Abstract of Betz, Hans Dieter. “Jesus and the Purity of the Temple (Mark 11:15-18): A Comparative Religion Approach.”

Betz, Hans Dieter.  “Jesus and the Purity of the Temple (Mark 11:15-18): A Comparative Religion Approach.”  Journal of Biblical Literature 116 (1997): 455-72. [Israel/Herod/Christian/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship]

There has been controversy among scholars about the meaning of Jesus’ “cleansing” of the temple, especially in understanding his motives for doing so, since he was not a priest, and did not cleanse it according to Temple ritual.  Betz applies a comparative religion approach to add new insight to this familiar account.   He concludes Jesus was not opposed to the temple, but what it had become.  In this period the Roman emperors politicized, monumentalized, and commercialized their religious temples, for legitimacy and political power.  Herod, as a protégé of Augustus, did the same thing.  In effect his temple was a votive offering to God for the privilege of being King of the Jews.  The completion of the temple coincided with Herod’s accession to the throne.  It was his temple, the throne and altar became one.  He connected the Antonia Fortress with the inner courtyards.  It became a sign of his legitimacy as king of the Jews.  It also probably changed the function of the temple.  Judaism was Hellenized by Herod, as the people willingly accepted his temple because for them it meant prosperity, political security, and international fame, but old Judaism was lost with the destruction of Zerubbabel’s temple.  Jesus opposed the commercialism and materialism surrounding the temple.  He wasn’t interested in ritual purity, but in the inner purity of the heart.  Betz provides a good discussion of Jesus’ emphasis on purity in heart, especially as taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

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