‘And Many Other Women’ Part IV

Today I’m thinking about John 8:1-11, commonly called ‘The Woman Taken in Adultery.’

First, I should point out that most of our Christian brothers and sisters do _not_ consider this story to be canonical. And they have good evidence: (1) the story is missing from texts written before the 5th century and (2) when it does start being included, there is a scribal note that the test is uncertain and (3) the story shows up–when it does show up–in several different places in John–and even in Luke! I include this as a note of interest and perhaps an explanation for why there is so little commentary on this story (most biblical scholars pass it off with a note that the text isn’t original to John and they don’t bother really commenting on it). Unless a modern prophet says otherwise, I am willing to accept this story as scripture (even tho I doubt it was originally part of John’s Gospel) and I wonder if we just might possibly have the biblical parallel to 3 Nephi 23:7-13.

At any rate, let’s talk about the story as it now stands. A few notes first:

(1) Go read Deut. 22.18. If they caught her in the very act, they caught him, too. Where is he? What does this suggest about their respect for the law?

(2) The verb for ‘commit adultery’ in verse 4 is passive, possibly suggesting that the woman was passively involved, which is to say, raped. Do you read the story differently if that is the case? (I would hope so.)

(3) Compare Deut 17:7 with what Jesus says in verse 7. What change is he making? Also note the irony in verse 7: Who is the only person in this story who is without sin?

(4) What Jesus wrote in the dirt is a classic subject for speculation. It may be that we should make an association here between the writing of the law and what Jesus writes. Or not. We might also ask: Why did the author _not_ include what Jesus wrote?

(5) The Inspired Version (this should be in your footnotes as a JST, but it isn’t) adds to the end of verse 11: “and the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.”

(6) I’m intrigued by the interplay between spoken word (the Pharisees), written word (Jesus), and silence (the woman, at first) in this passage.

(7) There are some interesting parallels between the woman’s experience and Jesus’ experience at the end of his life: both face sham trials at the hands of religious authorities, both are falsley accused (if you think the woman was raped), both are publicly humiliated and described as being ‘in the midst’ (8:3, 9 and 19:18). In what others ways does her experience parallel his, especially with regards to the Law?

My take on this story is that we usually unconsciously side with the Pharisees by assuming her guilt and assuming that (even if she is guilty) that her situation is an appropriate one for public debate. Basically, the Pharisees have turned her into a human object lesson instead of a person. Note how carefully Jesus protects and acknowledges her dignity as a human being in this passage. I do suspect that she was raped, and I read Jesus’ words to ‘sin no more’ about the same as their only other usage in John, 5:14, as a general admonition and not necessarily a response to a specific situation. Probably the most important thing we can do with this passage is to make a conscious decision that we will try to see the woman’s side (and Jesus’ side) of the story, instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and taking the words of the Pharisees at face value. Probably the most dangerous mental sin we could commit in our day and age is to take the words of the media, the academy, the government, etc., at face value, instead of measuring them againstthe teachings of the Savior.

Is this woman a hero? Certainly not in the same way that Deborah or Jael is. But what I learn from her is that is doesn’t really matter how crummy your past is (rape or adultery), if you are willing to seriously engage the words of Jesus Christ, you can glorify God and sin no more.

9 comments for “‘And Many Other Women’ Part IV

  1. Ashleigh
    October 17, 2004 at 7:01 pm

    Wow, Julie, you bring whole new ideas to this. I wish I could take one of your classes.

  2. Kaimi
    October 17, 2004 at 7:15 pm

    Test again

  3. Jack
    October 17, 2004 at 7:55 pm

    JS’s translation of the N.T. seems to hold forth the idea that the Jews at that time were literally a wicked and an adulterous people. It is my understanding that there were many “loopholes” in the corrupted version of their law which justified a man engaging in what would otherwise be considered adulterous sexual relations. For examle, if a women was a servant or slave then she may have been considered “property” and as such could have been used at the master’s whim as an object of delight – the law having no hold on him as he was engaged with that which was firstly considered property and secondly considered a person.

    The event of the ‘the woman taken in adultery’ could certainly have been carefully planned by these scoundrels. Chances are it was just a matter of flipping a coin to see which of their wenches would be sacrificed to gain their objective.

  4. XON
    October 17, 2004 at 9:23 pm

    As this miserable confrontation in the middle east is more and more in our collective faces, I think that I see this episode in a different way than I have before. One sickening (and, by the way, not unique to any particular ethno-religious group) permutation of ideology that is arising among the ‘religiously oriented’ segment of the combattants in the middle east is the distinguishing of one’s ‘piety’ through acts of savagery.

