Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988) 101-126.

              Copyright © 1988 by The Criswell CollegeCited with permission.    






                                 KENNETH A. MATHEWS

                          Criswell College, Dallas, TX 75201


The Jerusalem temple, which was the preeminent symbol of Israel's

religious establishment, became a common target of criticism among

religious reformers. From the days of Jeremiah until the temple's

collapse at the hands of the Romans, both the orthodox reformer and

the radical sectarian called for change in what they perceived as

aberrant practices. It is not surprising that Jesus' hostile confrontation

at the temple received special attention by the Gospel writers since it

served to illustrate Jesus' opposition to the religious authorities of

his day.

            All four Evangelists record the "Temple Cleansing" and treat it as

an important step in their respective arguments.l John's Gospel in

particular is impressed with Jesus' action and selects it to introduce

him to the public. The Synoptics, on the other hand, present the

incident as Jesus' last public act which explains what provoked the

Sanhedrin to plot Jesus' subsequent arrest.

            From the remarkable desert discoveries of our century, scholars

have been reminded that Jesus was not alone in criticizing the temple.

The community of Qumran, populated by the sectarian Essenes,

evidenced attitudes ranging from a serious reservation about temple

piety to a stricter view tantamount to an abandonment of its precincts.

During the period of Essene life at Qumran (ca. 150 B.C.-A.D. 68),

there were others as well who denounced temple transgressions. What

we learn from these voices of discontent enables us to better under-

stand the ideological climate in which Jesus' action took place. It has

been commonly thought that the Essenes rejected all temple sacrifice,


            1 The term "Cleansing" is unfortunate since it suggests actual purification rites;

Temple "Clearing" is a better description of Jesus' action.




but we will show that this was not the case, neither is it true, as has

been popularly believed, that the Temple Cleansing was motivated

by temple theft. We will discover that Jesus' complaints corresponded

in some ways to the concerns uttered by others, but that he had a very

different response to temple misconduct. Jesus was not a mere mimic

in a long line of religious extremists who became disenchanted with

Jerusalem's "orthodoxy" and set out to found their own. The Gospels

present him as an innovative thinker who inaugurated a revolutionary

policy toward the temple. Our paper will first survey how other

critics responded to the indiscretions of the temple, and then we will

turn attention to the Gospel accounts, focusing on John's interpreta-

tion of Jesus' Temple Cleansing.


                                    I. The Temple’s Critics


            Criticism of the temple had its precedent in the OT prophets

who brought charges against the Jerusalem cult. Both Jesus in the

Gospels and the sectarian Covenant Community in its writing, the

Damascus Document (CD), appealed to the prophets to legitimize

their opposition to temple practices.2


OT Prophets

            The Synoptics (Mark 11:17 pars.) have a composite quotation

from the prophets which was spoken by Jesus to explain his hostile

action in the temple grounds: "'My house shall be called a house of

prayer for all the nations' (Isa 56:7), but you have made it a 'den of

robbers'" (Jer 7:11). The original context of the Isaiah passage de-

scribes the eschatological age when people of all nations shall come to

Jerusalem's temple ("holy mount") and worship the God of Israel.


            2 For the unfamiliar reader, the Damascus Document refers to a sectarian work

first known from two medieval manuscripts discovered in the genizah of an old Cairo

synagogue. It is named after "Damascus" which appears in the document as the site

where the sect's members sought refuge. The manuscripts were published as the

"Zadokite Fragments" in 1910 by S. Schechter and again by C. Rabin (The Zadokite

Fragments [Oxford: Clarendon, 1954]). The name "Zadokite" was chosen since the

document often refers to the members as the "sons of Zadok." A few fragments of the

document were recovered from three caves at Qumran (dating ca. 100-50 B.C.) and

were called the Damascus Document (Q[umranJ D[ocument]). With the discovery of

these Qumran fragments, the Cairo manuscripts of the Damascus Document were

subsequently assigned the siglum CD. As a result of the Qumran finds, CD has received

attention by Qumran specialists since it is now believed that it offers valuable testimony

to the community which gave rise to the Qumran group of Essenes. The contents of

CD are two parts: (1) an admonition concerning the community and (2) laws governing

its life.


