The pericope adulterae

This comes out of the Honest Interpretation thread in Purgatory, from a bit before the link, @MPaul was using the story of the woman taken in adultery, to argue that Jesus was following the Law, John 7:53-8:11. My interest isn't so much with @MPaul's argument, but the other tangent on this thread, which was discussing the inclusion of this pericope. This Bible Gateway link prefaces the passage with:
The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.

Quoting the most relevant parts of that discussion:
MPaul wrote: »
And again, arguing from the story of the woman taken in adultery is arguing from a later insertion into scripture that may or may not have happened and may or may not relate to Jesus as the earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 to 8:11 (Bible Gateway). It is known as the pericope adulterae, see discussion here.
It is in the Bible. It was referred to as early as the 3rd century. Augustine referred to it. Jerome said it was in early codices but obviously we cannot check that.

Can one cast doubt on its authority because it is omitted from some early manuscripts when it is actually in about 900 others? ( my Thompson Chain reference says this). It does seem clear that it was inserted and the experts seem to believe it was not put there by John.

But..it is in the Bible and though there are questions over how it got there, it has retained its place. It does seem to be agreed that it was based on a strongly held tradition that was factual.

Hoskyns says: (Sir Edwin Hoskins..The Fourth Gospel..1947 Appendix..P566)
“The external evidence seems to demand that the story was current in the very early days as an authentic episode in the ministry of Jesus, but that it was not contained in any of 5he four gospels which cam to be regarded as canonical though it was contained in that literature which lay on the fringe of these gospels “

John is actually a very different doc to the Synoptics as we all know. It is not, as far as my studies suggest, intended as a consecutive narrative, more a collection of encounters to establish Jesus’ divine identity and mission.

@Leo and @mousethief then got into a side discussion as to how this could be an inserted text:
Leo wrote: »
mousethief wrote: »
Leo wrote: »
mousethief wrote: »
What makes a manuscript "wrong"?
It was copied wrongly - the copyist made a mistake: missed or added words.
Mistakenly added a whole pericope? That makes no sense. Say rather they were copying from a different original than you want them to have done.

Yes - just as everything in Mark 16 after v. 8 is addition.

To which I replied:
The Bible Odyssey site (link) gives an overview that matches my understanding of the history of this passage:
Interestingly enough, the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John do not contain this beloved passage. Indeed, the first manuscript to contain the story is from around 400 C.E. Around 4% of Greek manuscripts that include the passage place it in locations other than John 8:1-8:11; the earliest of these is from around the ninth and tenth centuries C.E. This perplexing manuscript history fuels debates about whether the story was originally in John’s Gospel and, if so, where. The majority of scholars believe a later Christian scribe inserted the passage into John’s Gospel at John 8:1-8:11 and that the alternate locations are due to the effects of later liturgical reading in what is known as the lectionary system.

And according to the Wikipedia article (link):
The pericope is not found in most of the early Greek Gospel manuscripts. It is not in P66, and it is not in P75, both of which have been assigned to the late 100s or early 200s. Nor is it in two important manuscripts produced in the early/mid 300s, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus. The first surviving Greek manuscript to contain the pericope is the Latin/Greek diglot Codex Bezae, produced in the 400s or 500s
and
According to Eusebius of Caesarea (in his Ecclesiastical History, composed in the early 300s), Papias (circa AD 110) refers to a story of Jesus and a woman "accused of many sins" as being found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which might refer to this passage or to one like it.

There is lots more in the Wikipedia article, including discussion on the lectionary theory, why this passage should or should not be included in John, and a whole lot more.

I'm still interested in the question as to whether this passage be included in John? How reliable is its inclusion? Has it been incorporated from a non-canonical gospel as suggested in the Wikipedia article?

Comments

  • I think it is clear that 1) this pericope was not a part of John's gospel and 2) that it is an authentic piece of Jesus' teaching (which is why it got stuck in different places by different scribes).
  • How do we know it's an authentic piece of Jesus' teaching?

