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The Allegedly Sinful Woman in the Patristic Reports

An account of how Jesus pardoned a woman accused of many sins continued to be passed down orally for centuries. I have quickly re-copied the following texts from readily accessible online translations, but it should be noted that these are not translations from the official editions of these ancient texts:

Papias of Hierapolis, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17

“And he [Papias] relates another story of a woman, who was accused of many sins before the Lord, which is contained in the Gospel according to the Hebrews.”

Didascalia Apostolorum [Teaching of the Apostles] 7

“But if thou receive not him who repents, because thou art without mercy, thou shalt sin against the Lord God; for thou obeyest not our Saviour and our God, to do as He also did with her that had sinned, whom the elders set before Him, and leaving the judgement in His hands, departed. But He, the Searcher of hearts, asked her and said to her: Have the elders condemned thee, my daughter? She saith to him: Nay, Lord. And he said unto her: Go thy way: neither do I condemn thee.”

[*note: I omitted some textual notes in the translation at the website]

Didymus the Blind, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 223.6-13

“We find then in certain gospels a woman, it says, was condemned by the Jews for a sin and was being sent to be stoned in the place where that was customary to be done. The saviour, it says, when he saw her and observed that they were prepared to stone her, to those intending to cast the stones upon her he said, ‘Whoever has not sinned, let him lift up a stone and cast it.’ ‘If anyone thinks himself not to have sinned, let him take a stone and smite her.’ And no one dared, since they understood among themselves and knew that they themselves were also guilty in some things: so they did not dare to strike her.”

[*note: I omitted footnotes reflecting the website author’s own text-critical judgements. Also, Roger Pearse notes that pictures of the manuscript of Didymus’s commentary are online here).

The accounts in the Didascalia Apostolorum and Didymus’s commentary share some affinities with the famous and much-loved story of Jesus rescuing an adulteress about to stoned by a mob known that was interpolated in many manuscripts of John’s Gospel in 7:53-8:11. You can read different translations of the pericope adulterae at the website Bible Gateway. We have a real puzzle on our hands about how these traditions relate to each other and I will explore this further in the next post.

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