            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     103


Coupled with this, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah's famous Temple

Sermon which was a hallmark of his career. The Sermon is one of the

OT's most caustic; he denounces the unholy practices of the wicked

who think they have safe refuge within the temple walls ("den of

robbers"). It forewarns that they shall reap the consequences of their

sin like those at Shiloh (1 Sam 4:30). In John's Gospel, Jesus explains

his action differently: "You shall not make my Father's house a house

of trade" (2:16). The phrase "house of trade" is an allusion to Zechariah's

concluding verse in which the idealized age is depicted as having "no

trader in the house of the LORD of hosts" (14:21).3

            When the Covenant Community repudiated temple sins, it re-

membered Malachi's exhortation concerning the abuse of the sacri-

ficial system (CD 6:11-14/Mal l:l0):


            None of those brought into the Covenant shall enter the Temple to light

            His altar in vain. They shall bar the door, forasmuch as God said, Who

            among you will bar its door? And, You shall not light my altar in vain

            ( i, 10). They shall take care to act according to the exact interpreta-

            tion of the Law during the age of wickedness.4


            Perhaps Malachi's prophecy was influential in John's Gospel and

colored his chronological presentation of Jesus' ministry.5 Chap 1

speaks of the Baptist's role, corresponding to Mal 3:1a: "I will send

my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me." Chap 2 has

Jesus in the temple which matches the last half of that prophetic

verse: "The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to his temple"

(Mal 3:1b).6

            Although leveling sharp attacks, the OT prophets never advocated

a total abandonment of the temple but called for a reformation of its


            3 We have translated kn’ny (= "Canaanite" or "trader") as it is interpreted in the

Gospels. In the Hebrew context, the prophecy creates a future temple which will

transform all profane utensils into holy vessels. The second half of the verse is difficult

since the Hebrew can be translated "Canaannite" or "trader." If taken as "Canaanite,"

then it depicts a temple which has no Gentile who might pollute the sacred place, but if

"trader" was intended, the eschatological temple will have no need for commercial

exchange and therefore no merchant.

            4 G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Baltimore: Penguin, 1962) 103.

            5 The absence of Malachi in the Gospel accounts is strange since it is the logi-

cal passage we would expect the Evangelists to cite. Perhaps, its association with John

the Baptist somehow precluded its use here. Cf. R. H. Hiers ("Purification of

the Temple: Preparation for the Kingdom of God" JBL 90 [1971] 87-89) who shows

that the Temple Cleansing nicely fits the messianic context of the prophecy (Mal 3:3);

however, his conclusion that the Baptist and Jesus shared in the identity of "Elijah" is


            6 R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (AB; 2 vols. Garden City, NY:

Doubleday, 1966) 1.18.



practices. The prophets, of course, were not satisfied with mere ortho-

doxy in ritual matters (cf. Isa 1:11-17; Jer 7:5; 31:33; Mic 6:6-8; Hos

6:6- 7). For them, ritual could not be substituted for covenant obedi-

ence, and therefore they painted an ideal age when new hearts would

please God in a holy way. This future era could not be complete

without a reconstituted sanctuary, indicating Yahweh's presence once

again among his people. Envisioned in this new temple were the

newly-redeemed people of Israel and the many nations who came up

to Jerusalem to worship God (e.g., Isa 2:2-4 w/ Mic 4:1-2; Isa 66:6;

Zech 14:6).

            Ezekiel's oracles in particular describe the ideal age around this

temple motif. He measures the impending demise of the whole nation

by the departure of the "glory of the LORD" from the temple (10:18-

19; 11:23), permitting the defilement of its precincts (7:22). As a result,

the restored Israel requires anew, sanctified temple (chaps 40-48)

where the "glory" once again can be found (43:2); this new sanctuary

and David's scion are the centerpiece of Israel's future (37:24-28).

            By the imagery of a defiled and abandoned temple, the prophets

condemned Israel and solicited repentance. The promise of a renewed

temple was a promise of hope, because it meant the return of God's

beneficent presence.


Other Dissident Voices

            Criticism of temple practices by religious pietists continued

through the Hasmonean era into the 1st century A.D. The Psalms of

Solomon, set in the mid-1st century B.C., has been traditionally ascribed

to Pharisaic sympathies (opposing the Sadducees).7 The composition

reflects the kind of criticisms found among diverse groups at that

time. The opening psalm (1:8) describes the wicked's sin: "they utterly

polluted the holy things of the Lord" (APOT 2. 631). Specifically, the

wicked are those who freely violate the temple's sanctity (8:11-13):


            They plundered the sanctuary of God. . .

            They trode the altar of the Lord, (coming straight) from all manner of


            And with menstrual blood they defiled the sacrifices, as (though these

            were) common flesh (APOT 2.640).


            7 However, the affinities of the composition with Qumran literature has led some

to question that association. R. B. Wright, "Psalms of Solomon," The Old Testament

Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; ed. J. H. Charlesworth; Garden City, NY: Doubleday,

1983) 2.642.

