Story As Theology

It is experience that qualifies one to write a novel, not abstract theory. How then do we translate historical facts into a living story? How, especially, do we translate dogmatic theology into recognizable experiences from everyday life? This is the challenge of a historical novel such as mine, which wants to contribute to today’s theological dialogue.

Did I take a time travel machine back to the first century? No, but I sometimes felt as if I had. Writing the novel required a complete imaginative immersion in the time and place of its setting. The level of concentration needed was indeed a challenge.

The initial research was important. It was like feeding facts into a hopper (my consciousness). But the translation of these facts so that they become the lives of realistic characters is the bigger challenge.

We are fortunate to live in a time when the historical records and writings from the past are more available perhaps than ever before. Scholarship has accumulated and made accessible more information on the first century than any one person living during that time could have had at their fingertips.

This cache of information provides background material, but it is still enclosed in a box called History. It is little heeded by our present day culture that rushes headlong into the future. We think of the past as over and done, interesting to study from a distance, but not having immediate relevance to our needs today. We have progressed far beyond it. Or have we? The moral questions faced in that first century are, I believe, very relevant today. I tried to get outside all the boxes created by History and Theology and look at things with fresh eyes, as if I were there.

I wanted to overcome this prejudice towards the past that makes it seem irrelevant. To show the relevance of these early Christian missionaries to the quandaries we face today required portraying them in a living story, with experiences we can recognize. My mantra was: “This is not dead. It can come to life again and has much to tell us that we need to hear!”

I brought my characters into the very center of a Rome that was in moral crisis, where coercive power had grown into a monster degrading humanity. If you stop and consider, I think you will see both similarities and differences between their world and ours, and some thoughts that can help us set our own world on a better track.



One reason I started this blog was to provide footnotes to the novel. Of course you cannot put footnotes into a novel, yet I still wanted to cite sources for much of the content. Doing this in a blog was the solution. A lot of the content comes from reading scripture and scholarly works, and these are important to the novel’s credibility. Also, I want to alert the reader to valuable sources of knowledge that directly relate to the development of the early church.

Some of the novel’s content is also drawn from personal experiences, my own or ones I have heard from other people. These don’t need footnoting, but giving their derivation can show how the novel evolved, and its basis in real experiences.

There are a couple of places where I quote extensively. One is from the Apocryphon of James in volume one, chapter 32 of the novel. Of all the works I read in the non-canonical apocryphal literature, this is the one that resonated most truthfully to me. I selected some passages, slightly changing them in a few places, and put the words in the mouth of James the Just as he addresses a group of Christian missionaries in Jerusalem. I used the translation by Marvin W. Meyer in The Secret Teachings of Jesus: Four Gnostic Gospels (Random House,NY, 1984, pp.3-15). In this short work Jesus is addressing his disciples from the spiritual world. He chides them for trying to hold him back on earth, and gives them advice. The parables of the palm shoot and of the head of grain, and the paradoxical language of the passage, rang true to me as things Jesus could have said. The “palm shoot” spreading its seeds is especially apt in describing their missionary work. I was also drawn to James’ references to children who are to come, and their importance. This sermon by James caps my references to children in volume one of this novel.

The other place where I quoted extensively was in volume three, A Voice In Rome, chapter 18, “Eros Astray.” I quote from St. Maximos the Confessor on the subject of Eros. These passages are taken from The Philokalia: Volume One, (Faber & Faber, London, 1990, pp. 280-284.) The Philokaliais a compilation of spiritual writings of the Eastern Orthodox Church. St. Maximos was an Orthodox monk who wrote about six centuries later than the time of my novel (first century AD). But I engage in some deliberate anachronisms, believing these truths transcend a particular time and place. Another example of an anachronism is the story of St. Alexis, Man of God, included in chapter 17 of A Voice In Rome. I have moved him from the third century to the first century in order to include a story just too good to miss, and one which relates to Edessa.

From the fourth to the seventh century, Byzantine spiritual writers, mostly monks, engaged in a profound study of human nature. They applied the teachings of the gospels to the inner life, giving insight into the deepest workings of the mind and heart. Of them all, I like best the writings of Diodochus of Photiki and Maximos the Confessor. They have a great deal of wisdom to offer anyone interested in the spiritual life.

