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Did Jesus Write Anything in the New Testament?

I have mentioned two apocryphal letters forged in the name of Jesus himself, one written to a King Abgar and the other, well, dictated to the cherubim in heaven from the cross.  Several readers have asked me about New Testament examples, one in the famous story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8, and the other the seven letters allegedly dictated by Christ in Revelation 2-3.

As to the first, yes, as many of you already know, even though there is an account of Jesus writing on the ground in John 8 (he is writing, by the way, not doodling; the Greek is fairly clear on the point) (we are not told *what* he is writing; there are about 97 theories about that, each one the favorite of one person or another….), this account was not originally in John.  It is a scribal addition to the story.   (BTW: one recent NT scholar, Chris Keith, has written an entire book arguing that the passage was inserted by scribes precisely to show that Jesus was able to write!  The Pericope Adulterae, the Gospel of John, and the Literacy of Jesus)

Here is what I say about the account in Misquoting Jesus.



The Woman Taken in Adultery

The story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery is arguably the best known story about Jesus in the Bible; it certainly has always been a favorite in Hollywood versions of his life.  It even makes it into Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, even though the movie focuses only on Jesus’ last hours (the story is treated as one of the rare flashbacks).  Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the New Testament, in John 7:59-8:12, and it appears not to have been original, even there.

The story line is …

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What Can We Know about Jesus’ Birth?
Jesus and Hell



  1. Avatar
    Marko071291  December 7, 2018

    Hi Bart,
    Today is my birthday so I’m giving myself a right to ask two questions!

    Did Jesus live in a culture (jewish culture) where memorization as a way of learning sacred text had a prominent role? Could you point
    to two or three arguments about that? Also, do we see (in your opinion) in the NT a picture of Jesus who is using rabbinic methods of interpretation of the sacred text? One of my teachers back in the graduate school claimed that.
    Hope you can clarified this for me.
    Kind regards from Croatia.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Happy birthday! On memorization, it completely depends on what you mean. Some people certainly were memorizing parts of the Jewish scriptures; that’s evident from the fact that they can quote them (just as people do today). On rabbinic methods: we don’t have any good evidence that in Jesus’ day there were rabbis teaching their students to memorize their teachings. I deal with both of these issues at some length in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

  2. Avatar
    JohnKesler  December 7, 2018

    1) >>>And even if Jesus did teach a message of love, did he really >>>think that the Law of God given by Moses was no longer in force >>>and shouldn’t be obeyed? Did he really think sins shouldn’t be >>>punished at all?

    Jesus’ action is consistent with the Torah, since at least two witnesses were required to find one guilty (Deut. 19:15; see also John 8:17, which perhaps explains the pericope adulterae’s placement in John), and none of the “witnesses” remained to establish the woman’s guilt.

    2) >>>Probably most scholars think that it was a well-known story about >>>Jesus, circulating in the oral tradition about him…

    Why would this not be sufficient to establish its authenticity, especially since it was “well-known”? Is this not how other stories about Jesus were transmitted?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Known in later centuries, not in the time of the New Testament — big difference!

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  December 9, 2018

        Is it your view that this well-known story of Jesus was made from whole cloth? To me it passes the “smell test” as something that Jesus may well have said and done.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 10, 2018

          The problem is that different people have very different olfactory senses. No, I don’t think it is something that actually happened in the life of Jesus. (If it had, surely it would have been mentioned by earlier sources, such as the Gospels)

          • Avatar
            Iskander Robertson  December 11, 2018

            Why do scholars think jesus preached message of love? Why not message of division and hate?

            when john has his jesus go into temple and whip out pilgrims, he does not talk about “he who does not sin let him cast first stone” he went in temple , wrecked it and the pacifist jews said,

            “What sign do you have for doing this” ?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 12, 2018

            I suppose because the love theme is so much more dominant than the divisiveness one.

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  December 9, 2018

      “Jesus’ action is consistent with the Torah, since at least two witnesses were required to find one guilty ”

      john :
      The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.

      The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So practice and observe everything they tell you.

      hebrew bible :
      15 A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.

      1. john admits that the woman was caught in the act. “who had been caught in adultery”
      there is no hint that their was malicious witness.

      since the woman was caught in the act, then does that mean it was the accusers(pharisees and scribes) who caught her in the act ?

      if yes, how is jesus’ action consistent with the torah?

      according to the hebrew bible, do TWO WITNESSES always have to be present ? for example, witnesses pass on their testimony to the scribes and pharisees, then they go to jesus and say “she been caught in the act”

      if yes, how is jesus’ action consistent with torah?

