"On the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem, Christ is confronted by a group of Jewish judges who ask him if a woman recently condemned for adultery should be stoned to death, as is prescribed by religious law. Agreeing with the sentence would demonstrate a cruelty contrary to Christ’s teachings while disagreeing would expose him to blasphemy. Instead, he kneels and writes in the dust (in Flemish): “He who is without sin, let him [cast the first stone]”. This compelling silent command is enough to disperse the executioners and spare the woman’s life. This scene has been interpreted as a plea for tolerance at a time of political and religious upheaval in the Netherlands. The panel remained in Bruegel’s family until 1626 and was copied multiple times."
The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London.
(Text from gallery label)