Becker on John 8:1-11 (1963)

Review Exerpts from: J. Smit Sibinga,
Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 22, No. 1. (Apr., 1968), pp. 55-61.

Page Index

Last Updated: Sep 14, 2010

Section 1: - Introduction to U. Becker
Section 2: - Becker on John 8:1-11 (Review by Sibinga)
Section 3: - Modern Footnotes (from Nazaroo)

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Using Becker as a Smokescreen:

Recently a NT scholar tried to discredit the quotation of John 8:1-11 by Didymus the Blind (c. 380 A.D.) in the recently discovered Commentary on Ecclesiastes (1945):

And as to the need for luck in convincing anyone that the version of the woman to be stoned story that Didymus refers to is not John 8:1-11, I don't think I need it.

This has already been recognized by Ulrich Becker (Jesus und die Ehebrecherin. Untersuchungen zur Textund Überlieferungsgeschichte von Joh. 7,53-8,11), ...

(Dr. Gibson, Internet Infidels)

Mr. Gibson makes an assertion here, using an obscure (1963) German work unavailable to English readers, and hardly a mainstream reference.

(It has only been cited recently by W. L. Petersen as far as we know. Petersen is an almost religious over-citer of obscure works: He typically cites over 100 authors in 40 pages).

Others have also recently engaged in this new tactic. Apparently, opponents of John 8:1-11 are resorting to one of two techniques: They either:

(1) quote only Bruce Metzger as though he provided an adequate summary of the complex evidence regarding 8:1-11, or else

(2) they now refer to U. Becker, knowing that 99% of English readers will not have access to that obscure German work. Its a method of silencing your opponent by smokescreen.

Regarding Gibson's claim above, that Becker has somehow demonstrated that Didymus didn't quote the Pericope de Adultera, this is just nonsense.

Becker's arguments were reviewed by Petersen, Zervos, Ehrman, and many others, and there is no apparent consensus among textual critics presently, regarding the details of Didymus' use of the passage.

Becker versus Other Textual Critics

Actually, Becker's work is out of date, the initial research having been done in 1959. It was republished as a book later in 1963 with minor corrections and updates.

Today, much more accurate reviews of the textual evidence for John 8:1-11 are available, such as Z. Hodges' (1979) excellent and balanced introduction to both the evidence and the main issues.

Although we are not going to attempt a translation of Becker's 400 pg error-riddled work here, we are fortunate in having an excellent review of it from JSTOR (a journal we are sure that Gibson approves of), by a reputable peer in English. I will quote some of the substance of this review to allow English readers some idea of the quality and content of Becker's work.

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BECKER on 8:1-11:
A Review (excerpt)

Excerpted from J. Smit Sibinga, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 22, No. 1. (Apr., 1968), pp. 55-61. (Source: JSTOR online)

A Review of:

Ulrich Becker,
Jesus und die Ehebrecherin.
Untersuchungen zur Textund
Überlieferungsgeschichte von Joh. 7,53-8,11

"In 1959 this work served as a "Inaugural-dissertation" at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Erlangen; its preface mentions the names of Professor Stauffer and Professor Friedrich as consultants. The book deals with the text and tradition of the famous Pericope de Adultera and commendably approaches its subject from several different angles.

Part I covers the history of the pericope as a part of the four Gospel canon, analyses its text and context, and reconstructs the earliest, or rather "a very early" (p. 43), form of its text.

Part II studies the extra and pre-canonical tradition: there are a number of hints to Judaeochristian Gospels.

Part III sums up the results, and then proceeds to interpret the pericope from the point of view of Jewish law and its history. According to Becker, certain disputes among Jewish authorities concerning the proper punishment of an adulteress form its original background.

Here one should compare J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament: The Story of the Woman Taken in Adultery, NT Studies 10 (1963-64) 1-26. In Derrett's opinion, which is very well documented, Jesus' action was essentially a critique of the competence and the motives of the witnesses, i.e. the accusers.

We shall leave this matter to the experts. My comments, to be given below, will concern some points of textual history and criticism and the interpretation of one or two of the testimonia veterum. But, before going into details, let us first look at Becker's main conclusions and give some general impression.