    One of the documents I read suggested that it may have come originally from the Gospel of the Hebrews which was a disputed book of the early church, and was not included in the canon when that was agreed.
  • The start of the story (Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.) seem to suggest to me that this may be a story from the last week of Jesus' life. It is clearly set in Jerusalem and the comment about the Mount of Olives suggests that it was at the Passover. Luke's gospel states that after the Entry into Jerusalem, "every day he was teaching in the temple," and goes on to recount some of these incidents. So, if this WAS a story from that week, it would make sense that the early church might want to keep it in the gospels, even though it wasn't included originally. For me, it also makes sense to see this as a Holy Week story, as it adds another reason why the religious authorities in Jerusalem were so against Jesus.

    How and why it ended up in John's gospel is baffling to me. It clearly doesn't belong there. But I tend to regard it as "authentic" as any other story about Jesus during Holy Week.
  • What I don't understand is where it was for two hundred years.
  • LeoLeo Shipmate
    Martin54 wrote: »
    What I don't understand is where it was for two hundred years.

    In the Gospel of the Hebrews? So reckoned Eusebius.

    Then C5 Peter Chrysologus preached on it.
  • Aye: "According to Eusebius of Caesarea (in his Ecclesiastical History, composed in the early 300s), Papias (circa AD 110) refers to a story of Jesus and a woman "accused of many sins" as being found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which might refer to this passage or to one like it.". So no, not really. Not by a country mile. From your friend, my friend, everybody's friend, Wiki.
  • MPaulMPaul Shipmate
    John specifically owns this gospel. He says without naming himself that he testifies to the truth of the things included. Jn 21:24,25.

    If we now concede the essence of all scholarship on the matter to be trumped by Wikipedia, that is like saying that encyclopaedia britannica is trumped by talk back radio.

    The story of the adulterous woman is not proven by any of the possibilities postulated to be unauthentic as an incident in Jesus life. In fact the evidence we have suggests the opposite.

    Neither has anyone shown that John did not write it. The gospel of John is composed entirely of material selected to demonstrate Jesus credentials as ‘son of God’. There is no claim to consecutive chronology of his ministry here. An example is the cleansing of the temple. John places this story at the beginning. Othe gospels put it at the end. John is easily the most symbolic and livery gospel. By placing it at the start, John illustrates a bigger truth. Jesus came to ‘cleanse God’s house’.

    The story of the woman is also strategic. It brings To a head the issue of his relationship to Moses and John makes a theological point by its inclusion. Now if he included it later after reflection..after initial copies were in circulation, but while this long lived apostle was still alive..such an action is in character as the entire gospel is a conflation of stories calculated to make his theological points.
  • MPaulMPaul Shipmate
    For livery read literary.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    MPaul wrote: »
    John specifically owns this gospel. He says without naming himself that he testifies to the truth of the things included. Jn 21:24,25. ....
    I'm under the impression that the argument of those you disagree with, is that this pericope has been added to the gospel sometime after it was written. If that were to be so, it would not be within the scope of the statement by John to which you are referring. So that argument does not work unless one starts from a position that the pericope was originally part of the John.

    Incidentally, Jn 21 itself also appears to have been added at a later date. Jn 20 reads as though it was the original end of the gospel. However, in style and ethos, both Jn 1-20, and Jn 21 read as though they were written by the same person, as though Jn 21 was added as a sort of afterthought.

