The King of Stories -- Actions and Consequences

Introductory note from Jason Pratt: see here for the previous entry; and see here for the first entry of the series. (It explains what I'm doing, and how, and contains the Johannine prologue.)

Actions and Consequences

Now it occurs (the Disciple and the Scholar and the Follower say), as Jesus is in one of the cities (of Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and healing)... look! a man full of leprosy!

Seeing Jesus, he falls on his face (apparently after having followed Jesus to a house where Jesus was staying), imploring Him: "Sir! If you are willing, you can make me clean!"

Moved with compassion, and reaching out His hand, Jesus touches him, saying: "I am willing! Be cleansed!"

And the leprosy went straight away from him, at His saying this; and he was made clean.

Yet, growling under His breath, Jesus strictly charges the man: "Look here! You may not say anything of this to anyone! Now go, show yourself to the (local) priest, and bring for your cleansing the approach offering Moses commands (in the book of Leviticus), as a testimony to them." And then He casts him out.

But the man, going out, begins shouting loudly, blazing the news abroad; so that by no means can Jesus enter a city publicly any longer, but must stay out in desolate places. And they came to Him from every direction. [See first comment below for footnote here.]


After these things (says the Evangelist), there was a feast of the Jews (maybe the Feast of Pentecost, about 50 days after Passover), and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

And Jesus was announcing (the gospel) in the synagogues of Judea (as well, agrees the Scholar.)

Now (continues the Evangelist), in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, there is a pool with five porticos (porches), named in Hebrew "Bethesda".

A crowd of those who were sick, blind, lame and withered were laid down in those (porticos), waiting for the moving of the waters--for an angel of the Lord went down into the pool to bathe at certain seasons, and stirred up the water; whoever then first stepped in after this disturbance would be healed of whatever disease was gripping him. [See second comment below for a footnote here.]

Now a certain man was there, having been sick thirty-eight years.

Jesus, seeing him lying there, and knowing he had already been waiting a long time, is saying to him: "Do you want to become whole?"

The weak man answered Him: "Sir, I have no one to throw me in the pool whenever the water may be disturbed; so while I am going, another goes down before me."

Jesus is saying to him: "Get up, pick up your pallet, and walk!"

Instantly, the man is made whole; and got up and picked up his pallet and began to walk.

But, that day was a Sabbath.

So the Jews (probably Pharisees per typical GosJohn usage, trying in this case to help Israel keep the Law ‘perfectly’ for at least one day so that God would send them the Messiah as a reward) said to the man who had been cured, "This is the Sabbath; and you are not allowed to carry your pallet!"

But he answered them, "He who made me whole is who said to me, 'Pick up your pallet and walk.'"

So they asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your pallet and walk'?"

But the cured man had not really seen Who He was, for Jesus is avoiding him among the local crowd.

Afterward, Jesus finds him in the Temple, and says to him: "Look here; you have become whole. By no means be sinning any longer!--or else something worse may be happening to you!"

The man went away then, and informed the Jews that Jesus is the One Who made him whole.


Now while He is speaking (says the Scholar), a certain Pharisee asks Him to have lunch with him. And going in, He reclines (at the table).

Yet the Pharisee, seeing this, marvels that Jesus has not ceremonially washed (literally ‘baptized’) Himself before lunch!

But the Lord said to him: "Now, you Pharisees are cleaning the outside of the cup and the platter; yet your inside is full of robbery and wickedness! You fools!--does He Who makes the outside not also make the inside? So, give what is within, in charity; and behold, all is clean to you."

Now answering, a certain lawyer said, "Rabbi; when you say this, you insult us, too."

But He said: "Wail for you lawyers as well!--for you take away the key of knowledge! You don't enter in yourselves, and you hinder the ones who are entering!"

So when He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began hounding Him dreadfully, quizzing Him closely on many subjects; ambushing Him, and seeking to pounce on something out of His mouth. [See third comment below for footnote here.]


