Citation
The journey from shame to honor

Material Information

Title:
The journey from shame to honor expressions of Biblical adultery
Creator:
Dixon, Amanda
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
v, 89 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Adultery -- Biblical teaching ( lcsh )
Adultery -- Biblical teaching ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 86-89).
General Note:
Department of English
Statement of Responsibility:
by Amanda Dixon.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
656833220 ( OCLC )
ocn656833220
Classification:
LD1193.L54 2010 D59 ( lcc )

Full Text
THE JOURNEY FROM SHAME TO HONOR: EXPRESSIONS OF BIBLICAL
ADULTERY
by
Amanda Dixon
B.A., State University of New York at Geneseo, 2003
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
English
2010


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Amanda Dixon
has been approved
by
Gillian Silverman


Dixon, Amanda (M.A. English)
The Journey from Shame to Honor: Expressions of Biblical Adultery
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Nancy F. Ciccone
ABSTRACT
As a Judeo-Christian society, many of our values derive from the cultures of
the ancient Mediterranean, including values that affect the way we behave in
monogamous relationships. Adultery is a hot topic in biblical texts. Throughout the
Old Testament, we find not only the literal codes that condemn and punish adultery in
the Mosaic Law, but also an ongoing metaphor of Gods covenant with Israel as a
marriage relationship, within which faithlessness to that relationship is adultery.
Despite this clear figurative use of the concept of adultery, we have a
tendency to prefer literal interpretations of Law that allow us to judge and punish
others, and this propensity for carrying out the Law continues into New Testament
texts. This thesis aims to determine whether literal, Law-centered interpretations of
adultery alone are warranted, especially concerning the space women inhabit within
particular instances of adultery. Adultery is typically associated with sexuality and
not spirituality, despite its metaphorical usages in the Bible. This thesis argues that it
would be more productive and illuminating to interpret situations of adultery from a
spiritual perspective of analyzing the adulterer's (and especially the adulteress')
relationship with God, using case studies from ancient Mediterranean cultures, the
Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel of John. By doing so, we prioritize vertical
spiritual relationships; the horizontal, interpersonal repercussions of adultery.


including social and hereditary consequences and lawful punishment, become
secondary concerns.
A figurative, spiritual reading of biblical cases of adultery sends a message to
all readers, regardless of marital status: God commands that a spiritual faith be an
individual's first priority, for without a fundamental vertical relationship, horizontal
relationships between people of any gender suffer. The question, ultimately, is
whether the lessons delineated in this thesis are capable of transferring into twenty-
first-century American culture, a culture that openly struggles with maintaining
"healthy'' relationships. Whether literal or figurative, adultery becomes the gauge
that indicates a violation of right relationships.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend
its publication.


TABU: OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION..................................1
2. ANCIENT PERSPECTIVES ON ADULTERY ............18
3. THE ROLE OF ADULTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
MATTHEWS INFANCY NARRATIVE AND THE SERMON
ON THE MOUNT..................................46
4. THE ROLE OF ADULTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT:
JOHN 8........................................66
5. CONCLUSION: A JOURNEY TO THE TWENTY-FIRST
CENTURY.......................................79
WORKS CITED..........................................86
v


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
In an interview about DVD recommendations with NPRs Steve Inskeep,
Damon Lindelof, a writer and executive producer of the hit TV series Lost, suggests
the documentary Spinal Tap. He remembers: I was around II or 12 when it came
out, . [a]nd when I saw it, I was like, this is a real band. . Then the second time
that I saw it, you know, in college at NYU, when I was talking about this
documentary that I had seen and really liked, and everyone was looking at me like 1
was the hugest idiot of all time (A Taste for Everything). The joke, of course, is
that This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary, a fiction that is posing as the real thing.
Eindelofs friends momentarily questioned his ability to make assessments within
film genres, and, possibly, his value at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
Unfortunately, I can recall a similar experience.
Partway through my undergraduate education at the State University of New
York at Geneseo, I enrolled in a British Eiterature course with Professor Celia Easton.
On the first day of class, Professor Easton assembled us in a circle (a concept I found
revolutionary at the time) and asked each of us to introduce ourselves to the rest of
the students by sharing our favorite work of literature. The commitment of choosing
favorites has always been something that causes me stress, and while my classmates
1


were demonstrating their literary prowess with selections such as Tolkien and Austen
1 was frantically trying to recall something I had read recently that I had enjoyed.
When my professor looked expectantly in my direction, 1 reported that my favorite
literary text was The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller. Students
snickered; Professor Easton looked derisively at me and moved onto the next person,
presumably hoping for a better specimen of an English major.
This experience eaused me to question, however briefly, the components of
valid literature. I considered the elements oi Bridges that 1 found worthy. 1 thought
that Bridges was popular; popular enough to gamer a movie deal with Clint
Eastwood, anyway. And true enough, within a year after its publication, Bridges had
sold well over 2 million copies, sparked incredible interest in pilgrimages to
Winterset, Iowa, and was followed up by a companion CD of songs and a book
sequel (let alone the film produced within three years of first publication) (Thomas).
But could a text be popular and literary? Wallers prose seemed incredibly poetic to
me: He whispered to her of the visions she brought to him of blowing sand and
magenta winds and brown pelicans riding the backs of dolphins moving north along
the coast of Africa (108). Perhaps it tried too hard in that way; perhaps it was too
overtly based in emotion, too pathetic. At the same time. I understood that literature
dealt with emotions in a smart way; therefore, perhaps Waller was not smart, original,
or true. But then how to explain its popularity? Consumers appreciate idealism, the
2


unrealistic concept of true love; a man and woman meet, have a passionate love
affair, and part ways, never forgetting but never exposed, never punished. This
idealism is made almost attainable in that Waller promotes his plot as one that was
inspired by a true story. Historically, this scheme is viable; take Moll Flanders, for
instance. I could only come to the conclusion that Wallers novel was too peaceable,
too closely contained in its fairy-tale castle in Winterset, Iowa, too easily resolved to
be counted as a compelling piece of literature. Too forgiving of transgression,
perhaps. I made note of this and moved on in my studies.
At this point in my academic career, however. I cant help but return to the
question of whether the literary standing of Bridges has more to do with its apparent
permissiveness with respect to adultery than I had considered during my
undergraduate years. Take Toni Morrisons Jazz, for instance: This is a novel that is
certainly considered literature, from its inclusion in college course curriculums to a
body of criticism written about the text (a body of criticism that is noticeably absent
from Bridges). And although Jazz has a variety of topical interests, it is also
intimately connected to an act of adultery. But rather than writing sappy characters
that pathetically pine for each other throughout the novel, Morrison opens with the
theme of punishment for that affair. Within the first four pages of the exposition, we
encounter gossip and judgment from the perspective of a community member: the
murder of a mistress; the rage and victimization of the adulterer's wife, Violet;
3


Violets attempts at retribution: and her obsession with assuming eharacteristics of
the dead girl, an identity crisis that is a consequence of adultery. Adultery is anything
but concealed and contained in Jazz\ Violet goes so far as to put [a picture of the
girls face] on the fireplace mantel in her own parlor and both she and Joe looked at it
in bewilderment (6). Adultery in Jazz has private consequences within Violet and
Joes intimate relationship, but it also has social consequences since it involves
punishment from the community in which Violet and Joe situate themselves. On the
other hand, faithlessness to an intimate relationship in Wallers novel is concealed
within the story and is therefore not publicly punished.
The Bridges of Madison County may perpetually offer a fabricated tale in
which the fictional characters of Francesca Johnson and Robert Kincaid are contained
in an on-demand replay for the reader; the lovers are sale from discovery and
punishment within the covers of the book and within the pages of the story space, but
these adulterers inhabit space outside of the novel as well. The space of concealment
is present as much in the plot of Bridges as the space of discovery is present in the act
of reading Bridges.
Janice Radway, in her respected study Reading the Romance, introduces the
premise of validating female reader response to romances (and women constitute the
vast majority of romance readers) with selected reactions from both academics and
reading civilians. One regular reader, a twenty-five-year-old wife and mother.
4


claims: The heroine makes me feel its a lovely world, people are good, one can
face anything and we are lucky to be alive. What a wonderful feeling! (3) One of
the academic representatives, Tania Modleski. asserts that [b]ecause readers are
superior in wisdom to the heroine at the same time that they emotionally identify with
her, the reading process itself must lead to feelings of hypocrisy. Right away, we are
confronted with a conflict in reading roles. On the one hand, we have a reader who
feels empowered through a vicarious reading of another woman's experience, and
who senses an increase in her internal agency, when reading romances. On the other
hand, we hear that the reader might be able to share this agency with the heroine,
identify with the heroine, and agree that it is indeed a lovely world, but the same
reader is outside of the static space of the plot, has access to characters and narration
that the heroine does not have access to, and is thus in a position of superiority over
the heroine in the romance. As the heroines superior, the reader is able to
figuratively look down upon and judge the heroine's feelings and behaviors. In the
journey of discovering and revealing the story, then, the reader is caught between
identification, even empathy, and judging.
E3ut what is this female reader supposed to be judging the heroine against .
How does the reader know whether to applaud or condemn the fanciful heroine who
achieves an ideal relationship in the romance and can make one feel lucky to be
alive? It is worth considering some statements that express some of the more wary
5


reactions toward the popularity of romantic fiction. For example, the abstract for Dan
Thomas and Larry R. Baas study of reader response to The Bridges of Madison
County indicates that this novels success raises anew a long-standing curiosity and
concern about romance fiction and the reach and roots of its appeal among readers.
Further in the paper, these authors assert that women readers turn in such big
numbers to romantic literature as an escape from the felt limitations of their lives as
women by partaking of fantasies; and this reader response study confirms that two-
thirds (30/45) of the women readers [of Bridges] load significantly on Factor A,
which is described as a feeling of strong identification with the main characters in the
story, a factor that Thomas and Baas designate as Swept Away. Is the danger, then,
that women will be swept away from their everyday lives as wives and mothers into
an idealistic world of fantasy? Could the vicarious pleasure of reading, or the
readers identification with a heroine that expands her sense of agency in her chaotic
everyday life, or simply an exploration of ones interiority, be viewed as a dangerous
space from the broader societal perspective?
Another perspective on the concerns regarding romantic fiction comes from
Ann Douglas, whom Radway quotes as another example of an academic approach to
studying reader response to romances. Douglas references "[ a jdmittcdl v incomplete
surveys that suggest that romantic fiction is "consumed by middle-aged women as
well as by a younger population of women. She says that "this statistic hardly assures
6


us that the Harlequins [romances] are harmless, ... but provokes instead serious
concern for their women readers. How can they tolerate or require so extraordinary a
disjuncture between their lives and their fantasies? (4) Whereas Thomas and Baas
recall the objections to the escapism appeal of romantic fiction, Douglas indicates that
the danger is not so much a temporary escape as it is the temptation of vice. One
recent publication, addressing ways that marketers could better captivate an audience,
explains that [rjules are not often fascinating, but bending them, very much so.
When were tempted to push a boundary, or deviate from standard norms, were in a
vice grip. Vice includes everything you want to do, and know you shouldn 7 do, but
still just might do (Hogshead 150-151, authors emphasis), [{'romance is such a
vice, such a temptation, though, there must be a particular set of rules or standard
norms that such fiction encourages its female readers to deviate from, riven if the
danger is only escapism, this implies that there is something that a female reader
needs to escape from.
Both Radway and the team of Thomas and Baas acknowledge the force of
oppression that women are tempted to deviate, or escape, from. Thomas and Baas'
study claims that romantic fantasies do, in the end, reaffirm the very limitations from
which they try to escape. Radway, who served as one of the sources for their paper,
asserts that the female readership of romance fiction [is] controlled, then, by the
ideological content of the form because it justifies, if it docs not actually create, their
7


values and beliefs (6). That is, although readers may believe that they read for the
love tangles and predictable resolutions that give them a wonderful feeling (3). they
really read because they need to participate in the reassertion of the latter | social
order] (6). But in order to reassert social order, the women who are reading need to
be able to make judgments about what deviates from the norms (assertive, willful
w'omen), and w hat reestablishes the status quo of society (submission to a male
through marriage). We can see how its important that the female reader not only be
able to occupy the space of identification with the heroine (the reader vicariously
breaks the rules), but also the space of superiority (the reader judges the heroine as a
deviator, as a tempter, and feels that its a lovely world by being involved in a
process that necessarily must set the nomas straight by the end of the story).
As we will see in Chapter 2, the issue of controlling womens physical and
social space has been an issue since, well, as far back as human memory can recall in
many cultures. The history of patriarchal societies is something that twenty-first-
century American culture is still living out, albeit with drastic differences from
ancient cultures. And the romance, from Harlequin to The Bridges of Madison
County, is one way of playing out the deviation and submission that reaffirms the
ruling social order of patriarchy, and the space that women hold within a culture
organized in this manner.
8