    My own view, for what it is worth, is that I think this pericope is rightly in the gospels, and is authoritative but I am agnostic as to where it should be put or who wrote it.
  • MPaulMPaul Shipmate
    the argument of those you disagree with, is that this pericope has been added to the gospel sometime after it was written. If that were to be so, it would not be within the scope of the statement by John to which you are referring.
    It seems to be agreed that earliest MS's do not contain it so the assumption is it was added.
    However, if we are speculating here, it is possible John himself added it later as apparently, Papias https://gotquestions.org/Papias-of-Hierapolis.htmlrefers to it maybe that is possible as he was C60-160 and maybe his life overlapped with John himself but as we cannot really know, I am inclined to take the passage as read. As the whole gospel is a non sequential compendium, this would not be out of character.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    IIRC Papias refers to it as being present in something he calls The Gospel of the Hebrews
  • And the Gospel of the Hebrews exists in fragments in other ancient writings, but was not accepted as canonical when the canon was set. So if we are pretty sure that the pericope adulterae comes from the Gospel of the Hebrews that was seen as uncanonical, can we justify its inclusion in the canonical Gospels?
  • MPaulMPaul Shipmate
    And the Gospel of the Hebrews exists in fragments in other ancient writings, but was not accepted as canonical when the canon was set. So if we are pretty sure that the pericope adulterae comes from the Gospel of the Hebrews that was seen as uncanonical, can we justify its inclusion in the canonical Gospels?
    That decision has been made. Would you dare exclude it on the grounds of speculative cynicism even if you could?
  • Well, you've made that judgement by the use of "speculative cynicism". Shall we try really asking the question, by reposing it as "Would that lead you to exclude it?" That at least makes it possible to answer "yes", which is essential to any debate.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    So far as I can see, no one is proposing removing the periscope from the canon. The questions being asked are: is it originally part of John’s gospel? And, if not, how did it get there?
  • BroJames wrote: »
    IIRC Papias refers to it as being present in something he calls The Gospel of the Hebrews

    No He doesn't.
  • Can you explain that answer, @Martin54 please?
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Yes. You’re correct. I’ve looked more carefully and the situation seems to be that Papias noted this or a similar story c. 120, then Eusebius thought that it was to be found in a Hebrew gospel c.320, then Jerome and others claimed that it existed in "many Greek & Latin manuscripts" c. 400.
  • MooMoo Kerygmania Host
    I have heard the theory that the story was originally in John's gospel, but some people found it so distasteful that they omitted it when they copied the gospel. Others thought it worth preserving, but were not sure where to put it.
  • If it were originally in John's gospel, where?
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    Martin54 wrote: »
    If it were originally in John's gospel, where?
    Does that matter?
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited August 2018
    Can you explain that answer, @Martin54 please?

    Sorry, the capitalized 'He' is in appropriate. And BroJames goes some way to correcting himself.

    As I posted 15 up: "According to Eusebius of Caesarea (in his Ecclesiastical History, composed in the early 300s), Papias (circa AD 110) refers to a story of Jesus and a woman "accused of many sins" as being found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which might refer to this passage or to one like it. "... From your friend, my friend, everybody's friend, Wiki.

    Eusebius said Papias said the Gospel of Hebrews said Jesus said.
  • OIC - I did read BroJames too.
    Eusebius said Papias said the Gospel of Hebrews said Jesus said.
    does really make you wonder why it's such a highly regarded piece of scripture.
  • We know that there were many other gospels that were, for one reason or another, rejected from the Canon of NT scripture. In some cases (ie the Gospel of Thomas), we can have a pretty good idea of what the gospel looked like. In most cases, all we have are snippets being quoted in other writings, usually to denigrate the gospel. But just because a gospel "didn't make it" into the Canon, that doesn't mean that it didn't contained ANY "genuine" stories about Jesus that haven't been retained in the canonical gospels.

    It is clear from the closing comments in the Gospel of John that there WERE lots of stories about Jesus floating around. Some (most?) were probably "apocryphal" in the sense of being secondary or tertiary generation. But it is perfectly plausible to think that some "genuine" stories continued to float around outside the canonical gospels for some time and may have ended up in one or more of the apocryphal gospels.

    This is what I think we have in this pericope.

    (The great Biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias published a small book in the 1950s, called "Unknown Sayings of Jesus". If you can get your hands on a copy, it is worth having. In it, Jeremias looked at 21 sayings/stories which he regarded as having good claims for being considered as "genuine" as anything found in the canonical gospels. I don't know if anyone has done anything similar in recent years.)
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited August 2018
    OIC - I did read BroJames too.
    Eusebius said Papias said the Gospel of Hebrews said Jesus said.
    does really make you wonder why it's such a highly regarded piece of scripture.

