JOHN 8:5

.... on adultery.....

In the Bible, one of the most controversal and much-discussed stories is the "the woman taken in adultery. . ." (or the Pericope Adulterae) from the Gospel of John. Although this story was not present in some of earliest New Testament texts which been a cause of debate as to its authenticity, the content itself presents unsettled problems in the context of the New Testament. Within the scholarly confusion of interpreting this text, the reader finds upon closer examination unexplained details in the content. In this paper I explore these loose threads from the point of view of an "alien" or "space traveler" by trying to look at this New Testament text for a very first time in order to get a fresh reactions and a new perspective. In particular, I will explore the section of the story where Jesus was writing on the ground and speculate that Jesus had gone into a meditative or trance-like state, an action, to the best of my knowledge, undocumented in the rest of the NT Bible.

Although this famous passage is probably in everyone's memory, I have provided the text from the King James version below for your reference:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

As time goes on and scholarship continues to grow, there may be no end of the discussion of when this passage was actually created and where it was intended to belong in the biblical context. Was this a real and authentic passage, or perhaps an addition from one of the succeeding centuries? Some have argued through linguistical analysis that this passage was inconsistent with the wording and language of the Gospel author of John and thus added later, while others conclude through similar analysis that the passage was indeed consistent with the time period and authentic. However biblical scholars all agree that the imagery and purpose of this story is powerful and fits the broad corpus of the gospel texts.

It is strange that this important passages does not have a firm location in the gospel of John. We find it located at John 8:1-11 in the KJ, present in the Greek version of the text used for the 1611 KJ translation, but omitted from many translations. It is not found at the place in John 8 in some translations where there verse numbers are simply omitted, while the passage is often located at the very end of this gospel. Behind this hesitant assignment of location, lies an ancient question about the identity of this passage. In fact it is found in more of the early Greek MSS than those which omit it, while it is a regularly accepted part of the bible of the various Eastern Churches. This brings us to a quick-sand world of biblical scholarship with problems based on various views of the manuscript authority, on the Eastern and the Western traditions, on the suitability of the writing as well as the content of the passage within the context of the gospel tradition, as well as preferences within the religious tradition of two millennia of Christian thought. I cite in an Appendix below some remarks about these problems from the pen of a researcher skilled in knowledge of the Eastern Tradition, with materials for which I have permission to relay from personal communications.

To understand this story, much depends on reviewing Greek text as the ultimate source of this story. In order to have the Greek at hand, I give it here for reference in standard transcription. (Accents were never used in the early MSS, and I cannot reproduce the uncials of the early text, so the Roman code characters easily decoded will have to suffice. Further discussion can refer back to this version when needed). For those new to this format, q=th, c=ch, f=ph, w=omega, h=eta etc.

ihsous de eporeuqh eis to oros twn elaiwn. orqrou de palin paregeneto eis to ieron, kai pas o laos hrceto pros auton, kai kaqisas edidasken autous. agousin de oi grammateis kai oi farisaioi gunaika epi moiceia kateilhmmenhn, kai sthsantes authn en mesw legousin autw, didaskale, auth h gunh kateilhptai ep autofwrw moiceuomenh: en de tw nomw hmin mwushs eneteilato tas toiautas liqazein: su oun ti legeis; touto de elegon peirazontes auton, ina ecwsin kathgorein autou. o de ihsous katw kuyas tw daktulw kategrafen eis thn ghn. ws de epemenon erwtwntes auton, anekuyen kai eipen autois, o anamarthtos umwn prwtos ep authn baletw liqon: kai palin katakuyas egrafen eis thn ghn. oi de akousantes exhrconto eis kaq eis arxamenoi apo twn presbuterwn, kai kateleifqh monos, kai h gunh en mesw ousa. anakuyas de o ihsous eipen auth, gunai, pou eisin; oudeis se katekrinen; h de eipen, oudeis, kurie. eipen de o ihsous, oude egw se katakrinw: poreuou, [kai] apo tou nun mhketi amartane.

Regarding some interesting points in the words themselves. I have counted some 162 words in the Greek compared to XX words in the KJ version, and accounted for some 46 "events" or notable actions, which gives a very fast narrative ratio of 3.5 event/word to the slower 5.1/events per word for the King James bible. This tells us that the Greek MSS reads much faster than English translations and may be designed more for the oral traditions of early Christians in the 1st-3rd c. AD.