The writers in the Philokalia build bridges between Greek philosophy and Christianity’s Semitic roots, between mind and heart; between the soaring striving of the individual mind and the stooping down of compassion to help the needy. Both are needed by the spiritual pilgrim setting a course through life.

The discerning reader will notice that my novel seeks to express a more Semitic Christianity. The early disciples were steeped in Israelite religion with its moral commandments. This was the gift they brought to the Greco-Roman world–a world in moral crisis. But the merging of the Church with the governing structure of the Roman Empire in the fourth century changed this. Christianity became defined more in terms of Greek philosophy and became friendly to Roman power. It lost some of its moral ardor. In my novel I try to recover the vision of those first disciples who knew Jesus and were taught by him directly. It was their vision of brotherly love that enabled them to reach people from all walks of life in their missionary teaching, and which accounts for their astonishing success.

The Samaritan Homeland

I’m back–after not having internet access for five weeks, plus starting a new job.   Let’s get back to the heart of the Samaritan homeland surrounding Mount Gerizim.

We are fortunate to have two descriptions from the first century of the landscape surrounding Mount Gerizim.  A major caravan route passed through the valley between the Blessed Mount and Mount Ebal.  Among the many travelers who passed that way, two left us descriptions of the countryside.  It was a fertile land of mixed woods and pastures and cultivated fields.  There were wheat fields and vineyards, fruit trees and olive groves.  It was still the rich Land of Canaan promised to Abraham in Genesis.  Unfortunately, deforestation and poor land use have subsequently made it a rather barren land.

In John’s gospel we see the wheat fields ready to harvest when Jesus and his disciples come to this land.  In the passage in John 4, the rich agricultural harvest parallels a rich spiritual harvest that comes about after meeting  the Samaritan woman, St. Photina.  Jesus tells how spiritual rewards will no longer be dependent on a special place, such as a mountain or temple.  Abraham’s descendents will become able to reap this spiritual harvest more directly through interior knowledge.  Yahweh will give them this by writing the Law in their hearts.

Back in the mid 1960’s when I was a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, I took a class in Western Religious History taught by a visiting professor from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.  The professor was Rabbi Elias Rivkin, and he gave a vivid picture of the agricultural life of the Israelites of early times.  He brought the world of the peoples of the Pentateuch to life, and I have never forgotten it.  It was a glowing picture that Rabbi Rivkin painted, with a bit of a golden haze over it.  Religion was deeply integrated in their lives.  He spoke of how religion functioned to create community and meet the needs of the poor; of how guilt could be so simply overcome by sacrificing a lamb at the hands of a priest.  –So much easier than what we do today!  He was himself an impressive scholar, with an extensive knowledge of scripture and legends.  He had also memorized thousands of lines of oral law.  Here was ancient tradition extended into the present day.

I drew somewhat on my memory of this class when I came to write about the first century Samaritans and their homeland, for it was my impression that they had kept that earlier biblical life and had succumbed little to the Hellenized and Romanized culture that affected the major cities.  John 4 seems to confirm this.

I should make clear that I am not myself Jewish.  My family on both sides is Protestant as far back as we know.  Though Pearl is often a Jewish name, in the case of our family it was an anglicized French name, possibly Perrault.  We don’t know because the ancestor who came over from France in the early 1800’s was illiterate.  He was a peasant farmer.  He signed his name with an X on a land deed.  The name got spelled in a variety of ways.  It didn’t matter at the time.  But now it makes it hard to trace that line of ancestry.

Up until my parents’ generation, my family on both sides were Ohio farmers.  So I could connect with the idea of a simpler rural life such as that led by the Samaritans in my novel.  I got a glimpse of that life through my maternal grandmother.

My own life has been very different.  But my grandmother’s life growing up on a farm, in a large and close family, was not so different from Photina’s early life.  It was a world where religion was important and was integrated into life.  Scripture formed the guidance for their lives.  It was a world free of electronic noise and busy traffic and mechanized and digitized “progress.”  Though it was gone, it lingered on in my grandmother, and there was much in it that appealed to me.

The Israelite world out of which the Pentateuch emerged was a life close to nature, but also reaching upward to the spiritual world; to the source of life.

The 2000 year long road connecting that Israelite culture and the Christianity that emerged from it to the world where my grandmother grew up is a road with many twists and turns.  But there is a thread of continuity in the humane values it carried forward.

