049 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 049 Temple and Jesus in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

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Commentary

Marcus J. Borg

Borg devotes chapter 7 of his [Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus] to a discussion of Jesus and the Temple, with an extended treatment of the texts found in this cluster.

He begins with a brief study of Temple ideology in the Second Temple period, citing the interesting parallel from Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 which retains that traditional ideology even when reinterpreting "temple" as reference to the physical body of the Christian:

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Like Crossan (see below), Borg understands the "disruption in the Temple" as a prophetic or symbolic act (p. 182) that would never have been without some prophetic pronouncement to clarify its significance (p. 184).

Borg then directs his attention to the prophetic saying as attested by the complex set of sayings relating to the fate of Jerusalem and its Temple that are placed on the lips of Jesus in our sources. He identifies 8 texts as example of "words against the Temple" and works his way through them carefully. Four of these sayings (Mark 14:58; 15:29-30; John 2:19; Acts 6:14) speak of Jesus as the agent of the Temple's destruction and promise its replacement. They are also typically attributed to the enemies of Jesus. Another set of 4 sayings (Mark 13:2; Luke 19:42-44; 21:20-24; 13:34-35) are more likely to have originated from the prophetic oracle of Jesus that must have accompanied his symbolic act in the Temple. Borg also associates the enigmatic "desolating sacrilege" saying with this group.

... if Jesus did not prophesy about Jerusalem, then who was the insightful prophet in that generation [after him] who was responsible for both this concern and this use of the Hebrew Bible? Of course, the rhetorical question does not imply that the oracles contain the ipsissima verba Jesus, but it does imply that they reflect the ipsissima vox Jesus. Quite probably the Jesus movement and perhaps the evangelist reworked the language of the threats, but without an initial impulse from Jesus, it is difficult to account for their presence in the primitive tradition. (p. 203)

Then Borg draws upon the sayings of Jesus that speak of a threat of war coming on the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Luke 13:1-5; 23:27-31; 17:31 (= Mark 13:14b-16); Matt 26:52b.

Unlike Crossan, Borg observes that Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction was not because Jesus opposed the Temple:

... the destruction was not threatened because of an in-principled objection to Temple worship ... Indeed, about the role of the Temple in Jewish worship (including sacrifice), Jesus did not say much. There is only the vague notion of "another Temple" coming from the mouths of accusers and mockers. Though the early Christian movement rapidly spiritualized the understanding of the Temple ... there is little evidence for this in the synoptics. They never report that Jesus opposed the Temple on the grounds that it was obsolete, or that he objected to sacrifice in principle. Indeed, about the Temple as cult there is silence. (p. 211)



John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus] (354-60) begins by noting the work of Jonathan Z. Smith ("The Temple and the Magician," 1977) who established that a deep tension between traditional sacred places and the emerging role of the sacred person was typical of hellenistic societies in the last two centuries before the Common Era. Crossan goes on to outline the structural conflict between Jesus and the Temple as follows:

Not only John the Baptist but, even more, Jesus, fit within that wider and profounder antinomy. John offered an alternative to the Temple but from another fixed location, from desert and Jordan rather than from Zion and Jerusalem. Jesus was, as we have seen, atopic, moving from place to place, he coming to the people rather than they to him. This is an even more radical challenge to the localized univocity of Jerusalem's Temple, and its itinerancy mirrored and symbolized the egalitarian challenge of its protagonist. No matter, therefore, what Jesus thought, said, or did about the Temple, he was its functional opponent, alternative, and substitute; his relationship with it does not depend, at its deepest level, on this or that saying, this or that action. (p. 355)

In seeking to unravel the complexities represented in this cluster of sayings, Crossan notes the "intensive damage control" to be observed in Mark 13, 14 and 15. Mark is at pains to argue that Jesus did not threaten to destroy the Temple himself; only his enemies make that assertion in Mark's Gospel while Jesus (in ch 13) pointedly schedules the destruction of Jerusalem some time prior to the parousia of the Son of Adam. Still, as Crossan observes, that Markan spin only seeks to underline the fact that in certain Christian circles prior to and contemporary with Mark, there had been a belief that Jesus had said or done something to threaten destruction of the Temple and also that the destruction of the Temple was understood to be associated with the parousia.