  3. Avatar
    godspell  December 7, 2018

    You could make a case for this being the best single story anyone ever told. (The gospels and indeed most longer narratives, are a compilation of stories stitched together). It’s been told elsewhere, obviously. We all read a version of it in school–you know, the one by Nathaniel Hawthorne? Where do you think he got it from? And in that version, the man who wasn’t caught in adultery speaks up, takes his share of the blame.

    It cuts right to the core–who are you to judge anyone else? Aren’t you really using the revealed sinner as a scapegoat for your own failings, a sacrificial lamb? Angry at him or her, because you’re really angry at yourself, but can’t quite manage an honest look in the mirror?

    And whether this happened or not, this is what Jesus taught, beyond question. Don’t worry about the mote in your neighbor’s eye, but about the log in your own.

    It could just be someone telling a story he (she?) felt should have happened–inspired by Jesus’ teachings, imagining a situation, and how he’d react to it. It mirrors other gospel stories where the Jewish leaders try to trap him, and he wriggles out, turns their words against them. Which could mean it’s based on a real incident, or simply patterned after other incidents.

    And yeah, quite possibly put in John’s gospel later on, just to prove Jesus could write, but not made up for that purpose. Talk about missing the point.

    It does not surprise or disturb me in the slightest that it wasn’t originally part of John’s gospel. Maybe once, but no more. John wouldn’t have used that story, because John, at heart, is not about forgiveness, and his Jesus isn’t that human.

    But the Jesus in this story is fully human. And, therefore, understanding of the inherent flaws of humanity. “We’re none of us perfect, but we can do better. Go and sin no more.”

    He didn’t always live up to this ideal himself, needless to say. Because he was one of us. Which needs to be said more often.

    It makes him all the more remarkable.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 7, 2018

      Question–I assume this has been asked before.

      Why John’s Gospel?

      If this isn’t original to John, and somebody wants it to become part of the canon of stories about Jesus, why just the newest and most unorthodox gospel?

      There is no overt supernatural aspect to the story. Jesus just uses the force of his personality and his ability to turn accusations back on the accusers to save this woman’s life.

      There’s nothing here to substantiate John’s idea of Jesus as a perfect divine being–as an aspect of God. In fact, Jesus implies that he himself is a sinner–“Then neither do I condemn you.” If he were without sin, it would be his duty, by his own words, to cast the first stone. As they have all sinned, none have the right to condemn her.

      It’s enigmatic, sure–you can find that in John–the writing in the dirt invokes “In the Beginning there was The Word,” one might argue. But John never shows Jesus writing anything–you don’t need to write words when you ARE The Word.

      Why not put it in one of the synoptics? Or all of them? If the goal is to spread this story, to preserve it for posterity, why put it in just one gospel?

      I can think of a few reasons, but curious what you and other scholars have thought in this regard.

      It does occur to me that this might well have been the act of a single literate person who knew the story, wanted it preserved, was copying John, and thought “Why not?”

      • Bart
        Bart  December 9, 2018

        It’s because in this particular context of John the discussion is all about having a “righteous judgment” and not judging others unfairly. The story illustrates John’s views, one or more scribe thought, and so inserted it there.

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 9, 2018

          John judges others unfairly all the time. It’s like his thing.

          Maybe I need to reread John, but I don’t see it. I think it would fit Mark far better. And would be less of a sore thumb in Luke, which has so many stories in it. Maybe Matthew would be worse. But again, they could just have stuck it in several of them, or all of them, if the goal was to preserve the story.

          So that theory about it being a marginal note that got added to the main text in later copies probably does make the most sense. The story is so powerful, once it was in, it was going to stay in.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 10, 2018

            Yes, I’d suggest reading John. 🙂 (It’s one of the main themes of ch. 7, leading up to th einsertion of the story)

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 11, 2018

            Okay, let me just whistle up my kindle edition of the NRSV.

            The 7th chapter begins with Jesus going around in secret because the Jews want to kill him. No forgiveness there.

            His own brothers refuse to believe in him, and no mention of James, but maybe that came later. No mention of his forgiving them for their lack of faith in big brother.

            More talk about how everyone is trying to kill him. Can’t they see he’s GOD?!!! But he’s from Galilee. God can’t possibly come from Galilee. I mean, have you SEEN the place? (Oh right, you have.)