    Because ignoramusses like me loved it. Saw the transcendent emotional genius of Jesus' divine nature in it, unaware of the common knowledge among divines, who never mention from the pulpit, or even in print (that's you Bell, McLaren), that it's synthetic.

    My own fault for not reading the small print.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    But maybe, Martin, they don’t think it is synthetic, rather a genuine fragment, much loved, for which a home had to be found - even though not in a place which had originally included it. Not John’s Gospel (or any of the other three) does not mean it’s fake.
  • That is so contrived. It was originally included somewhere accurately, authoritatively but not M, M, L or Q who knew nothing about it? Or it was but they 'lost' it because it was too liberal?
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    You don’t know that they knew nothing about it, only that they didn’t record it.

    St. Paul records Jesus as having taught that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” - something which doesn’t appear in any of the (subsequently written) canonical gospels.

    Your assertion that the adultery story is fake has no more backing than my assertion that it was a true record which, for reasons now lost, didn’t initially make it into one of the canonical gospels.
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    That is so contrived. It was originally included somewhere accurately, authoritatively but not M, M, L or Q who knew nothing about it? Or it was but they 'lost' it because it was too liberal?
    It’s more contrived to say the story had always been part of the oral tradition than it is to say some priestly class made it up a few centuries later?

  • They made it up from the oral tradition.
  • The problem with this pericope not being in the earliest documents, puts it into the same field as this post from @mr cheesy where he says:
    Anyway, I don't think one needs a lot of imagination to think of possible scenarios without needing an evil mastermind figure setting out to deceive foolish people.

    For example, we know how rumours spread and take on a life of their own. So the resurrection account conceivably could have started life as unrelated story, possibly developed from Greek mythology, that was misheard and grafted into this story. Or it could have been someone talking about what they would have liked to have happened and this was repeated so often that somewhere along the line it became what did happen.*
  • Martin54 wrote: »
    They made it up from the oral tradition.
    Huh? They made up a story that was already part of the oral tradition?

  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited August 2018
    (sorry, realised that I don't really know what I want to say yet)
  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Martin54 wrote: »
    They made it up from the oral tradition.
    Huh? They made up a story that was already part of the oral tradition?
    That pretty well describes the canonical gospels, too.
  • Does it? How does one”make up” a story that already exists?

    I have no problem agreeing that the gospel writers drew from stories that were part of the oral tradition, and adapted and arranged those stories to fit the overall message they wanted to convey. And that’s one reason it doesn’t bother me to think that may have happened later with this pericope.

    I just wouldn’t call that “making up” the story. I’d call that drawing from and adapting stories in the oral tradition.

    Unless @Martin54 was trying to say that the story was made up, in the sense of being a fabrication, when it first became part of the oral tradition.
  • Well, the story exists, but it is tweaked and modified to make the written version. Varying oral traditions -- even ones that were written down, like supposedly Q -- are worked in. The result is not something that was already there, but something that was made up based on those things.

    In like manner, the stories of Lear and Richard III existed, but Shakespeare made up plays based on those stories.
  • I agree with the point. “Made up,” based on my experience of how that is used and the connotation it carries, just seems to be a strange way to express it. Maybe that’s just me.
  • Maybe not the best choice of verb.
  • It's a paraphrase of my use of the term 'synthesized'. Fabricated in the industrial sense, yes, but not a fabrication of deception, apart from self deception. Not a lie. A myth. Narrative. Made up narrative. Nuance eh?

  • Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Does it? How does one”make up” a story that already exists?

    I have no problem agreeing that the gospel writers drew from stories that were part of the oral tradition, and adapted and arranged those stories to fit the overall message they wanted to convey. And that’s one reason it doesn’t bother me to think that may have happened later with this pericope.

    I just wouldn’t call that “making up” the story. I’d call that drawing from and adapting stories in the oral tradition.

    Unless @Martin54 was trying to say that the story was made up, in the sense of being a fabrication, when it first became part of the oral tradition.

