The Sychar Story as a Standard Conversion Narrative in Heracleon’s Hypomnēmata

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

15 Downloads (Pure)


The second-century literary critic Heracleon has long been thought to interpret the story of Jesus’s encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (John 4:1–42) as a paradigmatic conversion narrative for a particular group of people: those born with a spiritual nature, who therefore are predestined to be saved, and only need to be apprised of this fact. This common view is problematic, since such a deterministic soteriology is unattested in extant quotations from Heracleon’s hypomnēmata, and only appears when Origen of Alexandria (ca. 185–254 CE) brings it in to refute Heracleon’s views. This paper compares Heracleon’s comments, as they can be constructed from Origen’s references, to four modern conceptualizations of ancient religious and philosophical conversion: a recognition of one’s superior nature (Pagels 1973), a deliberate change of perspectives (Nock 1933; MacMullen 1984), a transition of rhetorically expressed loyalty (Crook 2004), and a prolonged social process (Rambo 1993; Brandt 2019; Brandt 2020). It concludes that Heracleon views Christian conversion as a deliberate rejection of Gentile and Jewish worship traditions in favor of a Christian one, preceded by a shorter or longer process of interaction with Christian believers, who act as witnesses and spiritual guides to the potential converts. Thereby, Heracleon’s concept of conversion comprises essential points from several modern conceptualizations of conversion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReligious and Philosophical Conversion in the Ancient Mediterranean Traditions
EditorsAthanasios Despotis, Hermut Löhr
Place of PublicationLeiden
ISBN (Electronic)978-90-04-50177-5
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-50177-5, 978-90-04-50177-5, 978-90-04-50176-8
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2022
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book

Publication series

NameAncient Philosophy & Religion
ISSN (Print)2542-3576


Dive into the research topics of 'The Sychar Story as a Standard Conversion Narrative in Heracleon’s Hypomnēmata'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this