            He keeps talking in riddles, and nobody gets the answer right. A bit like Mark, but not really. Also, all the Jews desperately want to kill him. This will seque perfectly into them bringing him a woman they want to stone to death for judgment. Honestly, I don’t like this gospel, but I feel sympathy for its author. This insertion blows his entire narrative thread. From attempted murder to ensnaring him in a doctrinal inconsistency.

            I’m pleased the NRSV left the adulterous woman in, even though she wasn’t in the original. Spices up the narrative. Screw consistency. But I’m still not seeing how it fits there, Bart. And with all due modesty, I’m pretty good at seeing that kind of thing. Maybe it works better in the original Greek. I’ll keep going a bit.

            He heals a blind man. In earlier healing stories, Jesus heals by forgiving sins. Not this one. He uses mud. People pay good money on the internet these days for less believable cures.

            Now there’s the good shepherd chapter. I like that one. Is there any way John didn’t write that either? Throw me a bone.

            Can we get through two consecutive chapters in this thing without hearing how much the Jews suck?

            Now Lazarus is alive again. Still no mention of forgiveness. I told you about that play Eugene O’Neill wrote about how Lazarus became a prophet himself, and became friends with Caligula, right? It’s not a happy ending, but there’s a good laugh at the finish. I would just go ahead and read it, because productions are few and far between.

            I’ll stop now. 🙂

          • Avatar
            godspell  December 11, 2018

            Snark disabled–here’s why I don’t buy that this insertion works (if qualified scholars say so, I’m willing to believe there were reasons why some Christians of that time BELIEVED it would work).

            In John’s gospel, Jesus is a narcissist. He’s in love with the sound of his own voice. He’s always talking about how everybody hates him, but they’ll be sorry when he’s gone (so very very sorry, like you wouldn’t believe.) So paranoid too but as Freud observed, even paranoids have real enemies. They exaggerate what’s really there. And make it worse.

            He is not forgiving of sin. At all. Because he is not a sinner. At all. He’s God. Or thinks he is. Same difference. Without sin. And therefore, without any real understanding of sin. And therefore, without compassion for the sinner, but he will grant you something approximating forgiveness if you give your whole self over to him.

            Now we have the Jesus in the story we now know was not originally part of John’s gospel, and he barely speaks a word. He’s not worried about them trying to kill him. He’s not talking about himself, he’s not condemning anyone, he’s not angry. He’s just squatting on the ground writing something.

            Then he speaks one sentence. That is one of the most perfectly distilled statements of universal truth in all of world literature. Everybody leaves (because these Jews have a conscience–are human too, are capable of being reached.)

            And this Jesus has sinned. It’s obvious. He knows it. He knows that if this woman is fit for stoning, so is he. So is everyone. He doesn’t lecture her, he doesn’t hand her a tract. He just tells her to go live a better life.

            This Jesus doesn’t belong in John’s gospel. He is not John’s Jesus. I don’t know if he’s the real Jesus. But to me, he is, in fact, God.


  4. Avatar
    TimKendrick  December 7, 2018

    If the account was also found in Luke, I assume scholars have also determined that it doesn’t match his writing style either and that the account includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to Luke as well? Does it match the style of anything in the New Testament? Or even outside the NT? Is there anything in the account that would lead scholars to believe it was originally composed in Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      There are some vocabulary and stylistic features that make it more at home in Luke than John; but the manuscripts that locate it there are quite late (and all go back to a single copy, probably)

  5. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 7, 2018

    I think the Jehova’s Witnesses reject it on theological grounds.

    Do you have any opinion on their latest translation of the Bible? It’s a lot less literal than the old translation, so it’s easier to read, but is it accurate?

  6. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  December 7, 2018

    Dr Ehrman
    why in the gospel of mark is peter called satan, liar and denier ?
    why didn’t mark filter these attacks if he knew that jesus and peter became best of friends and jesus forgave him ?
    in your opinion, do you think that marks portrayal of peter is an argument against the claim that peter died for his beliefs in resurrection of jesus?

    71 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed the second time.

    Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.

    this seems to me that mark is telling his audience that when the pressure was on peter was not willing to risk his life.

    12“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

    how did marks audience think peter stood firm in the end, when end of mark says that when the pressure was on, peter turned apostate and when safe repented?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Mark may well be trying to make a “point” — that even Jesus’ closest follower could be led astray and be unfaithful. But when he returned, Jesus forgave him. THis may be a lesson Mark was trying to teach members of his own congregation: even if you too have behaved like that toward Jesus….