There may be no end of the discussion of where this passage actually belongs. If it is not locatable somewhere , the question arises as to whether it is a real and authentic passage, or perhaps an addition from one of the succeeding centuries. Some have felt that they can see late traces in the language and wording, others feel that the passage is quite authentic; but nobody would argue that the content is weak or unsuitable to the corpus of the gospel literature. While the Gospel of John differs in many theological respects from the other three gospels from a spiritual and social standpoint, this passage can hardly be dismissed as un-Biblical in spirit and illustrates the self-awareness and recognition of guilt that are cornerstones of Christian theology.

Aside from the passage's location and debated authenicity, both of whom may never be resolved in our lifetimes, another question must be addressed. Many scholars examine the wording to see if those of those words and phrases are consistent with the style of John or the language of the first century. I choose to take another path. I want to examine the content and imagry without reference to any previous knowledge of the stories' background and academic studies, viewing the story rather as an assembly of words describing a self-contained situation. Through this method we may get a fresh and novel view of what the passage actually says. By studying the style and progression of the pericope adulterae from the persective of a careful writer or reporter documenting a scene just witnessed (without drawing from the controversial background or previous knowledge of the text), we may come up with some interesting conclusions.

Now let us go on to look at the sequence of events in this remarkable passage, and focus a special attention on some of the critical words in the original, on which the sense of the passage depends.


In this examination, I noted about four dozen so-called 'events' in this passage, starting from the very first words. I have capitalized words which represent what I call 'events'.

The first event is the specific Place of the olive orchard where Jesus is going Early, and then onwards to the Temple where a Crowd gathered where he is Sitting teaching them. This cycle of events can be found in just the first 32 words. Then the narrative continues with bringing in the Woman caught in Adultery on the Spot live ('autophoros' often omitted in translation), and then the Charges based on Mosaic Law and the Stoning to death. Now change the scene to the perspective of the priests: "What say you. . . .?" , angrily Accusing as a trick to indict Jesus. This is a tightly packed introduction of fast-pace events.

Now we come to something odd ion the following events:

From his teacher's chair where he was sitting, Jesus stoops forward far enough to touch the ground, something noted in the Greek with the words 'me prospoioumenos'.

We have to stop here because there are problems with the words. First we have the words 'kato: kupsas' or "leaning over, downwards" and touching the ground (ge:n) with his finger. The Greek says 'he wrote' (egrapse) but the Greek word can also refer to making a mark, as in Homer 'the spear scratched (grapho) the shield" or in geometry "draw a line" or in painting "sketch a portrait from life". We find all these uses as well as writing words with meaning. But two words "me prospoioumenos", follow the writing verb, which we do not find in some translations. These omitted words are hard to translate, they mean something like "not intending, without specific content or meaning". In other words the "writing" was specified as a nervous scraping or a touching with the finger. If you leave out these two words, you might think, as commentators have assumed, that Jesus was writing down the charge, or the names of men. But leave them in and you have an entirely different picture as Jesus leans out of his chair and stays in that position tapping the ground nervously. A most unusual and rare drawing of Rembrandt vividly portrays this action, which we will discuss later.

The story continues with the crowd interrogating and he finally stands up with the famous line: "He without sin, let him throw stones", but then Jesus assumes a strange position, stooped down and fingering the ground. He apparently remains in this off-balance position for quite a while, becoming conscience stricken while the crowd starts to disassemble with the older men first. This event must have taken some time to complete as a crowd does not disappear in the blink of an eye. During this time Jesus remains in this awkward, bent over position, apparently lost in thought, distant from the scene, and in some deep meditative seance or trance. While the idea of a deep meditative trance may not be altogether foreign to followers of Christianity in practice, interestly enough, there is no other similar scene for Jesus written in the entire Bible.

He stays in that off balance position twice, bent and leaning over for quite a while, while the men are becoming conscience stricken and slowly start to disassemble, the older men leaving first. This must have take time since a crowd does not disappear instantly, and during this time Jesus remains in a bent over position, apparently lost in thought and distant from the scene, presumably involved in a deep meditative seance or trance.

