Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Rape or Adultery in John 8, Does It Matter?

What if the woman in John 8 were a rape victim? You probably know the story. A woman, caught in the very act of adultery, was brought before Jesus and her accusers asked Jesus if she should be stoned. After all, the Law was clear that adulterers must be stoned. Jesus said nothing, but knelt down and began writing in the dirt. After a while, when asked again, He told the men gathered there to go ahead, but to make sure that whoever cast a stone was without sin. The older men left first, followed by the younger, until Jesus and the woman were left alone.
I’ve always loved this story, despite the possibility that it is not an authentic part of John’s Gospel. It's so dramatic: a woman's life in the balance, a crowd ready to pounce on Jesus's actions, the sex factor. And Jesus faces this high stakes scenario with nonviolent calm. It's so suggestive: Was the woman's lover in league with the men who brought her out? Was she seduced just once, or were they in a long term relationship? Was her lover even present?
But in all the scenarios I have considered, I never once considered the possibility that the woman was a victim of rape.
What would change in your reading of this story if the woman “caught in adultery” were a rape victim? Stop and consider it. No longer a woman having sex of her free will in a comfortable bed, facing her lover. Now she is a woman bent over a table, screaming for mercy. And before the violation is even complete, a troop of men rush into the room and drag her into public. She is dragged before a prominent rabbi, blood between her legs, robes torn, while an angry crowd picks up rocks to kill her.
Does it change your opinion of this woman if she were a rape victim? Does it change your opinion of the men standing before Jesus? In what ways?
Now, I hasten to say that the text does not suggest she was raped. This is merely my own speculation on the text and how our view of it might change. This is a meditative exercise, not an exegetical analysis of the text.
I have long considered this woman the victim of a scam. I believe that she was seduced and betrayed by her lover: used as a tool in the Pharisees’ desperate campaign against Jesus. I thought that her lover, while a jerk, probably didn’t believe that she would actually be stoned. He suspected that Jesus, a rabbi notorious for hanging out with sinners, would find a way to protect this woman. But today I read the news about the public stoning of four rape victims by ISIS, and I thought about this story.
It has long been known that under some interpretations of Islam, women who are raped are considered adulterers who must be stoned. It is also a sad truth that women in America who are raped are often considered to be at fault. Christian or Muslim, sexism teaches that the woman is responsible for the actions of the man. Is it such a stretch to say that the same mindset existed in the patriarchal culture of Jesus 2000 years ago? Is it really likely that a group of men set on destroying Jesus would hesitate to rape an innocent woman to further their cause? The text does not say the woman was raped, but ISIS didn't call what happened to yesterday's victims rape either: in both cases it is defined as adultery.
Take a moment to really put yourself in this setting. It wasn’t a courtroom, it was an angry mob – think Christmas shoppers in the mall parking lot on December 22nd. A woman is laying in the dust and dirt, and her life is in immediate danger. Jesus has no gun, no mace, no sword, and neither does she. But the crowd has rocks, and they aren’t afraid to use them (as witnessed in Stephen’s martyrdom).
Now consider this: why would her choice in the matter make a difference? Whether she said yes or no to the sex, the consequence was the same: a horrific, painful death. If the question of consent changes our opinion of her or Jesus, then what does that say about us and our beliefs about sex, consent, and rape? What does it say about our culture?
I’m not writing this to shame anyone. Don’t let the enemy distract you with guilt or shame or shoulds. Instead, let the Holy Spirit speak to you.
We live in a world where, to one degree or another, women are blamed for being sexually assaulted. In order to stop that, we must first break our own hearts and search for the victim blaming attitude within ourselves. Once that is eliminated, we have made progress in eliminating that poison from the world. 

One final note: I cannot verify the ISIS story definitively. However, it is not contested that rape victims have been convicted of adultery and stoned to death by terrorists who claim Islam as their guiding principle. 

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