate divorce and could divorce their wives for the paltriest of reasons, leaving them without means of sustenance or honored status. This culture and its laws was a huge influence on scripture, perhaps inevitably. I can’t fathom why this fact is still so buried today.

The first music I bought as a pre-teen was Peter, Paul, and Mary’s first album. And I bought every one after. I love all of them still. I was about fourteen when they recorded “Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,” the song written, according to an internet search, by James W. Alexander / Morris and adapted and arranged by Yarrow/Travers/Okun, Silver Dawn Music -ASCAP, 1964.

It has a tune that carries authority and the repetition sticks with you. The song doesn’t stray far from the scripture: Jesus told the woman, as she says, “everything she’d ever done.” He asks her where her husband is. She tells him she has no husband and he replies, “You’ve got five husbands and the one you have now, he’s not your own.” This established him in her eyes as a seer, a prophet.

I always simply accepted the story as the conservative preachers embellished it. Even though divorce was no stigma at the time, many have preached that it was all about how lowly and sinful this woman was. Jesus, a Jew, was breaking from his culture by even speaking with a Samaritan, which she was. And Jesus offered her the living water of a new faith, the same as he would have if she were a man. And, she became an emissary back in her village, urging others to go and hear Jesus. And the men listened to her. Those last parts are the real story.

Or the whole story may have been written as symbolic fiction, as another scholar thinks, with the five “husbands” representing the five (I’ll take his word for it) branches of towns of Samaria.

I’d much rather be fascinated and thoughtful about this than park my brain as soon as some preacher says this is about Jesus stooping to lift a lowly, sinful woman.

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