Hort on John 8:1-11 (1896)
Part III: Supplementary Section

Exerpted from: F.J.A. Hort, The NT in the Original Greek,
Vol. I Introduction (1896 rev., Macmillan & Co.)

Page Index

Section 1: - Introduction
Section 2: - Hort's Summary
Section 3: - footnotes

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Hort discusses the Pericope de Adultera (John 7:53-8:11) in two places in his Introduction. First of all in the Introduction proper, on pages 299-300, he gives a summary of his opinion about the passage. That section is what we will be reproducing here.

But this section does not present or discuss any evidence to support his views. It is a mere sketch of his public position. He relegates all the pertinent evidences and arguments to his Appendix, (pages 82-88 of that document), where his submission, in spite of its length is heavily compressed, and difficult to approach in the form offered. (the text is very densely abbreviated and printed in a small font, presumably to save space).

We reproduce and discuss in detail Hort's presentation from the Appendix in several other articles, where that evidence is thoroughly examined and found wanting. Here we simply look at Hort's general argument in the main text of his Introduction, in a more brief manner.

The interested reader is referred to our other more detailed articles below, for instance:

Hort Part I: Evidence For Authenticity

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Hort on John 8:1-11

From Introduction: pp. 299-300


" ¶ 388. The Section on the Woman taken in Adultery (John vii 53 - viii 11) likewise required an exceptional treatment. No interpolation is more clearly Western, though it is not Western of the earliest type. 1

Not only is it passed over in silence in every Greek commentary of which we have any knowledge, down to that of Theophylact inclusive (Cent. XI-XII); 2 but with the exception of a reference in the Apostolic Constitutions (? Cent. IV), and a statement by an obscure Nicon (Cent. X or later) that it was expunged by the Armenians, not the slightest allusion to it has yet been discovered in the whole of Greek theology before the 12th century.

The earliest Greek MSS containing it, except the Western Codex Bezae, [codex D] are of the 8th century. 3 It is absent from the better MSS of all the Oriental versions except the AEthiopic, and apparently from the earliest form of the Old Latin. 4 In the West it was well known in the 4th century, and doubtless long before. 5

It has no right to a place in the text of the Four Gospels: 6 yet it is evidently from an ancient source, and it could not now without serious loss be entirely banished from the New Testament.

No accompanying marks would prevent it from fatally interrupting the course of St John's Gospel if it were retained in the text. 7

As it forms an independant narrative, it seems to stand best alone at the end of the Gospels with double brackets [ [... ] ] to shew its inferior authority, and a marginal reference within {...} at John vii 52. 8

As there is no evidence for its existance in ancient times except in Western texts, we have printed it as nearly as possible in accordance with Western documents, using the text of D [codex Bezae] as the primary authority, 9 but taking account likewise of the Latin evidence and of such later Greek MSS as appear to have preserved some reading of cognate origin. 10

The text thus obtained is perhaps not pure, but it is at least purer than any which can be formed on the basis supplied chiefly by the MSS of the Greek East. " 11

(Hort, Introduction, pp. 299-300)

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Modern Footnotes

Footnotes courtesy of Nazaroo:

1. Hort here asserts that the passage is an 'interpolation', that it is 'Western', and that it is a 'late' text, in one sentence. Each of these ideas requires extensive and serious evidence. The actual evidence Hort presents in his Appendix, is deficient in several areas:

(1) The passage cannot in any easy or simple way be explained as an 'interpolation', as though it was simply inserted in the book of John: Certainly not as Hort himself has 'reconstructed' that book.

Hort's 'Neutral text' contains extensive internal structure (just like the traditional text of John does), which shows that either the 'inserter' of the passage tampered heavily with the Gospel itself in many other places, or else the person responsible for the passage was the same person as the author of the Gospel.

For more details on these built-in structures for John, see some of our articles, such as:

The O.T. Quotation Structure of John <-- Click Here for Article.

(2) If the passage is 'Western', Hort has not adequately explained how the overwhelming majority of MSS containing the passage are Eastern, from the Eastern Byzantine Empire.

The early 'Western' texts Hort has used to construct his theory of transmission show a text quite different from the Eastern (traditional) text. Hort has not shown in any credible way how the Eastern text could possibly have been derived from or evolved out of the 'Western' text.

(3) Hort calls the passage 'late', but admits, "In the West it was well known in the 4th century, and doubtless long before."

While Hort's concession accounts for the problem of the evidence from the early fathers, it hardly supports the theory that the passage was 'late'. If the evidence (however garbled) from Eusebius has any merit, the passage was both 'early' (already circulating in the late 1st or early 2nd century in Turkey) and as 'Eastern' as we could reasonably suppose.

2. There are two serious constraints upon Hort's statement about early commentaries here.

(1) Hort knows that our knowledge of 'Greek commentaries' is fragmentary and full of lacuna. Less than a dozen were really known about or even partially extant in his time.

For instance, although Origen is often cited as a father who knows nothing of the verses, the critical part of his commentary is missing. The assumption of his failure to comment on them is based upon a summary of the contents of his work which may not have been authored by him.