Then Jesus stands up, coming out of the meditation he is apparently looking around with surprise seeing nobody there, and asks the woman, as if he had been absent: "Did nobody accuse you" [Yes, no one did, master!] And since he was the last one there, still perhaps a little dazed he adds: "And I don't either. Now you go and don't do again. .

The passage must be read slowly and carefully to get the full sense of the words and this interesting idea of Jesus entering a trance through the event of leaning forward and touching the earth with a finger as if drawing a line or mark, or perhaps tapping. The acting of standing up and speaking, then again leaning down for a long time while in a deep reverie, reinforces this unusual depiction of Jesus. When he returns to reality when speaking with the woman in short and hesitant phrases of forgivingness, the parable is complete..

While the observation of a trance-like state in Jesus is profound, particularly since there is no description of Jesus entering this state elsewhere in the gospels, the actual passage as a whole does not read quite smoothly. It goes from event to event quickly like a bullet-point summary, illustrating each event as an image viewed in a different focus. First the focus is on Jesus sitting and teaching, then accusing the men, then inexplicably entering a leaning posture with a fidgeting finger after interrogating the men. Then surprisingly he leans over again seemingly in a daze, hardly aware of the men as they disperse and slowly disappear. He and the woman are finally there alone on an empty stage if you will and this event is the finale of the whole passage, representing the ultimate forgiveness for a clearly convicted crime.

These events seen to follow a carefully reported scene with all the earmarks of an actual real life situation. Each sentence and each phrase has a clear visual image from the early morning setting in the grove down to Jesus drawing non-verbal figures on the ground as if sketching ('zoe graphein' is the word) some idea from his mind while removed from the deliberations of the angry, accusing men. Since the details of this passage are so real and seem to have a personal element, I believe the scene did actually occur, perhaps based on reported wording and jotted down by a witness with a good memory and skilled pen. Unlike much of the gospel reporting which was written down a good half century after the last days of Jesus, this would seem to be not only a story of value and meaning, but one written from an actual scene in a special 'live report' style. There might have been various reasons for this story not getting onto the desk of the early gospel writers of the Bible. Perhaps it had too much detail about real-life events or it may have been too idiosyncratic in its 'events' or even too edgy with the unique meditation scene, for the early Christian audience.

The story illustrates in beautiful detail the forgiving quality of Jesus' doctrine and was inevitably too good to be set aside, thus turning up in some Greek MSS (if not others lost to history) and it appears even more regularly in the Peshitta of the various Semitic and Coptic Eastern Churches. With a keen reporter's presence and the fascinating and singular element of Jesus's "trance" revealing an enigmatic side to the leader, this story will continue to invite biblical scholars to delve into its many textual layers.


At this point, it might be interesting to cite a passage at John 5 that is roughly similar, and examine it as a matter of contrast and comparison. Does the passage we have been discussing as a special kind of reporting, seem different from a passage about which there has been little question? If similar in style and wording, why would it not have been included at the location in John 5? Let me first give the English and the Greek for the passage at John 5:8 so as to have it here for reference:

After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent (incapacitated) folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The paralytic man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.
Now on the same day it was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, "It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat." He answered them, "The man who made me well told me, 'Take up your mat and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who told you, 'Take it up and walk'?" The man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there. After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him, "Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you." The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."

