To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story

November 1, 2020
To Cast the First Stone: The Transmission of a Gospel Story

The story of the woman taken in adultery features a dramaticconfrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees over whether theadulteress should be stoned as the law commands. In response, Jesusfamously states, "Let him who is without sin be the first to throwa stone at her." To Cast the First Stone traces thehistory of this provocative story from its first appearance to itsenduring presence today.Likely added to the Gospel of John in the third century, thepassage is often held up by modern critics as an example of textualcorruption by early Christian scribes and editors, yet a judgmentof corruption obscures the warm embrace the story actuallyreceived. Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman trace the story'sincorporation into Gospel books, liturgical practices,storytelling, and art, overturning the mistaken perception that itwas either peripheral or suppressed, even in the Greek East. Theauthors also explore the story's many different meanings. Taken asan illustration of the expansiveness of Christ's mercy, thepurported superiority of Christians over Jews, the necessity ofpenance, and more, this vivid episode has invited any number ofcreative receptions. This history reveals as much about thechanging priorities of audiences, scribes, editors, and scholars asit does about an "original" text of John.To Cast the First Stone calls attention both tosignificant shifts in Christian book cultures and the enduringimpact of oral tradition on the preservation—and destabilization—ofscripture.