Are there autobiographical elements in Jerome’s pericope adulterae?

In an earlier post I pointed out some anomalies concerning Jerome’s involvement with the pericope adulterae (= PA) as it appears in the Vulgate at John 7:53-8:11:

  • Jerome’s remarks on the PA’s wide attestation come some thirty years after the presentation of the Vulgate gospels
  • Jerome does not cite the Vulgate version of the PA in his later remarks on the PA
  • Jerome’s PA is very different from attested pre-Vulgate Greek forms, such as that of his mentor Didymus or the account in Didascalia Apostolorum
  • Jerome seems to be exaggerating the representation of the PA in Greek manuscripts to make a point against the Pelagians
  • The appearance of the PA in the Vulgate is followed by an explosion of interest in the story within the Latin tradition

Considering the above anomalies and Jerome’s reputation for inventing material when it suited his purposes (Vigil. 3 and see Nautin [1983] on fabricated letter exchanges), the question needs to be asked whether Jerome had a hand in the composition of the final form of the PA. The following parallels between the story as it appears in the Vulgate and Jerome’s own circumstances may be illuminating (apologies for the Victorian English in the NPNF quotes):

  • like the woman in the story, Jerome was accused of sexual misconduct in his capacity as spiritual advisor to a circle of ascetic women in Rome:

It often happened that I found myself surrounded with virgins … Our studies brought about constant intercourse, this soon ripened into intimacy, and this, in turn, produced mutual confidence. … No; my sex is my one crime, and even on this score I am not assailed, save when there is a talk of Paula going to Jerusalem. … Men call me a mischief-maker … There hath no temptation taken me but such as is common to man. … Men have laid to my charge a crime of which I am not guilty [i.e. incontinence] (Epist. 45.2,6 “To Asella”; trans. NPNF 2.6, 59, 60)

  • as the accused woman was brought before the Pharisees, so Jerome was called before a tribunal of Roman clerics (whom he calls “Pharisees” elsewhere) to answer charges of sexual misconduct:

As to what judgment was formed of me at Rome, or what was written afterwards, you are quite welcome to speak out, especially since you have writings to trust to; for I am not to be tried by your words … but by the documents of the church. (Ruf. 3.22; trans. NPNF 2.3, 530)

  • given the PA’s interest in hypocrisy, it is telling that Jerome painted his accusers as hypocrites, referring to the tribunal as a “senate of Pharisees” (Pharisaeorum … senatus) (preface to Did. Spir.)
  • Jerome’s attachment to Paula, whose plans to follow Jerome to Palestine initiated rumors of an indiscretion, placed him in a particularly sympathetic position towards the woman accused of adultery:

Of all the ladies in Rome but one had power to subdue me, and that one was Paula. … The only woman who took my fancy was one whom I had not so much as seen at table. But when I began to revere, respect, and venerate her as her conspicuous chastity deserved, all my former virtues forsook me on the spot. (Epist. 45.3 “To Asella”)

  • concerning Jesus’ writing on the ground, we should only note that the written word was Jerome’s own weapon of choice against those he considered his hypocritical accusers