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The Woman Caught in Adultery

Though Mark is my favorite of the Gospels, my favorite moment, I think that has the most dramatic intensity, the greatest austerity of affect—my favorite moments actually come from elsewhere in the Gospels—I think that the moment in John when the woman is taken in adultery and is about to be stoned and Jesus is, sort of, drawing absentmindedly on the side; and clearly, they’re trying to entrap him into doing something wrong. …they think they’re very clever; and Jesus very absentmindedly is drawing and then makes that wonderfully, witty, wildly, ironic and witty remark.  “Well, whoever hasn’t sinned should cast the first stone.  You’re right, we have to kill her, but that’s the way we should do it.”  That’s such an explosive little piece of wit and that little human detail that he’s not quite looking at them, as he does it, that he does it offhand, he does it with seeming indifference to what’s going on.

You can see that moment unfolding; and that’s an extraordinary… it gives you a shiver because it’s human content on all sides, it’s so apparent. It doesn’t sound like something that’s coming from an hieratic tale of a divine one.  It seems entirely human and original.

  • Adam Gopnik

    Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker  magazine. His recent books of essays include Paris to the Moon (2000) and Through the Children’s Gate (2006).