One of the more interesting reader response reaetions that Radway opens with
is the young wife and mother who feels a sense of growing interior ageney and
activity when reading romance, the respondent who feels that "one can face anything
when reading a romantic heroine. Radway explains a tendency to dismiss such
reactions as mere rationalizations and justifications, false consciousness, . [and
tjhe true, embedded meaning of the romance is available, then, only to the trained
literary scholars who are capable of extricating the buried significance (5). Radway
is open to acknowledging such a perspective in order to debunk it, but there is truth in
the conception of readers presented in this theory as passive, purely receptive
individuals who can only consume meaning embodied within cultural texts (6). This
thesis will explore some of this passive space that women hold in ancient texts, but
the issue did not simply dissolve at the end of the first Christian century.
Thomas and Baas, in their study of The Bridges of Madison County, remark in
a parenthetical aside that Waller gives ample amplification [to Kincaids character!
relative to the largely ill-defined character of the heroine. The duo also refers to a
week-long Doonesbury run, which was a spoof of the novel. . For her part,
Francesca is portrayed as a caricature without a character, lamenting in the final
frame of the strip, 'If only 1 had a personality. Whether or not you agree that this is
a fair assessment of Francesca Johnson, you will acknowledge that the characters of
9


Kincaid and Francesca are unequally developed to the point that cultural
commentators picked up on the disparity.
And yet Francesca is the character on whom the decision to continue the
adulterous affair with Kincaid rests (one might even propose that the space of sin is
thus allotted to Francesca at this moment), a decision that could be interpreted as a
very active moment for the heroine. Despite the potential to display a willful heroine
who takes hold of what she wants, Waller writes a character bound by responsibility,
bound to the space of her family and home: If you took me in your arms and carried
me to your truck and forced me to go with you, 1 wouldnt murmur a complaint. . .
But I dont think you will. Youre too sensitive, too aware of my feelings, for that.
And I have feelings of responsibility here (115). Francesca doesnt speak in terms
of her own internal desires, but in terms of how she is attached to external factors:
her husband, her children, the punishment they would suffer at the hands of the
community, the guilt Francesca would suffer both for exposing her family to ridicule,
and the guilt she would suffer for changing Kincaid by attaching herself to him
instead of to her family in Iowa. Francesca claims feelings that are wrapped up in
duty and reaffirming the status quo, not emotion. Even as she says this, Francesca
claims that she would not put up a fight if Kincaid decided to overturn this decision:
this diminishes the force of Francescas decision and depicts her as a passive woman
at the mercy of one man at the same time that she pledges allegiance to another man.
10


Perhaps without deliberately setting out to do so, readers of Bridges (besides
the creators of Doonesbury) do tend to construct Francesca as possessing an identity
only as it relates to the men in her life. A book discussion club organized through the
Missouri Secretary of State office, for instance, posted the following question.
Francescas Choice, to aid reading groups navigating through this novel:
When they finally must discuss the future, Francesca gives Robert
several reasons for her decision to end their relationship. . Of those
five reasons (it would change Robert, her duty to her husband, her duty
to her children, the gossiping her family would have to endure, and the
guilt that would change her), which do you think is the most
compelling?
Notice that there is no option in this guided discussion for Francesca to have made the
wrong choice, to disagree with the characters choice to maintain the status quo, to
conform to societys expectation that she remain with her husband and raise her
children. The options are not about what Francesca craves, but about how she is in
relationship with her family and with her community.
The overarching question I will be interested in is, in part, related to the space
that women inhabit in depictions of adultery the space of passivity, the space of sin.
Ultimately, though, 1 am interested in whether an alternate reading is warranted. My
comments up to this point have been concerned with how wc arc trained to read,
possibly without even being conscious of it. As readers, we learn to judge the
characters within the texts we read, which indicates the need we have to create
11


distance from something that is "other" than us, at the same time that we find ways to
make the characters real, to draw them closer, through identification and empathy.
But there is still something unsettling about the action oi Bridges. Although as
readers, we can identify with the feeling of expanded agency that Francesca Johnson
and Robert Kincaid experience during their short affair, the judgment that we work
through in order to reconcile ourselves with Francescas final decision to stay in
Winterset is only threatened with the idea of societal punishment; the affair does not
actually become public knowledge during Francesca and Kincaids lifetimes, and
neither the couple nor the family experience the pain of gossip or ostraci/.ation from
their community. And at the moment of this realization, we are partially relieved
(because of our vicarious reading and identification with the heroine), yet not fully
satisfied (because we have also been able to create distance as a superior" reader to
the character locked in the plot, as Modleski has asserted). We, like Francesca, have
gotten away with the crime of vicarious adultery and can go back to our real lives
without anyone knowing what we have been up to, but we havent been able to
vicariously punish Francesca through the characters of the novel.
After all, despite the disparity between the literary standing oi' Bridges and
that o {Jazz, and despite the treatment of adultery within each novel that may or may
not contribute to their reputations within the fields of literary criticism, we arc a
culture that enjoys the vicarious adulterous affair as much as we relish enforcing its
12


punishment and restoration to the status quo through anecdotal gossip, through
literature, through film, and through music, to name a few general references. As a
Judeo-Christian society, theres a conflict of interest for our involvement in cither
activity of participation or judgment. Hither we obey the law of God (dont sin) or we
obey the word of Jesus Christ (dont sin but when you do, accept Gods mercy and
grace and be forgiven). We are caught in the trap that the Pharisees have set and that
Jesus finds himself in throughout the first eleven verses of John 8: flout Gods law to
show mercy, or scorn mercy to follow the letter of the law. And as a culture, we can
study sin and intellectually, perhaps even theologically, understand the reasons
behind the law and moral consensus, yet be incapable of self-governance. The
temptation of vice is more than what we might do; we do succumb to deviation.
We still commit adultery: The popular womens magazine, Redbook, divulges that
A mere 11% admit to cheating (89, emphasis mine). The magazines editors imply
that the cheating population of Redbook readers would be higher if these women were
honest with themselves. And we still condemn it in others; beyond the conspiratorial
tone of Redbook, for example, its still against the law for a married woman to cheat
on her husband in Minnesota, according to a recent CBS News report: The law
against married women is a gross misdemeanor and carries a prison sentence of one
year, plus a possible fine of up to S3,000 (Adultery Illegal). The jury is out as to
whether the law is outdated or should be revised to include punishment for straying
13


husbands as well (which would be quite a feat considering that the Scriptural laws
against adultery focus on punishment for the female).
Literature tends to reflect and comment on the perspectives of a culture.
Perhaps this is a reason why Bridges is not considered literary enough to be studied
on a university campus; close readings of Francesca Johnson put aside, were
currently not willing to identify idealized and unpunished infidelity as a subject we'd
like to get to know better. The nature of affairs is short-term relationship; we can
skip the investment of character connection, thank you very much. The aspect of
adultery that our society considers as inevitable is the punishment, and if the spouse
and community dont catch on, well manage to punish ourselves with guilt and
internal flagellation. In our popular literary expressions of adultery, and in our
private spaces of the reading experience, we are drawn to the concealed adultery and
romance of The Bridges of Madison County, but in our public scholarly discussions,
we will proudly declare the visible and concrete punishments as well as the
complexity of of demonstrated in Jazz. How do we, then, as consumers of literary
didacticism, as students of the moral teachings within texts (when we arc in the public
or academic sphere), reconcile our desire with our sense of justice.
Our contemporary propensity to accept or condemn others according to a set
of rules we agreed upon as a society is by no stretch of the imagination a recent
innovation. In fact. 1 find that our intense focus on comparing and contrasting
14


ourselves to our neighbors and othering as we see fit (which tends to be according
to our laws and taught morals and ethics) has strong correlations to the Scriptures that
have been handed down to us and have been hugely influential on our system of
morals and structure of society. Although 1 recogni/e that there are centuries worth
of interpretation and interpolation between the original texts (thus marked because
we dont actually have copies of what would be considered to be original) that we call
the Old and New Testaments and twenty-first-century America, 1 am arguing that it is
a worthwhile exercise for us to revisit the ancient texts and cultures which created
those texts, even without tracing the large- and small-scale patterns of progress,
regress, and general changes in perception and knowledge from then to now, in order
to draw conclusions about how and w'hy those cultures dealt with adultery in terms of
punishment within the society.
The goal of this thesis is to establish a valid reason for us to reject the position
that interprets adultery to be an interpersonal sin what 1 spatially designate as
horizontal - that must be punished according to laws that are in place to maintain
social order and, in ancient cultures more so than in our modem lives, to set
boundaries for concerns of proper and legitimate inheritance between generations. I
posit that horizontal primacy results from a literal interpretation of Law and Scripture.
My stance is that, according to both Old and New Testament Scripture, Gods
concern is primarily for the state of spiritual relationships. Therefore, cases of
15


adultery included in Scripture must also be considered by prioritizing spiritual or.
spatially, vertical relationship. We will discover that the Old Testament texts can
support a figurative, metaphorical reading of adultery as a betrayal of relationship
with God. and that the New Testament writings, taken from the Gospel of Matthew
and the Gospel of John, bring a sharper focus to the necessity of establishing strong
vertical relationships before productive horizontal relationships can be built.
This reprioritization of lenses from literal to figurative, from horizontal to
vertical also causes us to ponder what adultery really means. Is it simply a sex act
outside of marriage or is it a fundamental betrayal, seeking intimacy outside of a
monogamous relationship? A reader versed in the conventions of academia might
look at the Harlequin romances or The Bridges of Madison County and brush these
texts off as low literature, or popular literature, but accept a copy of Jazz as a more
complex and higher literature that is worthy of critical thought and writing (this is a
generalization of academia, of course, although it very well could happen!). So, too,
might we overlook low adultery a focus on the sex act and horizontal betrayal
in favor of a higher adultery; that is, adultery that affects ones spiritual core and
fundamental tenets of faith. At the same time, by no means do I wish to eradicate the
significance of human faithfulness and the ramifications of interpersonal betrayals;
what I do wish to do is suggest that we will continue to struggle to value and maintain
faithfulness and intimacy in our human relationships if we do not commit to and
16


prioritize a monogamous spiritual relationship. We must be firmly bound (in our
inferiority, perhaps) to what we believe before we are able to apply that spiritual
commitment to the external and horizontal manifestations of that covenant, of that
promise to be in monogamous relationship. Vertical relationship, then, has a farther-
reaching effect than one might initially suppose.
Ultimately we will be able to adopt the position that Scriptural texts that
utilize adultery are pointing us as the audience toward a primary relationship with
God. rather than a primary relationship with one another. And if this is the case, we
must ask ourselves to reconsider the concealing, snickering, and finger pointing that
occurs from our neighborhoods to our bookshelves, the judgments that lead us to
focus on horizontal comparisons and relations with other people. Our culture has
inherited the biblical texts as well as myriad interpretations of these texts. If we read
passages such as John 8 as instances of judgment, we learn to judge others. If we
read the same passages as indicators of a primary vertical relationship, how might
such a reading inform our horizontal relationships with other people?
17


CHAPTER 2
ANCIENT PERSPECTIVES ON ADULTERY
Prior to discussing biblical examples of adultery, it will be helpful to establish
some of the attitudes and treatments of adultery that were contemporary to the
writings we will primarily be concerned with. Lysias was a speechwriter in ancient
Athens, living in the fifth to fourth centuries B.C.E. The speech commonly called
Lysias 1, On the Murder of Eratosthenes, is written as a defense of Euphiletus, who
killed a man (Eratosthenes) whom he caught in bed with his wife. He must defend
himself to a court on a count of premeditated murder because, although technically
supported by Athenian law, it would appear that by the classical period the use of
ransom [as opposed to capital punishment] had become the most common remedy
against moichoi, or adulterers (Greek poixoq) (Carey 413). As John Bateman has
summarized, the penalty for assault is a fine, except where the woman is of such a
status that capital punishment is applicable. This distinction in penalties is used to
maintain a distinction in the crimes of rape and seduction (i.e. adultery) in order to
magnify the importance of the latter (278). We see from both of these critics that
Euphiletus had other options besides killing the moichus. He could have exacted a
fine, or, according to C. Carey, he could have subjected the offender to physical abuse
or ransom. Either way, [h]e was not obliged to kill (Carey 410).
18


In part, the difference between physical abuse, death, and a ransom or fine
seems to be the difference between public punishment (it is difficult to keep death a
secret, or private) and a more concealed, private form of discipline. Although the
mode of punishment was flexible, the seriousness of adultery is not underestimated
by either critic. Bateman remarks on the importance of the latter [adultery), and
Carey summarizes what is explicit in Lysias' speech: Adultery corrupts the mind
because it is accomplished by persuasion, rather than by force, and the existence of a
clandestine relationship makes it difficult to determine the paternity of all children of
the woman in question (415). In a culture that is patrilineal, with property being
passed through the male line, an issue emerges when paternity is called into question.
This was also true in Roman law. Adultery disturbed the order of birth, which is
why Roman law gave the husband the right to kill his wife for either adultery or
drunkenness, since alcohol made a woman more likely to commit adultery
(Cunningham 89). As with the Greeks, the Romans considered it a serious offense to
blur hereditary lines.
We could stress the issue that Athenian law made it defensible either to kill an
adulterer caught in the act (for Euphiletus is on trial for premeditated murder,
implying that he tricked Eratosthenes rather than legitimately seizing him in the midst
of the crime) or to exact a tine, which would be a demonstration of mercy. Lysias'
narrative recounts the moment in which Euphiletus catches the adulterer.
19


