I am an enthusiast for the work of the Seventeenth Century French painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and I had reason to look at one of his greatest works again this morning: Christ and the woman taken in adultery (1653 Musee du Louvre, Paris).
I love Poussin for his classical refinement mingled with an early form of Romantic humanism and I have enjoyed his paintings of Greek Gods as much as his Biblical subjects treating them all as lessons from mythology.
In this painting, Christ is embarrassing the hard-nosed, unforgiving Pharisees into abandoning their attempt to stone a woman who has been caught in adultery. He says that he who has not sinned should cast the first stone. Something from another age, I had always thought….sadly not so as we see on the news around the World today.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of adultery in Iran in May 2006. She was accused of having an ‘illicit relationship’ with two men and received 99 lashes as her sentence. Despite this, she has been in prison ever since and has also been convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. The 43-year-old has since pleaded her innocence and retracted a ‘confession’ she said was forced to make under duress.
I don’t know if this poor woman has done what she is accused of or not but I do know that killing anyone by throwing stones at them until they are dead is as cruel and brutal an act as I can imagine. It is shocking that anyone would think of doing it – even a delusional murderer – but that the Iranian government can use this as a form of legal execution is beyond belief.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, no matter what she has done, should be saved from this terrible death as anyone who has seen the photograph below will surely agree. It was taken in Iran just after the revolution in 1979. No more words, I hope, need be said to gain your support in signing the petition that is circulating the World in the hope of saving the woman from a crime much worse than anything she may have committed.
I don’t often quote The Bible but here is that famous passage that Poussin is illustrating in his painting. As Thomas Paine said, only cruel men can believe in a cruel god:
“Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.
And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
And they who heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”.
(John 7:53-8:11 in the King James Translation of The Bible)