Life in a Samaritan Village

Once I learned that the Samaritans relied solely on the Pentateuch for their scripture, I went back and re-read it.  All their theology and praxis would have to be founded in these Five Books of Moses, which they took with the utmost seriousness as the foundation for their lives.  I was struck by what are called the “humane verses” and which I call the “kindness verses” in the novel.  They are quite extraordinary, and certainly form the nucleus for Jesus’ teachings of compassion and  of our responsibility for one another.

Based on John 4, I sought plausible answers for how Photina became the person speaking with Jesus in this passage.  How did she come to her knowledge of theology and Israelite history, causing Jesus to address her on these subjects?  Why did Jesus choose her as the person to represent her people? (And/or why did John single her out for this role in his remembrance?)

St.Photina’s vita in the Church states that she had five sisters.  I posited that she could have been the eldest of five sisters and the daughter of a Samaritan priest.  I used the example of Zelophelad in the Pentateuch to show that she could have received many of the inheritance rights of a son, just as Zelophelad ( having no son) gained the rights for his five daughters to  his inheritance of land. Moses sought Yahweh’s answer on this question of the daughters’ inheritance.  The answer was “Yes, they can inherit.”

Some will object that her priest-father would not have trained Photina in the religious inheritance which he would have been expected to pass on to a son.  Because she was female, this would not have been allowed.  But because I spent 16 years in the Orthodox Church,  mostly in ethnic Russian parishes, I knew that many exceptions are made to these so-called ‘rules’ in traditional cultures.  The Russians have a concept of sobornost,  meaning “all of us together.”  This closeness of community is the practice in many traditional and tribal cultures, and is more important than a book of rules.  once documented a number of such exceptions to the rule, where for instance a priest might recognize in his daughter the qualities necessary and train her to assist him in the sanctuary.

When I was at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, there was a strict rule that women could not read the Epistle in a service.  But later, when I was in an ethnic Russian parish in upstate New York, there was a woman reading the Epistle in services.  She told me that when she was twelve years old, her priest had come up to her at Vigil and handed her the service book and said:  “Here, read.”  Of course she could not, for she did not know Church Slavonic.  But she learned it, and began reading the Epistle on a regular basis–for decades.  These ‘exceptions’ may be barred in our legalistic culture, but they happen all the time in traditional cultures.

Also, I made Photina something of an Every-woman.  She had a good marriage and a bad marriage, healthy children and a crippled child.  She had the range of experiences that women would have.  But I had to struggle to come up with five marriages.  And really, there are only two.

The Samaritans

Once I decided on Photina as the main character for my novel I needed to learn more about the Samaritans.  I drew on quite a few books, and will mention more of them later, but the one I found most helpful was The Samaritan Problem:  Studies in the Relationships of Samaritanism, Judaism, and Early Christianity by John Bowman. (Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series #4; Pickwick Press, 1975; translated by Alfred M. Johnson, Jr.)  John Bowman was a German scholar who studied the history and theology of the Samaritans.  He had a thorough knowledge of the languages and texts of ancient scriptures.  But he also had the ability to “put two and two together”–a quality I came to value greatly.  He could relate images and ideas from different writings and make connections that were insightful.  I read many books written from a narrow scholarly interest that gave good information but lacked this quality of being able to put things together.   Bowman helped me gain a picture of the life of Samaritans at the time of Christ, and the role of Samaritan converts in the early Church. Here are some highlights about the first century Samaritans.

  • They only recognized the Pentateuch as scripture, and used a slightly different version than the Jews.  Also, most of the scriptural references in the New Testament are taken from the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch.
  • There were more Samaritans than Judeans in the first century (Samaria was a much larger area than Judea).
  • There was a large Samaritan diaspora as well as a Jewish one in the Mediterranean ports and trading cities.  Samaritan traders had settlements in these cities, and had their own synagogues, which archaeologists distinguish from Jewish synagogues by their differing inscriptions.
  • In the first century the Samaritans living in their homeland were a rural people, living on farms and in villages.  Their temple and major city (Shechem) had been destroyed around 128 B.C. by the army of John Hyrcanus, a leader of the Hasmoneans who ruled Judea and the Jerusalem Temple.  (There was a large city called Samaria, but it was built by the Romans).  This destruction by the Judean rulers deepened the alienation between the two sections of what had once been the Davidic kingdom, and was expressed in mutual vitriol.
  • This alienation was expressed in Jewish scripture with a reference to the Samaritan people as ‘Cutheans’ descended from foreigners settled in the land after it was conquered in the 8th century B.C.  But this appears to have been a politically motivated libel.  There is evidence that a considerable number of Israelite peoples still lived in Samaria, and practiced what they believed to be the original and true Israelite religion as given by the prophet Moses.  This is supported by the passage in John 4, where Jesus recognizes the people he meets at Sychar as descendents of the patriarchs and as practicing Israelite religion.
  • Jewish rabbis of the time criticized the Samaritans for political differences, especially their refusal to recognize the Jerusalem Temple–nor to submit to rule by the Judean theocracy.  But one source said they never criticized the Samaritans for any breach in the moral law given by Moses.  In other words, it was acknowledged that they kept the moral laws set forth in the Pentateuch.  This led me to see the Samaritans of this time and place as a rural people little affected by the inroads of Greek and Roman culture; living a simple traditional life much like that of their Old Testament ancestors, and perhaps similar to the Mennonites in our culture today.