Eratosthenes. Euphiletus relates that 1 myself. O gentlemen, having beat him, threw
him down, and having brought behind his hands, both of them, towards his back and
tying them, . And that guy was agreeing that he did wrong and was begging and
was pleading not to kill him, but to pay a fine (4) (unless otherwise noted. Greek
translations are my own). This scene occurs as soon as we hear that Euphiletus and
his friends/witnesses (a group of men that Euphiletus recruited from the streets) found
the adulterer naked on the couch with his wife. Euphiletus, rather than pursue
recompense in a private manner, exclaims, Not 1 will kill you, but the law of the city,
which you, transgressing, considered less important than pleasures; he then strikes
the man dead. The punishment is public not only in the sense that Euphiletus has
witnesses surrounding him, but also because the adulterers death incites the grief and
anger of the dead mans family. The family of the deceased calls for a trial in order
to bring Euphiletus to justice, but Lysias speech enables the cuckolded husband to
disgrace the reputation of Eratosthenes to a broader audience, and also in the posterity
of the court records.
Indeed, much of Euphiletus defense rests on the moral character of
Eratosthenes. Lysias asserts, in narrating the events leading up to the murder, that
Eratosthenes has a reputation for seducing women. A servant to a lady whom
Eratosthenes ran around with and then left reveals the adulterers identity to
Euphiletus with the description that it is Eratosthenes from the deme of Oc doing
20


these things, who not only has ruined your wife but also many others; for he has this
skill [or craft texvt]] (3). Lysias also concludes the defense with the logic that if
the court condemns Euphiletus, it is sending the message to society that criminals
such as thieves will receive a more lenient punishment, like a fine, if they simply
plead that they were attempting adultery, not theft. Adultery, after all, is a variant of
theft, as an adulterer steals the loyalty of a man's property his wife as we will
establish later. The well-being of society the reputation of its men, and the structure
of inheritance is at stake.
In ancient Greece, the law supports both extreme punishment, as in the death
penalty, and mercy, as in accepting payment of a fine. According to the letter of the
law, an individual citizen of the polis has the freedom to choose the punishment that
he deems appropriate for the criminal who offends him and his family. It is possible
that Euphiletus chose to kill the moichos because, according to Lysias speech, he
already had a son, an inheritor, by his wife, and wanted to send a message to other
adulterers as well as to the society, which might begin to doubt the legitimacy of his
child. We don't know this, just as we do not know the result of the trial, whether
Euphiletus was pardoned or condemned on the charge of premeditated murder.
Although we dont know the verdict of Euphiletus trial, we do know that the role of
oratory was influential in debating and determining laws and penalties, to the point
that it was the forum where major ideological concerns were displayed and debated
21


(Gagarin xx). The Athenian government was based on diseussion and debate, and
"[sjuccess was never permanent, and a victory on one policy issue or a verdict in one
case could be quickly reversed in another. Making speeches and persuading
audiences thus held a major role. The power of the word is also reflected in the great
concern for seduction, viewed as dangerous persuasion in Lysias oration. What we
do know from Lysias text is a sense of the importance of inheritance, boundaries,
reputation, and law as recourse for ancient Athens. And from the historical context,
we can understand the social nature of making and enforcing the laws that upheld
these values, such as the public and participatory process of debate and oration
(although, in Lysias case, the irony is that as a metic (a class of noncitizens in
Athens), he was not able to participate in the Athenian democracy as more than a
speechwriter, composing orations that others could deliver that would uphold and
shape the moral compass of the culture).
These values inheritance, boundaries, reputation, and law are typical in
ancient Mediterranean cultures. Honor and shame were particularly important, for
males through status and power, and for females through sexual purity; production of
sons was vital for both sexes (Osiek 38-39). These cultures were patrilineal, and
children were a familys most precious possessions (42), reared to carry forth the
property and status of the family; marriages were strategic contracts "for the
promotion of the status of each family. These were also patriarchal societies, in that
22


men were the head of the family and women became the property of their husbands, a
commodity which must be enclosed and guarded by the male members of the
family (40). Accordingly, males held legal and social power . ov er wife, children,
slaves, and property (56); Mediterranean women were expected to be under the
legal guardianship of a male relative, the Greek kyrios [tcupiocj or Latin tutor,
whether father, husband, or next of kin (57). The relationship of a w oman to a
Kupioq will continue to be hugely important as we work to understand how adultery
affected the fabric of these ancient societies and move into new realms of interpreting
expressions of adultery.
We see the traditional Mediterranean values in the Old Testament Scriptures
as well as in Lysias. I am translating Old Testament Scripture from the Septuagint,
which is the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew texts. Koine (common in
Greek) was not the literary language of the last centuries B.C.L. and first centuries
C.E., but the street language of the people, developing from Attic or classical"
Greek used by authors such as Euripides and Sophocles and Lysias, for that matter.
The Septuagint was a respected translation and is the text quoted in the New
Testament Scriptures and consulted by Paul of Tarsus. In the Septuagint. then.
Genesis 30 is one of several examples of the womans desperation for children, a
typical ancient Mediterranean value: Rachel, Jacobs second wife, is deeply envious
of her sister Leahs ability to provide Jacob with offspring. She exclaims to Jacob.
23


Give to me children; if not, 1 will die (30:1). She gives to Jacob Bilhah. her
maidservant, so that Rachel can claim legitimate children through a surrogate (an
image that is wonderfully reworked in Margaret Atwoods dystopian 1986 novel. The
Handmaids Tale). After producing several children in this manner, the narrator
recounts that "and God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her
womb (30:22). producing Joseph, her favorite son.
Later, in Genesis 31, we can witness another of these ancient values when
Laban is pursuing Jacobs traveling party in search of his household gods. Not
knowing that his wife Rachel has stolen the teraphim, Jacob answers his father-in-
laws charge as the patriarch of his family, defending the honor that Laban calls into
question: He with whom you find your gods will not live (31:32). Laban visits
three separate tents in order to accomplish his search: the tents of Jacob, Leah, and
Rachel. Not only are the heads of the family in separate living quarters (Jacob has
two wives and each is enclosed within her own tent), but we also see Jacob concerned
with guarding his honor and his familys honor, thus acting as the icupioc lor his
family.
Watching Jacob uphold this role of protector, we also notice the issue of
space. Jacobs wives inhabit tents separate from Jacobs and separate from each
others. In ancient cultures, the physical space that females occupied established their
position within the structure of the patriarchal family, and this is an idea we will need
24


to return to throughout an exploration of how adultery has been and should be
interpreted. Lysias' account of Euphiletus living arrangements will clearly identify
how the spatial arrangements of men and women refleeted their societal positions.
Lysias writes that he has a small two-story house, being equal above to
below according to the womens quarters and according to the mens quarters. . .
But when my son was bom to us, its mother was nursing it; in order that she might
not endanger herself descending down the stairs whenever it was necessary to wash, 1
lived above and the women lived below (2). Here we understand that Euphiletus has
a living arrangement typical to Mediterranean families; the men and women live in
separate quarters. Also, since Lysias implies that Euphiletus had to rearrange these
spaces in order to make washing the baby easier, we can assume that the women
typically lived in the upper, more private floor of the house. Euphiletus makes these
arrangements so that his wife does not endanger herself; Euphiletus is the icbpioc
charged with the care of his wife, and prioritizing the safety of his young son. 1 le
must designate a space for his family property that will keep them safe and ensure
patrilineal succession. On the other hand, this arrangement creates a division and a
space that becomes conducive for an adulterous act; we might consider that setting
boundaries for physical spaces does not necessarily affect interior or mental spaces
(and if we think back to Rachel's strong-headedness. we might recall the tension
created by untamed interiority as she demands something of Jacob that he cannot
25


guarantee, something that takes her out of the traditional female role!), and reeall the
seriousness of persuasion in adultery: an attaek on an unproteeted and undefended
mind.
Despite the androcentric nature of most ancient Mediterranean cultures,
women did hold a degree of power through their sexuality. Professors Carolyn Osiek
and David L. Balch explain that rape and adultery were surefire means of dishonoring
a family; rape would dishonor the male who was not able to protect the woman, and
adultery could be considered the females power to dishonor her family: Because
they [women] ultimately have the power that provides legitimate offspring, they must
be protected . But it is womens very weakness that gives them the fearful power of
being able to shame their family through its male members by sexual activity with
any male other than a legal husband (39). Hence, the importance of containing the
woman. In spite of these efforts at enclosure, wc see in Lysias how a devious
adulterer, with the skill, or tc^vt], of seduction, could find an advantageous time to
exercise the art of persuasion in spatial gaps. For Fratosthcncs, that moment occurs at
the funeral for Euphiletus mother, an occasion for a public appearance for his wife,
and an occasion for which the woman is outside the boundaries of her designated
space. Lysias writes that the defendants wife, having followed at the laying out of
the body of her [Euphiletus mother], having been seen by this man, is ruined
[seduced] at that moment (2). The adulterers tC/vt] is indeed predatory here, and
26


the woman in question is portrayed as a victim, the aorist passive object of a guileful
moiehos. This type of victim is certainly one requiring a icupioc to protect her from
herself as well as from others.
Compromising the fundamental methods of propagating a patrilineal society
was a serious offense. Besides punishments ranging from fines to death for adulterers
(and, as weve seen in Lysias, death was not necessarily the preferred penalty),
divorce was also common in these ancient cultures; it was more likely to be initiated
by the husband, . [and ajdultery and infertility were the two leading causes of
divorce (Osiek 62). Both of these causes relate back to the high value placed on
honor and status passed on through the children; as we saw in Lysias, an adulterous
woman could not guarantee that her offspring belonged to her husband, and. as
referenced in the Old Testament example of Rachel, an infertile woman was
incapable of producing biological heirs.
All of these issues are related to maintaining the honor and status of a family,
and perhaps especially the honor and status of a male and continuance of the male
line. Osiek and Balch discuss that the perception of others was incredibly important
for this social system: The crucial thing, both for individual males and for families,
is that ones claim to status and power is matched by others perception; . To claim
greater honor than is recognized by others would incur the shame of one who does
not know his place in society (38). Although a man bested by an adulterous wife
27


may be viewed by his peers as a cuckold, a seduced woman is a pollution that must
be eliminated by a father or brother in order to restore the honor of the family (39).
Granted, in Lysias we read nothing of the punishment of Luphiletus' wife; in fact.
Lysias goes out of his way in order to prove that Luphiletus urn bested by his wife in
order to support his case (Lysias makes a point of this, even though, as 1 mentioned
earlier, the woman was introduced to the adulterer as a victim; this will return as an
issue in John 8, as the unnamed adulteress is narrated passively, but, when referred to
by the Pharisees in direct speech, the woman is portrayed as the active agent within
the space of the sin of adultery). Still, Luphiletus is actually on trial for
premeditation, which is not directly related to his wifes punishment for her crimes.
And we can deduce that the loss of honor and reputation was a serious punishment for
citizens of ancient Mediterranean societies, if a more serious penalty was not
enforced. The eyes of the society were on those falling outside of expectations,
judging them and labeling them as deviations. The loss of honor and reputation
would have been a public punishment (we might also have familiarity with this
concept as a characteristic of Medieval literature, such as the Arthurian stories).
Michel Foucault, in his 1975 text Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the
Prison, provides an overview of the movement from the public spectacle of
punishment and execution to a system of counseling and rehabilitation, which could
be viewed as a more private means of reforming an individual, one in which
28


punishment will tend to become the most hidden part of the penal process" (d). 1 le
continues in asserting that the consequences of this shift from public to private
include a widespread consciousness of punishment as an inevitability rather than a
visual scare tactic. Foucault had discussed the spectacle of public punishment as
"theatrical and purposing to accustom the spectators to a ferocity from which one
wished to divert them. Although Foucaults opening image of public execution is
situated only as far back as the eighteenth century, public punishment as spectacle
existed long before the modem age. The Romans were adept at turning public
punishment into a sport, drawing a sharp line between law-abiding citizens and
dissenters (not least of all in the New Testament account of the crucifixion). As we
will see, punishment in the Jewish Scriptures separated the chosen from the chaff.
And even in Hellenistic cultures, the concepts of honor and shame performed the
function of othering within the society. Huphiletus attack on Fratosthenes
character is, beyond being necessary for his self-defense, a demonstration of an
attempt to show that his opponent is perverted, a deviant, an other according to the
values of his society. Foucault's prison system likewise marks the distinction
between the normative and the other.
Foucault draws a correlation between public punishment and the body, private
punishment and the mind. In the systems of public punishment, the body is literally
the target of abuse, marking it as an other not to be emulated. It has taken centuries to
29


move through the process of viewing punishment as an opportunity to reform the
mind and heart of someone who trespasses the laws of a society, and even having
made progress on this front, we recognize that the prison system still targets the literal
body (for example, boundaries between prison/non-prison and boundaries within the
prison between guard/prisoner and space allotted to each prisoner) at the same time as
it attempts to reform the mind. The viewpoint of reform, the option of a joumcv from
othered to normal was not an option for these ancient cultures. The question is
whether this option for process and progress is latent in the ancient texts, despite the
interpretations and practices employed by the citizens of these Mediterranean
cultures.
In A Radical Jew, Daniel Boyarin, a Jewish scholar and professor, analyzes
the message of Paul of Tarsus for the Jewish culture or, rather, for everyone, as
Boyarin emphasizes the doctrine of universalism in Paul. Boyarins argument rests
on proving that Paul was a Jew who was heavily influenced by the Hellenistic
movement throughout the Mediterranean, lie points out that Paul was working
within a society that prizes the Hellenistic desire for the One. . This universal
humanity, however, was predicated (and still is) on the dualism of the flesh and the
spirit, ... the spirit is universal (7). Paul himself often struggles between desire for
the flesh and desire for the spirit, for unity with Christ (c.f. Philippians 1:19-26).
Boyarin works to prove that the flesh operates on the plane of the literal, while the
30