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     105


The pseudepigraphal Testament of Levi comes from the 2nd

century B.C.,8 and also speaks of polluted sacrifices (16:1). Like the

Psalms of Solomon, ritual uncleanness is tied to the imagery of rob-

bery:  “The offerings of the Lord you shall rob. . . eating (them)

contemptuously with harlots” (APOT 2.312). Another testimony to

encroaching corruption is the Assumption of Moses; although the text

dates to the 1st century A.D., it reflects the problems of the Hasmonean

era. R. H. Charles has called its author the “Pharisaic Quietist.”9 The

defilement of sacrifices are likened to “whoring after strange gods”

and the priests offend ..with the (very) gifts which they offer to the

Lord. . ." (APOT 2.417-18).

            These examples reflect what we find in Jewish literature of the

Hasmonean and Herodian periods. There was a general unrest in

Jerusalem about temple practices which led these same critics to

anticipate anew, restored temple built by God and inaugurated at the

coming of the Messiah. The purging of the corrupted temple was

believed by the Jews necessary before the kingdom of God could be

established.10 Since writings, such as the Psalms of Solomon, were

authored by Jewish traditionalists,11 we learn that stinging reprimands

could be said by those who continued to offer sacrifices at the temple.

We will discover that this was true of the Essenes as well. Also, it will

become significant to recall that the offences cited by the Jews are

ritual uncleanness, particularly sexual impurity, and are described as

robbery. This is important in our evaluation of how the covenanters

responded to the Jerusalem cult. Charges brought by the Covenant

Community, as we will see next, are described similarly.


Covenant Community

            We are giving special attention to the attitude of the Covenant

Community toward the temple, because it is generally believed by

Qumran specialists that the origins of the community can be traced to

a struggle with temple authorities. Also, the Covenant Community

was part of a wider movement, and therefore from it we can achieve


            8 H. C. Kee, "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarches," Pseudepigrapha, 1.778-79.

Fragments of the Testament have been recovered from Qumran (4QTLevi).

            9 R. H. Charles, APOT 2.407. The authorship remains uncertain, however; see

J. Priest, "Testament of Moses," Pseudepigrapha 2.921-22.

            10 For a detailed discussion of the Jewish evidence of the period for the new,

heavenly temple, see R. J. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New

Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) 9-24.

            11 It is commonly held that the Psalms of Solomon were authored by the Pharisees;

see G. B. Gray, APOT 2.630.




a broader perspective of how heterodox groups viewed temple


            It has become more widely recognized that the evidence from

Our ancient sources offers a mixed testimony about how the desert

sectarians assessed and participated in the Jerusalem cult. As a result,

when Qumran specialists have given priority to certain testimony,

some conclusions about Essene practice have been skewed by their

selectivity in evidence. The community known from CD and the

Qumran branch of that sect were not monolithic, but reflect the

natural accretions of differing theological and socio-historical opinions

occurring over the more than 200 years if its life. In other words, we

must be careful not to restrict the idea of "Essenism," since we know

on the basis of CD that there was a preQumran history for the

Essenes and also the Essenes lived in many sites other than Qumran.12

            However, after 40 years of Qumran scholarship, there is a general

consensus about the broad strokes of Qumran history.13 It is agreed

that the Essenes existed at Qumran before the Teacher of Righteous-

ness came to the site, although their origins are highly disputed. All

concur that the figure known as the Teacher was once opposed by a

chief antagonist, the Wicked Priest, who was a priest of Jerusalem

and a member of the Hasmonean royal family.14 The Teacher lost


            12 Cf. Philo: "They live in villages and avoid the cities because of the iniquitie

which have become inveterate among city dwellers" (Quod omnis 9.12.76).

            13 Researching the body of Qumran literature is notoriously difficult; it is widely

distributed among numerous journals, monographs, and dissertations. For the non-

specialist, a succinct statement of the major issues and the opinions of the leading

Qumran specialists can be conveniently read in J. H. Charlesworth, "The Origin and

Subsequent History of the Authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Four Transitional Phases

Among the Qumran Essenes" RevQ 10 (1980) 213-33.

            14 The reconstruction of the early years of Qumran intersects at this point. The

Wicked Priest, whose career is outlined in the Habakkuk commentary (lQpHab 89ff.),

has been variously identified, but we believe with the growing opinion that Jonathan

was the Teacher's enemy. Among those who have argued for the identification of

Jonathan are G. Vermes, J. T. Milik, G. Jeremias, H. Stegemann, and J. Murphy-

O'Connor (see Charlesworth, "Origin," 219-20). Stegemann and Murphy-O'Connor

have posited that the Teacher is the legitimate high priest who was prevented his

rightful place by Jonathan. Stegemann has argued that the high priesthood must have

been filled during the seven years after the death of Alkimos (contra Josephus [Ant.