Photina: A Woman Disciple of Jesus


A Historical Novel in Three Volumes

By Martha E. Pearl

Volume One:  “The Samaritan Woman at the Well Meets Jesus of Nazareth”   This first volume tells of the early life of Photina, the Samaritan Woman in John 4, up to the time she meets Jesus at Jakob’s Well.  There she is called to discipleship.  Following the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, she becomes a missionary.  Together with her sons Joseph and Jakob, Photina helps spread the gospel to Edessa and East Syria.

Volume Two:  “The Missionary Journeys to North Africa”   Photina is sent as a missionary to Carthage, accompanied by three of her sisters and her son Jakob, a merchant who brings healing herbs.  They preach the Word and find followers among the Samaritan and Jewish diasporas in the coastal cities of North Africa.  Then they venture into Numidia, the interior region where the Berber tribes live, and also find eager adherents to Jesus’ teachings among these independent people.

Volume Three:  “A Voice In Rome”   Photina and her younger sister Huldah come to Rome and are put under house arrest there from 62 to 64 AD.  Though confined to their apartment, people from many walks of life come to them to hear the Word.  The Samaritan sisters have conversations with Stoic and Cynic philosophers, with shopkeepers and slaves and artisans and some aristocratic women, and also with the Apostle Paul.  After the Great Fire in 64 AD, they are imprisoned with other Christians.  Nero places blame for the Fire on them and many are executed.  In the end, Photina and Huldah die, but the seeds of the gospel which they have planted live on.

This trilogy is currently published as an ebook on Amazon Kindle.  If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.  Otherwise it is 5.99 for each volume.  I intend to publish it in print form as soon as possible.

This blog is to provide background for the novel.  It will relate historical and scholarly research used in the writing, as well as the theological purpose and thinking behind the work.  It attempts to give a much broader background to the missionary efforts of that first generation of Jesus’ disciples who did such extraordinary work in spreading the gospel.  While the Book of Acts and Paul’s Letters largely focus on the Greco-Roman cities, Christianity was more readily and broadly accepted in areas such as Edessa and Syria, Armenia and Adiabene, North Africa and Ethiopia, where there were large Israelite diaspora populations receptive to Jesus’ teachings.  This novel tries to give the modern reader a little wider view of how the seeds of the gospel were sown in a some of these places, and of how women participated in this work.

John 4: Translating Verse 18

Modern readers may tend to be dismissive of St. Photina.  For one, she is not named in John’s gospel, and many readers are either not familiar with lives of the saints or are dismissive of them.  Most Protestant readers will not be familiar even with her name.

The other reason is more subtle.  Starting in the 4th and 5th centuries, after the church merged with the Roman Empire, there was a tendency to see all the women in the gospels (except the Virgin Mary) as sinful.  They were sexualized in a negative way.  This happened as the attitudes of Greek philosophy and Roman society came into the church and women’s status diminished.

The first scholarly book I read that was really helpful about this was The Story of Creation by Calum M. Carmichael.  (Cornell Univ. Press, 1996)   John 4:18 is usually translated:  “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband, (RSV)” suggesting she is living in sin with a man not her husband.  But Calum Carmichael suggests a better translation, saying that in this second phrase  “Jesus probably means himself.  He is removing himself from an ordinary sexual association with her so that she comprehends who he really is.  Her response to his talk about husbands is:  ‘Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.'”  (p. 196-107)

Readers generally take the usual translation to indicate a criticism by Jesus of the Samaritan woman for sexual immorality.  From this they assume she is not to be taken seriously.  But the rest of the conversation in John 4 indicates she is to be taken quite seriously.  Jesus engages her respectfully and draws her into a long theological conversation.  She is also respected by the villagers she tells about Jesus.  They take her claims about him as credible and believe what she says.  If she were considered immoral, this would not be the case.

