Review of Charlesworth, James H. “Jesus and the Temple.”

Charlesworth, James H.  “Jesus and the Temple.”  In Jesus and Temple: Textual and Archaeological Explorations, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 145-81.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014. [Israel/Herod/Christian/Theology/New Temple]

In December 2011, a symposium designed to investigate commonly held assumptions about Jesus and the Temple was held in Boca Raton, Florida under the direction of James Charlesworth.  This paper was one of nine from that conference which are now published in a recent book, also edited by Charlesworth.

The first section of this insightful paper considers the majesty and grandness of Herod’s temple as revealed by archeologists, historians and others.  Since 1968 the evidence amassed reveals Herod’s temple to be as magnificent as Josephus reported it to be.  It was one of the unparalleled wonders of antiquity, involving some of the most majestic stones used by engineers in the ancient world.

Our author next turns to a consideration of what the temple was.  It was at once the cause of some factionalism and a “majestic force that united Jews throughout the civilized world.” (148)   It was the official place of sacrifice, but it was also a center for the arts, particularly music.  It served as a bank depository for Jews, a center for teaching, and defined the religious calendar for festivals and prayers.  Three terms are used in the New Testament in reference to the temple.  They are hieron, naos, and oikos.  Charlesworth briefly defines these terms and their general use in the period.

Following this introductory material, attention is turned to the central question of the conference and this essay which is, “What was Jesus attitude about and relationship to the temple?  Did he reject it and seek to abolish it?”   Until recently, Charlesworth maintains,  a set of assumptions has dominated the thinking of scholars and churchmen, i.e., that “Jesus led a movement that was, in principle, opposed to the temple or its worship.” (p. 150)

Charlesworth demonstrates the validity of this observation with a brief review of four influential scholars, Walter Bauer, John Dominic Crossan, E. P. Sanders, and Nicholas Perrin.  These men all argue in one way or another that Jesus rejected the temple and the ritual of sacrifice.  “Too many Christians today assume, he writes, “without adequate reflection, that Jesus despised the temple.”  (156)   “Many pastors and some New Testament critics, tend to conclude that Jesus had no use for the Temple and only went to Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecies that he, as the Son of Man, was destined to die in (or in the vicinity of) Jerusalem.”  (156)   Those beliefs in turn  lead to the (unwarranted)  conclusion that other things were substituted for the temple such as the synagogue, the Qumran or Christian community itself, or Jesus himself.  My own studies bear out Charlesworth’s observations here.  The “substitution” or more commonly the “replacement” theory is popular among Protestants who reject ritual and the priesthood. It is very popular among evangelicals and fundamentalists, but Charlesworth does not cite their works.  Nevertheless,  his suggested approaches apply to them as well.

One dominant point which Charlesworth makes in resisting the “replacement” theory and in answering the question as to Jesus’ attitude toward the temple merits a more extensive treatment in this review.  He argues strongly on behalf of scholarly exercise of “discrimination” in assessing New Testament statements and episodes that are relevant to this question.   Two quotations illustrate his point:

Diverse architectural and sociological aspects of the Temple and its functions need to be distinguished.  The Holy City, Jerusalem, the Temple, the Temple services, the Temple cult, the administration of a financial and political institution, and the changing of coinage in the Temple when lumped together present a complexity that may becloud the diversities in pre-70 Judaism.  For example, Jesus may have loved the Temple but became enraged by the way Sadducees officiated in and controlled the Temple services and its cultic functions.  (154)

…Jesus, as a devout adherent of Torah, could well have loved Jerusalem and Zion, worshiped in the Temple, chanted with the Levites, sacrificed under the tutelage of the High Priest, even admired the Temple cult, but despised the way business was often conducted.  Further, this objection to “operational” aspects of the Temple might have taken different forms.  (154-55)

The conversation comes clearly into focus with a consideration of Jesus’ so-called cleansing of the temple mentioned in all four gospels.  Many replacement theory theologians co-opt this episode as the ultimate evidence that Jesus rejected the temple and its cult.  However, Charlesworth reviews what he calls a “stew of abuses” by Temple leadership and priesthood that from time to time propelled Old Testament prophets to speak and even prophesy against them.  This desecration Charlesworth tells us, continued under the Herodian dynasty, hence leading to “Jesus’ explosive actions in the Temple.  These “would have pleased many Jews, including some priests.” (156)  He goes on to observe that the conflict between Jesus and the Temple leadership during his last week “does not indicate Jesus’ attitude toward the temple.  Again, distinctions are fundamental for answering our focused question!” (157)  Relative to those distinctions he counsels,

… we should distinguish among many concepts, notably Jerusalem as the Holy City versus a commercial center, the Temple as the holy House of God versus the religious and administrative institutions devised by Sadducees to control it, the Temple as a place of worship versus the Temple as a political extension of Rome, and the institution versus institutional rules and regulations.  We should take into account halakot and folksongs that have come down to us that describe the manipulation of rules by corrupt priests, even the High Priest (e.g., Tosefta,  Minhot 13.21; Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim57.1), and we should distinguish the abuses of the sacrificial cult, for which we have such documentation, from the cult itself.

