Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 3: Jesus' Temple Action

Before I get under way, a brief word is in order. The time elapsed between this post and my last one holds the record for my longest lull in blogging since I began writing here in 2006. Sufice it to say: I'm absolutely swamped. I am working towards the end of dissertating and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for all the well-wishing emails and all the prayers. Rest assured, the long draught of posts is now over and I hope to be a bit more faithful to contributing to this blog more frequently than I have in the last few months. So be sure to come back... and tell all your friends.

Let the regular blogging resume!
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Goodacre and other scholars have proposed that the temple focus of Mark’s Gospel is best understandable in light of its destruction in a.d. 70. In particular such scholars have highlighted the words spoken the scene at the foot of the cross:

And it was the third hour, when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him (Mark 15:25–32).
Here the Jesus is mocked for two things: (1) saying that he is the Christ, and (2) claiming that he would destroy the temple. Obviously, the reader knows that Jesus is the Christ―for the irony to be caught the reader must know that that the mockery is actually based on the recognition of a truth, i.e., Jesus’ messianic identity.

However, it is also claimed that the reader must also be expected to know something else―i.e., that the temple was in fact destroyed. In other words, that Jesus is mocked for claiming that the temple would be destroyed appears to assume the reader’s knowledge that in fact Jesus was right. The same logic is then also applied to other passages, e.g., the prediction of the destruction of the temple in Mark 13.

Here I want to deal with the question of whether or not the temple focus of Mark should be understood merely in terms of his redactional interest or whether instead it ought to be seen as reflecting the concerns of the historical Jesus himself.

The Real Irony
However, before I launch into this discussion I want to highlight something which I think sometimes goes unnoticed: those mocking Jesus at the foot of the cross do not mock him for claiming that the temple would be destroyed. Such a view glosses over the specific charge made and thus recasts it into something it is not. Let us here be clear about what is said: Jesus is specifically taunted because he is attributed with the idea that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. This is important. The ironic twist is not simply based on the fact that reader knows the temple was destroyed. Rather, for irony to truly be in play, what the author apparently expects the reader to know is that Jesus in fact somehow was responsible for the rebuilding of a temple that had been destroyed.

The later point in fact points away from a.d. 70 and to something else―namely the resurrection. As I mentioned in the last post, the charge made at Jesus’ trial in Mark’s Gospel specifically refers to a “temple not made by hands” being rebuilt after three days. Thus, I would submit, reading the mockery of Jesus on the cross as related to the readers’ knowledge of the events of a.d. 70 appears unjustified. Instead, the narrative assumes the reader’s knowledge of something else―Jesus resurrection, in which Jesus actually is responsible for raising the new temple, i.e., his body.

The Historical Jesus and the Temple
Specifically we must ask: What is the likelihood that that the temple-focus of Mark’s Gospel owes itself to more than simply the product of Mark’s theology but that instead it reflects concerns which have dominical origin? Put more simply, we can put the question as follows: Is there any evidence that the temple was important to the historical Jesus’ aims?

Here we must answer with a resounding yes.

As regular readers of this blog know, currently I am in the midst of wrapping up a comprehensive Ph.D. thesis on the role of the cult in the eschatological perspectives of the historical Jesus. Obviously there I deal with these issues in a much more exhaustive way. However here I want to briefly survey some of the evidence that the temple played a major role in the outlook and mission of the historical Jesus and that the temple-focus of Mark’s Gospel cannot be simply attributed to redactional motives.

The Temple in Jewish Restoration Hopes
It is widely agreed upon that Jesus’ ministry was―at least in some way―inspired by eschatological hopes for the restoration of Israel. Once this backdrop for Jesus’ teaching and ministry is established it is virtually impossible to imagine that the temple was unimportant to Jesus. For in ancient Jewish eschatological hopes the Temple was typically understood as the future site of the eschatological ingathering of Israel (cf. 1 Kgs 8:33-34; Isa 2:2-3; Isa 66:18-23; etc.).[1] In fact, even the Qumran community, which had separated itself from the Jerusalem Temple due to their belief that it had been corrupted, believed they would one day return to it (cf. 1QS 5:5-7; 8:4-10; 9:3-5; 1QM 2:3; 7:11-12; 4Q491 I-III, 17-19; 11Q19 20; 11Q20).[2]

To believe then that the eschatological restoration of Israel was in the backdrop of Jesus’ ministry but that the temple had no role in his expectations would seem to de-Judaize him. Nonetheless, it should at least be admitted that it still might be possible that Jesus simply reformulated eschatological hopes and that in his particular restoration project the temple was not an issue.

Is this possible? It's not likely.