20.237]) in order for the nation to celebrate the Day of Atonement (Die Entstehung der

Qumrangemeinde [Bonn, 1971] 213-20). The identification of the Teacher with this

unknown priest is dependent upon the reference to the Teacher as "the priest" (cf.

hakohen in 1QHab 2:8; 4Qppsa 2:19; 3:15) but their suggestion has been disputed by

Qumran scholars. For Murphy-O'Connor's historical reconstruction, see "Demetrius I

and the Teacher of Righteousness: (I Macc, X, 25-45)," RB 83 (1976) 400-420; "The

Essenes and Their History" RB 81 (1974) 215-44, esp. 229-32; and "The Essenes in

Palestine" BA 40 (1977) 100-24.

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     107


some members of his following to a contemporary, rival leader called

the Man of Lies, and at that time, or soon thereafter, the troubled

Teacher led a splinter group to Qumran where he was enthusiastically

received by the Essenes (ca. 150 B.C.).

            Generally, it has been thought that the Essenes derived from the

Jewish Hasidim in Palestine who were outraged by an encroaching

Hellenism which reached its climax in the murder and usurpation of

Onias III, the legitimate Zadokite high priest (172 B.C.). A withdrawal

of some of these pietists into outlying villages followed the incident.

The Maccabean revolt and the newly-formed Hasmonean regime was

praised for its anti-Hellenistic policies, but the Hasidim were soon

disappointed at the action of Jonathan Maccabaeus (160-43 B.C.) who

seized the high priesthood in 152 B.C.

            J. Murphy-O'Connor's thesis has departed from the majority

opinion; rather than Palestine, he argues that Babylonia is the proper

background for interpreting Qumran origins. This is important for us

because the Babylonian setting according to Murphy-O'Connor helps

explain the Essene rejection of temple sacrifices. He believes that the

Essenes were part of a movement that returned from Babylon (ca.

165 B.C.) only to be appalled at the condition of the temple. The

Essenes rejected the priesthood which had replaced the Zadokite line

and refused participation in the temple because unlike Jerusalem the

Essenes followed the solar calendar. For Murphy-O'Connor, before

the arrival of the Teacher, the Essenes of Qumran had abandoned

temple sacrifices.15 Some scholars have even argued that Qumran in

response to the usurpation of the Zadokite line established a rival altar

where animal sacrifices occurred, but the evidence they produce is

unclear and has been explained on other grounds.16


            15 Murphy-O'Connor, "Essenes and Their History," 221-28; "Palestine," 103-6. He

("The Literary Analysis of Damascus Document XIX, 33-XX, 34," RB 79 [1972] 559-00)

has suggested that the covenanters "confession of sin" (CD 20:28-33; 1QS 1:24-26) was

a formal repudiation of the temple: ..And after them, all those entering the Covenant

shall confess and say: 'We have strayed! We have [disobeyed!] We and our fathers

before us have sinned and done wickedly in walking [counter to the precepts] of truth

and righteousness. .." (cf. 1QS 1:24-26; Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls, 73).

            16 Contra a rival altar, see J. Baumgarten; "The Essenes and the Temple: A

Reappraisal" Studies in Qumran Law (Leiden: Brill, 1977) 59-62. In this article, he

reverses his previous opinion that the Essenes at Qumran had abandoned temple

sacrifices ("Sacrifices and Worship Among the Jewish Sectarians of the Dead Sea

[Qumran] Scrolls" HTR 46 (1953) 141-59; reprinted in Studies in Qumran Law 39-56).

For arguments for animal sacrifice at Qumran, see J. Strugnell, "Flavius Josephus and

the Essenes: Antiquities XVIII, 18-22," JBL 77 (1958) 113-15; F. M. Cross, The Ancient

Library of Qumran and Modem Biblical Studies (rev. ed.: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980

[reprint]) 102.



            However, there is evidence that the Covenant Community con-

tinued to practice animal sacrifice at the Jerusalem cult in spite of its

reservations. We are convinced that it was not until the arrival of the

deposed Teacher at Qumran that the Essenes may have ceased partici-

pation in the temple cult. This consideration is important for our

study since we saw earlier that even the most devout pietists would

criticize the sacrificial system and still participate in it. The question is

to what degree the covenanters participated in the temple sacrifices.