Nor do we have a really comprehensive library of Origen's many other writings. So many documents from the early period are missing that we know existed, that it is obvious we can't say much with certainty on such issues.

(2) Most scholars acknowledge that the ancient 'commentaries' were 'public' commentaries, used in church services and worship. They could not comment upon what was not read to the congregation.

While this may be a bit of a circular problem, or a 'catch 22' scenario, the fact is, the ancient commentaries were not like modern commentaries that you could purchase today and read at home. They were used to expound upon the 'Lections' or Lessons read aloud in early church services.

The Lectionary system was known to skip over the Pericope de Adultera during Pentecost, and read the passage at other times of the year more appropriate for its controversial contents.

For Hort or any other textual critic to leave out these historical facts is misleading and irresponsible.

3. To state the evidence in this way is evidence of bias, and has a ring of absurdity. We once had another critic make a similar claim:

"IF you ignore Codex Bezae, you don't have any MSS with the verses till the 8th or 9th century."

But of course this is an absurdity. IF pigs could fly, we could possibly see them flying occasionally. And IF there wasn't any MSS evidence from the 5th century, and patristic evidence from the 4th and earlier, then sure: we could possibly pretend that the passage was inserted in the 8th century. But pigs don't fly, and the evidence cannot be ignored or disposed of.

The second difficulty, which prevents a childish solution like burning codex Bezae and calling the early fathers liars, is that we cannot accurately comment on the state of the text(s) in any century from the 4th to the 9th.

We only have a handful of MSS for each century, sometimes only one or two for the Gospel of John. Yet we know there were thousands of MSS at one time. One conservative estimate gives between 1500 and 2000 MSS for the 4th century alone.

4. There is no hard evidence that the earlier Latin (oldest of the Old Latin) texts were without the passage, while the 'later' Old Latin MSS contained them. In fact, the most reliable witness to the state of the Old Latin, St. Jerome, clearly thought the reverse. He was in an ideal position to know, since he travelled the empire and translated the Latin Vulgate, from the oldest MSS he could procure.

5. "In the West it was well known in the 4th century, and doubtless long before."

Here with this concession, Hort is being quite accurate. But his limiting of this situation to the West is conjectural, and not supported by the testimony of Jerome and others. Jerome seems to have found Eastern support for the passage, in Constantinople and Caesarea.

We wish this statement by Hort was quoted more often however, in discussing this passage. The caution and reasonableness of Hort could be profitably contrasted with the wilder and unsupportable claims of more modern critics such as Ehrman.

6. Here Hort seems to take the same position as his predecessor Tregelles did. That like the Apocrypha or any other historical work, no matter how accurate or edifying, no material should be allowed into the Canon of Holy Scripture without indisputable pedigrees for its origin.

But the problem here is an age old one. Who gets to decide what is 'Holy Scripture'? The traditions of the church? The opinion of Martin Luther? The 'intrinsic probability' of the context? The 'ring of truth' in the message? The latest textual critical theory?

But here Hort is outside the scope of textual criticism entirely. All we want to know is whether the passage is authentic to John. Is the author the same as that for the rest of the Gospel? What proposed history of the text best explains the known facts and existing evidences?

7. This bold claim of Hort, that the passage interrupts the 'flow' of John, is not as clear-cut as he would like it to be. In fact, many critics are divided on this issue. The text with or without the passage presents almost an equal number of problems, from continuity, to location and time of events, as well as content.

No special pleading by Hort can change the fact that John's Gospel presents many profound difficulties in every form that critics have offered it to us, from Hort to Bultmann.

8. The claim that the passage forms an 'independant' narrative is shakey at best. Of course there are two basic forms of the text: the continuous-text version, which does not stand alone, but rather is best read in the context of John's Gospel, and the Lectionary Form, which has clearly been edited to become a 'stand-alone' pericope.

But no progress on this issue can be made without a proper reconstruction of the textual history and a genealogical roadmap demarking the dependances between the various versions and explaining the variants. Hort has offered nothing at all in this area, but has simply adopted essentially the text of codex Bezae.

9. The problem here is that Hort has identified codex Bezae with his 'Western Text', but the vast majority of evidence regarding the text of the passage is at odds with the text of Bezae. Even the Old Latin and Vulgate show a text which is substantially the same as that of the Byzantine text. How then can the text of Bezae be the best choice to represent the 'Western text'?

10. Hort brings in some abberant readings from the Old Latin evidence, which as far as we can see simply corrupts the text of Bezae even further, gathering and compounding the worst errors to create the least convincing text possible.

The fatal flaw in Hort's reconstruction is that of course his text is not even approximated by ANY actual MSS of the Gospel of John containing the passge. It is an entirely artificial construct that can be shown never to have existed before 1881.

11. Hort denigrates the Byzantine text which contains the passage. And so he must, or else accept the authority of this textual tradition stretching back in many of its unique readings to the 2nd century.

But in the process of dismissing the Byzantine text, which is essentially the same as the traditional text used by Christians for 10 centuries, he thankfully admits that it is also an Eastern text. We might add that it is an Eastern text with a long and distinguished pedigree that contains the verses in their traditional setting and in their accepted form. A 'Western interpolation of the latest type'? We think not.