Submission to the Church of England's Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 12 December 2007 0 Comments
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I call your attention to the biblical story of
Jesus saving the adulterous woman from death by stoning, when he
allowed that the stoning could proceed if only the "sinless" man
cast the first stone - knowing full well there was no such
sinless person present. And the clincher was that he proceeded
to write something in the sand for all to read. For most of my
life I firmly believed that the story said Jesus went before each
man present and wrote his personal sin in the sand. In later
life, when I was challenged to show that conclusion to the story
in the Bible, I couldn't find it. Can you tell me if such a
version exists or where I might have been misled?


Thank you for your letter. There is nothing in John's
gospel, which is the only gospel containing this particular
story, more than the note that "Jesus stooped down and with his
finger wrote on the ground as though he heard them not" (KJV).
What you have done is to take an interpretation developed in
Cecil B. DeMille's epic motion picture The King of Kings
as if it is biblical. In that motion picture DeMille interprets
Jesus' writing in the sand to be his prophetic insight into the
sinfulness of each of this woman's accusers. DeMille has Jesus
write in Aramaic and then the film shifts his letters into
English words like cheater, adulterer, thief, murderer,
etc. That scene entered the minds of those who saw it and then
people began to read that scene back into the gospel text. After
this version had been passed on a few times people assumed that
it is in the Bible itself. It isn't.

Later, when DeMille produced another blockbuster
biblical movie, The Ten Commandments, he depicted the
crossing of the Red Sea so dramatically that people have also
read that scene back into the Bible itself. What Moses crossed
in the Hebrew text was the Yom Suph, which got mistakenly
translated in the Bible as "the Red Sea." In fact it means the
Sea of Reeds, a swampy marshy piece of land near the present day
Suez Canal. It is of interest to note that if Moses had actually
crossed the Red Sea, he went hundreds of miles out of his way and
the Israelites would have had to average five-minute miles to
have gotten through that body of water in the time the Book of
Exodus says it took for its navigation.

From time to time it is good to check what the
Bible really says instead of depending on what we once heard.

John Shelby Spong




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