Carmichael’s reading of John 4:18 removes the stigma of Photina as living with a man who is not her husband.  As he says, the purpose of the phrase “the one before you now is not a husband” is to raise her perceptions to another level, not to charge her with sexual impropriety.

Carmichael has some other insights in regard to the Samaritan woman that are interesting.  He sees the early chapters of John’s gospel as recapitulating the days of Creation in Genesis (just as the liturgies in the Jerusalem Temple did).  He associates Photina with the sixth day of creation.  “(Jesus) re-creates the Samaritan woman by making her a well of living water.  Her re-creation harks back to the creation of the male-female relationship of the sixth day of creation. (p. 105)”    This echoes the 2 passages in Jeremiah noted in Posting #1, where Yahweh calls himself “a fountain of living waters.”  This implies that Photina has been re-created in the image of God, transcending the sexual denigration of women in the intervening centuries.

Carmichael  notes other associations made between Photina and earlier scripture.  “She meets Jesus at Jacob’s well at high noon…precisely the odd time …when the patriarch Jacob met his future wife Rachel (Gen 29:7)”  He also sees her as associated with the language of sexual love in Proverbs and in the Song of Songs.  (p. 105-6)  Thus she is linked to the command to “be fruitful and multiply” and to the sexual symbolism associated with water, not in a derogatory way but as a blessed transmission of generations.

But then we see a transformation, a “switch from Jesus’ sexual relationship to the woman to his role as her creator…”(p. 107).  “…she produces offspring–in the sense of new believers in Jesus as the Messiah.” (p. 107-8)

Thus the Samaritan woman takes part in the new creation once her godly image is renewed by Jesus.

John 4: “Who Was Photina?”

This passage in John’s gospel tells us a bit about Photina and Jesus’ regard for her.

But who was Photina and how do we know her name?  For she is not named in John’s gospel.

Saint Photina (Photeine in Greek) is remembered in church annals and tradition as a martyr and an apostolos, or “Equal to the Apostles.”  She is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church on February 26th and on the fourth Sunday after Easter.  In the Roman Catholic Church, her day is on March 20th.

Over the centuries the biography of the saint has been re-written to suit the times.  For instance, the Samaritan names have all been replaced by Greek ones.  Not likely!  But setting aside later additions and changes, certain central facts remain that seem credible historically.  These are:  she had five sisters; she had two sons who went on missionary journeys with her; she was present at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was received; she was sent by the Apostolic Council as a missionary to Carthage and North Africa; she spent the years 62 to 64 AD in Rome, spoke before Nero, and died during or shortly after the Neronian persecution in 64 AD.

The accounts of Photina’s life I have seen online are poor.  I recommend those in two books by Eva Topping:  Holy Mothers of Orthodoxy (1987, pp.56-58) and Saints and Sisterhood (1990, pp. 134-141).  Both are published by Light and Life Publishing.

I built the narrative of my novel on these basic facts.  They were a skeletal structure  I then needed to fill out.  I did a lot of reading and research to gain a sense of what it was like to live in that time and place.  Yet ultimately my story depended also on making plausible conjectures and on intuition.  The world  has not changed entirely.  I posit human nature as a basically constant reality.

Now you know a little more about this person obscured by 2000 years of time and cultural distance.  I hope that if you read my novel you will come away with the sense of a living person whom you have come to know.

John 4: Photina’s calling

The previous post described the ‘ground’ on which the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman takes place.  Now let’s look at Photina herself and what the passage says about her–and about women in that first generation of the church.

First of all, Jesus starts the conversation with her–breaking with social conventions of that time.  The Samaritan woman, known as Photina in the annals of the church, reacts to the impropriety of this.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”  “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”  (John 4:9)   It was also improper for a man, especially a rabbi, to address a woman who was a stranger.  In his answer, Jesus rejects the social proprieties and insists on pursuing a theological conversation with this stranger who is both a woman and a Samaritan.