Once we have established that, we will be in a better position to see

where Jesus' attitude coincided with other critics of the temple during

his day.17

            Damascus Document. CD 4:16-18 lists lust, wealth, and "defil-

ing the temple" as the "three nets of Belial" that have entrapped

Israel. This defilement of the temple is specified in CD 5:6-8 as

worshippers who have slept with a menstruant or have an incestuous

marriage. These three charges are the same three sins in Pss. Sol. 8:10-

12 where "adultery," "plunder," and defiling the sacrifices with "men-

strual blood" are named.18 CD's criticism continues in its introduction


            17 As we review the evidence, the methodological problem is how much emphasis

to place on the evidence of the pesherim and the testimony of Philo and Josephus

versus the evidence of CD. Qumran specialists have traditionally ascribed more weight

to the pesherim, and they have tended to harmonize the evidence of CD and the

collateral witnesses of Philo and Josephus with them. The role of CD, however, in

reconstructing preQumran history has become more influential as a result of the literary

studies of Murphy-O'Connor and Stegemann. Still dissatisfied with their approaches,

P. Davies (The Damascus Covenant [Sheffield: JSOT, 1982]) attempted to interpret CD

autonomously from the Qumran setting. While Davies may have gone too far, his

warning is justified: we cannot treat CD simply as another Qumran pesher since it has a

history antedating its function in the Qumran community.

            Davies concluded that the Covenant Community had its ideological roots in exilic

literature and that the community had its origins outside Palestine. The community was

well organized, operated on a solar calendar, and had no serious objections to temple

sacrifice. At a later time, the Qumran group emerged from it and reshaped the basic

document underlying the present CD recension. This has produced diverse opinions in

CD where both a more relaxed and a more stringent attitude toward the temple can be

discerned in the document. Whether or not Davies is correct that CD is a "Qumranic"

recension, it becomes more apparent as we read the document that its authors presumed

their members to be engaged in temple sacrifice although with certain restrictions. As

stated earlier, Essenism must be defined to accommodate such diverse opinions; it was

not uniform in ideology or practice. The future debate in Qumran studies will center on

whether scholars will continue or not to give priority to the pesherim by subsuming all

other evidence under the reconstruction derived primarily from them. For Murphy-

O'Connor's literary studies, see “An Essene Missionary Document? CD II, 14- VI, I,”

RB 77 (1970) 201-29; "The Literary Analysis of Damascus Document VI, 2- VIII,3," RB

78 (1970) 210-32; "The Literary Analysis of Damascus Document XIX, 33-XX, 34," RB

79 (1972) 544-64.

            18 Baumgarten, "Sacrifice and Worship," 41 n.41.


            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     109


to the laws of the community (CD 6:11b-14) where it says that no

covenant members "shall enter the Temple to light His altar in vain."19

The sectarians prohibited sexual activity even within the city, lest it

"defile the city of the sanctuary" (CD 12:1-2).

            These passages taken together make it apparent that the cov-

enanters were troubled by the less-stringent attitude of ritual purity

practiced by temple authorities. When it is remembered that the

community's calendar differed from the Jerusalem cult (CD 6:18-19),

some have assumed that the community could not have offered sacri-

fices in the temple at all.20

            However, there are evidences in CD that the covenanters con-

tinued their use of the temple precincts for sacrifice. The clearest

indication of this is the laws contained in CD which assume the

covenanters continued to sacrifice.21

            But what of the difference in the calendaric calculations? This

difference must not have been prohibitive; the Book of Jubilees, for

instance, also follows a solar calendar and it has no rejection of

temple sacrifices.

            Furthermore, we saw that CD attributes the defilement of the

temple to sexual uncleanness. We read earlier how other sources, such


            19 This passage in its entirety was quoted earlier in this paper.

            20 J, T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (tr. J. Strugnell;

London: SCM, 1959) Ill.

