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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2006

17 - John and the Johannine literature The woman at the well

from Part 2 - Biblical books in modern interpretation



Of all the writings of the Bible none is more obviously an integrated whole than the Gospel of John. The first-time reader lionized by reader-response critics is sure to find it, as David Friedrich Strauss famously did, a 'seamless garment'. Its themes (judgement, mission, revelation, truth) and symbols (light, water, bread, healing, life) are skilfully interwoven into the familiar gospel story of Jesus' brief career as a teacher and wonder-worker, with its dramatic ending of death and resurrection. In this, the fourth version of the story, the parts are more than usually representative of the whole. Besides the sustained self-allusiveness consequential upon the evangelist's interpenetrative technique, the reason for this is that once under way the story is dominated throughout by the powerful presence of Jesus, who keeps introducing fresh variations on the single theme of life-giving revelation. This is what justifies the synecdochic approach of the present chapter. In John 4 the Samaritan woman, passing from incredulity to belief, invites a similar response from the readers of the Gospel. Those acquainted with the whole Gospel know that the same invitation is issued on almost every page: any episode of comparable length could be used, as this one is here, to illustrate models of interpretation.