Friday, February 05, 2010

I Was Wrong...


Next time I act confident about a Greek text but don't have it in front of me, tell me to produce the text or shut up.

I was very confident about the wording of John (or Matthew, or whatever) 8:7 yesterday. And I was also completely wrong about that wording. I apologize and ask your forgiveness.

The English translations of verse 7 then are generally right. The Greek (and right now I have it in front of me, so you can consider that I've produced the text!) in that verse is either an adjective or a past participle-- Anamarthtos-- (H equal Eta in Greek, long e). It could be translated either "Let the sinless one" or "Let one not having sinned." It doesn't refer to "her sin" or "this sin." This form is not noted as having any variants in the textual apparatus in the Third Edition. Indeed, there are not apparatus notes on verse 7 at all.

What I think I may have remembered is a textual note about some additional words found in a number of variant texts of verse 8. These variants add the following after "And again, having knelt down, he was writing into the earth"-- "the sins of each person [there]." The vast majority of texts omit these last words. Only 9 include them.

And there's good reason for that. It sounds like a gloss. It throws off the parallelism with the last time "into the earth" showed up (verse 6). It probably is a gloss. That is-- it doesn't belong in the text. It's an attempt by someone or several someones later to clear up a mystery that the text left open-- namely, what Jesus was writing "into the earth." (That's an interesting turn of phrase in itself-- one might have expected "upon" (epi in Greek, plus the genitive case), but instead we get "eis" ("into," with the accusative case). Perhaps what is being described here is more like an "inscription" than simply moving the top layer of dust). The text itself seems to want to keep what Jesus was writing or "inscribing" a mystery. Whether it's a reference to Jeremiah (and if so-- where in Jeremiah? Writing on the ground against the enemies, or God's inscription with an iron pen of the sins of the people of Judah at the opening of Jeremiah 17?) or to something else that this text's first readers/hearers/circulators might have known (or that someone in their community would have explained to them) we also don't know.

My comment about this yesterday wasn't just wrong. It may have thrown off and misdirected our conversation. And I apologize and ask your forgiveness for that as well.

In the spirit of "questions" and "wonderings" we sometimes engage in, let me offer a few that take seriously the text as we have it.

1) Was Jesus here setting up an additional "standard" or "step" toward proceeding to condemnation by insisting that accusers be entirely sinless before they could impose a sentence (condemnation)?

2) If so, just what does his own decision not to apply the sentence, either, mean?

3) Or, if he's acting as sort of the judge/convener of the "sentencing" part of an impromptu trial, would be generally be exempt from imposing a sentence himself (i.e., does he get voice but no vote)?

4) Or is the "two or three witnesses" rule in play here-- that is, given the basic dictum in Torah, "let everything be established by two or three witnesses," and here there are no witnesses remaining, is Jesus simply saying "Well, trial's off. An insufficient number of witnesses (zero, in this case!) means no condemnation can be meted out."

5) Or is Jesus challenging their interpretation of the law, since if she was caught in the act, that means the man was, too, and where is he?

Question upon question. This story can take us in all sorts of directions.

I do still think we ended up at a fruitful missional point, though, consistent with at least one way of dealing with this text. And I do think it is about what to do as we judge-- whether in our discernment of wrongs done we tend toward a path that opens up new life and community, or whether we tend toward a path that inevitably leads toward shackles and death.

Whether this story belongs in John, whether it belongs where it's placed in John, whether it ever happened, whether it even belongs in the canon, it still presents for us that challenge... and it's one that I think is very consistent with the kinds of challenges Jesus and the reign of God continually posed and poses.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are forgiven -- but I don't think it would have changed some of the conclusions we actually came to.

This is a great Mea Culpa though!

Peace and love,