    After a certain fashion, the brutes such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Mullah Al-Sadr, and, most famously, Bin Laden are occupying the role of religious leaders, heroes even. That said, this story may have more current application than I used to ascribe to it. Those same Pharisees, who literally ‘ruled with blood and horror’ over the Israelites would have to have, within their ranks, the same need to sort themselves out. Acts of religious zeal, such as stoning the iniquitous, coming down as God’s justice against the unrighteous, as they deemed, would occupy a couple of roles in their internal psychology.

    First, it could be an external ‘goal’. Those Pharisees in the story could essentially be conducting a show of force for the masses as they sought to bring one more vulnerable commoner to the altar of group savagery through a public stoning.

    Second, and perhaps more ominous, they could have internalized savagery into their false religion such that (my mind is almost bending with the perverseness of this) some of those Pharisees might actually have been offering Jesus a ‘chance’ to ‘demonstrate’ his piety by offering him an opportunity to join them at the “highest tables”; to forsake the commoners and show that he had the ‘right stuff’ to actually be one of the great ones. Of course all he would have to do is take up the stone against this commoner; and adulterous one, no less.

    After a fashion, this might have been another temptation akin to the three at the end of his fast; possibly much more about Jesus than about the woman.

  5. Jack
    October 17, 2004 at 9:48 pm


    That’s a terrifying and wonderful comment.

  6. Jim F.
    October 17, 2004 at 11:16 pm

    XON, my only problem with your comment is that it doesn’t fit well with what we know about the Pharisees. Without trying to defend them–Jesus’ condemnation of them is enough for me–they weren’t the ruling party and, though they were exclusionary, they don’t seem to have “ruled with blood and horror.”

    Perhaps it is easier on our own consciences if we think of them as you’ve portrayed them, but the available history seems to portray them as a whole lot more like you and me.

  7. Mike
    October 18, 2004 at 3:49 am

    yeah, I always have thought of Talmages discussion in Jesus the Christ whenever I have read that potion of scripture-
    basically that whether the woman were innocent or not- the reason the Pharisees brought her before the savior and asked what they did was to place Christ within a trap. It was not in fact common to stone some one caught in adultary by the time of Christ- Jesus was in a situation where there really was no right answer. Whether or not she was raped or was involved in a willing affair- if Christ had said yes, the law says stone her, so stone her the Pharisees would have proclaimed him to be a barbarian. If the woman was raped and Christ claimed that she was not at fault Christ would be portrayed as questioning the law or speaking against it (even a false interpretation) And if the woman was in fact guilty of sin and Christ said do not stone her the Pharisees would have railed about his rejection of the law- even though execution no longer happened as a punishment for adultry.

    I must admit, I far to often look at this story with the assumption that the woman was in fact guilty- and further usually look at it from the perspective of what can I learn from the Savior’s actions rather than what can I learn from the woman, her actions, and her response to the savior.

  8. XON
    October 18, 2004 at 1:31 pm


    (All jokes about campus security, and what tenure *really* means at BYU aside. .. )

    I will respectfully disagree. There are two things that make me unwilling, in fact, unable to compare myself to the Pharisees of that time. First is the description of the circumstances surrounding the Crucifixion. I don’t have the ability, legal or extra-, to send a group of armed men out into the night to abduct a man with whom I have a theological dispute. I don’t, in my private life, belong to a group that would be inclined to meet in the middle of the night to plan and then sustain an effort to kill a man with whom our dispute was mainly theological.

    Second, I don’t think we here in America can understand, outside of a theoretical imagining, the effects of combining theology and real political power, e.g., a significant military force at our command (the temple guard), economic resources that constitute a significant portion of GDP (the temple offerings), and de facto, if not outright de jure ability to dictate and interpret laws and customs. If there were no concerns with this, then the enduring truth that we confront with the well worn, but persistent canard of power corrupting etc. .. would have faded from our lexicon soon after Cain has slain Abel.

    These two things, put together in my (admittedly un-schooled) mind make the Pharisees, both as a class, and, perhaps with some notable, yet widely unknown exceptions, individually, decidedly not like. . .well, at least me. [I don’t really know how much power Nate O., Kaimi, or Julie actually wield; although I’m convinced it is great, and deeply secret. . . ; – )]

  9. October 19, 2004 at 7:17 pm


    One of the many “other women” of our day (though not like the one above) — with enough posts the entry ought to be a T&S entry …

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