- A version of PA known in the early church no later than the second century;
- Early references to PA "as being located in a gospel context, which could have been GJohn but may not have been";
- Early Christian writers typically employed PA as an example for early Christian leaders to follow (especially bishops, especially in terms of ecclesial discipline);
- At some point no later than the mid-fourth century CE a scribe had inserted PA into John's gospel at John 7.53–8.11. (Keith 2009: 213)
After rejecting the popular theory that the early church suppressed the Pericope Adulterae from their Jesus tradition, Keith goes on to propose that second- or (more likely) third-century Christian responses to pagan critiques of Jesus/Christianity as thoroughly uneducated and illiterate provide the most likely context driving the insertion of PA into John's gospel. [Note that Keith does not suggest that PA originates in the second or third century, only that PA's insertion into John's gospel occurred during this time.] The driving consideration behind Keith's proposal is that, of all various facets of PA's portrayal of Jesus, only the image of a Jesus who was capable of writing (= grapho-literacy) is unparalleled elsewhere in the Jesus tradition. In other words, Jesus as out-maneuvering the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus as interpreter of Torah, Jesus as compassionate for the outcast, Jesus as siding with sinners . . . these all have parallels elsewhere (and presumably, therefore, would not justify PA's inclusion into a canonical gospel). But Jesus as writing . . . this is unique to PA and so sustains Keith's explanation of PA's interpolation.
If a writing Jesus explains PA's insertion into John's gospel, then the socio-historical context of PA's insertion must be one that required (or at least desired) a writing Jesus in the first place. With this in mind Keith surveys a number of early pagan critics of Christianity (Celsus, Lucian, Galen, and Minucius Felix) who highlight Christians' and Jesus' vulgarity and illiteracy. These criticisms were rooted in earlier critiques (see John 7.15; Acts 4.13), and later, more educated Christians (including Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine) benefitted from PA's portrayal of a grapho-literate Jesus.
All of this makes very good sense, and Keith's argument is well worth reading in full. But I have a question that, so far, has yet to be addressed (or even raised).1 It seems to me Keith's argument depends a lot on the assumption that the literate Christians needed (or at least found useful) a grapho-literate Jesus for their responses to their pagan opponents. But if these literate, educated Christians (again, including Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine) needed (or at least found useful) a grapho-literate Jesus, and one of these (not necessarily Ambrose, Jerome, or Augustine, but someone like them) inserted PA into John partly in response to non-Christian polemic, then how do we explain the presence of these educated folk among Jesus' followers in the first place? In other words, something attracted grapho-literate people to Christianity even before a grapho-literate Jesus, via PA, entered the Jesus tradition. This is especially the case if we accept Keith's argument, as I'm prone to do, that "the highest educated Christians in the early centuries of the Church tended to be converts who had gained a pagan literate education in their pre-Christian lives" (Keith 2009: 84). Why, then, would these same individuals need to insert PA's image of a grapho-literate Jesus into John's gospel rather than point to whatever factors legitimated their own conversion to Christianity?
While I'm here, I'm still not sure how this Sitz im Leben der Kirche would explain PA's insertion into John's gospel, since, as Keith argues, PA was already widely known (and accepted?) even before it found a canonical home. That is, Keith does not argue that PA originated in the second or third century (as I noted above) but that it was inserted into John's gospel at this time. He also argues that PA did not (necessarily) present a grapho-literate Jesus prior to its insertion in John's gospel, which means that when a scribe inserted PA at John 7.53–8.11 he also took a pericope that didn't mention writing and used it to propose an image of Jesus doing precisely this (see John 8.6, 8). So we have grapho-literate Christian leaders taking an authoritative, if non-canonical, story of Jesus not judging an adulteress and inserting that story into the Fourth Gospel, along with the twice-added mention of Jesus writing in the ground with his finger.
At this point I'm not sure I'm persuaded by Keith's proposal here, but (as I say) he may address my questions a bit further on. And even if not, Keith's analysis of PA and features of the Johannine narrative that may have motivated PA's insertion is very persuasive. But the situation surrounding PA's entrance into John's gospel is largely lost to history, and so Keith is trying to make a proposal on the basis of very sparse evidence. His critique of other proposals makes them largely untenable, and my own questions of Keith's proposal may be simply a function of our inability, absent new evidence, to identify when, how, or why the Pericope Adulterae found a place between John 7 and 8.
1 Let me say again, I'm in the middle of Keith's argument (pg. 228; see Keith 2009: 203–56 for his entire discussion of "The Historical Context for the Insertion of the Pericope Adulterae into the Gospel of John"). Knowing my luck, Keith addresses this question on p. 229!