Too often, the Temple as a holy places is not perceptively distinguished from excesses within the sacrificial cult.  In the symposium from which these papers are drawn, we stressed distinctions and sought to improve perceptions though interrogative explorations of scientific, historical, archaeological, architectural, and theological issues related to the Temple.

Distinctions also should be made between Jesus and his disciples and between chronological periods.  For perceptual clarity, it is imperative to distinguish between Jesus’ time and the Evangelists’ time.  The first century may be divided into two phases: before 70 CE, when the Temple dominated Jewish culture and lives, and after 70, when the worship in the Temple ceased, since Jerusalem lay devastated and burned by Roman soldiers under the leadership of a future emperor.  (157)

Charlesworth now turns to evidence which may be interpreted as Jesus having a more favorable view of the temple.  He perceived that the Temple was the place where God dwelt among his people Israel and he believed the Temple sanctified things within it.  In reviewing some of the most prominent contacts of Jesus with the Temple found in the Gospels, he notes that the synoptics center Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, as if the Temple and Jerusalem are left behind and the Temple is no longer the “center of Gods salvific work.”  He goes on to argue that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss John’s view, which is a viable corrective to the Synoptics and which scholars “increasingly accept.”  (159)

Regarding the so-called cleansing of the Temple, Charlesworth acknowledges “I am convinced … that Jesus’ actions before the moneychangers was a highlight in his life and proved his high morality.” (161)  He says too many scholars fail to recognize the significance of Mark’s recital of Jesus saying that the temple merchants had turned it into a “den of robbers.”  He believes Jesus was angry at the abuse and cheating going on and that Jesus aligned himself with those who resisted the corruption of the Temple leadership.  Thus Jesus was “defending the sanctity of the Temple, not seeking to abolish it.”  (162)

Here Charlesworth introduces something I have not encountered in eight years of study.  He writes of the Jews demanding ‘entrance fees’ to the temple and often overcharging visiting Jews.  Maddeningly he does not provide footnoted references for this assertion.  Nevertheless, he contends that Jesus opposed “the exorbitant entrance fees being charged to the people.”  (163)

According to Charlesworth, Jesus was also at one mind with the prophet Jeremiah who in chapter 7:1-34 predicted the Temple’s destruction in 587 BCE.  Jesus’ prophecies of another destruction, he tells us, were influenced by Jeremiah.  Jesus was no more anti-Jewish than Jeremiah, but both were against the corruption prevalent in the House of the Lord. (163)  Jesus recognizes this important parallel between the two periods.  For both Jeremiah and Jesus it was the temple priests who had turned the Temple into a house of robbers.  They rob faithful Jews by converting the place of prayer into “an emporium; they rob the pilgrims and the poor, monopolizing exchanges of money,” and increasingly charge temple worshipers to change from one coinage to another, which adding insult to injury was pagan silver.  The accepted Temple coin was the Tyrian shekel which depicted the King of Tyre on it face and thereby brought idolatry into the Temple.  (164-65)

As events inexorably moved toward the crucifixion, Charlesworth points out that the important parable of the wicked tenants (Mt. 21:33-46; Mk. 12:1-12; and Lk. 20:9-19), was directed against the High Priest and temple priesthood, which they themselves understood was a critique of their stewardship. (167)   Indeed, it targeted them and their legitimacy.  Other incidents underscore the bad relations between the Temple leadership and Jesus.  Thus he predicted the destruction of the Temple.  In doing so his reasons were much like those inspired by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.  Sacrifices were worthless if the people’s heart and motives were not right.  Evil was the problem, not the rituals.  Charlesworth “distinctions” are especially relevant to these discussions.

He next compares the words and actions of Jesus with those of his contemporary Yohannan ben Zakkai, to show the “probability” of his conclusions about Jesus and the Temple.  He finds four significant similarities; both, 1) were from Galilee; 2) were disappointed by the reception they received from Galileans; 3) taught in the temple; and 4) loved the temple, but each prophesied its destruction.

Concluding, Charlesworth says that “Vast amounts of data thus suggest Jesus appreciated the Temple and worshiped there.”(176) Yet some argue that he turned against the temple sacrifices.  He notes that nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus instruct his disciples in opposition to sacrifice, however, he may have considered they were no longer of value.   He did not slander the office of the High Priest.  Moreover, he was in Jerusalem during the last week of his life to observe Passover.  In the spirit of making proper distinctions and contextualization, Charlesworth argues that the data in the New Testament cannot be reduced to one action or even one saying of Jesus relative to the temple.  Students must set in context all of his sayings and actions.  “We are entering a new era,” he concludes, “in understanding Jesus and his reverence for the Temple.” (179)

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