spirit references a symbolic, and typically, an allegorical level (for Boyarin. the
allegorical level is a figurative meaning that tends to have spiritual ramifications).
According to Boyarin, even language is composed of outer, material signs and inner,
spiritual significations. He continually equates the body, or the flesh, with literal
interpretations, and sets this reading in opposition to a spiritual meaning or
significance. And as we have recently noted, the method of public punishment is also
based in the sphere of the literal: the body is literally marked and literally witnessed
by members of society, literally recognized to be an undesirable other. In the realm
of the literal, the marked body is visible and there is no room for interpretation; there
is no room for process. There is only marked and unmarked. Laws may allow space
for flexibility, as we have seen with the options of punishment available in Lysias, but
whether Euphiletus chose murder, physical abuse, or payment of a fine, the offender
is recognized as marked within the society either physically marked or marked in
character, damaged reputation, or tarnished honor.
A competing religion of the time, contemporary to the pagan and polytheistic
cultures of the Mediterranean, was Judaism: a religion very much interested in literal
markings. The Law of the Jews is based in the Law of Moses, found in the
Pentateuch. Thus, the cultural norms of law and punishment are dictated by spiritual
texts. The heart of the Law is contained in the Ten Commandments, recounted in
Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. These Commandments offer principles for living in
31


relationship with God and with one another, and are eonsidered to be absolute laws.
The commandment prohibiting adultery (poixonoi) occurs between the dictates
against murder and stealing (Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:19). This core of
laws is written in more detail as case laws throughout the Pentateuch, becoming a
code of law that the Jewish people can follow. In the case of adultery, Lev iticus
20:10 prescribes that if a man commits adultery with (another) mans wile, or if he
commits adultery with his neighbors wife, let [both] the adulterer and the adulteress
be put to death in death. The word for death is duplicated in the text, and while
the participle indicating the adulterer is in an active form, the participle denoting the
adulteress is in a passive form. This passivity will become important when working
with the New Testament texts. This law in Leviticus presupposes that the duo was
literally caught in the act by witnesses, however. Both Numbers and Deuteronomy
specify that one pair of eyes is not enough to condemn someone; for instance: "On
the basis of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die will die j be put
to death], but will not die [be put to death] on the basis of one witness (Deuteronomy
17:6). These witnesses receive a special role in the execution of the condemned:
And the hand of the witnesses will be first against him to put him to death, and the
hand of all the people last; and you will remove evil from among you (Deuteronomy
17:7). The social nature of public punishment is incredibly clear here: Members of a
group single out and testify against those who deviate from the established rules, and
32


then initiate the marking and removal of the others. literally throwing the tirst stone
that will bruise the criminals. We will examine the potential issue of unreliable
witnesses and scapegoating in Chapter 4 in the context of John 8.
Although the Jewish culture was founded on a spiritual law structure, the
religious community was obsessed with status, albeit in a different way than most of
the Mediterranean cultures existing in proximity to them. The Ten Commandments,
after all. designated a special agreement between God and the Israelites, chaired by
Moses. Boyarin explains that [ejthnic difference, cultural specificity, specific
historical memory, and sexuality were highly valued in that cultural system (8).
Boyarin is especially concerned with the laws that actually and literally mark the
Jewish people as different, such as circumcision and food laws, but the generality he
asserts is that the Jewish people were set apart by God, and it is a spiritual, salvi lie
status that the culture claims.
The Jewish people may claim privileged status with God, but this does not
mean that they do not need to obey laws. As Boyarin writes, it is a perversion of
that doctrine [of privileged position] to imagine that it therefore did not require them
to be faithful servants of the Law (within human limitations and possibilities) in order
to earn that privileged position (92). Breaking the Law. then, is a social
transgression (and thus is socially punished), as it jeopardizes the status of the tribe of
the Hebrews. And Boyarin does well to make the point that justification is not a
33


Christian coinage. Rather, it is a basic Jewish notion that indicates an
eschatological situation when the question is: Will I be acquitted by the divine
court? Justification means acquittal (117). I find that this elicits a vibrant image of
the Jewish citizen on trial with God. where the punishment, if convicted, would be a
stripping of status, of spiritual honor. Possessing the Law denotes privilege, or status,
with God, but maintaining the Law is a mark that pious Jews uphold as a privilege
among themselves, and for those who fail to place the same value on the Law.
physical punishment awaits in the material world, and the punishment of loss of
honor, or status, awaits in the spiritual realm.
The Law of Moses, then, is based on status, on holding a special position in
relation to God. Jews literally carry out these laws, but is there a figurative
significance to them as well? Boyarin adamantly supports this; he asserts that Paul
was lashing out not at Jewishness in his letters and teachings, but at the Jewish state
of being in the flesh; that is, of insisting on literalness. But Pauls position,
influenced by immersion in Hellenistic culture and his own issues with Jewish law
and attempts to work out those issues, is that spiritual relationship r faith allegory"
(120). Paul is certainly familiar with figurative language and, in Galatians 4:24.
specifically instructs his audience to read the story of Sarah and Hagar as uk/jp/opro)
(allegorco) for two covenants a story of interpersonal relationships is easily
34


reinterpreted to teach about how people are to relate to God. As presented by
Boyarin, the literal Law and history of Judaism signifies a faith relationship with
God: in spatial terms, the literal Law focuses on how we are to act with each other
horizontal relationships but this Law and its horizontal manifestations signifies how
we are to act with God vertical relationship.
Earlier, I recounted the story in Genesis 30 of Rachel giving her maidservant
to her husband in order to produce legitimate offspring because Rachel herself was
unable to conceive. Infertility would be a source of shame for a woman in that
culture, a shame that Rachel felt profoundly. From a twenty-lirst-century perspective,
asking Jacob to have sex with Bilhah sounds like Rachel is commanding her husband
to commit adultery. Robert Alter appeases such a reader with the apparently well-
documented comment that the practice of giving birth on someones knees j was] an
ancient rite of adoption (186), and we can now accept the reason why Dan and
Naphtali are legitimate sons for Rachel. But Alter also points out what may be
apparent in reading Scriptural stories involving Rachel: she is impatient, impulsive,
explosive (187), nothing like the typical Mediterranean woman who belongs to her
husband, lives in the private spaces of the home, and needs a icupioq. Alter also
mentions the theological context Gods withholding from her. The implication,
then, is not simply that Rachel is literally barren and must find other means of
35


producing children, but also that she is not in right relationship, neither with her
tcupioi; and protector, Jacob, whom she speaks harshly to in verse 30:1, nor
symbolically with God, who punishes her by withholding children. Rachel has
taken matters into her own hands by utilizing Bilhah, rather than demonstrating faith
that God will, in his time, open her womb. At the birth of Bilhah's first son. Rachel
asserts that God judged me (30:6). Only after Leah has borne all of her children
does God return to Rachel so that she can receive honor and bear children for her
husband: And God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her
womb. And having conceived, she gave birth to a son to Jacob and Rachel said, 'God
took away my disgrace (30:22-23). When Rachel fails to participate in a right
relationship with her husband and, by extension, God, God punishes her through her
status as a wife who ought to produce legitimate heirs for her husband.
In contrast to Rachel, Leah is portrayed as unloved by her husband Jacob but
intimately connected to God. Or, rather, God is intimately connected to her and
Jacob is incredibly distant from her despite their physical union. The author of
Genesis writes that the Lord saw that Leah was hated (29:3 1). using the aorist
passive tense of pioao (misco), to hate. Leah is thus placed in antithesis to the
interpersonal connection between her icupioc, Jacob, and her sister Rachel. God then
becomes Leahs icupioc, ensuring that she receives honor and can provide honor to
36


her family by bearing sons. Leah, however, must come to accept her sons as a
product of her relationship with God, rather than as the literal products of her union
with Jacob by this I mean that Leah acknowledges Gods role in opening her womb
to conceive her children, but uses her first three sons as bait to attract Jacobs
affection (Genesis 29:31-34). Finally, with the birth of Judah, Leah focuses on her
relationship with God, stating that she would profess/acknowledge the Lord
(29:35), with no further reference to her husband. Leah must fully prioritize her
vertical relationship in order to be at peace with her horizontal, interpersonal
relationships. Let us also remember that Judah is the son of Jacob whom Matthew
identifies as the progenitor of Joseph, adopted father of Jesus although Rachels son
Joseph is a significant figure in the Old Testament, it is Leah, the sister unloved by
her literal tcuptoq of the flesh, who is chosen to be in a special relationship with the
Lord (lcupioi;) God, and comes to prioritize that relationship through Judah, her son
who is the ancestor of a revised version of Joseph in the New Testament (see Chapter
3).
Rachel also has to come to a place where she no longer relies on her own
wiles to achieve a son, but to rely on God (which, frankly, is a lesson she never docs
fully learn); her machinations first demanding a child of her husband, next sending
Bilhah in to Jacob, and finally trading a night with Jacob to obtain her sister Leah's
mandrakes are fruitless in producing a biological child for Rachel. In fact, Jacob
37


recognizes that Rachel's initial reaction to her infertility is erroneous, exclaiming.
"Am 1 in the place of [instead of] God who deprived (took away from) you fruit of
the womb? (Genesis 30:2) And Rachel still does not turn to God, ignoring the
implied injunction of her tcuptoe. Only after Rachel has exhausted her store of tricks
does God open her womb. Rachel has, in a sense, abandoned her faith in the strength
of her relationship in God in favor of self-reliance, and this inward-looking
attachment to ones own abilities does not qualify as vertical, spiritual relationship.
Rachels inability to prioritize her relationship with God actually harms her horizontal
relationships with her husband and with her sister Leah she blames her husband and
is propelled into a competition with Leah that is bom out of jealousy. Lor Rachel,
learning to depend upon a relationship with God is a last resort, and her struggle to
maintain this spiritual relationship is clear throughout her life.
Rachels son, bom to her after she has relinquished her self-reliance, is a
product of God remembering Rachel. The childs name is Joseph and, as we find
out in Genesis 30:24, this name means let him add; Rachel says, Let the Lord
[here OeoqJ add to me another son (and in the New Testament, God will add a son
to a reinvention of Joseph). Note that Rachel does not identify the Lord as lcbpioc
here, but as Oeoc (theos), which is the Greek word for "god. As is evident through
Rachels later return to her devious plots and theft of her fathers idols (Genesis
38


31:19), she still has quite a way to go before truly prioritizing her spiritual
relationship. She is very much caught in the literal realm of the flesh: Status
within her society and before her husband Jacob are of utmost importance to Rachel.
The two women Leah and Rachel and their respective ability and inability to
prioritize a spiritual relationship will have great consequences as the story of
Scripture unfolds, for the way they manage human relationships points to the way
they manage their faith relationship, and they way they ought to act with each other
indicates they way they ought to act with God. As we will see, God calls his people
to place the vertical relationship in a primary position of significance. Thus, the
relationships of the flesh, or the literal, are quite connected to the relationship of
the spirit, or the figurative.
If Leah and Rachels story could be read literally and figuratively (as,
arguably, so many stories in the Scriptures could be, and possibly should be, read),
could the Laws of Moses be read figuratively, or as applying to a vertical relationship,
as well as literally, or as applying to interpersonal relationships Although certain
commandments are specifically written to address how people should relate to God,
others seem to be written on the horizontal plane. But could laws regarding treating
others with respect also point to how people should treat God? Mosaic Law is the
product of a relational covenant between God and his chosen people it is a
conditional covenant, that // Israel hears and keeps Gods covenant, then they will be
39