            21 Among these are two of special interest: CD 11:17: "No man on the Sabbath

shall offer anything on the altar except the Sabbath burnt-offering; for it is written thus:

Except your Sabbath offerings (Lev. xxiii, 38)." CD 11:18: "No man shall send to the

altar any burnt-offering, or cereal offering, or incense, or wood, by the hand of one

smitten with any uncleanness, permitting him thus to defile the altar. For it is written,

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, but the prayer of the just is as an

agreeable offering (Prov. xv, 8)." (Vermes, Dead Sea Scrolls, 113). The first law permits

the Sabbath offering but prohibits members from offering it with the daily sacrifice. Or,

alternatively, the law may be concerned with festival days which fell on the Sabbath; in

this case the Jerusalem cult would be offering in the eyes of the sectarians unauthorized

sacrifices on the same day as those specially set aside as Sabbath offerings. According to

the sectarians' calendar, this transgression could not occur, and therefore this law is

designed to forewarn the covenanters not to compromise their Sabbath offerings when

the Jerusalem cult was offering up festival sacrifices on the same day that Sabbath

offerings were accepted (Baumgarten, "Reappraisal," 69-70). The second law permits

animal sacrifice within certain bounds but adds that a spiritual sacrifice is preferred

over an animal sacrifice if offered wrongly. This law in particular gives the authors of

the covenant opportunity to appeal to the Proverbs text as reason to substitute the

Jerusalem cult with their spiritual sacrifices, but no such exhortation exists (Davies,

Damascus, 135). Murphy-O'Connor ("Essenes and Their History," 223) refuses to

acknowledge the laws of CD as real indications of the community's involvement; he

thinks they are only reflective of life among the Gentiles when the community was yet

in the diaspora. However, we do not see how these laws could have force or meaning

unless the community members were presently offering sacrifices in the temple.




as the Psalms of Solomon, pointed to this offense as defiling the

offerings of the Lord, but there is no suggestion in these sources that

the temple sacrifices should be interrupted. R. Marcus has shown that

there are a number of ideological similarities between the Essenes and

the apocalyptic Pharisees of this period as reflected by Enoch, the

Testaments, and Jubilees.22 Thus, it seems difficult to see how a sexual

offense, which must have been common to the temple's history, would

have caused such drastic action stopping the covenanters from partici-

pating in temple sacrifice altogether. P. Davies sums up the matter

this way: "In brief, the attitude of the community of CD to the

Temple was cool, but neither indifferent nor hostile."23

            Pesherim. Among the commentaries at Qumran, three scrolls

are particularly instructive concerning sacrifice. The Habakkuk com-

mentary dates to the 1st century A.D. but is a witness to the earlier

period of the sect's history when the Teacher struggled with the

Jerusalem center. The commentary denounces the "Wicked Priest"

who violated the priesthood (lQpHab 8:8-13) and "defiled the sanc-

tuary of God" (12:9). This contempt for the priests (but not the

temple per se) reflects the stricter view held by the sectarians at the

time of the Teacher.

            4QpNah is also significant for reconstructing Qumran attitudes.

The pesher refers to an unidentified group known as the "house of

Peleg" (4:1); the same expression appears in CD to name a group of

defectors. In both passages the context is one of criticism, if not

condemna.tion. CD describes the "house of Peleg" as those who at first

had left Jerusalem "when Israel sinned and defiled the sanctuary," but

later defected and rejoined the "way of the people in a few respects"

(CD 20:21). This indicates that some in the community returned to

more normal relations with the common people after the schism with

Jerusalem.24 Whether or not this included a participation in the Jeru-

salem cult is uncertain.

            Davies does not interpret the passage as a condemnation against

defectors; rather, he concludes that those of the "house of Peleg" are 

pietists who at one time approvingly left Jerusalem and, though they

returned in minor ways, the schismatic covenanters under the Teacher

were considering accepting them into their newly-formed community

on a case-by-case basis. This admission process occurs at the Teacher's

founding of the "new covenant" community (CD 19:33-20:34) among


            22 R. Marcus ("Pharisees, Essenes, and Gnostics," IBL 73 [1954J 158-59).

            23 Davies, Damascus, 140.

            24 Baumgarten, "Reappraisal," 72; Murphy-O'Connor disagrees that a defection

within the Qumran community is meant; curiously, he thinks this passage refers to those

who left Jerusalem for Qumran ("Palestine," 123).


            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     111


the Qumran group which at this time separated itself from the mother

community. It is at this point, too, that the Qumran Essenes may have

segregated themselves from the temple grounds and ceased partici-

pating in the temple cult.25

            4QFlorilegium (1st century A.D.) is another important witness to

the Essene view of the temple since it speaks explicitly of the eschato-

logical temple anticipated by the Essenes. The first portion of the text

is a midrash on Nathan's oracle concerning the building of the temple

(2 Samuel 7); it interprets the "house" of 2 Samuel as the one Yahweh

shall construct in the "last days" according to his promise (Exod

15:17). Key to understanding the midrash is the description of that

eschatological temple: "And he [God] promised to build for himself a

sanctuary of men, for there to be in it for him smoke offerings before

him, works of thanksgiving" (AQFlor 6-7).