As to the main problem, Becker's conclusion is that the pericope adulterae was inserted into the Fourth Gospel at the beginning of the third century, presumably in (Greek speaking) Judaeo-christian circles, where one was still sufficiently aware of Jewish festal practice to appreciate the excellent setting that John 7,52 offers. 1

The pericope was not originally a part of one of the synoptic Gospels - a view still recently defended by Riesenfeld (1952) -, nor was it invented. 2

If it had been invented for any of the purposes scholars have suggested, it would have been a different story: without the sharp contrast between Jesus and Moses, and with a great deal about confession and repentance. So Becker accepts the historical character of the pericope and tries to fit this controversy-story into its original setting, the life of Jesus. 3

Our general impression of the book is, that it is a capable, ambitious and imaginative attempt to solve the many problems of the Pericope Adulterae, even where, perhaps, simply stating them critically should have been given priority. Much of the relevant material has been collected and studied and there are many useful suggestions.

But the investigation is not as thorough and complete as its impressive appearance might suggest and it could have gained considerably by criticism and guidance.

The accuracy of the book is somewhat below average. 4

I mention only the repeated misquotation of Pacian of Barcelona 5 (1- before 392), the earliest Latin author to mention the pericope explicitly: ". . . quod pepercerit Dominus etianz adulterae confitenti, quam nemo damnarat" (right on p. 25, but conjidenti on pp. 31 and 161) and the consistent misspelling of the name C.A. Phillips and the English word "Judaism".

On p. 10, where Becker lists the witnesses of the pericope among New Testament codices, read Lambda (Λ) for Delta (Δ), and 346 for 246. ...Does minuscule 300 really contain the scholion cited on p. 11? 6

The books lacks indices, which is tiresome in a work of this kind. But we should not blame the author for that: none of these Beihefte has any index. The publishers do not seem to realize that after reading these books one sometimes likes to consult them again. There is an extensive booklist on pp. 188-203, not a specific bibliography of the subject.

J. P. P. Martin's study in part B IV of his Introduction d la critique textuelle du Nouveau Testament (Paris, 1883-86), seems to have escaped the author's attention.

Earlier monographs by C. F. Staudlin, J. Schulthess and others should at least have been mentioned; even S. A. Buddingh, Annotatio brevis in loca quaedam dijiciliora, quae leguntur cap. VIII. Euang. Joannis (thesis Leiden, 1833), has some good remarks.

I would like to deal now with some points that even after Becker's study may need further consideration:

(1) In his paragraph "Der textgeschichtliche Befund" Becker states that both in the Greek manuscript tradition and in the ancient versions the earliest stages show no trace of the pericope. 7

Its oldest witness is Codex Bezae (D), a late representative of the Western text (pp. 28f, 54, 74); the Byzantine text includes the pericope only when it is fully developed (p. 27), in codices EFGH cett. (Von Soden's group K i, or Family E).

This statement should be qualified: Π and its family side with these, and not with A, see J. Geerlings, Family Π in John (Salt Lake City, 1963) pp. 97ff.

That is to say, we find the pericope in one of the earliest forms of the ecclesiastical text, whose origin, date and place are relevant to the subject of this book. The form in which we find the pericope here is almost identical with Von Soden's μ5 (see Geerlings, p. 99). 8

Evidently, Von Soden's contribution deserves more credit than Becker gives it. He simply repeats Lietzmann's verdict of 1907 and acquits himself of reconstructing the development of the Greek text of the pericope. 9

(2) As for the Latin versions and the Diatessaron tradition Becker argues that there is some (relatively late) pre-Vulgate evidence for the pericope.

Ambrose at least is relevant here, but he may or may not have translated from the Greek himself. 10

But probably the pericope did not belong to a pre-Vulgate stage of the Latin Diatessaron, as Plooij believed.

Again, I should point out that the case is not closed.- In the Old-Latin codices the pericope always is a (non-western) interpolation, deriving from Greek codices such as Jerome used for his revision, that is, codices with a Koine type of text. Here Becker has an independent opinion: usually it is thought that...

