What Did Jesus Write in the Sand?

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Just this past Sunday, we heard the famous gospel passage of John 8:1-11, where the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman who was accused of committing adultery, asking Him what they should do with her. Jesus responds by saying, "Let the one among you who is without sin 
be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7), to which the crowd responded by leaving, one by one. Jesus then forgave the adulteress and let her go. This is the jist of this Gospel story, but there was always one part that puzzled me. It is the part that talked about how Jesus initially didn't respond to the crowd, but "bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger" (Jn 8:6). The gospel doesn't say what He wrote, which makes it the more intriguing.  All these years, I've wondered about it, but didn't do anything about it, until today.

Thanks goodness for Google, my answer came on the first page of the search results after I had searched for "ancient Israel writing on the ground".  I wanted to find some history on what the significance of writing on the ground was. Instead of some history site talking about ancient Jewish customs, I actually found a Christian site explaining this exact passage. The answer was very satisfying. As expected, the Evangelist wrote a well crafted account with much theological significance buried in the text.

You can find the article here:

I will just briefly summarize what is said there.

First, in ancient Israel, whenever a couple is caught in adultery (why only the woman was caught in this case is worth pondering), they would be brought to the temple gates, and the priest would write the law that was broken and also the name of the accused.  In the gospel story, when they brought the accused woman to the temple, Jesus proceeds to start writing on the ground.  Jesus' action seem to indicate that He was the priest in this instance.

Second, and more importantly, we need to look at Jeremiah 17:13, which is a verse that the High Priest recites at the end of Yom Kippur every year, "O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters" (Jeremiah 17:13 [KJV translation]).  And who would be departing the scene in this instance?  You got it...the scribes and Pharisees.  From this, we can deduce that Jesus was probably writing down the names of the scribes and the Pharisees.  The fact that they left the scene fulfills this prophecy that they have forsaken the Lord.

Third, if we look at John 7, the chapter just before the start of this gospel reading, it reads, "On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.'" (John 7:37-38).  So, St. John preps us for this story of the adulteress by telling us that Jesus is the "fountain of living waters", and if he is the fountain of the living waters, He is then the "Lord".  But do know this, the "Lord" in this case is YHWH (Yahweh), which is God Himself.  And if the reader knows Jeremiah 17:13, which most ancient Jews would, they would also know that the scribes and the Pharisees are the ones who will "be ashamed and...they that depart from [God] shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of the living waters."


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