            The expression "sanctuary of men" (miqdasadam) has been

understood by Qumran specialists either as a literal temple or a

spiritual community. According to this latter view, the scribe believed

the Essene community itself was presently fulfilling the promise of an

eschatological sanctuary. The primary argument rests with the context

where the sanctuary's "smoking offerings" are described as spiritual

"works of thanksgiving" (4QFlor 6-7). As a response to the defilement

of the temple, the Essenes had reinterpreted the sacrificial system as

spiritual offerings. ThIs understanding of the midrash has been used to

collaborate other evidence that the Essenes had always abandoned

temple sacrifice.26 Some have concluded that the Essenes and the

early church held in common this modified eschatological position.27

            This identification of miqdas as the Essene community, however,

can be challenged since nowhere else in the Qumran literature does

miqdas mean anything other than the literal Jerusalem temple. Also,

the sanctuary of 4QFlorilegium is oriented toward the future, and the

pesher is contrasting the present defiled temple with the anticipated

eschatological one.28 The eschatological sanctuary then is best taken

as a literal building.29


            25 Davies, Damascus, 100-94.

            26 B. Gartner, The Temple and the Community in Qumran and the New Testa-

ment (Cambridge: University Press, 1965) 32-35; A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene

Writings from Qumran (Cleveland: Meridan, 1967) 93, n. 1; Murphy-O'Connor, "Damas-

cus Document XIX, 33-XX, 34," 544-64, esp. 558 n. 47, 561; J. Baumgarten, "The

Exclusion of Netinim and Proselytes in 4Q Florilegium," Studies in Qumran Law,


            27 So Gartner, Temple and the Community, 32-35 and McKelvey, Temple, 46-53.

But McKelvey does not interpret the temple of 4QFloreligium as spiritual (p. 51).

            28 McKelvey, Temple, 51.

            29 Y. Yadin has shown from his study of the Temple Scroll (11QTemp 29:8-10)

that the Essenes anticipated a physical, eschatological temple which is not different in



            Such diversity points up that the interpretation of this pesher

remains undecided among scholars. However, what is important for

our study has been recognized by G. T. Brooke that the midrash

never addresses the issue of burnt sacrifIces either in Jerusalem or

Qumran. He reasons that if the imagery of "smoke offerings" were to

have meaning for the pesher's readers, then the Essenes must have

continued to regard the temple highly. He concludes that the Essenes

may have participated in the offerings and were not content to wait

for a future day when proper offerings could be presented in the

eschatological temple.30

            The pesherim then reflect a period when the Essenes at Qumran

were very reluctant to participate in temple sacrifice; it remains un-

certain that they refused completely to sacrifice at the cult as many

have supposed.

            Philo and Josephus. The testimony of Philo has been often cited

to argue that the Essenes did not offer animal sacrifice. Philo remarks

that " ...they have shown themselves especially devout in the service

of God, not by offering sacrifices of animals, but by resolving to

sanctify their minds" (Quod omnis 9.12.75). The purpose of Philo's

commentary is his commendation of the Essenes for their piety; in

this discourse, Philo observes that their study of God is achieved


nature from the one to be built by Israel described in the Temple Scroll. Since Yadin is

convinced that this eschatological temple is a physical one and not a spiritual entity, he

renders miqdasadam as "sanctuary among men" ("A Midrash on 2 Sam vii and Ps i-ii

(4Q F]ori]egium)" IEJ 9 [1959J 96; The Temple Scroll [2 vols.; Jerusalem: Israel

Exploration Society, 1983 (Eng]ish) 1.182-87). Yadin's rendering, however, is difficult;

for this translation we would expect the Hebrew to read with the preposition be. A. J.

McNicol ("The Eschatologica] Temple in the Qumran Pesher 4QFlorilegium 1:1-7,"

OJRS (= JrelS) 5 [1977J 133-41) agrees with radin's translation and argues that the

only place where temple and community are equated is in lQS which is an early

document of the sectarians at Qumran (pp. 133-34). D. Flusser ("Two Notes on the

Midrash on 2 Sam vii" IEJ 9 [1959] 102, n. 11) argues for radin's translation but on a

different basis. Critiques of radin's position are D. Schwartz, "The Three Temples of

4QFlorilegium" RG 37 [1979J 83-91, and G. J. Brooke, Exegesis at Qumran: 4QFlorile-

gium in thelewish Context [JSOTS 29; Sheffield: JSOT, 1985J 178-79, esp. 187.