Jesus’ Temple Action
One of the most prominent elements in the Jesus tradition is the story of his action in the temple. Not only is such an action reported by all four canonical Gospels it would also seem to have played a major role in his execution. Of course, the Fourth Gospel―for reasons which I cannot discuss here―has been viewed with suspicion by historical Jesus scholars. For the sake of this piece then I want to focus on the Synoptic Gospels, which are usually taken as the primary sources for understanding the historical Jesus.

Whether one looks at Jesus’ words or action, it is immediately clear that Jesus’ action involved eschatological hopes. First, let us look at the words attributed to Jesus:  “And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). The passage brings together two prophecies: Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. The first, Isaiah 56:7, is clearly a prophecy about the eschatological temple. The second, Jeremiah 7:11, is an oracle of judgment―specifically, it alludes to Jeremiah’s prediction of the destruction of Solomon’s temple.

Jesus’ activity in the temple coheres well with these passages. How would one perform an action that would both evoke an eschatological prophecy and reflect an oracle of judgment? By doing just what Jesus does. First, Jesus drives out the money-changers. This action invokes Zechariah’s eschatological prophecy of the eschatological temple: “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” (Zech 14:21). At the same time, by citing a prophecy concerning destruction while performing an action in the temple Jesus also would have clearly reminded those present of Jeremiah, who likewise combined an oracle of judgment with a prophetic sign performed within the temple.[3] That the Gospel writers themselves understood that Jesus’ action evoked oracles of doom may be evidenced by the fact that the Greek term used for Jesus’ action of “overturning” the tables, καταστρέφω, is frequently linked with God’s calamitous punishment of the wicked and destruction in the LXX.[4]

The episode suggests that while Jesus was motivated by hopes concerning the eschatological temple one thing was also clear: the Herodian temple was not it. It would be destroyed because, like the temple of Jeremiah’s day, it had become a den of thieves. Jesus was clearly aware of the prophecies concerning the importance of the temple in the eschatological age, but he made it clear―the Herodian temple did not measure up to the description of the eschatological temple.

But is the story historical? To that issue we turn in the next installment.

NOTES
[1] Neh 1:9 (cf. Deut 12:10-11); Ps 65; Jer 33:11; Ezek 37:21-27; Amos 9:11-15; Tob. 14:5-7; Sir 36:11-14; 2 Macc 1:27-29; 14:5-7; 4Q448 A 8-10; 4Q504 1-2 vi 9-13; 11QTemple 18:14-16; 57:1-6; 2 Bar. 68:4-7; T. Ben. 9:2-3; Jub 1:15-18; Tg. Isa. 53:15; Tg. Zech 6:12; Gen. Rab. 2:5; 56:2; Exod. Rab. 31:10. See also texts which link the eschatological age to the building of a new temple, e.g., 1 Enoch 91:13; Jub 1:15-17; T Ben. 9:2. For further discussion, see Lawrence Schiffman, “Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish and Christian Perspectives (J. M. Scott, ed.; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 212-221; Craig Evans, “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls (James H. Charlesworth, ed.; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1992), 245-246; E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 82-85. Still also, the Psalms of Solomon anticipate an eschatological Davidide, who will cleanse Jerusalem and re-gather God’s people (Pss Sol 17:25). The same hope is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see 4Q174 1:2-7; 1QS 5:1-7; 6:2-5; 8:4-10; 9:4-5; 4Q171: 3:11; 1QM 2:1-6; 4QpPs 37 3:11; cf. 11QTemple.
[2] While the Qumranites condemned the wickedness of the priesthood and the Temple-cult as it was practiced (cf. CD 1:3; 3: 8-9, 18; 6: 11-21; 20:23; 4Q390 2 I, 1-12; 1Q22 1:8-10; 4Q390 1; 1QpHab 1:13; 8:9; 9:9; 12:8-9; 4QpNah 1:11), the divine institution of Temple worship itself is never called into question.
[3] See Jeremiah 27:1-28:17 where the prophet makes and wears yokes to symbolize the way Babylon will come to conquer Jerusalem (Jer 27:1-28:17). It is clear that the prophet performs this action within the temple: “Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Hananiah the prophet in the presence of the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord” (Jer 28:5).
[4] See Emilio G. Chávez, The Theological Significance of Jesus’ Temple Action in Mark’s Gospel (TST 87; Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002). 139, who cites the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:25) and other threats of divine judgment (cf. e.g., Deut 29:22; Isa 13:19; Jer 20:16; 27:40). Chávez points out a number of especially suggestive potential parallels. Two especially stand out. In Judges 8:17 it refers to the destruction of a tower―an image picked up in the story of vineyard (Mark 12:1 and par.), in which the image may be seen as representing the temple (see the discussion below). In Job 9:5 it refers to God’s act of removing mountains, an image which is echoed in the saying found in the episode of Jesus’ cursing of the fig in Matthew 21:21 and Mark 11:23.

1 comment:

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