So everyone went to their own homes (continues an unknown storyteller, adding something to the tale); but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

Now early next morning, He came along again into the Temple, and all the people were coming to Him; so He sat and began teaching.

Yet the scribes and Pharisees are leading a woman who has been overtaken in adultery; and having set her among them, they said to Him:

"Rabbi; this woman has been found doing adultery--caught in the act! Now in the Law, Moses directs us to stone such women. You then--what do you say?"

They were saying this (adds the unknown storyteller) to test Him, in order to have something to accuse Him of.

But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with His finger.

Yet as they persisted asking Him, He unbends and says to them:

"The one without sin among you--let Him be the first to throw a stone at her."

And again stooping down, He wrote on the ground.

And when they heard this, they began leaving one by one, starting with the eldest, to the last man.

And Jesus was left alone, with the woman, in the midst (of the people).

Now unbending, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Does not even one of them condemn you?"

And she said, "... not one, sir."

And Jesus said: "Neither am I condemning you. Go!

"But from now on, you absolutely must stop sinning." [See fourth and fifth comments below for footnotes here.]

Matthew 8:2-4
Mark 1:40-45
Luke 4:44
Luke 5:12-14
Luke 11:37-41
Luke 11:45-46a
Luke 11:52-54
John 5:1-15
John 7:53
John 8:1-11

[Next time: Days of Turmoil and Courage and Peace]


Jason Pratt said…
.......[first deferred footnote]

Apparently, the problem is that Jesus touched a leper, and so even though the leper was cured, the fact Jesus touched him would at the least confound people who now would expect Jesus Himself to be not only impure but contagious, until the proper cleansing ceremonies had been publicly accomplished. Jesus knows He needs no such ceremony, and will not do one simply for show, so chooses to limit His ministry until after His next public appearance in Jerusalem at the Temple, after which people would assume He had decontaminated Himself. He does, however, get a full load of lepers to visit Him now in the wastes...
Jason Pratt said…
.......[second deferred footnote]

Many manuscripts omit this explanation of what sounds like geothermal sulfurous action in the spring. It does show that even the later copyists were not universally credulous; they distinguished between ‘genuine’ miracles and what they considered to be rustic (i.e. 'pagan') superstitions. The writers of the NT epistles admonish their readers likewise, on occasion...
Jason Pratt said…
.......[third deferred footnote]

Pharisees: students of the Jewish law who were supposed to be helping the people across Israel (especially the laity) to keep the laws of God--not necessarily priests in the synagogues or the Temple. In fact, their purpose was to serve the people outside the Temple, although their base, as with any group, was Jerusalem. The word Pharisee itself means 'put out'; technically they were _sent_ out, as the phrase can also be translated, although it became common later to joke that they had been 'put out' by the leading men in the Temple for being busybodies. Another joke involved explaining 'bleeding Pharisees' as a semi-affectionate curse: they concentrated so hard on keeping the Law, they were constantly bumping their heads on things!

The Pharisees parlayed their necessity as the active teaching arms of the chief priests across the countryside, including making converts to Judaism, into considerable political power in Jerusalem--but they were also seen as helpful teachers and even heroes by the people.

Jesus operated much like a Pharisaic rabbi, which confused them; early in the story they are wanting to know more about Him, but I am presenting this incident as being an early confrontation, instigated by Jesus in trying to reform them. A time will come when, to put it mildly, they stop inviting Him to dinners...

Lawyers: similar to Pharisees, but more official in their connections to the Temple system; these are the men who try court cases, civil and criminal (insofar as the Romans allowed criminal trials), and act as legal advisors for the chief priests. When Jesus chides the Pharisees, the lawyer realizes they are being included in principle.

