Note: This is a fictional reflection on the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well. Nothing in this story is intended to add anything to the Scriptures. Rather, it is only a personal reflection, a inspired look into what might have been, not to be confused with what actually was. The author has tried to remain as true to the laws and customs of Samaria in that period, as possible, but is in no way implying that it tells the Samaritan woman’s actual story in any more detail than is offered by the Gospel story itself. If you haven’t already read the first two installments, please do so first.
A Woman Cursed
I was betrothed to my first husband, Jacob, at the age of 15 and we were married one year later. He was good looking and I was in love. My parents were wise in choosing him for me and Jacob was equally happy with me.
“She is the most beautiful of all the daughters of Samaria,” Jacob said to my father. My father, knowing that love sometimes makes a person exaggerate, expressed his own love for me in his reply, “She is indeed, and I expect you to guard that beauty with your life!”
Jacob had five brothers and two sisters. They were a large, happy family and I was glad to be a part of it. According to the Law of Moses, a newly married man had to be free at home from war, or any business, for the sake of his wife’s happiness. Our first year of marriage, therefore, was full of all the blissful happiness afforded a young couple of our culture.
By the end of that year, I was with child, and Jacob was called away on an important journey that lasted three months. When he returned, he was delighted to hold his baby boy, Joseph, in his arms for the first time. My husband was not well, however, having contracted a wasting disease during his travels. He suffered, grew weak, and on the third day of the second month after his return, my husband died in my arms.
Before he died, he conferred the blessing of inheritance on his son and he also blessed me, praying to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for our protection and provision. I had grown up with a strong faith in the Most High God, thanks to my parents who never thought much of our infamous, Samaritan superstitions, which many unfortunately still practiced in my day. We were called “unclean half-breeds” by the Jews, and were thought unfaithful and unworthy of the title Children of Abraham.
My father would try to comfort me in my time of mourning with words of the great prophet Isaiah, “God’s ways are not our ways,” he would say. “Don’t worry, little bird, things will work out for the best in the end; our God is a kind and merciful God, even though at times it may seem otherwise.” He liked to call me his little bird. I am not sure why, but I always liked it.
According to our law, it is the duty of a brother of the deceased to take his widow as wife, not only to provide a home for the children, but most especially to maintain their heritage. So, Jacob’s brother Daniel took me in as his second bride. Unfortunately, Rebbecca his first wife was extremely jealous and I could not go near him. Even though I would be expected to bear him children, she would have none of it.
One day, taking advantage of his love for her, Rebbecca convinced Daniel to divorce me. She had no right to demand exclusivity, according to the law, and it was certainly not the norm according to our customs. Still, it was not unheard of that a man of rare character might chose to have only one wife. As for me, I certainly I did not appreciate it at the time! But, Rebbecca made my life pretty miserable in that house, so when Daniel finally announced he had arranged for a quiet divorce and would give me over to his unmarried brother Seth, I was actually relieved.
Seth was Daniel’s younger brother, a ruggedly handsome young man and a skilled archer. He reluctantly agreed to take me as his wife. Just before the certificate of divorce was signed and handed to me, in an unfathomable tragedy, Daniel died. He was out tending the flock, when a sudden lightning storm caught them by surprise. As they rushed to herd the sheep into shelter, a bolt of lightning struck and killed Daniel on the spot.
My wedding was postponed until after the burial. The weight of that family’s grief on top of my own was crushing. Now they had lost two sons, and I had lost two husbands. Soon I began hearing the word accursed associated with my name.
Seth was also grieving. We did not go near each other at first. Every time one of us drew close to the other for comfort, one of us would say or do something hurtful and we ended up fighting. One night Seth would not stop drinking until he became completely obnoxious. I had left his presence and closed my door, but he barged in and forced himself on me with such violence I bore the marks for a long time afterward. Worse than the physical wounds, though, were the invisible wounds of the heart. I cried for days after that, and would not eat. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and die. My soul was overwhelmed with grief and shame. I asked him for a divorce, but he refused.
“Are you now proposing to shame my brother’s memory by divorcing yourself from me and taking his heir away from his family? No! You will stay here. You will do your duty and raise your son to be a honorable member of this family!”
Seth rarely came to me after that. When he did it was usually when he had too much to drink, but I no longer fought him. I knew what my obligations were. For his part he was stuck with a wife he didn’t love, while a dark cloud of suspicion haunted him: Is she the bearer of a mysterious curse that killed my brothers?
“I don’t care what you think!” I shouted at him one day. I was broken, empty, angry, and tired. And now, I had another child on the way with nowhere to turn. Seth became embittered and increasingly abusive toward me. Finally, after two years he took to himself a second wife. I would hear them laughing and enjoying one another. Seeing how he loved her caused me more pain than all the harsh treatment ever could. Once, I was cherished; once, I was someone’s beloved. Now, I could only feel the gnawing pain of missing that love. It tore at my being, especially at night. Sleep would come to grant me respite only after much quiet weeping.
Days became like sand sifting through my fingers. My life was slipping away. Yet somehow, through the clouds the sun insisted on bringing a new day of hope. Soon my second child, my little Hannah, was born. She and Joseph, now three, were my rays of sunshine. I could look into their wide, innocent eyes, and my heart would glow with joy.
The days were made bearable, even somewhat enjoyable, by my daily chores. The happy couple found me useful and they had plenty for me to do, so I never had time to sit and mope. One thing I did enjoy was going out to the well every day to fetch water, and also at times to do laundry down at the watershed. There, I would have a chance to talk to other women, both friends and relatives, learn the latest village news, and listen to their amusing stories.
Our laughter washed away the sorrow, as water washed away the dirt from our clothes. All the while, our children played together, and the joyful sounds of their giggles and squeals echoed off the surrounding hills.
I was finally beginning to settle into a routine of life, odd though it was, living in this household more as a handmaid than a wife. Seth was not so mean anymore since finding happiness in a new wife. In my youthful resilience I found ways to cope, and was managing quite well, when suddenly it all ended.
Seth was a hunter and a good one. He was off on a hunt with his companions one day, when an arrow from one of his closest comrades accidentally shot straight into Seth’s heart. The young man toppled to the ground, never to rise again. His friend protested that he had aimed the arrow at a lion poised on a high rock behind Seth. The animal was about to pounce. In a reflexive response, without warning, his friend shot the arrow. That very instant Seth moved into the arrow’s path.
Now, I had to face a third funeral. The thought of it was unbearable, the pain incomprehensible.
“Not again!” I cried to the heavens. “This cannot be!” As we buried my third husband, I knew my life was over. I grieved for poor Seth, who despite all his faults was too young and vibrant to die; I felt compassion for his young wife of just one year, and I feared for myself. What will become of me and my children? No one will have me now! I thought. A pawl of self-hatred, fear, and sorrow settled on me. Seth’s words, once spoken in violent drunkenness, now haunted me, “You’ll be the death of me, you accursed woman!”