"...the pericope is.. . a piece of floating tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Church. It was subsequently inserted into various [Greek] manuscripts at various places [in the Gospels]"

(B. M. Metzger, The Text of the NT (Oxford, 1964) p. 224)

Becker's thesis would have been much more safely based, if he had cared to investigate the Old-Latin texts of this passage in detail. 11

He implies that what looks like "free" rendering is not - as it usually is - evidence of an early date. He also implies that there is no "African" vocabulary in the Old-Latin texts of the pericope, and this may be hard to prove (see v. 3 in moecationem (ff 2). v. 4 sponte nloecata (e ); 11. 7 sine delicto (ff 2)).

If there is [an African vocabulary], a late 4th century date for the earliest stratum in these versions is unlikely. 12

(3) In the second chapter Becker studies the pericope's language and style.

To him, the numerous similarities with Luke do not show that Luke is the author, mainly because one argument of a different nature outweighs these similarities: in such a story, Luke would not have omitted the idea of repentance (p. 70f). 13

If one can say that, Becker is probably right in pointing out the non-Lukan character of a few expressions such as eipen with a dative.

In an interesting passage (p. 72) he draws a parallel between Luke's style and vocabulary and a general tendency towards good or at any rate better Greek, evident in early biblical manuscripts and recensions.

With the Unknown Gospel (Papyrus Egerton 2), the pericope is a representative of this tendency.

Here I hesitate: on this supposition, it becomes all but impossible to pin-point the original style of any author as distinct from stylistic corrections, and variants that are less good Greek are difficult to account for; yet they do occur. 14

(4) Becker's analysis of the language of the pericope aims not only at determining its origin, but also at establishing its text.

He intends to base his decision between variants mainly on "internal" considerations, and reconstructs the text of the passage on p. 73f.

His text is even shorter than Hort's, which Nestle prints; he omits the first part of v. 6. 15

He often begins his discussion with Von Soden's and B. Weiss' judgement - German scholarship still honours the verba maiorum - where the reader might have preferred a presentation of the material relevant for comparison.

Von Soden, for example, considered paraginetai D in (v . 2) to be a scribe's error. The copyist of D sometimes is careless (p. 47, note 14). So Becker dismisses the variant. That is, he rejects the reading because he does not trust the witness.

His own program however asks for at least some discussion of the historic present in different forms of the Gospel narrative and in the pericope especially.

Similarly, the discussion of the reading in v. 11 poreuou ] upage D will satisfy us only as long as we do not seriously consider the possibility -which Becker accepts in principle - that D might on occasion give the original reading. This is exactly what one should do when studying a reading's intrinsic value.

Still, in this case, Becker's concluding remark on the variant is valuable:

"Aus welchem Grunde D in unserem Vers upagw vorzieht, ist schwer zu entscheiden; eine Beeinflussung durch ahnliche Formulierungen bei den Syn. (Mc. 1,44 . . .) oder bei Joh. (4,16 . . .) ist wahrscheinlich" (p. 67).

On the other hand, one could go on, it would be easy to tell why D wrote upage , if we suppose this reading to be traditional (Becker's terminology concerning variant readings: . . . vorschlagen, auswechseln, wechselweise etc. is often misleading) .

Why the others should prefer poreuou in a story of more or less Lukan style is obvious from Becker's own statement: "Lukas ist . . . bestrebt, das vulgare upagw zu vermeiden." As for this variant, Becker leaves us with the impression that there is a prima facie case for the reading he rejects; a much fuller discussion seems desirable.

Again, in v. 4 Becker reads
katelhfqh with E...Π al. (Weiss) against
kateilhptai D 1 pc. (Hort) and
katelhptai MSΛ 69 (Von Soden).

The perfect was introduced, it seems, to achieve conformity with the context (v. 3 kateilhmmenh] katalhfqeisan E . . . II . . .).

Becker may be right here, but it is a little disappointing that he does not even try to go beyond reproducing Weiss' arguments, dating from 1903. The use of perfects and aorists has been extensively studied since then. 16

Moreover, the possible confusion with kateleifqh may be a case in point.

(5) In Part II of his book Becker investigates the "extra-canonical tradition" of the pericope, that is to say the traces it has left or may have left as part of one of the Judaeo-christian Gospels.