  7. Avatar
    mkahn1977  December 7, 2018

    Have you read the Keith book and would you recommend it?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Yes, it was published in a monograph series that I edit; it’s a very interesting and learned book, even if I disagree with the central thesis.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  December 7, 2018

    If Jesus, the Son of God, could write and had 30 years or so on earth, why didn’t he write something down for us? Why leave it to other people to write things down decades later (mostly anonymous), that were not entirely concordant, and would lead to centuries of debate among believers, who have yet to agree on many basic beliefs? Or maybe Jesus just wanted to see if his disciples were really paying attention?!

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 9, 2018

      Or maybe he didn’t believe it would matter.

      God is sending the Son of Man, very soon. The Sheep will be separated from the Goats. Religion itself will be irrelevant when all are ruled by God. Scripture is there to remind us of God’s will–what need when God is there to remind us, every day, and when the only people in the Kingdom are all virtuous by nature, not merely because they’ve read things in books.

      We have no original writings by Socrates. Or Buddha. The Koran’s author was certainly Muhammad, but we have no surviving manuscripts of his. The only verified sample of Shakespeare’s handwriting we have is his signature.

      He died relatively young. He moved around a lot. He had basically no possessions. It’s likely (not proven) that he either could not write or could not write very well. His focus was on making direct contact with people, telling stories, making points–an oral ministry, not a written one. To him, that was more important. You write for posterity–he didn’t think there’d be any, in the sense we normally mean.

      And he never believed he was the begotten Son of God.

      • Avatar
        fishician  December 10, 2018

        I agree with all that you said, but I think it’s an interesting question that IF Jesus was a divine being why leave his teachings to others who might not get it right, or clear, or complete?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 11, 2018

          Yeah, there probably could have been a better system…

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 13, 2018

          Because that’s how all divine beings we’ve ever believed in have done it?

          I mean, Yahweh did give Moses those stone tablets, and then he broke them. Then he gives them to him again! And you know, those commandments are a bit schematic.

          Jesus was a man waiting for a divine being to come and do precisely what you suggest a divine being would have done. While he was waiting, he told stories, made points, maybe did some faith healings, and generally tried to live as he believed this divine being wanted him to, and encouraged others to do the same. He left a lasting impression on a group of gifted people, who worked to preserve his memory, and that’s how we have Christianity.

          Make sense?

  9. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  December 7, 2018


  10. Avatar
    ask21771  December 7, 2018

    In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says that the whole world will hear his message, and his message spread to the whole world how could he know that would happen

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      The common critical view is that this is not a saying of Jesus himself, but one put on his lips by the author of Matthew, who did indeed think the message had gone forth to “all the world” (even though, of course, this would have been, we should say, a generous estimation!)

  11. Avatar
    RVBlake  December 7, 2018

    Something which i find a bit confusing…Jesus stresses obeying the commandment to love God and neighbor, and to obey the Mosaic Law. Does this mean the laws as described in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, with their calls for various stonings? This seems contradictory on Jesus’ part. Am I missing something?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      It’s hard to know what he thought about the stonings!

  12. Avatar
    mcmemmo  December 7, 2018

    Did you run across a reference to this story when you were writing your dissertation?. According to Wikipedia, it is mentioned in the writings of Didymus the Blind that were discovered in 1941.

    I could only read part of Chris Keith’s book (too expensive to buy!), but from what I got it seems he was arguing that the story was inserted in Chapter 8 in order to support the astonishment of the crowd in Jn 7:15, who are amazed that Jesus had “knowledge of letters”, even though he had not been formally educated. In this context, such knowledge meant specifically the ability to read & write Torah. So the crowd is astonished that Jesus’ teaching implies a certain knowledge of, or access to, the written Torah that would normally be reserved to the Jewish authorities. That is as far as the preview went. Did I miss anything important?

    Why don’t textual critics think the story belongs in the Bible? Was the Bible even a “thing” when this story first became associated with the Gospel of John?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Yes, I wrote a scholarly article on the occurrence of the story in Didymus, not long after I finished my dissertation.

  13. Avatar
    anthonygale  December 7, 2018

    In your conversations with fundamentalists and apologists, have you ever asked why they think Jesus didn’t bother to write anything? Did you ever think about that when you were a believer? If he really could write, what a shame he didn’t write anything (that survived at least).

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      I think as a fundamentalist I just assumed he had other things to do and was leaving the writing ot his faithful followers. Later, as a critical scholar I assumed that he was expecting the end to come right away, so there was no need to write anything.