Gradually she gets over her shock and is intrigued by what he is saying.  It is clear that Jesus has addressed her because he knows she will understand what he is saying.  He has a perception of her soul.   He speaks to her of spiritual matters.  She raises her sights as he speaks.  At last she recognizes him as the messiah, ‘the savior of the world.’

There are assumptions made in this passage.

1)  It assumes the validity of Photina’s Israelite inheritance and her right, as a woman, to be a representative of it.  Jesus, with his sight rooted in the divine as well as the earth, recognizes something in this woman.  The passage is highly unusual in that he assumes that this woman whom he has just met can understand his teachings at a high level and can recognize his spiritual mission.

2) It describes a call to discipleship.  It is not just an idle conversation.  This is the fifth in a series of calls to discipleship in John’s gospel.  First Jesus calls Andrew and Simon Peter (John 1:37-42); then Philip (John 1:43-44); Nathaniel (John 1:44-51) and Nicodemus (John 3:1-12).   Photina is the only woman whose calling is described, and it is the longest, which emphasizes its importance.

In this passage Jesus deals with the social barriers to women’s discipleship.  He overthrows those barriers.  When his disciples return from the village and find him talking with Photina, they are shocked (just as she was at first).  But Jesus turns aside their objections, and they accept his action.  One has to assume that John portrays this scene in order to affirm that Jesus called women to full discipleship.  He broke with social conventions to do so, and expected his male disciples to do the same.  It is possible that this narrative was included by John to make this point.  He wrote his gospel some 20 to 30 years later than the synoptic gospels.  It may be that he saw the church beginning to relapse into the social conventions that excluded women, and wanted to point out clearly that Jesus himself initiated this break with the customs of the time.  This passage also affirms the Samaritans as worthy followers.  Both women and Samaritans were large and important groups of those who adopted Christianity in the first century.

What more do we need than this passage in John’s gospel to validate women’s full participation in the church?

Moreover, Photina comes quickly to see Jesus’ full role, not only as a prophet but also as the Messiah and Savior of the World.  She begins immediately to act as an apostle (missionary), bringing other villagers to accept her discovery.  In this she is often contrasted with Nicodemus, whom Jesus calls with words of spiritual truth, but who is unable to fully grasp what Jesus is saying.

John 4: 4-42 “Context”

Once I decided to write something describing women’s role in the early church, I looked for a text or story to base it on.  I especially wanted to place it within that first circle of disciples who were taught by Jesus himself. I settled on this passage in John’s gospel where Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the Well.  It is one of the longest passages in the New Testament.  A straightforward reading leads to significant implications.  There are references to Old Testament scripture, including verses in Genesis, Joshua and Jeremiah. (You will find these in the footnotes of your bible’s text).  These help set the context for the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The O.T. references to Genesis and Joshua establish the history of this piece of ground on which they are standing as they talk.  It was bought by Jakob and given to his son Joseph.  Thereafter it was inherited by Joseph’s descendants.  In Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:13, Yahweh calls himself “a fountain of living waters,” setting the central image. This passage establishes physical and historical facts; a religious and cultural continuity.  The conversation Jesus initiates with the Samaritan woman begins by affirming her link with this heritage.  She is recognized as a representative of this ancient tradition.  As she listen’s to the Master’s words, her sights are raised to recognize a transformation of that past–a change he himself is bringing. As elsewhere in John’s gospel, we are given a baseline of outer experience and context.  Then our sights are raised to see the transcendent, the moral and spiritual realities connected with the outer experience, and the response God wants from us. In this passage in John 4, after the inheritance from the past is recognized, we are shown contrasts to that past.  Jesus shows how his own mission is bringing new spiritual growth to the descendents of the patriarchs and matriarchs.  He tells the woman that worship in a temple is no longer necessary. (This means leaving behind the cult of animal sacrifice and the cultic priesthood).  Instead, Yahweh is calling humanity as a whole to a higher form of worship “in spirit and truth.” In other words, the passage first establishes its roots in the past, then leads us toward a transformation of that inheritance.  The new worship Yahweh desires from us is a more inward spiritual effort.  It also applies to all humanity, not just to Abraham’s descendents.  Thus this passage in John resonates with the universalizing words of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  (I will address Jeremiah 31 in a later post).  But Jesus speaks of this change as happening now.  He authorizes it. This is just a brief setting of the context in which the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman takes place.