a chosen or special people. Breaking the commandments that God provides to his
people will have serious repercussions for that relationship and special spiritual
status. So if interpersonal commandments, such as prohibitions against adultery, will
directly affect that spiritual status, how is it that adultery is used to direct focus from
relationship with each other to relationship with God?
It is a fairly safe assertion to claim that adultery is established in the Law of
Moses to refer both to interpersonal relationships and to the faith relationship. Out of
the Ten Commandments, four directly refer to mans relationship with God, referring
back to the preface, "I am the Lord your God and 1 the Lord your God am a jealous
[zealous] God (Exodus 20:2, 5). These are commandments against worshipping
other gods, creating idols, and abusing the name of God and Gods holy day. The last
three laws specifically address your neighbor, condemning false witness and
coveting. The middle four (you might note that my math comes to eleven, as
different sects break down the list into ten in different ways) are more ambiguous.
On the literal level, it would seem that laws about honoring parents, murdering,
committing adultery, and stealing all fall under guidelines for human relationships;
yet I would advocate a reading that endorses a spiritually significant reading of these
laws (this is not to annul the literal significance of such principles for liv ing
peaceably with each other here on earth; rather, 1 am suggesting that we interpret
spiritual relevance as a primary reading).
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We can certainly comprehend the relevance of interpreting a commandment
that we honor our parents as a dictate to honor the human relationship of parent to
child. But on a figurative level, God himself could be read as a parent to his
terrestrial children. According to the myth in Genesis. God is the creator who made
the first humans in Eden. We can see God called Father throughout the Old
Testament, but prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, in particular, refer to God as
Father. My point here is that if God can stand in for a mother or father, then the
commandment to honor such figures brings the focus back to acknowledging the one
and only God. Imperatives against murdering and stealing could also refer to Gods
honor and status as the only God do not steal glory from God and do not kill faith in
and relationship with God. In the same way, adultery puts the focus on a
monogamous relationship with God, incorporating the mandates against engaging in
relationship with idols or other gods, a problem that occurs frequently in the Old
Testament, despite the chosen status of the Jewish people.
In fact, adultery (poi^ebco) is a term used in the Scriptures to recount the
faithlessness of the nation of Israel to God. To take just one example, the prophet
Jeremiah constantly laments the wayw'ard nature of Israel during the Babylonian
captivity. For instance, Jeremiah writes that Israel and Judah (sisters) committed
adultery with stone and tree (3:9), stones being barren, incapable of producing any
fruit. Two chapters later, the prophet records Gods words: When I fed them to the
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full, they were committing adultery and they were lodging in houses of prostitutes
(5:7), a deliberate act of inconstancy. Faithfulness to God is well-connected to the
success or fall of the Jewish culture, reward and punishment. Faithlessness is labeled
as adultery, a capital offense under Mosaic Law, a crime that points to Gods people
willfully turning away to choose another relationship, one that pollutes the covenant
that marks Israel as a special people, chosen by God. God chooses his people, and his
people accept that relationship only to defile it. Taken as historical fact or parables
for teaching, adultery is absolutely an allegorical or figurative issue as well as a literal
issue.
Dealing with adultery in ancient cultures is a process, even a journey. On the
literal of the flesh level, the process involves witnesses, trials, judgments, and
punishments public or private, physical or character penalties. In certain societies,
there is flexibility in the method of punishment. There is also the issue of the space
that the woman occupies in situations that express adultery, the victimization of the
woman and the need for protection by a icupioc, although even a victimized woman is
a pollution that must be disposed of. In the figurative or vertical sphere of the
spirit, there is relationship with God, the process of establishing boundaries, the
choice of sin that crosses those limits, the need for repentance, or turning back to
God, and the need for Gods mercy in accepting his people back into relationship
with him.
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We must consider one more element of interpretation before moving into the
New Testament texts, though, and that is the issue of rewriting. Slavoj Zizek. writing
an entree into the role of women in the origins of Islam in his book The Fragile
Absolute, criticizes Pauls allegorical interpretation of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4)
with three points: (1) Gods obvious care for Hagar and Ishmacl; ... (2) The
extraordinary characterization of Hagar as not simply a woman of flesh and lust, a
worthless slave, but the one who sees God . [and] (3) The fact . that the choice
between flesh and spirit can never be confronted directly as a choice between the two
simultaneous options (xv-xvi, authors emphasis). The first two points are relevant
as they indicate a primary spiritual relationship. God cares for Hagar and 1 lagar can
correctly see God. The issue of seeing becomes important in the New Testament in
the form of correct relationship. God speaks to Hagar through an angel whom I lagar
identifies as God (Genesis 16:13) but Sarah (Sarai at this point in the narrative)
receives no direct revelation; God speaks only to her husband Abraham (Abram).
Zizek continues his third point of critique regarding the issue of simultaneous
options in this way: For Sarah to have a son, Hagar must first have hers; in other
words, there is here a necessity of succession, of repetition, as if in order to choose
spirit, we first have to choose flesh only the second son can be the true son of spirit"
(xvi). Although I havent performed a close reading of Sarah and Hagars story,
Zizek's point regarding the necessity of rewriting is also well-taken in the context of
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Rachel and Leahs story, and the issue is one of literal versus figurative significance,
horizontal versus vertical focus. Zi/.ek is naming Hagar's son as the son of flesh and
Sarahs son Isaac as the son of spirit. Despite the strength of llagars vision for God.
she is an other woman, a servant whom Sarah sent to her husband in order to
conceive a son. The true son cannot be identified as such without a point of
comparison; thus Hagar must bear a son of the flesh and then Sarah rewrites the
narrative with the birth of Isaac, a son "of the spirit. So, too, Leah bears sons for
Jacob first, sons of the flesh, and then bears Judah, a son of the spirit that causes
Leah to profess the Lord. Leah rewrites her perspective on relationship and
childbearing. And Rachels narrative corresponds more closely with Sarahs, as she
first bears a son through an other woman, her servant Bilhah, and later is able to
bear a biological son, Joseph. This preference for second position is a running theme
throughout the Old Testament. Jacob, for instance, was the second son. and although
Leah was older than her sister Rachel. Leah was also loved second-best. Yet it is
Jacob and Leah who conceive Judah, ancestor of Joseph, adopted father of Jesus.
What is initially in secondary position, then, becomes of utmost importance.
A latter-bom son shoulders primary significance when he is named a patriarchal
ancestor to Gods only son, and the latter-discovered figurative or spiritual
interpretation assumes the primary position that we as readers and interpreters invest
ourselves in. We must first possess and appreciate the literal understanding in order
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to comprehend the import of the figurative understanding; we must first read of the
flesh, the horizontal relationships, before we can reread, rewrite, and reinterpret
vertical of the spirit relationships, but the revision is the event that we ultimately
center ourselves around.
As we move into the New Testament, we will further consider issues of space
and values in specific case studies. This is not a comprehensive study, and although
there are several complementary texts to this argument, we will be expending our
energy on Matthew 1, Matthew 5, and John 8. Our focus will shift to delineating the
role of vertical interpretations to cases of adultery in the New Testament in the
process of building a primary spiritual relationship.
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CHAPTER 3
THE ROLE OF ADULTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: MATTHEW'S
INFANCY NARRATIVE AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
The canonical New Testament begins with the gospel accounts, two of which
contain stories of Jesus birth the Nativity stories. Contrary to their primary
location and chronological standing in the Bible, however, these birth narratives were
not the first texts composed about Jesus Christ. Pauls letters were composed around
50 C.E. or so, and its generally accepted that the canonical gospels were written
between 70 and 100 C.E., beginning with Mark, followed by the other two synoptic
gospels, and ending with John. Even within the gospels, the infancy narratives were
likely the last elements composed. In one study by Raymond Brown, the author
posits that one may speak of the Gospels as developing backwards. ... In such a
process of Gospel formation, selection and emphasis were dictated by the fact that a
message of salvation was being preached and taught (The Birth of the Messiah 26,
27). The overarching message, the theme of the story, is first determined, and
biography is built around this theme to support it. Thus, the Passion and resurrection
are central, then the teachings of Jesus that lead up to this theological moment, then
an origin that will contribute to the role of Jesus, as defined by the significance of the
end of his life.
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The concepts of composition and selection all point to the constructed nature
of the gospels and of the infancy narratives, rather than a historical or biographical
truth. Yet Christianity itself was. in its first centuries, a battleground for basic
theological and practical questions that Christians now take for granted: Was Jesus a
human or a god? Was it Christs death that would ensure salvation or his teachings'?
What was/is Jesus relationship with God? Is the Christian God different than the
Jewish God? Must you become a Jew before becoming a Christian? Docs Jesus' law
trump, or annul, Jewish law? What is the role of women in Christianity according to
Jesus teachings and actions (or, more accurately, according to the correct
interpretation of Jesus teachings and actions)? Brown writes that [f]or orthodox
Christians [the gospels] have helped to shape the central doctrine of Jesus God and
man (Birth 25); that is, who Jesus was and what his message and meaning was and is
has been shaped, or constructed, by the gospel accounts. But there were many other
writings that did not become orthodox or have not survived (such as the Q source
or Nag Hammadi texts); there were many different ideas and interpretations of Jesus
life, death, teachings, and ministry. Just as oral debate helped to determine laws in
the ancient Mediterranean cultures, so were writings engaging in a debate that was
ensuing during the first centuries after Jesus had lived and died. Frank Kermode
suggests that this idea of oral debate applied particularly well to the infancy
narratives, since the authors of the gospels seem to have had highly developed and
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consecutive accounts of the last phase of the life of Jesus, but the material on his
earlier years was more anecdotal, assembled on principles that were largely
nonnarrative (387). In any case, this debate carried on even after certain texts
became favored and sanctioned as orthodox. In The Text of the New Testament.
Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman introduce examples that demonstrate doctrinal
motivations of scribes making certain intentional changes to the texts they were
copying. Metzger and Ehnnan assert that there are "traces of two kinds of dogmatic
alteration: those that involve the elimination or alteration of what was regarded as
doctrinally unacceptable or inconvenient and those that introduce into the Scriptures
proof for a favorite theological tenet or practice (266). One touchy theological
subject is the humanity of Jesus, and the legitimacy of Joseph as his earthly father;
scribes who opposed language that could be read to support the interpretation that
Joseph was Jesus biological father made changes to verses such as Luke 2:41,
changing his parents to Joseph and Mary (267).
This discussion of selection, assembly, and transmission of the gospels is
leading us to an understanding of the gospel narratives as myth. Roland Barthes'
Mythologies conveys that the nature of myth is a system of communication, ... a
type of social usage which is added to pure matter (109, authors emphasis). Barthes
builds on Saussures work, claiming that there is a truthVsignilied which recurs in
different guises of symbol/language/signifier; the associative total of the first two
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terms [signified and signifier] is the sign (113). Social usage" appropriates pure
matter and symbols, language, to generate an agreed upon meaning and import
which cannot then be changed. The cross signifies Christianity and this cannot now
be changed to the hill that the cross stood upon.
Barthes explains that the true mythical concept has at its disposal an
unlimited mass of signifiers. . This repetition of the concept through different
fonns is precious to the mythologist. it allows him to decipher the myth (120); the
myth needs multiple guises in order to become firmly rooted in the consciousness
of the culture. Barthes uses the myth of wrestling to communicate the concept of
good guys versus bad guys; this same concept is communicated in the guise of Disney
tales as well as in the canonical gospels, where the good guys are godly followers
of Christs teachings, and the bad guys are those who choose not to follow these
teachings and principles or betray Jesus Christ, ungodly goats, chaff, or any other
metaphor expressed in the New Testament.
This repetitive appearance of the myth concept through multiple fonns
establishes the historicity of the myth, the appearance of truth and naturalness of the
myth. Yet, as Barthes writes, the motivation is not natural: it is history which
supplies its analogies to the fonn. . Finally, the motivation is chosen among other
possible ones (127). The purpose and foundational principle of the myth is to
transforjm] history into nature. . in the eyes of the myth-consumer" (129. author's
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emphasis). The myth serves a particular power group, making arbitrary and unnatural
appropriations of symbol seem natural and eternal, making human ehoices among
other possible ones that will support the ideologies of those holding power, the
orthodox, and ensuring that such groups remain in power, remain in the position of
orthodox rightness. Judaism and Christianity certainly accomplish this through the
creation myth of Genesis 2: the account of Gods creation of first man and second
woman, the designation of woman as helper to meet Adams unmet need, and the
account of first womans fall and second mans fall, thus identifying woman as the
origin of sin, is a myth that signifies womans secondary status, and a concept that is
rewritten throughout the Bible as well as throughout myths of countless other
cultures, up to our own twenty-first-century American society. The history of
cultures giving women secondary status, even the designation of property in the
ancient Mediterranean cultures, is justified and reinforced as natural through myths
such as Genesis 2. We might even be able to suggest that the values embodied in the
laws that perpetuate these attitudes toward women are the substance of myth.
As a socially agreed-upon institution, myth-keeping is as important as myth-
making. And both are processes, human journeys of crafting and protecting. When a
myth is written about Jesus Christ, then, wrapping elements of history into the
concept of Gods intervention and humankinds salvation, it must be agreed upon (by
those acquiring the most power) and we should also remember that, [ijn passing
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from history to nature, myth acts economically: it abolishes the complexity of human
acts (Barthes 143). This complexity also includes differences in human thought
and interpretation. Thus, the scribal battle for theology is also the battle for
mythological validity. This follows the authorial battle for establishing the basic
elements of an acceptable myth the orthodox or right v ersion of the story. Vlyth
is constructed; so, too, were the infancy narratives constructed to support basic
doctrines that become important for solidifying the Christian myth and the orthodox
understanding of the character of Jesus Christ.
The myth of Christ insists that Jesus was bom of a virgin named Mary. The
Nicene Creed, an attempt to unify orthodox Christians in the fourth century, claims
that [ w]e believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ and that by the power of the 1 loly Spirit
he became incarnate from the virgin Mary, and was made man (Lutheran Book of
Worship 64). This has been established as a central belief of Christianity: Jesus
Christ was the son of God, and as such (as noted above when referring to scribal
erasures of Joseph as parent), cannot also be the biological son of Joseph. At the
same time, Jesus was made man, and must live within the confines of the human
society, including the values and accepted societal structures, he was placed into. In
the patriarchal and patrilineal culture of the Mediterranean, Jesus must grow up under
a legitimate father figure. Thus, the infancy narratives are presented with a serious
problem: flow can Jesus become a legitimate child in the Mediterranean and also be
51