The first passage for consideration is the well-known statement on Papias in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (I11 39,17). Becker is not inclined to leave much room for doubt that it really was the pericope adulterae which Papias explained.

He even tries to force an argument out of a variant in the Dutch Diatessaron: '. ..en wyf . . . die begrepen was in onkuscheden', a woman who was caught in unchasteness. The designation of her sin is as specific here as in the other reading overhoere. For the general designation of it, 2 Peter 2:14 may be cited, where amartia has been translated by libido (Vetus Latina, type X).

Still, Eusebius' expression epi pollaiV amartiaiV remains somewhat puzzling, and Becker's conclusions on pp. 99f are much more positive than caution would recommend. 17

(6) Among several passages that seem to have something in common with the pericope adulterae, Origen's often cited comment on Romans 7:2b, which Daube discussed in this connection, is perhaps the least uncertain. 18

The Law according to the letter, Origen says, is dead in Jerusalem; it has lost its power, as it cannot punish a murderer, nor stone an adulteress: the Roman government claims all jurisdiction.

From the words "nec adulteram lapidare" Becker would like to conclude that Origen knew the pericope, but suppressed it (p. 123: "Wir mochten antworten: Origenes kennt die Ehebrecherinperikope . . ." is fairly positive; but cf. p. 124: "Nur mit allem Vorbehalt . . ." However, I cannot find these restrictions).

There is very little to justify this conclusion, though some fixed formula "the adulteress must be stoned" instead of "the adulteress must be put to death" (Lev. 20:1O) may indeed have been familiar to Origen (see also In Matth. XIX, 24 (GCS Or X, 1 (1935), p. 34132, cf. 3309 ) and Clement of Alexandria, Strom. II xxiii, 147, 1 and 4 (GCS ClemAl II (3 1960), pp. 193-194)).

We know that Christian polemists, with their opinion of the Old Testament Law ("the letter kills"), use biblical texts concerning capital punishment more or less freely: see Acts 3,23; Born. 7,3; Justin, Dialogue 10,3 and 23,4; Hom. Clem. III, 53 (Rehm (1953), p. 76), Dialogue of Timothy and Aquila (Conybeare (1898), p. 87f).

Stoning was, for the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, characteristic of the severity of the Law (12:20), as at the beginning of the Acts of John it seems to be characteristic of the Jews.

Now admittedly it was in fact the prescribed punishment for the adulteress (so also Becker, p. 121, 165); this is an obvious conclusion from the biblical text, Deut. 22,21-24, and Josephus still mentions it as normal practice.

The Mishna however prescribes strangulation. It is a little far-fetched to surmise, with Professor Daube, that Origen at this point depends on Jewish circles that opposed the mishnaic reform. Becker rightly points out that Origen's argument is theological (p. 120, note 3), and it should not be pressed beyond its polemic purpose.

To me, it seems just as far-fetched to declare that Origen here betrays his acquaintance with the pericope de adultera. Why the pericope rather than Clement or Josephus? Most likely this was just common tradition. 19

Some of these critical comments may, however slightly, affect the picture of the history of the pericope adulterae which Becker has drawn. He himself does not in any way consider it to be final (see p. 6). ...

(From: J. Smit Sibinga, Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 22, No. 1. (Apr., 1968), pp. 55-61.)

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. This is an important concession by Becker, for it indicates that all the evidence taken together even by a skeptical investigator, suggests that the latest the Pericope de Adultera could have been added was around 250-300 A.D. This coincides with non-canonical evidence as well.

This was conceded also by Hort in places, although he doubted its inclusion in the text had numerical 'dominance' among the MSS until late in the 6th or 7th century.

More recent skeptics like Metzger and Ehrman ignore all the early evidence of the passage's existance and acceptance as a part of John's Gospel. But this is an unrealistic position to hold.

2. Again, Becker's position should be made quite clear, especially if people like Gibson are going to quote him as an authority against evidence such as the quotations of Didymus.

Becker was utterly convinced that this was an authentic piece of early tradition about Jesus, as are many scholars, even among those who reject Johannine authorship.

