Texts, even sacred texts, are never fixed. Meaning is never stable and interpretations shift in concert with the changing concerns of those who present them. These principles are readily demonstrated by a consideration of the complex history of the pericope adulterae—a story about Jesus, an adulteress, and a group of interlocutors found in the Gospel of John. This story is absent from many early gospel manuscripts and is remarkably unstable when it does appear. There are a few second- and third-century citations of the tale, but they do not mention the identity or motives of the interlocutors, nor do they specify the guilt (or innocence) of the woman or the men who accused her. By contrast, fourth- and fifth-century exegetes regularly suggested that the interlocutors sought to test Jesus, represented the woman as guilty, and claimed that "the Jews" were damned for their sins, readings that were preserved in gospel manuscripts. The pericope adulterae, increasingly invoked to produce Christian hegemony at the expense of "the Jews," real or imagined, became a story about Jewish sin and Christian difference. This interpretation then influence the transmission of the tale, though traces of earlier readings lingered.


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pp. 485-536
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