verified in his claim to be the son of God? How can Jesus come into the household of
Joseph and Mary without suspicions of adultery?
The author of Matthews gospel is quite sensitive to this conundrum. Part of
this sensitivity may be due to the authors great concern for the Jewish culture, which
includes the laws and customs that organize the family under the male head. Bart
Ehrman observes that Matthew begins his Gospel by indicating that Jesus was a Jew
(from Abraham) in the line of ancient kings (from David). One is immediately
impressed by a distinctive feature of this narrative: Jesus is portrayed as thoroughly
and ineluctably Jewish (85). This genealogy would help to explain the widespread
assumption that the author of Matthew was writing to an audience of Jewish-
Christians who would be concerned with how the now Old Testament Scriptures (it
into and are fulfilled by the now New Testament (c.f. Brown Birth 45 and Keener 45).
Further, Ehrman highlights the issue of patrilineal passing of inheritance and what
was at stake in Matthews claim in his genealogy of Jesus (tracing the line from
Abraham to King David to Joseph): Abraham was thought to be the father of the
Jews. And David was their greatest king, whose descendant was to resume his rule,
enthroned in Jerusalem and reigning over a sovereign state of Israel as God's
anointed. This son of David would be the messiah. Notice that Ehrman describes
the messiah as Gods anointed. and not necessarily Gods own son. This identity.
Son of God, is unique to the character of Christ; although he fulfills Scripture.
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according to Matthews author, Jesus identity extends beyond the human concept of
a messiah-king.
Still, these connections through genealogy are human links. Therefore. Jesus
must have a human connection in order be accepted into the Jewish culture. This is
accomplished through a birth mother, Mary, and an adopted father, Joseph. Matthew
(1 am henceforth referring to the author of Matthew in this way for the sake of
convenience) makes this relationship clear at the conclusion of his genealogy: And
Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, from whom was bom Jesus who is called
Christ (1:16, New Testament passages translated from Nestle-Aland). It is clear at
this point that Jesus is not biologically of Davids line, and is not biologically the
heir, the messiah.
Yet Jesus is definitely brought into direct contact with Joseph through this
genealogy, and thus Joseph is chosen for a special role. The use of a character named
Joseph is an important point, as he can be interpreted as a rewriting of Rachel's son
Joseph, who appears in Genesis. The first Joseph, bom in Genesis 30. is the product
of the literal-minded Rachel, while the second Joseph, Jesus adopted father, is a
descendant of a spiritual-minded Leah, unloved by her husband but remembered by
God. Joseph of Nazareth, as a rewriting, must become a son of the spirit, shedding
his tendency to rely on the literal, what he can see through the evidence of a situation,
for the spiritual, what he can see of Gods plan and purpose.
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Matthews nativity scene is interesting in one key difference from the other
canonical infancy narrative in Luke. Whereas in Luke, the focus is on Mary's
perspective and Josephs role is almost nonexistent. Matthews version of events
draws a lot of attention to the issues that arise from Josephs lack of involvement in
Jesus conception; in fact, Matthew provides a narrative primarily from Josephs
perspective. And part of this perspective is very much concerned with the possibility
that Mary was unfaithful and committed adultery.
Matthew is careful to portray Joseph as a law-abiding and yet merciful Jew as
he considers how to approach Marys unexpected pregnancy: And the origin birth
of Jesus Christ was in this way. With his mother Mary betrothed to Joseph, before
they came together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And Joseph
her husband, being just and not willing to make a show of her, was resolved to
divorce her secretly (1:18-19). 1 might first reinforce that Joseph does have rights
over Mary at this point. In this culture, betrothal would constitute a legally ratified
marriage in our terms, since it gave the young man rights over the girl. She was
henceforth his wife, and any infringement on his marital rights could be punished as
adultery (Brown Birth 123). As we saw earlier, adultery was one of the common
reasons for divorce. But note that the male in this situation is the one in control of
whether or not to divorce, or even whether or not to punish the transgressing woman.
Matthew reinforces the patriarchal role of the male: Jesus' arrival into this family
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does not remove Joseph's authority in that household. Aeeording to the law that
designates the wife as the property of the husband. Joseph has the right to break ties
with and dispose of what he considers to be damaged property. We see in Matthew's
narrative that Joseph is planning to carry out his rights according to what the law
allows. There is no indication that Joseph spoke with Mary and determined that he
would not be able to procure the co-adulterer and witnesses required to put her to
death; in fact, Matthew goes out of his way to proclaim that Joseph was just, or
upstanding, perhaps morally. Raymond Brown claims that diicuioc, which could be
translated as just, or an upright man, is a favorite Matthean word (nineteen
times, compared to twice in Mark) . The most likely meaning ofupright here,
namely, observant of the Law is not the usual meaning of dikaios for Matthew
{Birth 125). Brown actually places Joseph's uprightness in contrast to a moral
uprightness, emphasizing the law-abiding Jewish citizen that Joseph is. hither way,
Joseph is an exemplary Jewish man who has intentions to follow the letter of the Law
that allows him to divorce his wife for supposed adultery, but he is also a merciful
Jewish man; although Joseph could not have Mary put to death according to the
requirements of the law, he could make a show of her, a Foucault-inspired
spectacle that Joseph has the right to do, considering that because a wifes adultery
could imply the husbands inadequacy or his family's poor choice of a mate, it
shamed the husband as well (Keener 92). Craig Keener posits that "Joseph might
55