And the reasoning behind Becker's decision (and that of others) is quite transparent and solid. Becker is surely right in insisting that the story is missing key features that would identify it as a later invention (i.e., 2nd - 3rd century).

3. Becker is here surely correct. The internal evidence of the antiquity and authenticity of the basic story is compelling. The only real question remaining is whether or not it belongs to John, or to another parallel tradition originating from the Apostolic period, for instance Peter, or Pauline circles.

4. Becker's work suffers from some basic deficiencies: it is lacking in thoroughness, completeness, accuracy, and is too imaginative and lacks rigour. While many of its errors are minor, it is not sufficiently scientific, even for the 1960s, although somewhat typical of work in this field.

5. While on the subject of Pacian of Barcelona (392 A.D.) we might as well correct the reviewer regarding his own claim here. Pacian is not likely the earliest Latin author to mention the pericope explicitly. For one thing, Pacian was a contemporary of Augustine, while Ambrose was from the previous generation, and was Augustine's mentor. Even though some of Ambrose's work appears to date from as late as 380-400 A.D. his opinion regarding the pericope is a longstanding one, stretching back perhaps another 30 years previous.

When Ambrose writes, implying a longstanding acceptance of the passage as part of John's Gospel, it is surely based upon a real tradition held by his own contemporaries and predecessors.

6. Becker is usually cited by critics for his textual evidence. But here the reviewer shows that he is inaccurate in the very details for which appeal is made to him.

The English reader is advised to turn rather to Z. Hodges , or the collations of Robinson/Pierpont or W. Pickering for accurate descriptions of the textual evidence. the apparatus of the UBS text for instance is woefully incomplete and inaccurate.

7. This is also inaccurate. The oldest Greek manuscripts show clear knowledge of the existance of the Pericope de Adultera, even when they leave it out. The reader should examine the early manuscript evidence for themselves here:

Top Ten Earliest MSS for John <-- Click Here.

8. This is astounding information, and also a grave error in respect to Becker's work. To put it bluntly, the Family Π Text reaches back to the early 3rd century A.D., and even more importantly, it contains the μ 5 version of the Pericope de Adultera.

We have shown independantly elsewhere that the μ 5 text is the original form of the passage:

Textual Reconstruction of PA <-- Click Here.

The μ 5 text is the most diversely and numerically well supported text, being represented by 300 out of the 900 continuous-text MSS that have the passage. It is supported in at least half of its readings by another large group of MSS, the μ 7 text, also numerically preponderant at about 280 MSS.

The only other numerically significant text is the μ 6 text, known to be essentially a primitive Lectionary text, and secondary to μ 5.

This suggests that 4th century versions of the text (as in D) and text-types omitting the passage are secondary and unreliable.

9. Here again more disinformation is exposed by the reviewer. Von Soden and his work is often criticised or dismissed as inaccurate and near-worthless by those who push the Westcott-Hort text.

However, it turns out that subsequent work by Geerlings and others support von Soden and his textual groupings and collations. It is ironic that the main reason most English critics in the West have ignored von Soden is because his work is in German, and has been almost inaccessible to English speakers.

Yet here the critics are pushing Becker, although he is equally inaccessible, published only in German, in Europe in the 60s. The reviewer notes that Becker however, relies upon work by Lietzmann which has not been updated. One regrets that someone didn't just translate von Soden instead.

10. Here Becker rightly notes pre-Vulgate evidence for the Pericope, and the reviewer assists, in spite of doubting the passage was in the pre-Vulgate Latin himself!

But the reviewer gives no evidence or argument for rejecting the pre-Vulgate evidence. As a mere reviewer, he is not obligated to do so, but his skepticism can be safely ignored, since no basis for it has been provided. The reviewer offers Plooij as counter-point to his own belief, who can be consulted by the reader.

11. The reviewer rightly laments the fact that Becker doesn't do a proper investigation of the Old Latin manuscript tradition. Another incredible flaw in Becker's work, providing more reasons to seek other more recent investigators.

12. Again the reviewer exposes significant evidence opposing Becker's arguments. If the Old Latin is indeed infected with earlier African readings, then its text is more ancient than Becker's arguments would allow, and its testimony also carries more weight. The Old Latin texts containing the Pericope de Adultera could be among the most ancient witnesses we have, even though secondary because they are a translation.

