Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Pericopae Adulterae (John 7:53–8:11)

Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640
Textual Concerns
     The paragraph known as the Pericopae Adulterae in the NT, concerning a woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), is not included in the earliest extant manuscripts and versions of John’s Gospel and is displaced in others. Note, however, in some manuscripts (e.g. Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Ephraemi) the leaves that originally contained the section in question are missing. The text is not found in the 3rd-century papyri P66 and P75, or the 4th-century Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, or Boharic Bodmer Papyrus III, although Vaticanus has an umlaut (¨) marking the place where the passage is disputed and reserves an empty space. In some manuscripts (E, M, S, L, P, W, 1424mg, pm270) it is marked with obeli (÷) as to indicate its authenticity was questioned at the time the copy was made. In some manuscripts it is located at the end of the Gospel, and in one manuscript family (f13) it appears after Luke 21:38.
     The text also contains a disproportionately large number of variants. Some argue that the narrative disrupts the textual flow, as 8:12 follows naturally after 7:52. On the other hand, while 7:53–8:11 might be regarded as textually disruptive, it is not necessarily theologically disruptive (cf. 8:16) and may be viewed as a brief digression. Ecclesiastical writers, such as Chrysostom, Origen, and Cyril, do not discuss this passage in their commentaries on John. Tertullian, Cyprian, and Irenaeus do not mention the story in their writings. 
     B. F. Westcott concludes: “the only natural explanation of the unquestioned facts is that the narrative was current in the third century in a Greek but not in a Latin text, though over a narrow range; that towards the end of the fourth century it was introduced in various places, but particularly where it now stands, and was thence taken into the Latin texts; that from the sixth century onwards it was found more and more frequently in the Constantinopolitan texts and all but universally in the Latin texts, and in the course of time was partially introduced into other versions” (The Gospel According to St. John 142; see also D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo, An Introduction to the NT 273-74).
Textual Support
     The pericope is included in the 5th/6th-century Codex Bezae (D), a few later uncial manuscripts, and a large number of minuscules. Virtually no Alexandrian manuscripts contain the Pericopae Adulterae, while most Western and Byzantine manuscripts do (although the evidence is divided). See Text of the NT Part 1 and Part 2. For a comprehensive list of the manuscript evidence, see W. Willker, Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels 4b:4-7, 24-26.
     Papias (ca. 60-140?), who according to Irenaeus was a contemporary of the apostle John (Adv. Haer. 5.33.4) and according to Eusebius was “a man well-skilled in all manner of learning and well-acquainted with the scriptures” (Eccl. Hist. 3.36.2), appears to have been familiar with the story. Eusebius says of Papias: “He also gave another history of a woman who had been accused of many sins before the Lord, which was also contained in the gospel according to the Hebrews” (Eccl. Hist. 3.39.17). Although Eusebius reports that the account of Papias involved a woman “accused of many sins,” Tyrannius Rufinus (340-410), who translated Eusebius’ work into Latin, labels the woman an “adulteress.” It is uncertain whether “the gospel according to the Hebrews” is an obscure reference to John’s Gospel or, more likely, to a document that is no longer extant containing a version of the story comparable to the account in John (see Original Form of Matthew).
     The early 3rd-century Syrian manual of discipline Didascalia Apostolorum refers to the account. It is translated from Syriac in Codex Sangermanensis (MS Syr 62): “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 you, my daughter?’ She says to him: ‘Nay, Lord.’ And he said to her: ‘Go your way: neither do I condemn you.’” A similar version was conveyed by the 4th-century Alexandrian Didymus the Blind (see B. D. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress” 24-44; A. Criddle, “Origins of the Pericope Adulterae”).
     The account is particularly mentioned by patristic writers from the time of Ambrose (ca. 374), Ambrosiaster (366-384),1 Pacian of Barcelona (370-390), Jerome (346-420) and Augustine (354-430). Jerome reports that it was found in many Greek and Latin manuscripts of his time (adv. Pelag. 2.17), which, incidentally, were earlier than the oldest manuscripts available today.