meta tauta hn eorth twn ioudaiwn, kai anebh ihsous eis ierosoluma. estin de en tois ierosolumois epi th probatikh kolumbhqra h epilegomenh ebraisti bhqzaqa, pente stoas ecousa. en tautais katekeito plhqos twn asqenountwn, tuflwn, cwlwn, xhrwn. hn de tis anqrwpos ekei triakonta [kai] oktw eth ecwn en th asqeneia autou: touton idwn o ihsous katakeimenon, kai gnous oti polun hdh cronon ecei, legei autw, qeleis ugihs genesqai; apekriqh autw o asqenwn, kurie, anqrwpon ouk ecw ina otan taracqh to udwr balh me eis thn kolumbhqran: en w de ercomai egw allos pro emou katabainei. legei autw o ihsous, egeire aron ton krabatton sou kai peripatei. kai euqews egeneto ugihs o anqrwpos, kai hren ton krabatton autou kai periepatei. hn de sabbaton en ekeinh th hmera. elegon oun oi ioudaioi tw teqerapeumenw, sabbaton estin, kai ouk exestin soi arai ton krabatton sou. o de apekriqh autois, o poihsas me ugih ekeinos moi eipen, aron ton krabatton sou kai peripatei. hrwthsan auton, tis estin o anqrwpos o eipwn soi, aron kai peripatei; o de iaqeis ouk hdei tis estin, o gar ihsous exeneusen oclou ontos en tw topw. meta tauta euriskei auton o ihsous en tw ierw kai eipen autw, ide ugihs gegonas: mhketi amartane, ina mh ceiron soi ti genhtai. aphlqen o anqrwpos kai anhggeilen tois ioudaiois oti ihsous estin o poihsas auton ugih. kai dia touto ediwkon oi ioudaioi ton ihsoun, oti tauta epoiei en sabbatw. o de [ihsous] apekrinato autois, o pathr mou ews arti ergazetai, kagw ergazomai. 250 wds

If we look at this text carefully and compare with the John 8 passage, we find similarities in the way Jesus performs his psychological role. In this case the treatment is of a 'hysterical paralytic' incapacitated perhaps by a some form of buried guilt, where the treatment working through an act of faith and forgiveness. As record of an historical guilt case this antecedes modern theory by two thousand years, operating out of a strong religious and spiritual background.

Examining this passage more carefully, I outline a short account of events here: After naming the Pools for ritual washing, and the line of waiting Sufferers, there is the account of the Waters which are rippled by either and Angel or an underground spring source. Then the story of the paralyzed Man who can't get down to the healing waters, who is restored by Jesus' uncomplicated order to "take up thy Bed". In short there are just five succinct events, ending with an abrupt cure without much psychological amplification. There is a similar word-to-event ratio in both John 5 and John 8, so they are not at all verbally disparate. But there is little sense of anyone being actually present at this encounter, it seems a scene which has no unusual wording or detail to mark it as documentary or special. And even Jesus' cure does not have what we might expect - - - a words about release from some hidden Guilt , which many of us have thought the insightful psychological point of this passage. However the passage makes it clear that the real situation involves violation of the Sabbath as a most serious offense, as discussed in the Mishnah deriuved from the texts at Genesis 2 and Exodus 20.8. Yet the passage is still as deep and meaningful as the Adultery pericope, it is a situation of high significance, but it stands without the unusual word and action detailing which we find in the John 8 adultery passage.

I believe this passage at John 5 may be a document related for incorporation at a later date for the writer of John's gospel who was bringing together various materials from an earlier time. It is similar to the adultery episode not only in its detailing, but is different and contrasts with John 8 in the particular event of Jesus becoming lost in an unusual process of meditation. In both passages there is a similar role of the hostile priests seeking information for an inquisition, here for Sabbath violation, there for Mosaic law violation regarding adultery. But notable is the word for Forgiving in both passages, where the text uses the verb "hamartane", which has a very different history and meaning in Greek compared to the KJ translation "sin". The verb "hamartano" was originally used for a spear or arrow missing the mark, later it became "fail in one's purpose" and finally something like "go astray, follow the wrong path".

Now the English word "sin" is very different, it combines notions of evil, of Godlessness, of satanic complicity along with a strong load of guilt, and it would evoke a color of black as its graphic hue. So the factual Greek "harmartia" which is a matter of following a wrong path, is quite applicable to the man who got his cure on the Sabbath and made an infraction of religious law. But the same word is used for the Woman caught in the act of adultery, and there the meaning must be specifically to follow the right path of married life. Since Sin implies will and involves evil acts, ending up with a crushing guilt, it is not the right word for this context, since it uses the same verb as at John 5. Since we do not have a good word for this in English, we must explain the difference between the Greek and the English words as used in this context, as a rather unwieldy footnote of explanation.