  14. Avatar
    anvikshiki  December 8, 2018

    It’s interesting that this story was alternatively added to different places in Luke and John, and not to Matthew. Had it been placed in Matthew somewhere, the inconsistency between Jesus insisting in that Gospel that not one letter of the Torah could be broken until all was fulfilled and Jesus pardoning the woman in apparent contravention of Lev. 20:10 might have been more glaring. The whole episode of the addition of the story to the Gospel narratives is instructive, as it is a conspicuous example of the way Gospel narratives, based on oral traditions, had been edited from the beginning. The interpretation of the story that adds the detail of Jesus writing the sins of the accusers on the ground, while obviously legendary, is a nice touch! Maybe he also might have written: “You want to follow the Torah? Then where is the guy?”

  15. Avatar
    brenmcg  December 8, 2018

    I think its original.

    Skipping from 7:52 to 8:12 there’s a clear break in narrative.

    The combination of Πάλιν αὐτοῖς in 8:12 is used a few times in the gospel and always indicates a continuation from the previous verse without change of time or place. eg 8:21

    8:12 should be translated the same as 8:21 but cant be if you’ve excised the pericope from the text. Which is why in the NIV say they have to add in words to make the narrative flow work – “When Jesus spoke again to the people”.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      You seem to have an interest in the details of Greek exegesis. I’d suggest you read what scholars say about the passage from that point of view, maybe starting with Raymond Brown’s comments in his Anchor Bible Commentary on John. The evidence that it is secondary — even from the Johannine context — is really quite overwhelming. (It interrupts the flow of the narrative in a serious way and the transition to it is hopelessly abrupt)

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  December 9, 2018

        Ok thanks I’ll take a look.

        But I find claims that PA interrupts the narrative to be unconvincing. In chapter 7 the author is careful to show a separation of Jesus and the pharisees – the guards are said to report back to the pharisees what Jesus has been saying. Chapter 7 ends in a scene with the pharisees where Jesus is not present.
        Moving straight to 8:12 and 8:13 where Jesus is speaking and the pharisees are present and questioning him is what I find to be a hopelessly abrupt interruption of the narrative.

        There’s a similar change in scenes in chapter 9 where the author adds the line 9:40 “Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked…” even though a line like this is needed far more before 8:12. But it demonstrates the author wouldn’t allow the kind of continuity error we get if we leave out the PA.

    • Avatar
      godspell  December 13, 2018

      The break in narrative you see is generated by you remembering the story being there, and you miss it.

      You’ve seen Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, right?

      You probably didn’t see the very first airing, which ends without any reference to the Island of Misfit Toys. They only had an hour, and it was decided there wasn’t time to wrap that subplot up, so they just went to Rudolph guiding Santa’s sleigh, The End.

      The network then was subjected to an avalanche of enraged letters from small children, who wanted Rudolph to keep his promise to tell Santa about the plight of the forgotten toys. Probably some from parents as well. It’s so MEAN!!! But that scene didn’t exist–they didn’t cut it out. They never wrote and animated it to begin with. It was never part of the story. Which is, after all, about misfits and where they fit in.

      Well, that’s the beauty of animation. They just went back and created a short scene with the toys on the island, assuming they’ve been forgotten, and then Santa comes to get them. Write a little dialogue, do a bit of stop motion, get the voice actors back, and the problem is fixed.

      It works better–I think it’s the best scene in the whole special–but it was not there in the original. Even though most people who have never seen the original version would notice its absence, and it was noticed even by those who DID see the original, because clearly the story needed that moment, to be an organic whole.

      This is not the same thing, of course–but maybe somebody felt John needed a bit more of Jesus’ well-known affection for the misfits of his world (which is a lot more present in the synoptics than in John), and while I think it clashes with what’s around it (because the original writer wasn’t around to make it fit, as with the TV special), it does improve the gospel–hell, most people probably think it’s the best single part of the gospel.

      But it’s an edit, all the same.

      Oh, and King Moonracer is Aslan, which means he’s also Jesus. I just edited that in.