     Augustine refers to the pericope at least ten times, and he suggests that it was removed from the Latin text by some who were hostile to the true faith in order to avoid scandal,2 although his explanation is disputed by modern critics. A number of marginal notes in various texts mention that it was present in ancient copies. It is found in most Latin copies, the Jerusalem Syriac, the Ethiopic, and some later versions.
Responding to Objections
     The fact that Chrysostom, Origen, and Cyril do not mention this passage in their commentaries is not a definitive argument. The extant copies of the commentaries of Cyril and Origen are fragmentary, and the sections that address John 8 are missing. Chrysostom’s commentary only deals with specific passages and is not a verse-by-verse analysis of John’s Gospel. As noted above, other patristic writers testify to the genuineness of the text, including Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Pacian, Jerome, and Augustine.
     The silence of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Irenaeus is inconclusive. Even though Tertullian examines the issue of adultery in a number of long treatises, it is presumptuous to assume that an account containing what appears to be only a mild rebuke would necessarily be pertinent to his discussion. In fact, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen considered sexual sins to be particularly heinous.
     The textual peculiarities of the passage may very well be related to lectionary usage, as W. Willker notes: “Of course it is very probable that the insertion points before 7:37 or after 8:12 and also possibly at the end of John originate from lectionary usage. It is also probable that the markings with asterisks and obeli are the result of this lectionary usage” (Textual Commentary 15). This would also be a viable explanation for the obscure placement of the pericope after Luke 21:38 in f13. There is a close resemblance between Luke 21:37-38 and John 7:53; 8:1-2. The lectionary reading for 7th October was Luke 21:12-19 and for 8th October it was often the Pericopae Adulterae. “That a single MS (the exemplar of f13), and a very unreliable [one] at that, preserves the true place of the PA is very improbable. Note also that f13 also transposes the ‘agony, bloody sweat’ incident from Lk 22:43, 44 to after Mt 26:39” (W. Willker, Textual Commentary 17).
     An evaluation of internal features, i.e., contextual and stylistic matters, is disputable, since a case can be made both for and against the veracity of the text.3 M. C. Tenney observes: “To say that the passage is not an integral part of John does not dismiss it, however. It is still necessary to account for its presence. Even those who exclude it from the body of John on textual grounds admit that its tenor is wholly in keeping with the character and ministry of Jesus, and that it doubtless constitutes a genuine account of an episode of His career, though it may be misplaced” (John: the Gospel of Belief 138).
     It is plausible that John 7:53–8:11 embodies one of the “many other things that Jesus did” that had previously been unrecorded (John 20:30; 21:25) but eventually made its way into the text. It has been suggested that Papias, a contemporary of the apostle John, may have been responsible for preserving the account (B. F. Wescott, The Gospel According to St. John 125). B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman comment that the pericope “has many earmarks of historical veracity; no ascetically minded monk would have invented a narrative that closes with what seems to be only a mild rebuke on Jesus’ part” (The Text of the NT 319).S. J. Kaczorowski calls it an inspired text inserted into an inspired text (The Pericope of the Woman, JETS 61/2 [2018]: 321-37). 
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 The anonymous work, Quaestiones ex Utroque Mixtim 102: Contra Novatianum (PL Migne Vol. 35, 2303), was earlier assigned to Augustine but now is considered to be from Ambrosiaster.
     2 “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 Conj. Adult. 2.6-7).
     3 For: E. A. Abbott, Johannne Vocabulary 353-54; R. C. Foster, Studies in the Life of Christ 798. Against: B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John 142-43; W. Willker, Textual Commentary 20-22.
     4 See also J. H. Bernard and A. H. McNeile, John 716; F. F. Bruce, Gospel of John 413; D. A. Carson, Gospel according to John 333; L. Morris, John 779; Z. Hodges, “The Woman Taken in Adultery” (1979) 318-72; (1980): 41-53; C. A. Louviere, “The Pericope De Adultera” 1-39.

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