In short, it seems that the passages at John 5 and John 8, have certain striking similarities, from the natural setting at the Pool at Bethesda or the Grove of Olives, to the use of the same forgiving term Hamartia being used in both situations, if with some difference of shading. For these reasons it would not seem incongruous to place them together in a continual text from a parallel source, unless the notion of remission of stoning for adultery was an impossible step for a traditional Near Eastern society at that time. But there is still something different and interestingly idiosyncratic about the content of John 8, both the setting of the scene as seated and teaching, the leaning forth and touching the ground with a finger, the psychological dispersing of the crowd, and finally the surprised return to the woman with a simple word of forgiveness. This array of unusual words coupled with unusual actions may be one reason why readers have always been so attracted to that remarkable passage at John 8, even beyond the surprising act of forgiving adultery in a world where death by stoning was an ancient rule and a regular tradition.



Now let me point to some considerations on the history of the text detail relative to John 8, which I have from Pastor Darrell Sutton . a writer and independent researcher living in Red Cloud NE, who has permitted me to insert his comments here. This was not written as a full statement of the textual problem, it is rather a selection of comments on matters we have discussed, involving the NT text in the Near Eastern tradition; this is well known to him but not in my area of competence.

A Note to Professor Harris: This practical piece demonstrates for readers 'how they can apply their tools of textual criticism' when looking for invasive ways to penetrate walls that surround a textual problem. By working from the bottom up (from Greek to English) instead of from the top downward (From translation to text) you were able to feel and recognize things in the structure of the printed matter that others with lesser sensibilities would have passed by. Your comparative linguistic method went further (in my opinion) in proving the intertextual relationship of the 'the woman' and John's other Gospel material than many other historical defenses.

This is one of the more complicated passages in scripture as you well know. But I never could buy into the Westcot & Hort (W&H) theory because of the MS traditions. Their theory of a mid 4th century recension sealed the fate of the Traditional text, understandably. I do not know of many textual critics still writing in support of that Hort's redaction theory, yet at the same time, none have distanced themselves in such a way as to be able to develop an alternative theory. Dallas Theological Seminary personnel, (Hodges, in particular) have pioneered a new path using a sampling of the Byzantine texts in their Majority text Greek version. See also the case for Byzantine priority by Maurice A. Robinson Ph.D. The facts are simple enough:

1. It is true that Jn 7:53-8:11 is not in the texts Aleph and Vatican B but other old Greek MSS (A & C) do have them and they both date roughly to roughlythe same time frame as both Aleph & B. It assumes that they are a part of the royally commissioned MSS from Constantine's day. However they have no colophon or anything on them. And they disagree among themselves 30,000 times.

2. W/H even, attest to the quality of the Œadultery' story's internal character as well as affirm its substantial truth. All of this is recorded in Hort's introduction to the Greek New Testament.

3. The accusations of a different style (hand) of Greek seem somewhat wayward. But you would know this far better than me.

I have never felt that the absence of a passage from a manuscript is a proof of spuriousness. Marcion cut and pasted his way into infamy. He excised all things Jewish, declared the OT God to be different than the NT deity and led his followers into oblivion. Scholz gave us at least 300 cursives that had this text, including uncials like D & F. Papias cites this adultery story and even, Jerome, who studied Hebrew in Israel puts it in his Latin text. At the end of the 4th century when he began his translation he said that he took the best Latin ms and the superior Greek mss and began. He was around in the days of B and Aleph and he did not use them. My supposition is that they were already viewed as faulty, if in fact they were even around as early as then. Think about, they have no antiquity, continuity of usage, or anything that in today's principled society would permit someone to remove a passage of Shakespeare on the basis of a dusty scroll found in an attic with no remarks about its history.

My Approach stated briefly

Knowing all of the above, I approached the story through a seldom used back door. Moshe Gottstein had done some great work with the scholia of the Syriac lectionary mss located in Harvard College library. Therefore, I purchased the Harvard Semitic studies volume #23 and meticulously studied each one myself. Some of these lectionaries predate our earliest mss (including Aleph & B) by a century or more. Now, I realize that Syriac is too narrow a stream to use for this kind of criticism. Even, Hebrew is too weak with so few mss, and the Latin mss are in disarray. But in the Coptic, Amharic, Armenian, Arabic, early Persian and others the Œbad woman' is there. To be sure, most of them are based upon Greek mss, but that is my point There were more mss with it than without it as evidenced by the translations of the early church.

