I didn't include the next few sentences, but the story was very familiar. After Jesus makes his brilliant remark — which finds a new way into the question — the crowd disperses and Jesus tells the woman to "go and... sin no more."
Some of the commenters focused on what it was that Jesus wrote on the ground. I'd always assumed that what Jesus was writing was irrelevant and that he was simply gesturing I'm not going to talk to you. He invoked his right to remain silent, as we say in the United States of America. He knew whatever he said would be used against him. Later, when he arrives at the New Testament doctrine — the higher law — he speaks up and articulates it pithily. He doesn't write it. Jesus isn't the put-it-in-writing type. The scribes are the bad guys here, and he's about talking to the people. The Word is spoken. (It's only written down later.)
But, reading the comments, I see interest in the subject of what Jesus wrote.
Sydney says: "In the movie The King of Kings, each accuser comes up to Jesus and sees written in the dirt his own sin, and turns and walks away. I love that scene." Is that the standard theory of what Jesus wrote?
And Chip Ahoy, linking here, says: "But what did he write in the sand?" At the link, we get added details from The Urantia Book (which I'd never heard of). There, the idea is that Jesus knew the woman's husband was a "troublemaker" and "perceived" that he'd forced the woman into prostitution and that the husband was now cooperating with the Pharisees to get Jesus to say something that could be used to arrest him. In this version of the story, Jesus doesn't just bend over and write in the dirt right where he is. He walks over to the troublemaker husband and writes something in front of him that makes him rush off. Jesus comes back to his original place and writes on the ground again, and the men, "one by one," leave. Last to go, is "the woman's companion in evil," who gets his own special message written in the dirt.
Kentuckyliz gives us the Old Testament quotes (the law of Moses, which is what the Pharisees threw at Jesus to trip him up):
Deuteronomy 22:22 "If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die."Kentuckyliz adds:
Leviticus 20:10 "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife — with the wife of his neighbor — both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death."
What's interesting about the Jesus scene, is that the law had become misogynistic in practice. The man is not being stoned according to the mandates of the law. In fact, I suspect he was standing in the crowd holding a stone.Note that even in the extremely concise story told in John 8, we hear that the woman was "caught in the act." Whether he was in the crowd or not, the adulterer was known. Why aren't the authorities proposing to stone both the man and the woman? Kentuckyliz doesn't refer to what Jesus wrote in the sand, but this made me imagine that Jesus wrote "the man and the woman." And if the woman was a prostitute, all of the men who had ever slept with her would deserve stoning too.
In this scenario, Jesus acknowledges the written law of Moses by writing it. That's the Old Testament, which Jesus won't reject, even as his enemies are trying to lure him into rejecting it. He's showing that he knows the law, and in very few words, he's made it obvious to the legal experts that they are getting the law wrong and making them see their own faint-heartedness about equal justice, applying the strict law strictly on its written terms and to everyone. Then Jesus speaks, and the spoken word is the New Testament, calling us to a higher place, above the strict rules, under which we are all sinners. The New Testament demands that we look at our own sins. Go and sin no more.
That ought to keep you busy for the rest of your life. Now, leave other people alone.
ADDED: A second post includes the "King of Kings" clip and more.