    It's such a beautiful, profound story it was the last towering instance of the fingerpost for me. I tear up writing that. Nearly, it was premonitory. The story of the story is... singular. One can hope Augustine was right: 'Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the true faith, fearing, I suppose, lest their wives should be given impunity in sinning, removed from their manuscripts the Lord's act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who had said, Sin no more, had granted permission to sin.', De Adulterinis Conjugiis.

    From the link, it was well formed around 250, but not 110: "According to Eusebius of Caesarea (in his Ecclesiastical History, composed in the early 300s), Papias (circa AD 110) refers to a story of Jesus and a woman "accused of many sins" as being found in the Gospel of the Hebrews, which might refer to this passage or to one like it.

    In the Syriac [originally Greek] Didascalia Apostolorum, composed in the mid-200s, the author, in the course of instructing bishops to exercise a measure of clemency, states that a bishop who does not receive a repentant person would be doing wrong – "for you do not obey our Savior and our God, to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgment in His hands, departed. But He, the searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her, 'Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter?' She said to Him, 'No, Lord.' And He said unto her, 'Go your way; neither do I condemn thee.' In Him therefore, our Savior and King and God, be your pattern, O bishops.""

    As mousethief said, my paraphrase, all of the gospels were synthesized, it's a question of degree.
  • Could it be possible that we have only four gospels because of the link to Ezekiel’s vision by the river Chebar; that people saw the inspiration in this pericope and got round its exclusion resulting from being only in the Gospel of the Hebrews by inserting it into the Gospel ascribed to John?
  • ?
  • I haven't looked at this for a long time. I have read that the creators of the canon said there could only be four Gospels as these correspond to the four forms in Ezekiel's vision.

    So if The Gospel to The Hebrews contained text they wanted to canonise, then maybe adding it to John was the way to include it.

    From https://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/f005rp.htm
    Four of the best-known animal forms still familiar to us today are the four beasts of the Gospels. From earliest Christian times, the man, the eagle, the lion and the ox, first seen in Ezekiel’s vision by the river Chebar and later by St. John surrounding the throne of God, have been accepted as the symbols of the four evangelists. The man symbolized St. Matthew, because his Gospel begins by stating the genealogy of the ancestors of Christ. The lion is St. Mark, who early in his Gospel speaks of a voice crying in the wilderness. The ox, the sacrificial animal of the Old Covenant, symbolizes St. Luke, whose Gospel opens with the sacrifice offered by Zacharias. The eagle, believed to be the only animal that could gaze straight into the light of the sun, is St. John, who in his Gospel soars into the mystery of the Incarnation of God so naturally and contemplates it so profoundly that he seems like an eagle flying toward the sun.

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    My own feeling is that it didn’t work that way. The link with Ezekiel (IMO) came about because there were four Gospels- it is not because there were four creatures mentioned in Ezekiel that we have four Gospels.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    Regardless of whether it was originally part of St John's gospel, it does seem likely to me that it was a real story, because of the references to Jesus writing stuff on the ground.

    Every sermon I've ever heard on this passage seems to include some pointless speculation on what he could have been writing. This speculation is pointless because the only possible answer is We Don't Know. Which raises the question: So why mention it then?

    To my mind, the most credible explanation is that the person who reported this story to the Johannine Community said he'd seen Jesus writing stuff down because he had in fact seen Jesus writing stuff down, and he didn't say what Jesus wrote down because he couldn't read. Whereas I think if you'd invented the story to make some kind of Theological Point, you would make the meaning of his writing stuff down more explicit.
  • I agree that the seemingly random and enigmatic detail of writing on the ground lends verisimilitude to the story.

    And I also think it’s a fascinating detail that’s hard not to speculate about. It’s tantalizing. I see no harm in speculating about it as long as it’s remembered that we can’t know for sure, and as long as the speculation is a side issue that doesn’t obscure focus on the real import of the story.
  • I think I remember a certain cartoonist making suggestions of what was being written in the dust in a publication (which might have been called something like "the winedibbler") many years ago.

    I think one of the best ones was a shopping list.
  • Well said. It's the human touches that make it all credible.
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