In my authorized Syriac version used in the East there is a note in Aramaic which translated says: ³This story is not in the Peshitta text. But there are older Greek mss in which it is found. Particularly, the text called ŒJerusalem.² To my knowledge, we do not even have this text classified or published.

In reality, the West has controlled scholarly conclusions about Eastern MSS for far too long. They refuse to even consider the lectionaries or even extend to the peoples of the Middle East a proper value or merit to their documents. I have corresponded with many Ivy League critics who see the fallacies of the present textual decisisions, but can't or won't look critically at some of their colleagues 'work' because of complacency or academic fear.

Well, Let me try and move on I feel mired in this and the more hot air I blow the more undisciplined my fingers become.

Stooping man and writing finger

1. I don't know what Jesus was writing in the sand.

2. I don't know of any Semitic figures who have done anything unique with their hands at all.

I do know this. As far as the setting goes, the Scribe's vocation (of letters) had (by Jesus time) evolved into an employment for teachers in synagogues. That the Pharisees were the Œkeepers of oral traditions,' believing that their oral traditions were equal to the written word. The back drop for this narrative is a Temple dominated by Sadducees who were allied to Roman Empire leadership. They, believing only in the written word, were haters of the Pharisees.

Short Commentary

Jesus' entrance into the Temple was to assume the role of teacher. In Mat 23:1 he speaks of Moses' seat. Old synagogue ruins in Israel still have the stone chairs where rabbis issued forth their teachings. Rabbis SAT when they taught. THIS WAS THE RABBINIC WAY! When the scribes & Pharisees disrupted the meeting with the lady caught in adultery, it upset the whole mood. What sayest thou? They were giving Jesus a place reserved only for the Sanhedrin, which was the only council in Israel allowed to render Halakhic (legal) decisions. Moses' seat symbolized the authority of both Moses and the Sanhedrin council. Also, when rabbis took their students on tour of the country, the outside became their classroom. In such cases, Moses' seat was (established) wherever they sat and began to teach. By interrupting his session they were being flagrant in their irreverence and disrespect toward a teacher of disciples.

After the verbal challenge, Jesus stoops (crouches) as they had spoken to him of the lady. This is one of the most unorthodox actions of Jesus that I know of.

1. Culturally, Rabbis do not issue forth legal verdicts when all bent out of shape like this (A very strange posture for a rabbi on trial). This was as offensive to the Scribes & Pharisees as it would be if, after having brought Jesus before Herod for trial, that upon hearing the Jewish people's accusations, Herod rises from the throne and begins to do pushups. Crudely illustrated but the imagery is as equally effective as a Œcrouching Rabbinical figure.'

2. Obviously, (at least from the textus receptus) it seems that this is to be a disrespectful gesture on his part. To write (or scribble) as one awaits a verdict in a Jewish court setting was out of place in every way possible.

3. The meaning of the motion of the hand has endless theories:

a. Some believe that he was writing one of the commandments i.e.. Bede, Rupert

b. Some think that he was pointing at the trial of jealousy for women (Num 5:17) Lightfoot and Burgon.

c. The finger is an authority symbol throughout scripture. The 'finger of God' serves as reference to the kingdom of God and its power. Whatever Jesus wrote I am certain of this: He did say that out of the abundance of the heart.

Whatever he wrote I do know this. He did say that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth does speak. And whatever may have been inscribed on the earth, I do know that he was thinking about their sin because when he arose he spoke of it. If there was a hint or allusion at all it affected them powerfully. MY VIEW: John works hard to show the connection of Jesus and God. All the way back to John1:1,14. That was his stated goal it seems so from the beginning unto the end of the Gospel. And this reference to Jesus writing is the only known reference which we possess. In the OT God wrote only one time and this may be a symbolic connection but I can't be sure of course.

In all likelihood, John has smuggled some meanings into this passage that, as of yet, remain hidden to me. But somewhere under the Greek text there are points of significance. Tell me what you're thinking. If you know of any parallel texts with corresponding actions of this type I'd like to know. Even, if you think it is unorthodox I'd be interested in reading your thoughts on this.

