The Rhetoric of Jesus Writing in the Story of the Woman Accused of Adultery (John 7.53-8.11)

By Deans, Thomas | College Composition and Communication, February 2014 | Go to article overview

The Rhetoric of Jesus Writing in the Story of the Woman Accused of Adultery (John 7.53-8.11)


Deans, Thomas, College Composition and Communication


Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early 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 the 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?" They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 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. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was leftalone 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, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."

-John 7.53-8.11, New Revised Standard Version

In a 2010 New Yorker review of several books on the historical Jesus, Adam Gopnik asks, "Is there a more miraculous scene in ancient literature than the one in John where Jesus absent-mindedly writes in the ground while his fellow Jews try to entrap him into approving the stoning of the adulteress, only to ask, wide-eyed, if it wouldn't be a good idea for the honor of the first stone to be given to the man in the mob who hasn't sinned himself?" Gopnik is intrigued not only by the aesthetics of the narrative but also by how Jesus's morality is "neither quite Greek nor quite Jewish" but "is fresh and strange even now" (74). Some have speculated that this is the most widely known story of Jesus in the Bible (Ehrman 63; Keith 1-2), and its appeal may be in that fresh and strange morality Gopnik points to. But just as striking-especially for those who study rhetoric, composition, and literacy-are the two moments when Jesus bends to write, both before and after he utters, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8.7).

John 7.53-8.11, also called the Pericope Adulterae, is the only canonical biblical passage in which Jesus is represented as writing.1 Commenting in the fourth and fifth centuries, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine were among the earliest and most influential explicators of the story, and ever since biblical scholars have been debating the origins, meaning, and implications of it. Most readings, popular and scholarly, treat the fact that Jesus stoops twice to write on the ground as a marginal, if interesting, detail in a larger drama of law, sin, mercy, and forgiveness. However, a number of commentators, ancient and contemporary, have fixed on those moments of writing and argued for various interpretations of what is written and why. Here I am less concerned with intervening in that long tradition of biblical exegesis on John 7.53-8.11 than with proposing how this story, when read through the lens of rhetoric and composition, reveals intriguing ways that writing, and especially silent writing, can both work in tandem with speech and persuade in ways that speech alone cannot. My ultimate aim is to draw attention to silent writing as a public performance, especially two aspects of it: the distinctive capacity of writing to provoke reflection (not just for the writer but even for those watching a writer); and the rhetorical power of silence (in this case moments of silence introduced and sustained by physical acts of writing). To set the stage for a detailed discussion of reflection and silence, the next three sections (1) describe how my approach fits into the burgeoning scholarship in composition studies on religion, (2) address a few prefatory issues about the origins and reception history of John 7. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Rhetoric of Jesus Writing in the Story of the Woman Accused of Adultery (John 7.53-8.11)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.