June 15, 2009

John 2.12-2.22

After this Jesus went down to Capernaum in company with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; but they did not stay there long.

As it was near the time of the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. There he found in the Temple the dealers in cattle, sheep, and pigeons--and the money-changers seated at their tables. Jesus made a whip of cords and drove them out of the Temple: sheep, cattle, and all.

He upset the tables of the money-changers, scattering their coins. Then he turned on the dealers in pigeons: "Take them out," he said. "You must not turn my Father's house into a market."

HIs disciples recalled the words of Scripture, "Zeal for thy house shall destroy me."

The "Jews" challenged Jesus, "What sign," they asked, "can you show us as authority for doing this?"

"Destroy this Temple," Jesus replied, "and in three days I will raise it again."

They said, "It's taken 46 years to build this Temple, and [we should knock it down so] you can raise it again in three days?"

But the temple he was speaking of was his body. After his resurrection his disciples recalled what he had said, and they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

8 Comments:

At 11:04 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Expressing his zeal in this way would almost certainly "destroy" Jesus, and yet John describes him doing this early in his career, entirely reversed from the more likely time order in the other gospels.

This is the one place in all the gospels where Jesus is said to be wielding a weapon, to drive "sheep, cattle, and all" out of their place in the Temple. "All," evidently, does not include the pigeon dealers, so why should it include other humans? I see that the New Revised Standard Version has this as "drove all of them out of the Temple, both the sheep and the cattle," which makes more sense.

In Mark (& I think, the other synoptics as well(?)) Jesus refuses to do anything whatsoever "as a sign", but in John he does miracles with specifically that object. (You may have guessed that I prefer the synoptics for a picture of the actual man Jesus!) What does happen, after this incident, is that "the chief priests, lawyers, and elders" ask him, "By what authority are you acting like this?" He is not, then, violently disrupting the Temple's customary procedures; there is a strong Roman guard overlooking everything that happens here, and they have not intervened. He has publically and forcefully objected to their conduct, as a prophet and interpreter of the Torah; and the authorities want him to present his case (which had better be good!) This is an occasion for legal debate, and (as a later Rabbinic story makes clear) a miracle would not be an acceptable argument here.

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger Diane said...

So, "Zeal for thy house shall destroy me" is a warning about materialism and the distraction of the "dead letter"?

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Well, this is another one of many Christian Bible misquotes of Hebrew scripture. [Note that even here, "Scripture" means Hebrew writings, not Christian ones.] Psalm 69 has it that "Zeal for your house [=the Temple] has consumed me," which is not the same as "will destroy," although the protagonist (who would have been traditionally identified with David, and thus would later have been identified with Jesus by Christians) does say that people have been making fun of him for his piety.

So is Jesus saying that that old time religion has gotten too materialistic and ritualistic?--as in needing to be replaced with something new and more spiritual: "Perhaps I'll call it 'Christianity'?"

We've got versions of this incident in all four canonical gospels. There are strong indications that he is echoing Jeremiah's oracle, that is, "destroying" the Temple in the sense of proclaiming, roughly speaking, something like: "God doesn't live here anymore. He couldn't put up with the way your leaders were using him to rip people off."

The Temple, like the monarchy, looks like a dubious element in the history of Israel. Years after Moses led their historic ancestors out of slavery to Egypt, we have Solomon using forced labor to build a Temple... Unifying the national religion can be seen as a good thing, ultimately leading to a better notion of God's unity & universality--but one very secular purpose waves frantically to the cynical eye: It puts the national cult under the thumb of the king and the elites of Jerusalem. When David asks about building a Temple, God is quoted as saying~ 'I stayed in a tent in the desert for forty years, and in Shiloh for many years after that; how come you want to build me a house now?'

There's room for much discussion re "What was Jesus doing there anyway?" Up to you how much of that we want to do here...

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Diane said...

I can see that the outer temple (institution? body?) may be replaced by the Christ-Within principle (as a condition of worship), though it makes it interesting what he is driving out then in symbolic terms.

 
At 11:42 AM, Blogger Diane said...

Oh, 46 + 3 = 49, whatever it may mean it probably marks the end of a cycle, or beginning. I'm not really very good with number symbolism, but it is recognizable.

 
At 1:45 PM, Blogger forrest said...

Hmmmm! Okay, we've got a gospel that is very much an abstract picture of Jesus's career. In the synoptic gospels he very pointedly intervenes to heal/forgive people who couldn't afford to pay contributions to or make the sacrifices at the Temple, which had been the traditional means for asking God's help. It isn't always clear why the representatives of the hierarchy object, but the bottom line is, he is undermining the national cult, which is centered at the Temple. It's not, then, that there aren't other practitioners of the contemporary version of Judaism around, also aware of the internal, God-within aspects of their practice--but the Temple cult has been the accepted way to act this out, and now it's become too contaminated with greed, collaboration with Hellenistic powers, etc., to hold the nation together. The poorer members, exemplified by Jesus's neighbors in rural Galilee, had dropped out of what was once intended as a safety net, and has by now become a crushing burden on them--and that is probably the historical significance of what he's shown doing here.

So how much would the other gospel material be clarified by this perspective of replacing the stone Temple with the inner presence?

---
"Three days" is one of those numbers like "forty days and forty nights" and means "in a day or so, a few days." "Forty-six years" is not one of those magic numbers, & might have, as you say, been arbitrarily picked to add to the days & somehow arrive at 7X7, but I dunno. (I do know that examining numbers for mystical significance is part of the Hebrew culture--but this looks to be an extremely Greek book, right?) Could the 46 be an actual historical count? If Herod started his project in 19 BCE, as a quick wikilook gives me, that would say Jesus did this in 27 CE.

 
At 3:05 PM, Blogger Diane said...

>>>So how much would the other gospel material be clarified by this perspective of replacing the stone Temple with the inner presence?<<< good question.
One of the commentaries I read mentioned the series of "miracles" and activities in John as a constant contrast between old and new (old/new covenant, etc.).

I keep going to the microscosm here, of it having to do with the body of Christ as archetypal man. That he wields a weapon, as you note, makes me think he is driving demons from his self (which, i agree, is not a new story particularly), so I'm not sure this is the tale being told here.

Is it significant he call's this his "Father's house" as opposed to the "Temple"?

 
At 4:33 PM, Blogger forrest said...

The Temple is, of course, God's "house" in a tradition going all the way from God's message to David not to build it, to Jeremiah's proclamation that "therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh."

And the king of Israel, since whenever Psalm 2 was written, was God's son. So, also, might any holy man be called, in a language built more visibly on metaphor than English. We have Honi the Circle Drawer sitting down in his circle, refusing to leave it until his Daddy sends rain, because his neighbors have insisted that "you are like a son of the household, G-d will listen to you."

So this could be significant, but isn't necessarily.

The animals are an essential element of a generic temple's function as food storage, slaughterhouse and feasting place. The moneychangers are likewise essential to this particular Temple's activities, because most foreign coins, having idolatrous images on them, are not acceptable for buying sacrifices.

Jesus may have seen himself as bringing a new message... or as reaffirming the essentials of the old message, or both. The framing of it as "new" would certainly have become the dominant view when this gospel was written, when the division between Jews who followed Jesus and those who didn't had become more explicit and bitter.

 

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