About the MSS

The mss that contain the words you mentioned are:

U-Codex Nanianus-a 9th/10th c. cursive of the Gospels
73-a 6th century uncial ms
331-a 11th cent. minuscule ms
364-a 10th cent. minuscule
700-a 11th cent. minuscule
782-a 12th cent. minuscule
1592-a 15th cent. minuscule

In a textual commentary of the Greek New Testament, B. M. Metzger says in a note: ³In order to satisfy pious curiosity concerning what it was that Jesus wrote upon the ground, after earth(Gk, geen) several witnesses add the words ²the sins of every one of them².

ŒU. Codex Nanianus' (see above 1st letter) is a tenth century document of the four Gospels. Supposedly, c. 10th century. The rest should be cursive mss of the Gospels categorized by content, origin, script etc. The numbers change so frequently I've just about given up on keeping up with them.

Also, David C. Voss, wrote an article on this back in 1933 called ³The sins of Each of them² in the Anglican Theological review, xv (1933), pp.321-3 Might even be on-line but it's been a long time since I studied it.

A BRIEF NOTE: The story is found earliest in codex Bezae (ms of the 5th century) and in a eight extant old Latin mss. Obviously, the story was current during the early activity of manuscript making. It is all over the place in variants. But sometimes I think that the late mss, though on later dated paper, contain words {bits & pieces} that were known and in common use in the first century. Whether it was in the actual textual body is another story altogether but even the Church fathers are good for seeing how verses were understood then. Very little activity has gone into producing a textual commentary from the scribal notations, and blurbs found in the various mss languages through the centuries. It would make a fascinating ride through the centuries were a doctoral candidate to pick up on it.

I have a letter here before me from my correspondence with the late Dr. Metzger {We were standing in two different yards with a fence separating us as far as what we each believed about the text & transmission} but he really believed, as of fall 2005, that the story was a late addition. There are any number of variants but the filter seems to have worked a little better than some thought in early days because if we are studying this as an alien, then everything about this feels like first century Israel. Maybe at times we do have to look at the Western mss as sometime guardians of traditions. In your comparison of the John 8 piece with the John 5 story, I thought that you Prof. H. would have seen some sort of uniformity for both texts, but I was wrong and your reservations are duly noted.

That Greek phrase that the RSV omits is in the TR (KJ as though he heard them not) and a boatload of other mss. The meaning of the Œpretense word,' can you amplify your definition of' me prospoioumenos' contextually? It seems that the new versions do not even bother to check this story against the background of first century Judaism & Greco-Romanism. Since it has been summarily dismissed into textual oblivion, I'll leave it alone for now.

Jewish Law

I sat down to write a word about Jewish jurisprudence and entangled myself in the webs of John 8 . So I'll just write a line or do to supply some more context to the earlier email on the stoning situation in Jewish culture. The penal code of the Jews resembled, slightly, much of what has been found in Sumerian, Phoenician, Babylonian, Assyrian and Hittite codes, of course the most popular being Hammurabi's. In the ancient Near East there were many hypothetical laws like "If someone..they shall be put to death". The difficulty is finding actual places where these executions were carried out. How this played out in the greater realm of the Roman Empire I do not know. I have never tried to get into the Roman legal system. I can see where it would be beneficial. It still is in the classical vein and I'd gain some insight into that aspect of it. Always wondered if the trial of Jesus or other Œaccused' throughout the empire was carried out in Greek or in Latin or in the local dialect through translators?

In Conclusion

On the whole, this is another excellent piece, dedicated Dr. H to your originality and pervasive insight. Our Gospels are like windows that permit us to peer backwards into a distant cultural past, therefore, I believe that we are obliged to value, appreciate and learn from what we see. By meticulously researching the Greek text, you've allowed us to 'look in' despite the smudge marks of an English translation before us; and for that, professor, you have my profound thanks. Your mastery and possession of what reads like an unlimited control of vast materials is improving us all. With a keen eye and a specialist's touch your illuminations have elevated 'events' above the layered technicalities of historical analysis.

Since, your method is to read passages apart from the restraints of consensus belief, I find it fitting to say that you are fulfilling a description succinctly laid out in classical literature by the poet and critic Horace [ Epistles i.1.14]: nullius addictus iurare in verba magistri, here meaning ". . . truly one not bound by oath to the teaching of any master".

Pastor Darrell Sutton
Red Cloud NE


William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College