Scribes: men specially trained in the art of calligraphy, not only writing the scrolls of the Jewish Scriptures, but also ensuring accurate and graceful excerpts could be painted on doorposts or in phylacteries (small boxes with brief scriptural excerpts, worn on the forehead and upper arm for religious devotion.) Scribes consequently became very familiar with the Law, as well as the Histories and the Prophets, and so could be treated as ad hoc lawyers. (We might call them paralegals.) They worked closely in conjunction with all the religious groups of 1st century Judaism.

Generally speaking, 'lawyers' would be found in Jerusalem and its nearby settlements in the locality of Judea; Pharisees and scribes could be found anywhere, but especially out across the country. "Chief priests", including those in the Pharisee party, would normally only be near Jerusalem, along with the Sadducee party who controlled the Sanhedrin priestly high court (although Sadducees could send out deputation groups on occasion, for their own purposes, of course.)

Not all Pharisees were necessarily as hypocritical, or even as annoying, as the hyper-conservatives who tailed Jesus; and in fact the Pharisees were responsible for keeping Judaism alive and flourishing after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans (under Titus and Vespasian) in 70 CE, 40-43 years after the events in the Gospel stories.

Jesus is interested in reforming the Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, etc.; and eventually gains followers even among the Pharisees of Jerusalem. The Pharisees were particularly interested in reform, actually, for the sake of the people of Israel and the glory of God. Specifically, they hoped that if Israel could keep the Law perfectly for even one day, God would send the Messiah as a reward.

At any rate: unlike His previous trip to Jerusalem at Passover, Jesus has now thrown down the gauntlet, and challenged the lawyers and Pharisees. The duels have begun...
Jason Pratt said…
.......[fourth deferred footnote]

This story does not exist in the earliest copies of GosJohn, nor in any other canonical Gospel except for one or two existent copies of GosLuke (plus its position in GosJohn tends to float through three or four optional places in various copies). It first appears in the surviving copies several hundred years later, although writers were mentioning the incident on occasion for about a century earlier.

It is difficult to consider the story a late invention, though--aside from the possible subdued tease about "The One Who is without sin among you", there is no evident 'high Christology'; there is no attempt (within the anecdote) to connect this woman with the popular Mary/Maries of Bethany/Magdala; the language is very straightforward without embellishments, aside from natural detail touches: people going back and forth, the accusers leaving one at a time in order of their age, Jesus stooping and straightening doing something completely mysterious of which nothing at all is made... His language is clipped and to the point, quite like similar incidents both in GosJohn (such as the healing at Bethesda pool which I've put this near) and in the Synoptics (such as the healing of the first leper).

In short, it reads like an eyewitness account, passed along in very good shape. If it is an invention, it is a very good invention; it is not at all like examples of definite invention found among orthodox and other groups after 150 CE.

Even more shortly: this tastes like a real bit of history. However, its inclusion is not mandatory, and its provenance remains admittedly problematic.

I've put it this early for several reasons which I'll discuss in the appendix; but partly (I admit) because I could put it near just about any Jerusalem scene and I have a purely aesthetic preference for suggesting a sequence of events connected to Mary of Bethany/Magdala. This should not be taken as a definite conclusion, however; it is simply editorial preference.
Jason Pratt said…
.......[fifth deferred footnote]

I take it that the point of this test was to see if Jesus would conform to proper convention. Legally the woman couldn’t in fact be prosecuted (much less stoned to death without a proper trial). The Pharisees were shown earlier to be largely on Jesus’ side (especially in GosJohn), so they’re probably just disturbed at His criticisms and His obvious disregard for their strategy of ‘earning’ the advent of the Messiah--isn't He supposed to be on their side against the Sadducees etc.?! On the other hand, if He takes the judgment of the Law into His own hand (so to speak) without due process, then He would be publicly exposed as a mere pretender trying to use Jewish religious convention for His own power-gain. So it’s a clever rabbinic test, to see if Jesus is acting out of egotism and if He will be a threat to the people; the woman is not actually in danger, though she herself may think she is.

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