Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Samaritan Messiah, the Taheb

In studying the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, I was struck by the statement of the woman "I know that Messiah is coming (the one called Christ); whenever he comes, he will tell us everything" (4:25). While I did not know much about the Samaritans, I did know that they only viewed the Torah as sacred Scripture. So I wondered how a Samaritan would not only have had a belief in Messiah, but would have referred to him as such.

There are obviously two levels that must be kept in mind when dealing with a question like this. The first is what is most likely historically and second what can we assert John himself crafted in his telling of the story?

The answer to the first question is that in fact Samaritans did have a concept of an eschatological figure (in this sense a Messiah) called the Taheb, although the term comes from a 4th c. Samaritan text (cf. Marqah Memar 4:7, 12). The word means restorer (when not a proper name "repentant") and is linked with the expectation of a prophet like Moses who will arise (Deut. 18:15, 18; cf. John 1:21).

Thus, it is likely that the woman and her community held the belief in a Messanic figure, but did not refer to him as the "Messiah", but perhaps "a prophet" (John 4:19). It is possible historically that the Samaritan woman used the term that Jews would most commonly use to refer to this eschatological figure seeing that she was in dialogue with a Jew. More likely however, is that John in reporting the event uses the Hebrew/Aramaic term Messiah.

For more information on the Samaritans see

1 comment:

Peter Kirk said...

I wonder if John 4:25 is not so much an expression of the woman's belief as what might technically be called "echoic utterance". That is to say, what the woman really means is something like: "I know what you would say: 'The Messiah is coming...'".

But then I wonder how much anyone actually knows about Samaritan beliefs in the 1st century. Maybe at that time they did call the one they were expecting "Messiah", and only later (perhaps in reaction to Christianity) changed the name to "Taheb".