Behind the confused set of sayings about the fate of the Temple there lies the incident in which Jesus is described as taking some action to disrupt the functioning of the Temple. We seem to have two independent versions of this tradition: Mark (with Matt and Luke parallels) and John (where it occurs near the start of Jesus' ministry). Mark's version makes it clear that this event was a prophetic condemnation of the Temple, as the events in the Temple are bracketed by the story of Jesus cursing a useless fig tree and then returning to find it withered and dead.

Crossan proposes that there was some historical action by Jesus that symbolically destroyed the Temple (at least to the extent of some disruption to its functioning), and that this action was accompanied by a prophetic saying by Jesus in which he foretold the complete and utter destruction of the site.

Subsequently, according to Crossan, the story of the action in the Temple developed with various biblical texts being drawn into service to explain and justify Jesus' actions. Meanwhile the saying came to be reinterpreted as either a reference to the resurrection or to the parousia.



Paula Fredriksen

Fredriksen [Jesus of Nazareth] (207-14) discusses the so-called Cleansing of the Temple; a label she rejects but still uses as a sub-heading in her text. She works from a concern to counter any historical method that opposes Jesus to his contemporaries over issues of ritual observance. Drawing on Josephus' description of the Jews' universal piety and reverence for the Temple's rites, Fredriksen asks "how then do we fit this report of Jesus' action into the solid evidence we have that Jews everywhere overwhelmingly supported the Temple service?" (p. 209)

In addition to other gospel accounts of Jesus' attitude to the Temple, Fredriksen cites the widespread apocalyptic "expectation that, in the new age, in God's kingdom, God would splendidly renew the current Temple or establish a new and more glorious one." (p. 210) She then concludes that Jesus' action in the Temple had a symbolic meaning:

By overturning the tables, Jesus was symbolically enacting an apocalyptic prophecy: The current Temple was soon to be destroyed (understood: not by Jesus, nor by invading armies; but by God), to cede place to the eschatological Temple (understood: not built by the hand of man) at the close of the age. (p. 210)



Gregory C. Jenks

The traditional material dealing with Jesus' words about the temple's fate is particularly complex. That, in itself, may be an indicator of the sensitivity of the core question for Jesus' earliest followers and especially so after the Jewish War of 66/73CE ended with the temple in ruins.

There seem to be four intertwined traditions that have an explicit reference to the fate of the temple:

(1) A saying of Jesus threatening to destroy the temple
(2) A saying where Jesus foretells the siege of the city and its destruction
(3) A saying of Jesus predicting total destruction of the imposing structures (not one stone upon another)
(4) An incident where Jesus threatened or symbolically enacted the destruction of the temple

Jesus Seminar

Temple's Destruction

  • Mark 13:2
  • Matt 24:2
  • Luke 21:6
  • Luke 19:44b
  • Luke 19:42-44


Temple and Jesus

  • Thom 71
  • Thom 71
  • Mark 14:55-61a
  • Matt 26:59-63a
  • Mark 15:27-30
  • Matt 27:38-44
  • John 2:13-22
  • Acts 6:8-14


Temple's Symbolic Destruction (Temple Incident)

  • Mark 11:17
  • Matt 21:13
  • Luke 19:46
  • John 2:19


Temple as Market

  • John 2:16b
  • John 2:16c


While "a substantial majority of the Fellows agreed that Jesus spoke some word against the temple" [The Five Gospels] (108), the weighted average reduced the outcome to Gray. Note the summary in [[Acts of Jesus] (p. 121):

The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar approved on three different occasions over a ten-year period the statement that Jesus performed some anti-temple act and spoke some word against the temple. More than a hundred scholars participated in these affirmations. In spite of the confidence that some historical event underlies the report of Mark, the Fellows have had serious difficulty in pinpointing what Jesus actually did.



Gerd Lüdemann

Luedemann [Jesus] (77f & 87f) considers Mark 13 to be a Christian reworking of an earlier Jewish apocalypse created during the crisis of over Claudius' plans to erect a statue of himself in the Temple. However, he regards the saying in 13:2 as coming from traditional sources before it was used here by Mark. He also accepts the historicity of some incident in the Temple as the basis for the accusation that Jesus had threatened/announced its destruction.

Daryl Schmidt

[Scholar's Version of Mark], Daryl Schmidt, p. 126:

[Mark 13:2] is the closest any saying comes to the threat Jesus is said to have made against the temple (14:58). After the actual destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 c.e, many Christians were convinced that Jesus had predicted such destruction, and it was interpreted by them as punishement for the treatment Jesus received in Jerusalem from the temple authorities.