Hanging Out, Sharing Cups, or Getting Help? The Meaning of Συγχράομαι in John 4:9

In John 4:9, most translations render the phrase οὐ γὰρ συγχρῶνται Ἰουδαῖοι Σαμαρίταις as “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (or similar). A few newer translations (NRSV, NET) and several commentaries, following a 1950 article by D. Daube, render it as “Jews do not share vessels with Samaritans.” The translation “share vessels” has two main problems. First, it is grammatically almost impossible, since συγχράομαι always takes the dative as an object, not as a coordinate subject. Some συν- prefixed verbs (such as συγχαίρω and συνεσθίω) use the dative as a coordinate subject, someone who participates in the action: “rejoice with X”, “eat with X.” However, συγχράομαι belongs to a category of συν- prefixed verbs (such as συνακολουθέω and συντάσσω) where the dative object is always the recipient of the action, not someone who participates in the action. Thus the dative Σαμαρίταις must be the object of the verb, and cannot be translated as participating in the action. Second, this translation is unlikely because there is no evidence that ancient readers would supply the word “vessels,” especially since all uses of the verb in antiquity contain an explicit object, almost always in the dative.

The other proposed translation for συγχράομαι, “associate with” has meager ancient evidence. The evidence that is usually proposed consists of examples that more likely use συγχράομαι with one of its other common meanings, or examples that are too late to provide useful evidence for NT usage. Strangely, the major lexica (BDAG, BrillDAG, LSJ and M-M) all have demonstrably mistaken references to ancient literature in support of one or another of these proposed meanings.

Literature on the Gospel of John oddly does not propose using the most common meaning of συγχράομαι when the object is a person: rely upon, get help from, be aided by, employ – all phrases used in standard Loeb translations for συγχράομαι when the object is a person. This paper summarizes and categorizes the uses of συγχράομαι in all of ancient Greek literature and papyri, suggests corrections for the major lexica entries, and finds that the most likely meaning in the context of John 4:9 is “rely upon” “get help from” or similar. The woman finds it odd that Jesus is requesting help from her, as Jews do not get help from Samaritans. Interestingly, this is one of Josephus’ complaints about Samaritans: they claim to be related to the Jewish people when it is convenient, but deny the relationship when Jewish people are in need (Ant 9.291).

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