Let's go and die with him
- [Joseph Codsi]
According to my theory, the Kingdom of God Jesus had in mind was a new
religious order, which insisted on the spiritual dimension of things, at
the expense of the legal and ritualistic dimensions.
[Jeffrey B. Gibson]
Well, that's hardly "spiritual", is it?
According to the classical distinction between flesh-and-blood and
spirit, the abolition of bloody sacrifices and their replacement with
non-sacrificial rituals represents a passage to a more spiritual form of
As long as the Temple is considered the one and only place where
sacrificial worship can be conducted, the adoption of more spiritual
form of worship would render the pilgrimage to Jerusalem obsolete. One
can worship God anywhere on earth.
The prophets who have criticized the superstition-like sacrificial
worship, and insisted on what goes on in the heart and the mind of the
person, as well as on the requirements of justice, made implicitly the
same distinction. What is important is not the ritual, but what goes on
within the worshipper.
According to my theory, Jesus was in line with this prophetic view, but
he took it to the extreme: doing without the Temple and the special
worship that took place in it.
Now what I am saying here is a theoretical possibility. You are welcome
to criticize it. But I recognize also that it is up to me to defend it.
The post-Easter Christian discourse has altered the pre-Easter history
in many ways. Most of the time we speak of "redactional" alterations,
which take the form of adding something to the facts. But it is also
possible to alter the facts by hiding something judged unacceptable. It
is relatively easy to identify redactional additions to the text. It is
much more difficult to identify redactional omissions.
In order to illustrate this point, I will go back to a question that was
raised a few weeks ago by Ted Weeden (Temple Act not Jerusalem Entry
caused Jesus' death, March 22, 05). In this post, reference was made to
Paula Fredriksen's article: <<Gospel Chronologies, the Scene in the
Temple, and the crucifixion of Jesus>>. Fredriksen writes this:
<< Known in church tradition as the "Cleansing of the Temple," Jesus'
disruption in the Temple court had long been seen as his protest against
commerce in the Temple precincts. When scholars held this view, they
took their cue from the evangelists themselves, who (albeit with
variations) presented Jesus as protesting against such activity.>>
After quoting Mark 11:15-18 and John 2:13-16 (Jesus action in the
Temple), she goes on saying:
<< It was Sanders, in "Jesus and Judaism", who did most to dissolve this
earlier reading. He did so by pointing out that it made no historical
sense. The function of the Temple -- as indeed, of any ancient temple --
was to serve as a place to offer sacrifices. Money changing and the
provision of suitable offerings were part of the support services
offered at the Temple to accommodate pilgrims. Did Jesus then mean to
repudiate Temple sacrifice itself? That would have made him virtually
unique among his contemporaries, whether Jewish or pagan: in antiquity,
worship involved offerings. It also would have been tantamount to
rejecting the better part of the five books of Torah, wherein God had
revealed the protocols and purposes of these sacrifices to Israel. If
Jesus targeted not the sacrifices but the support services facilitating
them, his gesture would have lacked practical significance. If he were
targeting not the support services but some sort of priestly malfeasance
that might have stood behind them, no trace of this protest remains
either in the gospels (nothing of the sort figures in the accusations
against Jesus brought at his "trials") or in later Christian tradition
(Paul, for instance, says nothing of the sort). And finally, on either
reconstruction, Jesus would have failed utterly to communicate his
message to his earliest followers, who after his death continued, on the
evidence, to live in Jerusalem, to worship at the Temple, and to revere
the Temple and its cult as a unique privilege granted by God to
Fredriksen raises the question: << Did Jesus then mean to repudiate
Temple sacrifice itself? >> But she dismisses it immediately. I think
that what Jesus did can very well be read in this fashion. The problem
is that there is a discrepancy between what Jesus did and the
explanation he is supposed to have done of it. So I think that it is
quite possible that Jesus' action is reported correctly, but that his
explanation was not.
Mark's text speaks as if Jesus had used his violent action to illustrate
the doctrine he explained immediately after to the Temple audience. The
doctrine could have been an announcement of the end of Temple worship
and sacrificial offering.
I agree with Sanders and Fredriksen that "If Jesus targeted not the
sacrifices but the support services facilitating them, his gesture would
have lacked practical significance." But I disagree with both of them,
when they adopt the following explanation:
<< By overturning the tables, said Sanders, Jesus symbolically
proclaimed the Temple's impending destruction, to be succeeded by its
rebuilding, and the establishment of God's kingdom. The content of
Jesus' prophecy cohered with and reaffirmed the message of his mission:
the Kingdom was at hand.>>
The destruction of the Temple and its rebuilding is linked to the
peculiar Johannine reading: Temple = Jesus' body. This is a post-Easter
notion that cannot be attributed to the historical Jesus. So I find
Sanders' explanation unacceptable.
Can you think of a better explanation?
P.O. Box 116-2088
Telephone (961) 1 423 145
I assume you mean the url for the journal which I posted this am
Xtalk member, Lisbeth S. Fried's, new book is now available, The Priest and
the Great King: Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire, together with
this review in Denver Journal.
Richard H. Anderson