The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, April 24, 2017

At whom was the stone cast?

Jennifer Knust in A Tall Order (2005) posted a chapter about the First Stone Gospel, a.k.a. the Pericope of the Adulteress. This chapter covers the basics: the Gospel of John is an uneven patchwork, and one particularly uneven anecdote in this Gospel has a debateable textual-history.

Saint Augustine, for one, thought that those who omitted it did so out of prudery and/or Pharisaism. Our man from Hippo, being an acknowledged sinner himself, took this personally. Several modern scholars (whom I'll address later) likewise are in the DON'T JUDGE ME, DAD camp and have followed Augustine.

Knust has debunked Augustine - mostly. Some version of this story was known throughout the early Church, perhaps even in the second-century Church. And in several manuscripts that omit the story, the copyists marked something of an asterisk where they, personally, had seen the tale included - usually in John. Also, nobody before Augustine is recorded as actively denying this anecdote. Knust argues this is because nobody who read it denied it; that Augustine was setting up a strawman. If any copyist omitted it, it was because... the story just wasn't there, in his (or her) base manuscript.

I did say "mostly". A controversy over the tale does survive, with implications for Christian sexual mores.

In the present canon, the accused was guilty. But other versions survive, in which the woman was innocent: Papias and the Gospel of the Hebrews being two, the Protevangelicon being a third, and maybe the Armenian tradition as well.

Jesus's evasive comment assumes - at least for the sake of argument - that the woman had sinned (implicitly, with her accusers!). I agree with the canon: the story as it stands demands the guilt of the accused. This means that the claim that the accused was innocent is a gloss.

The gloss's pre-exoneration of the accused may safeguard the virtue of a female saint (Magdalene?). More to the point her innocence would dilute a critique against the practice of stoning. This may go to explain why Eusebius found the gloss in a Semitic gospel intended for "Jewish Christians" who, as Mustafa Akyol points out, were the proto-Muslims.


posted by Zimri on 16:10 | link | 0 comments

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