Stoning Adulterers

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stoningEarly in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John.8.2-5)

They were of course ‘testing’ him, hoping he would say something that blatantly violated the law so that they could pull him down. They were not speaking from a concern with the woman’s sin, the sin of polluting the soul with lower influences. They were speaking from a sense of superiority, and a desire to destroy the higher level of the soul that exposes them.

Jesus responded with a gesture that at first seems baffling: he bent down silently, “and wrote with his finger on the ground.” – in fact, he does this twice, which emphasizes how important the gesture is. What it means is that the Spirit comes down to earth (‘Jesus bent down’), and applies its Will (‘wrote with his finger’) to the material realm (‘the ground’). In other words, Christ is re-injecting the inner meaning of the law into the confused ‘ground’ of those who are only concerned with hypocritical morality and technical obedience.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. (John.8.7-8)

“When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.”

Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John.8.10-11)

It only needs to be added that most biblical scholars agree that Jesus’ act of mercy was not out of keeping with the religious practice of the times. Other Rabbis would not have enforced the Leviticus code for stoning an adulteress. This had never been taken literally and had never been literally enforced. No Rabbi in Judea would have said “Go on, stone her.” Jesus was taking a stance well within his Jewish tradition. It is certainly long past time for Muslim political authorities (the Qur’an never endorses or even says anything at all on this subject) to take the same stance.