  16. Avatar
    HenriettePeterson  December 8, 2018

    OK, literacy was very low and first Jesus’ followers were uneducated Aramaic speaking lower class “nobodies.” Isn’t it quite significant that we have quite many early literary works on Jesus in Greek? I just realized that those who wrote them (whoever they were) were one of the few who not only could speak Greek, read Greek but also write Greek. Bart, don’t you find it extraordinary that part of the educated elite of the ancient world (1-10%) were interested in a crucified Jewish rabbi to such an extent they spent the time and effort to compose Greek literary works about him? How many such religious figures do we find in the time span of 200 BC – 200 AD? Figures that wrote nothing by themselves, but were written about by several other individuals skilled in Greek composition?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      Of course, apart from teh writings of Paul, these are all much later — decades after Jesus’ death. None of them is probably prior to 70 CE. Morevoer, they come not from Aramaic speaking Palestine but from Greek speaking regions of the empire. If we have 15 or so authors from, say 70-120 CE who have left us anything, we are definitely not talking about 1-10% of the educated elite of the world. Over that period something like 100,000,000 people would have lived; if 10=15% of them were literate, well, do the math (15 people out of 15 million)

      • Avatar
        HenriettePeterson  December 9, 2018

        I meant the 15 people were part of those 1-10% literate ones. OK, do we have another group of 15 distinct people from the same era who have composed complex writings on a religious figure in that era?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 10, 2018

          There certainly *were* such people for other figures, but no we don’t have them; the only reason we have *these* is because Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire and then of the entire West, and these writings (but not most others) happened to be preserved.

  17. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  December 9, 2018


    This has nothing to do with the current blog post, but it does concern the motif of Jesus.
    There are ancient accounts of resurrection, death-and-rebirth, virgin birth, etc. but so far by my research these accounts do not have a ”redrmptive” motif like we see in the New Testament. First question is: is there any accounts in ancient literature that have a sacrificial, payment for sin motif like the New Testament? Second question: if there does not exist an ancient account, how do you explain that creation of the motif?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      So far as I know there aren’t any cases of a virgin birth in other traditions, or of the idea that a person died and bodily was raised from the dead and taken up to heaven in the glorified body. But in any event, there *are* traditions of sacrificial deaths for the sake of others, in both pagan and Jewish texts; my sense is that it all goes back to ancient understandings of sacrifice: this living thing I offer to you (the God) is in place of me and my life.

  18. Avatar
    Boaz  December 9, 2018

    Do we know when was the story approximately added? Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 9, 2018

      It is first found in a Greek manuscript of John around 400 CE. It was floating around before that.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  December 9, 2018

        Is there any way to determine how long before 400 CE it was “floating around,” such as references to it by other authors?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 10, 2018

          It is debated whether it was known to the second-century Papias or the author of the Gospel of the Hebrews. If you’re interested in pursuing the matter, an exhaustive study of the passage and its reception/history has been just now published, called To Cast the First Stone, by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman.

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    Matt2239  December 10, 2018

    Just because the story wasn’t in the original, stable document and just because it wasn’t penned by the same author doesn’t mean it’s not accurate and authentic. We all know the “according to” part of the title means the gospel was about John’s teachings, but not necessarily written by John. Consequently, the late inclusion of a passage committed to parchment by someone else doesn’t disqualify it as authentic to John.

    What’s fascinating is how stable the books of the New Testament were at such an early time. And there is no ancient manuscript with a margin big enough to hold that parable. It’s at least a dozen verses.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 10, 2018

      Not sure what you mean about a margin not being large enough. The margins ran down the length of the page, and some mss have large ones. And when you say they were “stable” — what are you thinking of? Do you mean no one ever changed them much?

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  December 11, 2018

        Can you reference a typical manuscript that could have held a dozen verses in the margin? Also, are there other examples of other passages being written into a margin and then being incorporated into a gospel? The errors that become part of the texts are errors that are errors and errors that are incorrect corrections of errors. As for stability, the gospels that are in print today are essentially the same as the versions of those respective gospels that existed in the second century. The arguments used to challenge their authenticity and accuracy are weak.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 12, 2018

          Since margins at the top and bottom tended to be fairly capacious, it would be possible. And no, there are not any other examples of this, with the possible exception of the last twelve verses of Mark. Then again, there aren’t any examples of such long insertions of any kind except these two, so we have nothing to go on but possibilities.

        • Avatar
          godspell  December 13, 2018

          As Bart has pointed out, the earliest versions of John we have don’t have this story. I would go on to point out that Jesus is different in this story than he is in the rest of the gospel–much less verbose and full of himself.

          And marginalia is a thing, man. Sometimes people ended up liking the marginalia more than the actual text…


  20. Avatar
    mannix  December 10, 2018

    If I read you right, this was an oral tradition, added after the 1st century, into John’s gospel. It’s interesting such a poignant story eluded “Mark”, Q,M, and L, as well as “John” him/herself if it was actually historical. I wonder how much of the NT is similarly post-dated.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 11, 2018

      Not too many long stories; just this one and the ending of Mark, e.g.

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