The Pericope Adulterae and Protoevangelium of James

In a 1997 essay, W. L. Petersen argued for a literary connection between the Pericope adulterae (= PA) and the Protoevangelium of James on the basis of the common phrase “neither do I condemn you” (ουδε εγω σε [κατακρινω]). [1] While in the PA Jesus utters these words to the accused woman (John 8:11), in the Protoevangelium the high priest pronounces them over Mary and Joseph, declaring them innocent of the charge that Mary’s virginity has been compromised.

Petersen assumed that the Protoevangelium must depend on an earlier form of the PA tradition without so much as mentioning the possibility that the PA, if it were a late tradition, might in fact depend on the Protoevangelium. As we might expect, Petersen’s essay is typically cited in discussions of the PA as a second-century tradition. But if we regard the PA in its fullest form as a fourth-century development, there is no reason the dependency must go in this direction. In fact, if we regard this saying as one of the final features of the PA, the only possible connection (if we accept a connection) is from the PA to the Protoevangelium. But if such a connection is plausible, we have a potentially valuable clue as to the interests of the fourth-century compilers of the PA in the antidicomarianite and related controversies concerning the virginity of Mary.


[1] ΟΥΔΕ ΕΓΩ ΣΕ [ΚΑΤΑ]ΚΡΙΝΩ, John 8:11, The Protevangilum Iacobi, and the History of the Pericope adulteraein Sayings of Jesus: Canonical and Non-canonical (ed. W. L. Petersen, J. S. Vos, and Henk J. de Jonge; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 191-221.

11 thoughts on “The Pericope Adulterae and Protoevangelium of James

    • Prof. Wasserman, I am honored by your comment given your extensive work on the PA! Thank you for pointing out that the saying discussed by Petersen appears in other early texts, such as the Didascalia Apostolorum (=DA). I would merely suggest that, in appraising such texts, we not necessarily take for granted that Bezae’s continuous MS text necessarily precedes that of the citations. So if we allow a fourth-century date for the PA, it is possible those who put the account into its final form knew the saying from the PI, DA, or yet another source. Of course, there is also the tricky matter of dating the DA itself, elements of which apparently derive from the fourth century.

        • Prof. Wasserman, yes I have read your thorough essay on the subject and must thank you for your clear presentation. I think in dating the PA a distinction is needed between the more-or-less “full” final form in John and the earlier and by later standards incomplete traditions that seem to have inspired it. I admit that I do not see the final Johannine form being dated before Jerome. In my opinion, Jerome’s remarks about the PA and the Vulgate need to be weighed with caution. Moreover we should recall that Jerome’s surviving remarks postdate his Vulgate revision by almost three decades, so they do not reflect (nor do they claim to reflect) the state of affairs in the 380’s, but rather in the 410’s. We must consider also the extent to which both Ambrose and Augustine (and other latter fourth century writers) might depend on Jerome’s strategically crafted presentation of the evidence. So I confess my skepticism as to the existence of the full form of the PA before its assumed appearance in the Vulgate, after which interest seems to have exploded within the Latin tradition though, perhaps tellingly, very little if at all in the Greek.

  1. Did you read my essay where I treat the existence of the PA in the Old Latin capitula (with the word “moechatione” which is a rare loanword from the Greek)? Well Peter, I am just now writing a chapter with Jennifer on this very topic. There is much more to say.

    • Yes there is indeed much to say and the back-and-forth comment format hardly does justice to the conversation!

      The evidence of the capitula seems promising to be sure, but in the case of the Cy type, for example, the physical evidence is so late, being from the ninth and tenth centuries. Even if the text type of the substrate can be dated to the 3rd century, we should expect a persistent tendency to update the capitula to match the Vulgate text over the subsequent half millennium. The short timeless phrase, “Ubi adulteram dimisit et,” would be so easily inserted at the beginning of capitula 30!

      As for the scarcity of “moechatione,” while the specific lemma may be rare, other cognates of the Greek μοιχεω are not particularly scarce. Perseus reveals cognates as early as the first century in native poets and playwrights, including Horace, Catullus, Terentius, Plautus, Juvenal, Martial, and others. In any case, we expect social taboos to favor archaic expressions over common language.

  2. The argument does not build on one single capitulum but on a comprehensive examination of each type. Yes, type CY is found in two late MSS, but what is really relevant is that the biblical citations have affinities to Tertullian and Cyprian and is earlier than any surviving OL MS. As Hugh Houghton says, “As the earliest set of New Testament chapter divisions known to survive in any language, these
    are of considerable interest and their importance for the biblical text is
    unparalleled” (“Chapter Divisions, Capitula Lists, and the Old Latin Versions of John,” RB 121 (2011): 338).

    • But this argument does not consider the very real possibility that newer material might be interpolated into the old text. When capitula based on old texts were pressed into the service of newer MSS having the PA, it seems the reflex would have been to update the capitula to include the PA. In fact, the three-word reference to the PA in the Cy type looks like an interpolation because it is so terse compared to the language in the surrounding capitula. Everything in the Cy type is verbose and full of descriptive detail, yet the PA is dismissed in a mere three words, ubi adulteram dimisit (“where he absolves the adulteress”).

      • Yes, an interpolation in the CY cannot be excluded. However, the Type I with “moechatione,” in my opinion, likely preserves the Old Latin rendering.

        Given your interest in Codex Bezae, by the way, I am just curious what you think about the word “presbyteris” in 8:9 as opposed to “senioribus” in the other OL MSS?

        • Certainly “moechatione” is the Old Latin reading by the end of the fourth century, but I am skeptical of dating the PA earlier than the Vulgate on the basis of this word alone. In the first place, I think the rarity of the Greek loan moechatione is overstated. Cognates with the borrowed Greek root moech- are not all that uncommon. I count twenty occurrences of these words in the Vulgate, principally in passages where the prohibition against the act of adultery is emphasized (as opposed to more figurative uses denoting idolatry or defilement, where adultero excels). Moreover, given the tendency of the OL to harmonize, I find it especially significant that these loanwords are used in both instances of the Decalogue (Exod 20:14; Deut 5:18) as well as the commandment to put adulterer and adulteress to death (Lev 20:10). So the emphasis in the OL is clearly on drawing a connection to the legal prohibition.

          But my more fundamental concern is making a leap from the appearance of a reading, otherwise known only from later times, amidst the apparently archaic but fragmentary citations of the capitula, to conclusions regarding that reading’s likely existence in either the traditions or continuous texts of an earlier century. Such a leap must be considered dubious because it overlooks the supporting function of the capitula as helps for users of contemporary MSS. The age of the texts from which the capitula citations were extracted is not relevant here because the capitula are virtually required to stay up-to-date with the texts they accompany, even if this means freely interpolating (to me this is most obvious in Cy).

          Thanks for bringing my attention to Bezae’s remarkable choice of “presbyteris” over “senioribus” in 8:9. This one may be worthy of a post!

What do you think?