The Samaritan Woman
The Samaritan woman by the well is victim of much the same unnecessary sexualization as Mary Magdalene. Like Mary Magdalene, modern interpreters assume that the Samaritan woman was an adulteress or a serial divorcee due to the number of husbands she had in the past. This interpretation, however, makes little sense when examined in the context of the culture of the ancient Middle East.
In the ancient Middle East, a woman could not ask for a divorce. Instead, she had to request the intervention of a male relative. If the Samaritan woman was a serial divorcee, she would have successfully talked a brother, uncle or her father into intervening on her behalf five separate times. That would be an impressive gift of persuasion, but it is highly unlikely. Instead, the Samaritan woman was probably a widow several times over. Mortality rates were high in the ancient world, and remarriage was common. Israelite law, for example, required that a man marry his brother’s widow. Given that women often married younger than men, it was more common for a widow to remarry than a widower. As such, it is reasonable to assume that the Samaritan woman outlived several older husbands, and the current man had not given her the dowry document that formalized marriage. This would render her a concubine, a position common in the ancient world, or she could have been his second, and less loved, wife.
The interpretation that she was an adulteress is even more unlikely. The Samaritan woman has been married repeatedly. Assuming she was a serial adulteress would mean that four men married a woman known to stray from her husband. This is extremely unlikely given the importance placed on knowing a child’s paternity in an age before DNA testing. Also, adulterers were normally executed, and the Samaritan woman is clearly still alive and healthy.