13. Here for once, Becker's argument is forceful, if not decisive. How could Luke, the famous defender of women and propounder of the theme of repentance, have blown such an opportunity?

All secondary and subjective arguments about 'style' and vocabulary pale in comparison to this glaring error. The critics who proposed a Lukan origin for this passage have made an error of the kind described in Matthew 23:24!

The accompanying evidence of NON-Lukan origin is just icing on the cake.

14. The reviewer's hesitation is understandable. However, here again, Becker has presented surprisingly strong evidence, which many others since have taken up.

There is far more substantial and credible evidence for 'general' minor editing by scribes to 'improve' or rather update the Greek form of the Gospels than there is that could be used to characterized individual authors.

Put another way, the so-called evidence of author styles is very weak and nebulous, except in a few obvious generalizations and key grammatical constructions. The 'vocabulary' evidence is even weaker in nature.

Now that the reviewer has brought up the Egerton Fragment, its direct bearing on John 8:1-11 should also be considered:

Egerton Fragment and John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here.

15. Becker reconstructs the text using 'internal' criteria, and the unfortunate result is immediately apparent. The kind of 'internal' evidence understood and accepted in 1960 was crude and subjective, based upon opinions of vocabulary and 'style'.

Not only does following the idiotic 'canons' of textual criticism (e.g. "prefer the shorter reading", "prefer the harder reading".etc.) result in an exaggeratedly shortened text, but it is an arbitrary one too.

Becker falls on his face in verse 6, omitting a stable part of text on the basis of Codex D alone, yet, even in Codex D this is not a true omission, but rather a dislocation of the text to another part of the passage.

16. Once again the reviewer alerts us to the dependancy of Becker upon another early critic, without any modern expansion, or correction of that early (1903) work.

This seems to be a perennial feature of university theses. The writers quote antiquated authorities known to be approved by the professors and mentors marking the paper.

The purpose is less about the science of the subject than about appeasing those who grade the paper.

17. The question of the reference of Papias (as quoted in Eusebius) has remained problematic and controversial to this day. This is the nature of the case. The connection is not as strong or clear as we would have liked. But Eusebius himself may be responsible for the problematic nature of the quotation, since he despises and devalues Papias openly, and his report is not reliable in its details.

On the other hand, it is not obvious that the passage referred to is NOT the Pericope de Adultera. This makes those opposing the early origin and authenticity of the passage unhappy.

There are many levels of probability and confidence in these kinds of evidences, and one should not think that because the evidence of Papias/Eusebius is ambiguous, that other evidence, such as that of Didymus in the 4th century are equally uncertain.

18. Interestingly, this passage in Romans discussed by Origen is passed by in silence by modern critics. Those who oppose the authenticity of the verses just cite Origen as a witness against authenticity without comment!

However, the evidence regarding Origen is complex and not so clear as critics make it appear. They say Origen doesn't quote the passage, but the key chapter of Origen's Commentary on John is actually missing, apparently destroyed deliberately. A list, a kind of 'table of contents' seems to indicate this portion was skipped over by Origen, but this list may be a later addition and not the work of Origen at all.

One of the most amazing incidents in the controversy occured when S. P. Tregelles appeared to quote the missing chapters of Origen's work! This confusion was somewhat cleared up later by Hort, although the result is not satisfying.

Tregelles on John 8:1-11 <-- Click Here.

Origen does engage in a lengthy discussion with Rufinus over the omission of the Story of Susanna. He makes it clear that he believed Jewish authorities deliberately removed the story, because it indicted them. If this is anything to go by, Origen might have taken the same position on the Pericope de Adultera, had he been made aware of its omission in some manuscripts.

19. Although the evidence for Origen's knowledge of the Pericope de Adultera is weak, so is the reviewer's argument here.

It is unlikely that Origen would have relied upon Josephus, or even Clement, for his commentary on Romans. Given the three choices, and the possibility that the Pericope de Adultera was in John at least in some copies available to Origen after 200 A.D., it seems a bit desperate to suggest that Origen got his ideas from Josephus.

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