have profited from divorcing her publicly. By taking her to court Joseph could have
impounded her dowry ... In contrast, by forfeiting this economic reimbursement he
could instead simply provide her a certificate of divorce in front of two or three
witnesses and so minimize her public dishonor" (93-94). The law is flexible
enough to provide this option, and Joseph is depicted as a man of great moral
character by choosing the option that would be less embarrassing to his wife.
Matthew also emphasizes Josephs authority in the situation of Jesus
conception by indicating Marys status as property through the language of the Greek.
Again, unlike Lukes infancy narrative, Matthew does not provide Marys
perspective. She is mute and present only indirectly, through Josephs perspective
and experience. She inhabits the upper and back rooms, so to speak, the more private
space that Mediterranean women were typically assigned. It may not be surprising,
then, that when referenced in the Greek, Mary is not written in independent or active
language. The author of Luke introduces Mary as quite an independent figure as
compared with Matthew. Marys entrance in Luke is often broken down into a
standalone sentence in English versions (note that punctuation did not appear in
Greek manuscripts and was added by later editors): "And the name of the virgin was
Mary (1:27). The space that Mary takes up in Luke is prominent, even front
room; that is, someone we meet directly upon entering the narrative. Matthew does
not allow Mary this status; he introduces her only in relationship to men: "And Jacob
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begot Joseph the husband of Mary, from whom was bom Jesus who is called Christ
(1:16). There is no way for an English translator to extract an independent clause
from Matthews construction; Mary is dependent on her husband and son for
identification.
Further, Mary is written in passive verbiage in the Greek. Matthew 1:18
establishes Marys status as property of Joseph, indicating that Christ was conceived
with his mother Mary betrothed to Joseph. The Greek for betrothed in this situation
is pvr| literally as having been betrothed. In the same verse, Marys pregnancy is
revealed, as she was discovered to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Again, the
Greek conjugation is aorist passive, eup£0r|, translated as she was discovered or
she was found. In either case, Mary does not actively discover herself to be
pregnant, but is acted upon as an outside party discovers her to be pregnant. Mary is
silent, a piece of property examined by another.
Marys silence is especially interesting in Matthew because she assumably has
information about the conception that Joseph doesnt have (especially if we consider
Lukes report, which is the only other canonical witness). In addition, the audience is
given information that Joseph doesn't have yet. In verse 18, the reader is assured that
Mary has not committed adultery, but that her pregnancy has been caused by the Holy
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Spirit. This is information that Joseph must become aware of: he is on a journey to a
correct interpretation (and in this case, the reader is in a superior position to the
hero!). On the literal level, Mary is Josephs property and all of the evidence Joseph
has gathered points to Marys adultery. He therefore must punish her, and chooses to
punish her through covert divorce so as not to subject her (and likely himself) to
public ridicule. On the figurative or spiritual level, though, Mary has a vertical
relationship with God that is so strong that the relationship is actually growing within
her in the person of Jesus Christ. Should the laws of the earth, structured to protect
the conditional covenant between God and his people, or the laws of the spiritual
realm, God's will, be prioritized in this situation?
Moving forward in Matthews infancy narrative, we know that Joseph's
interpretation is corrected by a dream in which an angel of God reiterates what the
audience (and Mary) already knows, that what Mary conceived is from the Holy
Spirit. (1:20). Dreams exist on the figurative level, often rewriting the literal, the
reality of the day, to offer a new meaning. And so Joseph comes to believe in Marys
relationship with God that has conceived a child, and he does not divorce Mary.
The fact that Joseph chooses not to divorce Mary is vital for Matthew's text.
As Rachel becomes a mother by accepting Bilhah's child as her own, Joseph becomes
a legitimate father by accepting, or adopting, God's child into his family; Joseph's
name becomes fitting as Jesus is "added to Joseph. As Raymond Brown puts it.
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[t]he How of Davidic sonship is through the agency of Joseph (Birth 138).
Joseph has the authority to accept Jesus as his son, thus making the child a legitimate
heir of Joseph and of David. Brown asserts that:
Davidic descendancy is to be transferred not through natural paternity
but through legal paternity. For Matthew this is emphatically God's
will, since the two steps in the legal paternity are dictated by the angel
and carried out by Joseph exactly / as the angel of the Lord had
commanded him (1:24). ... By doing this [taking Mary in] rather
than divorcing Mary as he had proposed, Joseph assumes public
responsibility for the mother and the child who is to be bom. The
second and more important step is: You will call his name Jesus. By
naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his own. The Jewish
position on this is lucidly clear and is dictated by the fact that
sometimes it is difficult to determine who begot a child biologically.
Since normally a man will not acknowledge and support a child unless
it is his own, the law prefers to base paternity on the mans
acknowledgment (138-139).
Josephs acceptance of Jesus does not throw the patriarchal system out of balance;
rather, it reinforces the authority of the father. Jesus becomes a legitimate son of
Joseph and heir of David because of Josephs will to accept and follow God's plan.
At the same time as the text confirms patriarchal structure, Matthews nativity story
reinforces the myth of female disempowerment and secondary status by depicting
Mary as a passive object. Mary's passivity truly reinforces the patriarchal role of
Joseph. Her position reiterates the womans need to be protected, her need for a
tcupioc.
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But there is still the fact that Josephs character chooses Gods will over the
Law of the Jews. Craig Keener stresses that Joseph "lived in a society where he had
no option of giving Mary a second chance, even if he wanted to (which he
presumably would not have). Jewish, Greek, and Roman law all demanded that a
man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery (91). Keener explains that under
Roman law. Joseph could actually be considered as a panderer exploiting his wife as
a prostitute should he fail to divorce her. So although Ive noted that Joseph had
options within that decision to divorce, divorce was something he must do according
to the letter of the Law. Why, then, does Joseph choose to follow Gods will rather
than his cultures laws (which also derived from God)?
From a figurative perspective, Josephs decision indicates that there is
something greater than human relationships and faithlessness, something that these
horizontal structures point to. There is something greater than the letter of the Law.
than carrying out the Law in its literalness. Josephs journey from misunderstanding
to understanding is a journey from literal interpretation (this is the law; this is the law
broken; this is the punishment for that broken law) to a figurative interpretation (a
move from faith relationship with the law to faith relationship that fulfills God's will)
a journey of to prioritize an alternate, or the second, mode of interpreting and
knowing. With the coming of Jesus Christ, it is not only the female who needs a
icupioc; Jesus wall become the icupioi; for all of humanity. Just as Joseph accepts
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Jesus into his home as an adopted, and thus legitimate, ehild. even anointing
(choosing) Jesus to be his child, the identity of Jesus, his life and purpose, will allow
God to do the same for us, to anoint us, or to choose us. as children and heirs. A
correct interpretation of Jesus conception enables Joseph, and enables us. the
audience, to interpret a supposed situation of adultery faithlessness to a human
relationship as faithfulness to a divine relationship. A correct interpretation of
Mary's role in the conception removes her from a place of shame and relocates her in
a place of honor.
Indeed, Matthews purpose is very much about proving that Jesus Christ
fulfills the Old Testament; not that Jesus annuls the Jewish Law, but that he
completes it. Frank Kermodc writes that Matthew grants the old text [Old
Testament] its sanctity and its perpetual force, but he always assumes that in an
important sense it is not complete in itself. . The relation of the new to the old is a
typological relation; though the old was complete and invited no addition it must
nevertheless be completed. It is as if history and story acquired a new and
unexpected dimension (388). Bart Ehrman understands Jesus fulfillment of the Old
Testament in Matthew in a similar way: Not only does Jesus fulfill predictions of the
Old Testament prophets, but, additionally. [t]he meaning of these ancient events was
not complete until that which was foreshadowed came into existence. When it did.
the event was 'fulfilled.' that is. filled full of meaning' (88). Thus, we can
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understand the parallels between Moses story and Jesus' story as a typological
relationship in which one story fulfills what was begun in the initial narrative.
Matthew 's gospel does, in fact, broach the issue of Moses versus Jesus:
Which character is to be more significant for the Jews? Which character has more
authority in providing and interpreting the Law of the Jews'. In using typology ,
Matthew is implementing myth in helping the audience of his gospel to understand
the underlying concept of authority. We can interpret Moses as a literal historical
figure who is viewed as the authoritative leader who provided the Jewish people with
a set of laws to follow, divinely ordained through God, or we can view Moses as a
type of character who begins a process of interpreting Gods will for law that is
fulfilled in the similar character of Jesus Christ the latter demands a flexibility in
interpretation, a willingness to let go of the literal letter of the Old Testament
Scriptures that demands obeyancc to a set of code law. Typology also echoes the
argument in Zizek that the literal must precede the figurative, as well as my claim that
the horizontal must precede the vertical. The latter fulfills the former.
Matthew 5 is part of the Sermon on the Mount, which is most likely a
construction of an oral tradition of Jesus sayings into a single non-historical event
(c.f. Lhnnan 93). Bart Ehrman expands on the typology between Moses and Jesus
delineated in the prior section:
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One of the overarching messages of the sennon is the connection
between Jesus and Moses. If the Law of Moses was meant to provide
divine guidance for Jews as the children of Israel, the teachings of
Jesus are meant to provide guidance for his followers as children of the
kingdom of heaven. . [Tjhis does not mean that Jesus' followers arc
to choose between Moses and Jesus; they are to follow Moses by
following Jesus. For Matthew, Jesus provides the true understanding
of the Jewish Law, and his followers must keep it (93).
This implies that prior to the coming of Jesus, the Jew ish people did not have a true"
or correct understanding of Mosaic Law. Moses prefigured Jesus Christ, and Jewish
interpretation of Mosaic Law prefigures the Christian interpretation of the I.aw. and
the Sermon on the Mount is indicative of Jesus Christs reinterpretations that
Christians must follow.
At one point in the sermon, Jesus addresses the laws surrounding adultery. In
Matthew 5, Jesus revises Mosaic Law: You all heard that it was said: You will not
commit adultery. But I say to you that every one looking at a woman to lust after her
already committed adultery with her in his heart (5:27-28). Further, Jesus addresses
the intersection of adultery and divorce: It has been said, Whoever divorces his
wife, let him give to her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you that every one divorcing
his wife except for an argument of fomification-prostitution, he makes her to ha\e
been committed adultery, and whoever marries a having been divorced [woman)
commits adultery for himself' (5:31-32). You will notice that my translation is
awkward, but what I am communicating in the awkward verbs "to have been
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committed adultery and having been divorced is the literal sense of the passive
conjugations with respect to women; again, the man acts upon a passive woman. Im
interested in this language issue because according to this rendition of the law
prohibiting adultery, and by extension, the law detailing punishment of those
transgressing, the male is responsible for the females sin (contrary to, say, the
Genesis myth that customarily depicts the female as responsible for sin). Within the
space available to a woman in the language, the male takes action; the woman is acted
against.
Beyond the issue of the womans constrictive space within the Greek
language, however, is the issue of how Jesus interprets the Mosaic Law. Jesus is
actually calling for a stricter adherence to the Law than called for by Moses. Whereas
Mosaic Law has, up to this point, been concerned with the outward manifestation of
sin, and punishes behaviors, Jesus sets up a legal model that is concerned with the
inward state of humanity that drives the outward behavior, and promises future
punishment for those who transgress without necessitating an outward show of
misbehavior that would warrant physical punishment. I see a correlation here with
Foucault; the physical punishment is a spectacle for others within the community, a
warning to inhibit misbehavior according to the socially agreed upon codes of law.
The punishment that Jesus suggests is psychological in the material world, but really
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eschatological in being concerned with the place of future punishment [Hell]" he
refers to in Matthew 5:29.
But how can the code of Mosaic Law and associated punishments address an
internal sin, one that does not have visible manifestations? Bart hhrman suggests that
his [JesusJ point seems to be that overly scrupulous attention to the detail of the
Law is not what really matters to God. . God wants more than this kind of strict
obedience to the letter of the Law (95-96). 1 earlier discussed Daniel Boyarins
treatment of the Law as a social status issue for the Jewish people. The Law was
something that Moses provided to the Jews, and breaking a law contained in that code
put the tribes status in danger. In Jesus true understanding of the Law, the issue is
no longer social status and outward recognition or punishment for failing to uphold
certain values. The correct interpretation of the Law is internal, on the heart level.
And who can sec such a heart status but God? Jesus fulfillment of the Law remov es
the primary importance of right relationship with other people for the sake of God,
and places the significance on right relationship with God for the sake of other
people. This will become clearer as we examine an example of Jesus authority in
action in the gospel attributed to John.
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CHAPTER 4
THE ROEE OF ADULTERY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: JOHN 8
Johns Gospel (I will continue to refer to the supposed author as "John for
the sake of convenience), the last gospel to be composed, right around the turn of the
second century, has been constructed and reconstructed just as the synoptic gospels
were constructed with an overarching message in mind. John's text has often been
categorized with the purpose of delineating Jesus divinity. In An Introduction to the
Gospel of John, Raymond Brown opens by revealing that the earliest preserved
commentaries on John were by Gnostic Christians who would later be classified as
heretics (26), which is particularly fitting for the mystical nature of many Gnostic
texts. We might suppose, then, that the Gospel of John lends itself well to
interpretations that transcend the literal level of meaning. Indeed, John was very
much concerned with Jesus miraculous signs: signs that pointed to Jesus' true
identity and signs that persons involved in the stories misunderstand on a physical
level (81). Brown provides examples such as thirst referring to both physical and
spiritual thirst, and sight referring to both physical and spiritual sight; Jesus'
teachings and actions are valid in the material world, but they absolutely have
spiritual and eternal significance as well (and again, we might consider that eternal
significance or truth is what myth concerns itself with). Brown also notes that John
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mentions Moses almost twice as frequently as any other Gospel. . Some scholars
have even suggested that the organization of the Fourth Gospel was patterned on
Exodus . [and one could compare] Jesus signs as reported in John with Moses'
signs in bringing the plagues on Egypt (134). This is yet another opportunity to
understand Jesus as a typological fulfillment of Moses in the Old Testament, but this
time on a clearly figurative level.
The story I am concerned with in Johns text is the well-known narrative of
the woman caught in adultery, John 7:53-8:11. In context of referring to the
constructed nature of the gospels, it is appropriate to clarify that this particular story
is accepted (including by Raymond Brown, whose commentary I consult here) as a
later insertion, not original to Johns Gospel. Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman
provide a summary of a textual critics argument in support of this position in The
Text of the New Testament (319-321). The question, then, becomes why this account
became accepted into the text of Johns Gospel. In order to answer this question, we
would do well to evaluate the message and meaning housed within the story.
Brown considers the adulteress situation in light of the now all-too-lamiliar
codes of law against adultery. His phrasing adds a shade to the ongoing claim that
the myth of the female origin of sin and the secondary status of women limits the
female's space in Mediterranean culture. Brown explains that the woman caught in
adultery would have been married, since adultery in the Law [is] concerned with
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unfaithfulness on the part of the wife, and not with affairs between husbands and
unmarried women (Gospel 333, authors emphasis); 1 would question this, since,
according to the social structures of this culture, the husband in this situation is still
defiling the property of another man (the unmarried womans father), causing the
woman to become sexually polluted and unmarriageable. Thus, the husband would
still be liable to the womans father for damage to his property, perhaps requiring that
the adulterer marry the woman (polygamy was not uncommon in this culture) or by
paying a fine. Still, what we can see clearly from Browns commentary is that sexual
sin is space that the woman inhabits. It reinforces the power that 1 earlier established:
A woman has the power, through her sexuality, to shame her family by committing
adultery. You might remember that because the woman has the power to create a
space of sin through her sexuality, she must be enclosed and protected by her icupioc,
either father or husband. In John 8, Jesus will debunk the myth of the females
secondary status and expand the space she is allotted at least, figuratively.
The story of the adulteress begins with Jesus going to the Mount of Olives;
from here he descends again to the people and is presented with a woman who has
been caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees and seribes bring the woman before
Jesus, setting a sort of trap according to the Law. Raymond Brown offers one
possible explanation for this trap (which depends on whether the woman has already
been tried or not, whether Jesus is meant to be the jury deciding her fate or judge
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deciding her punishment): If he decides the ease in favor of the woman and releases
her, he violates the clear prescriptions of the Mosaic Law; if he orders her to be
stoned, he will be in trouble with the Romans (Gospel 337), Certainly, this is an
issue of literal carrying out of the letter of the Law.
But I want to put on the brakes for a moment at the point at which Jesus
goes to the Mount (or hill) of Olives. There are many Greek words that would tit
the bill for the infinitive to go. John selects the verb fjropeuOri, the aorist passive
form of 7iopei)(o (poreuo), which means to go, but also carries the sense of
embarking on a journey (to proceed, to travel, to journey). Jesus often takes leave of
the crowds that gather around him and even his disciples in order to pray and spend
time alone with God. A vibrant example is the Transfiguration, recounted in the
synoptic gospels, which occurred on a mountain; Moses and Llijah made an
appearance with Jesus in a vision that the disciples witnessed. In John 8, then, Jesus
journeys to a more private, secluded area to spend time with God before rejoining the
crowd, including the Pharisees waiting to entrap him with the Law. The form of the
verb to go, tTiopEuGr), like the verbs associated with women in the examples from
Matthew, is aorist passive: Jesus was traversed to the Mount (8:1). Yet Jesus
clearly is not being acted upon, but is betaking himself on this journey to God (which
would be a middle form rather than a passive form). The verb form suggests that
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Jesus is reclaiming the space of passivity for solitude with God, an idea 1 will return
to.
The Pharisees represent the letter of the Jewish Law and are practically the
sworn enemies of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, this sect of the law-keepers
challenge Jesus on minute points of the Law. Brown sets up the primary issue that
the Pharisees present in John 8: [Jesus] recognizes that, although they are zealous
for the word of the Law, they are not interested in the purpose of the Law, for the
spiritual state of the woman is not even in question, or whether or not she is penitent
(Gospel 338). And this is clear, also, in the way the woman is presented before Jesus.
She is mute and passive among the Pharisees: But the scribes and the Pharisees led
a woman [who] had been seized by adultery and having made her stand in the middle
they said to him [Jesus]: Teacher, the woman herself having committed adultery for
herself has been seized by means of self-detection [caught in the act] (8:3-4). The
woman is first the object of the Pharisees leading (led a woman), then the object of
a perfect passive participle ("had been seized), then the object of an aorist act of
puppetcering ("made to stand) which places her "in the middle. the object of a
public spectacle. She is not an agent for herself in the action of this story, although
the Pharisees describe her as such to Jesus, narrating past action, the action that led to
the woman being seized: the verb poiyanopcvr) could either be translated as passive
("having been committed adultery [upon]), as was the case in Matthew, or. in this
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form, could be translated as middle (having committed adultery for herself'), as 1
opted for above. Observe, though, that the verbs speaker represents the group of
Pharisees, and thus it is more likely that they would use the sense of the word that
places blame on the woman, the sense that places the woman in the middle of the
space of sin the middle voice. It is to this setup that Jesus is asked to respond.
Jesus is presented with a voiceless sinner, painted lawless and put on display
by a vociferous group of law-keepers. His response still puzzles commentators. John
writes that Jesus, having bent down, he wrote [Kaiaypcxipo), katographo \ down in the
ground with his finger (8:6). The verb that sends Jesus to the ground is the aorist
participle of icu7rxco (kupto), which appears in this form and as the root of two
different verbs in this passage. Kwitcd can simply mean to bend down, but can also
carry the sense of bowing down under a burden. The burden, in this case, is the
weight of the Law through which the Pharisees are trying to overpower Jesus. Jesus
lifts his head to speak the famous line, Let the sinless one out of you all first throw
stone at her (perhaps more familiarly rendered and recalled as Let him who is
without sin cast the first stone), and returns to his stooped position to continue
writing in the earth until the crowd completely disperses and leaves the adulteress
alone with Jesus.
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Some of the theories regarding Jesus' directive to the crowd and theories
about what Jesus wrote in the ground while bent under the burden of the Pharisees'
law-keeping are related. In an essay titled Wayward Women and Broken Promises:
Marriage, Adultery and Mercy in Old and New Testaments. for example, Deborah
W. Rooke delineates many of the parallels that 1 draw between the human
relationship affected by adultery and the spiritual relationship affected by adultery,
ultimately asserting that Jesus is reacting against a double-standard set in the Mosaic
Law, which continually finds a way to place blame on the woman (while at the same
time, I might remind you, portraying women as victims through language choices).
In stating to the crowd that the one without sin may cast the first stone, Jesus shifts
the focus from the womans sin to those who are. likely, wrongly accusing her: Rooke
writes that Jesus, by offering a question in return for the Pharisees, "is using the tools
of the law that are available to him in order to prevent a miscarriage of justice (47).
After all, the ambiguity of the story makes it possible that the woman was set up by
the Pharisees and the womans husband (48). There is the problem that the woman
was said to be caught in the act, yet, contrary to the dictates of Mosaic Law, the co-
adulterer is not being brought to justice along with her (Brown echoes these issues.
Gospel 338).
What did Jesus write, then, on the ground while bent down, assumably
reflecting on the situation, on the Law, and what the Law required? Raymond
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Brown, commenting on the Greek text, summarizes a few plausible ideas, including
that Jesus wrote the sins of the accusers, that he wrote the woman's sentence, that he
quoted from the Hebrew Scripture, or that he simply was tracing lines on the ground
while he was thinking (Gospel 333-334). He concludes, however, that one cannot
help but feel that if the matter were of major importance, the content of the writing
would have been reported (334).
Yet 1 feel that Browns conclusory reaction diminishes how Jesus turns the
table on the crowd, turns the focus back to the Pharisees. Simply because we dont
know what Jesus wrote doesnt make this detail unimportant. While Jesus is bent
under the pressure from the literal Law that mediates the relationship between one
human and another, he is implementing a tool that has the power to cause the crowd
to disperse. Although we dont know what Jesus wrote, we know that it caused a
self-reflection so powerful that the accusers dropped charges against the adulteress
and departed. Brown supposes that if the writing were important, wc the audience
would know what it communicated; yet just as Matthew 5 conveys that God is
concerned with the internal sin, the state of the heart, John 8 points in the same
direction. We arc not meant to know what Jesus has written; God knows what is
written, and just like the Pharisees, wc are to self-refleet and be concerned with what
is written on our own hearts. Boyarin has a similar concern, writing about a Paul who
interprets circumcision not of the flesh, but of the heart. When we circumcise our
73


