Woman Taken in Adultery

The Story of “Jesus and the Woman Taken
in Adultery” (John 7,53-8,11) in Late Antique
Art and Literature

Jesus and the Woman(?) Taken in Adultery – Ravenna, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, 6th cent.

To condemn or not to condemn? That was the question, when an adulteress was brought before Jesus. Being one of the most popular stories in the New Testament, the narrative on “Woman Taken in Adultery” (PA, John 7,53-8,11), keeps on raising existential issues of human coexistence: the need for fair trial and gender-equality. While its importance from the gender specific perspective is acknowledged, its significance for the formation of gender-(in)equality, Christian identity, society and church in the multicultural Late Antiquity is neglected. This project aims to record, document and critically analyse the early reception, Sitz im Leben and impact of the PA. Using a combination of historical, archaeological, literary and gender related approaches, this project will examine all reception media, including even remains of the material culture.

It has three objectives: (1) To contextualise the reception and to understand that to what extent its various interpretations were shaped by the historical, socio-economical, cultural and theological environment. (2) To illuminate the impact and influence of the story on theology, church practice, Christian identity within the multicultural society and on the discourse about gender. (3) To (re)investigate possible reasons for the incorporation of the PA into the Gospel tradition.

Jesus writes in the dust in front of the Adulteress. Ivory, Magdeburg antependium, 11th cent., Liverpool.

The importance of the early influence of the narrative on constitutive values of modern Western societies cannot be over-emphasised, because the early Christian tradition still has normative character e.g. in the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, the early interpretation of the PA continues to influence societies towards European core values. Thus, this research will contribute to a deeper understanding of the religious, historical, cultural and social heritage of Europe and will serve to orientate contemporary approaches. Furthermore, it will enrich our knowledge on the formation and reception of sacred texts, beyond their religious significance.

This project has received funding from the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 665501.