hearts, when we lift that veil to see Gods will more clearly, we find that this internal
state is a higher priority than making the external space ''right according to our own
expectations and perspectives not ensuring that the letter of the Law is followed
while the purpose of the Law (relationship with God) remains buried. Jesus tool is in
shifting the visual space from the womans sin to the accusers hearts.
This is not to say that Jesus is not concerned with the woman and perceives
her to be the property of the accusers. This is only the perception of the crowd.
Rooke remarks that in the Mediterranean culture, men vindicated themselves against
other men by punishing not only the other men but also the women who were caught
between them (49). This point causes me to contemplate the space the adulteress
occupies as property. As a married woman, the adulteress has a husband who is her
tcupioq, yet it is possible (according to the theories referred to prior) that this husband
was complicit in setting up his wife to be caught and used as a pawn for the Pharisees.
In this case, the womans husband did not act in the interests of protecting his wife as
a tcupioi; ought to. From another angle, though, the adulteress is being used against
Jesus; the Pharisees are attempting to vindicate themselves on this teacher. The
woman is caught between the crow d of her peers and Jesus Christ. So to w hom
does this woman belong?
When the crowd disperses, leaving the adulteress alone with Jesus, they are, in
a way, refusing this woman as their property. Women are not to be left alone with a
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man who is not a icupioc. But the crowd did not leave this woman with any man; they
left her with Jesus, a icupioc in a spiritual sense. On the other hand, though, Jesus is
quite a nontraditional icupioc in the sense that his goal is not to enclose and physically
protect the adulteress, but to enlarge her interior space and sense of spiritual agency.
When Jesus shifts the visual space to the Pharisees, he constricts the adulteress space
as a passive object. She is no longer acted upon by the crowd; the closest she may get
to being once again acted upon is when the crowd leaves her, but John docs not write
that she is left. Rather, by shifting focus away from the womans sin, Jesus
expands the womans space as an active individual. Jesus breaks the myth of the
womans secondary status by directly addressing her in public. Once the crowd is
gone. Jesus emerges from his stooped position and says to her. Woman, where are
they? Did no one condemn you? (8:10) For the first time in the story, the adulteress
has a voice; she has been asked to speak. Her response? No one, Lord.
The woman addresses Jesus as Lord with the word icupioc. This is not
alarming in the context of the gospels; Jesus is repeatedly referred to by this title, and
this word is also used throughout the Old Testament to refer to God (I am the Lord
your God; icupioc signifies Lord). But in the context of Mediterranean society, it
is important. The woman is actively recognizing Jesus as her lord and master rather
than her father or her husband. And in light of the Old Testament prevalence of
referring to Gods relationship with his people as a marriage relationship, and
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deviation from God as adultery, the womans identification is incredible, marking a
clear distinction between her relationship with God and the Pharisees' relationship
with God (who addressed Jesus as teacher, but have much to learn). It is in
prioritizing her relationship with Jesus Christ that this w oman experiences a space
that grows, a status that is no longer secondary but warranting direct, primary
communication the adulteress was shamed by the crowd, but is honored in a
primary relationship with Jesus Christ.
Finally, Jesus response to the womans identification must be noted: And
Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; Go away from this now and no longer sin
(8:11). Again, the author of the Gospel of John had several options to communicate
go. He chose the imperative middle of the verb 7iopeuo), which carries the sense of
embarking on a journey. This is the same word selected to narrate Jesus journey to
the Mount of Olives to spend time alone with God. We thus have a frame for this
narrative: the first and last verses communicate to us Jesus own journey to be alone
with God and a command for the adulteress to journey away from this while, as far
as the set of the action is currently concerned, the woman is actually alone with Jesus,
the son of God, her Lord and lcupioc. Jesus is inviting the adulteress to strengthen her
spiritual relationship, but in this situation, the woman is no longer passive, but w ill
take an active role in the private space, or alone time, of that relationship journey.
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We can see with clarity now the "sign that John is pointing to. He is surely
writing a story that favors a figurative interpretation of the Law. one that places a
higher priority on the spiritual, vertical relationship than on horizontal, interpersonal
relationships that are maintained by punishment through laws. What is the purpose of
Law? To hold each other accountable to arbitrary rules and punish each other when
these ordinances are broken, or to demonstrate a primary relationship with God which
then carries over into human relationships? Matthew 22 presents the "Great
Commandment that followers of Jesus are to "love the Lord your God in all of your
heart and in all of your soul and in all of your strength, and secondarily to "love your
neighbor as yourself (22:37, 39). Jesus continues: "On these two commandments is
hung all the Law and the prophets (22:40). Notice that the primary commandment
demands an investment in an individuals relationship with God; only then can one
appropriately love his neighbors. Jesus is first and foremost concerned with the
vertical relationship. There is no point to Israel obeying laws when they are not in
right relationship with God when they have committed adultery against God, their
status as Gods chosen/adopted people is in jeopardy; Joseph cannot correctly
interpret Mary's pregnancy as a chosen position from God, cannot see her right
relationship until his own understanding and relationship with God is corrected by
Gods intermediary; Joseph must choose, or adopt, Jesus as his son as he has been
chosen by God; and the Pharisees cannot condemn the adulteress in John 8 when their
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own hearts are not appropriately fixed on God. Mary journeys from a plaee of shame
to a plaee of honor as Joseph is initiated into that journey. And the adulteress makes
the same journey from shame to honor with the assistanee of a spiritual icupioc, Jesus
Christ, who expands her space to allow her to make that journey. Dealing with
adultery is not only part of the Law; it is a conceptual tool for participating in spiritual
growth, a means for bringing individuals to God, and that necessitates the ability to
view adultery figuratively, as a relationship with God more than as a relationship with
each other, because without a right vertical relationship, our horizontal
relationships with other people will be inherently flawed. The myth that woman is
secondary is a construction, one that Jesus easily shatters; but behind a figurative
reading of this structure is the spiritual truth that we are all secondary to one icupioc,
God.
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CHAPTHR5
CONCLUSION: A JOURNHY TO Till: TWHNTY-FIRST CFNTURY
Addressing the question of why John 8 wasnt initially accepted as canonical,
Raymond Brown points to the problem that the supposed "ease with which Jesus
forgave the adulteress was hard to reconcile with the stem penitential discipline in
vogue in the early Church (Gospel 335). Perhaps the early church was as fond of
punishing others as the Pharisees seemed to be. And that seems so long ago and
separated from us in twenty-first-century America, but have we really come so far'.'
Do we prioritize a vertical relationship before addressing, say, the speck in someone
elses eye? My position is that individuals in our culture have a strong desire to be on
the personal journey Jesus sends himself and the adulteress on, a work in progress
so to speak, and yet we condemn others we other others as easily as the
Pharisees and scribes were able to bring the adulteress before Jesus to trap him. Yet
from a Foucaultian point of view, we also tend to other ourselves, an inevitable
internal castration that leads to guilt and unhappiness. Our culture supports
monogamy, yet we have various examples in the art of our culture to indicate that our
internal spaces are driven toward infidelity. Our consumption of this artistic
expression suggests that we desire to indulge, but at the same time, we desire to
punish that desire in ourselves as well as in others.
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For a moment, lets put on our boots and cowboy hats. Country music is
infamous for singing stories of lost love, lost property, lost memories. Its an emotive
music genre that makes attempts to get at the heart of the issues that it understands its
core audience to he dealing with. Alan Jacksons hit song, Who's Cheatin Who, is
an example of the voyeuristic desire to judge and punish that I observe in our culture.
The chorus of the song supposes that still you wonder whos cheatin' who, who's
being true, who dont even care anymore; it makes you wonder whos doing right
with someone tonight, and whose car is parked next door. We, the you that
Jackson addresses in his song, care about the values that our neighbors behaviors
demonstrate. Jackson posits that as long as the behavior is kept outta sight, it
doesnt matter if its wrong. But when we notice this in our neighbors, we arc
marking them as inhabiting a space that does not belong to us and we can internally
judge and shame them.
But on the other hand, we justify such behavior in ourselves. Another country
group, the Fli Young Band, sings a refrain from a first-person perspective about how
our interior spaces are easily altered: It was always the love songs every time, made
everybody feel something inside, with the fire down low. held your girl real close;
made you wanna love the one you were with, gave you the courage for that first kiss,
it w'as the love songs, always the love songs. It would be foolish to condemn artistic
expression because it causes one to make morally unsound judgments; my point here
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is simply that there are cultural examples that prove that we defend and justify
ourselves, pointing the finger at external influences, as easily as we create a space of
judgmental otherness when our neighbors and peers are concerned.
And we often dont seem comfortable to experience the emotive drive that the
Eli Young Band sings about without the othering that Jackson offers. Take The
Bridges of Madison County, again, for an example. I've described Wallers novel as
idealistic, and lacking in social consequences within the plot despite the normative
function that the reader might experience. Sure, Francesca Johnson must live with
her memory and her choice for the rest of her life, but its internal. No one knows.
No one judges. Except herself. Kincaid respects her choice and doesnt interfere
with her family, refraining from contacting her until after his death. With such a
well-contained situation, the reader has the satisfaction of getting away with
infidelity, but without someone external to punish us, we are trapped with Francesca
in an internal space of guilt; there is no release. We can hardly condemn such a true
love, especially when its influenced by the same evocative language that influences
the Eli Young Band, from the lips of the poet Kincaid who whispered to her of the
visions she brought to him (108).
Clint Eastwood directed the 1995 film version of Waller's nov el. In this
movie there is one very significant change from the book (as is irritatingly typical for
movies based on books). Theres a new scene featuring Clint Eastwood as Robert
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Kincaid encountering a resident of Winterset. Iowa. Lucy Redtield, in the diner.
Lucy is a character who supposedly was caught in an alTair with a married man; in
this scene, its quite clear that the waitresses in the diner are reticent to serve Lucy,
and are talking about her behind her back to the other patrons in the restaurant.
Kincaid offers her a stool, but Lucy backs out of the situation quiekly and flees the
diner. When Kincaid exits the diner, he finds Lucy sobbing in her car. I le then calls
Francesca to warn her about the towns reaction to Lucy and to give her a way out of
their relationship before it becomes an affair worthy of the shame and punishment of
town gossip. This Lucy is the same character with whom Francesca shares
information about her affair with Kincaid after he leaves Iowa, none of which appears
in the novel.
The question is why this scene is added for the movie. If simply to make it
clear that Francesca had a choice, and to emphasize the female power in a sexual
relationship, and thus the female root of the transgression, Eastwood needn't have
bothered, as Waller also makes it clear that Francesca had a phone call and a choice
from Kincaid in the novel before the affair escalated, and that she was in control of
deciding whether or not to break up her family in order to continue the affair
Francesca is given plenty of agency within the space of sin.
The only other conclusion I can come to is that Eastwood included a scene
that made the process of punishment and othering clear to the \ iewer. The films
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audience has a role that the book's reader did not have: The movie audience can
develop separate spaces, internally moving with the adulterers toward each other in
the private domain of the Johnson residence, yet having an external basis to condemn
the affair from the perspective of the town folk. We can now justify the affair as well
as judge the affair as being destructive to the social fabric of the small Iowa tow n.
Why is it that, despite the fact that we have had access to Jesus' teachings for
two thousand years, we continue to focus on the wrongs we commit against each
other first? Why is it that we hold onto the right to put up walls that separate us from
each other, from behaviors to values, which only limits our own space in which to
journey, to grow?
We are obviously living in a different culture than the first-century
Mediterranean societies I have been focusing on. Philip Lampe writes at the end of
the twentieth century about adultery in the United States, predicting a decline of
adultery in the twenty-first century. He names several factors that have led to an
increase in infidelity in "Modem America, including issues of religion. Through the
nineteenth century, [rjeligion was not just a personal matter, but also a public matter.
Religious values were frequently the basis for civil and criminal laws, and religious
leaders w'ere often leaders of the community (199). More recently, however.
[rjeligion has become basically a personal matter, and attempts have been made to
eliminate it as a basis for law (205). Whereas in, say, the Jewish culture of the
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ancient Mediterranean, religion was a fundamental part oflaw and breaking the law
was a violation of a religious relationship, our modem society views values as
personal decisions, not as socially-constructed and agreed-upon. This is not to say
that our society thinks that infidelity is a good thing to be practiced as diligently as
possible, but that acting against this value should not be seen as a social sin.
Still, as 1 hope to have proven through a few selected examples from our
current culture, we are concerned about how personal decisions fit into the social
fabric. We are concerned with pointing the finger when someone we are acquainted
with deviates from the values we have learned, exhibiting a behavior we have or have-
not committed yet.
1 don't have a Bible in one hand that Im thumping while typing with the other
hand. And Im not claiming to have the answers to our current relationship problems.
With broken engagements and infidelity in my own past, that would look at lot like
pointing my finger externally. I would rather open up a conversation. 1 see that our
relationships are broken more often than theyre unscraped and unbruised. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prcvention/National ('enter for Health Statistics
reports that out of 7.1 marriages, there are 3.5 divorces. That's a 50% divorce rate.
Certainly this cant all be attributed to adultery, but 1 would argue that horizontal
communication breakdowns are at the heart of many of the common causes of
divorce: unrealistic expectations, inability to communicate values from money to
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religion to family, etc. And 1 would argue that we have something to learn from the
Bible. We need to get vertically straight before we can hope to approach our
horizontal relationships in a healthy, productive manner.
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WORKS CITED
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