            An alternative translation, "man-made," suggested by J. Allegro and Dupont-

Sommer, is not possible since the text explicitly says this temple shall be built by God

himself (Allegro, "Fragments of a Qumran Scroll of Eschatological Midrasim" JBL 77

[1958J 352; Dupont-Sommer, Essene Writings, 312).

            Brooke, who has made the first full exegetical treatment of the pesher, has a third

opinion in which he accommodates both the spiritual and physical interpretations. He

thinks that the "sanctuary of men" was understood by the scribe to be the Essene

community, but the community is only proleptic of a literal temple to come. Although

the midrash applies a spiritual meaning to the Qumran sectarians, in his view this does

not preclude a future, physical temple (Exegesis at Qumran, 178-93, esp. 187).

            30 Brooke, Exegesis at Qumran, 185.


            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     113


"very industriously, taking for their trainers the laws of their fathers"

(9.12.80). Since Philo began his discussion by giving the etymology of

the sectarian name "Essene" as a derivative of "holiness," he is prob-

ably exaggerating Essene moral purity to make his point and to

differentiate this group from traditional Jewish religion. Otherwise, it

is difficult to square with how these who are so "devout in the service

of God" could have refused to engage in the minimal requirements of

Jewish piety. Philo is saying that, unlike other Jewish parties, the

Essenes gave special attention to substitute sacrifices of piety. That

the practice of spiritual sacrifices does not necessarily exclude animal

ritual can be seen from Jewish sources where the two are linked

(2 Enoch 45:13; Sir 35:1-3).

            This accords well with Josephus' testimony who as a Pharisee

would have taken note of Essene ritual practice:


            They send votive offerings to the temple, but perform their sacrifices31

            employing a different ritual of purification. For this reason they are

            barred from those precincts of the temple that are frequented by all the

            people and perform their rites by themselves (Ant. 18:1.5).


The Essenes are known to have been very stringent in their laws of

ritual purity, but at the temple precincts the rules of exclusion varied

according to the season. Certain parties were prohibited at all times

from the temple courts, but during festivals the authorities relaxed

these rules so that pilgrims had access to the courts.32 This suggests

that the Essenes also would have had access to the temple, but it was

in fact this liberal attitude of the authorities which troubled the

Essenes.33 As Josephus remarks, the temple's relaxed observance of

purity laws would have compromised their offerings. Therefore, the

Essenes completed their meat offerings in a segregated area of the

temple by themselves.


            31 Our reading follows the Greek witnesses of Josephus; the Latin version reflects

an added negative oux which changes the meaning of Josephus' passage altogether:

"they send votive offerings to the temple, but do (not) offer sacrifices. . . ." See the

textual discussion by L. H. Feldman, Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, Books XVIII-XX

(Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965) 16-17 na and

Baumgarten, "Reappraisal," 57-58.

            32 Baumgarten ("Reappraisal," 64) cites Josephus (Ant. 18.2.30) who described

how the priests customarily opened the temple gates after midnight during Passover;

only after some Samaritans had secretly entered the temple and scattered human bones

did authorities take steps to begin restricted access.

            33 Ibid.. 64-67. Josephus states that Essenes appeared at the temple (J. W. 1.3.5;

Ant. 15.10.5; 17.13.3) and also identifies a "Gate of the Essenes” in the city wall

(J. W. 5.4.2).



            Conclusion. The Covenant Community represented in CD was

critical of the ritual appropriateness of temple sacrifices; however, this

did not preclude them from participating whenever proper conditions

were met. The tendency on the part of the Essenes at Qumran to

substitute spiritual sacrifices also did not necessarily prevent them

from offering temple sacrifices. Even if the evidence were conclusive

that the. Essenes had spiritualized the cult and understood themselves

as the temple, they could not have been satisfied with this accom-

modation forever. Their writings show that they fully expected at the

coming of the messiah anew, physical sanctuary to replace the

defiled Second Temple.34

            When the Teacher ruled the Qumran group there was an intense

period of skepticism toward temple authorities and practices as a

result of the Wicked Priest. Perhaps, during this time the Essenes

withdrew altogether from the temple. Later, as Josephus testifies, the

Essenes again could be found engaged in restricted use of the sacri-

ficial cult.


                        II. Jesus' Criticism of the Temple


            The focal question for this section concerns the nature of Christ's

response to temple practices. Did Jesus advocate reform as the Hasi-

dim and covenanters or did he reject the temple completely and

declare it void as did some of the Essenes at Qumran? And, what was

Jesus' resolution to temple abuse?

            Because all four Evangelists record the Temple Cleansing, we

first will describe their testimony. More attention will be given to

John's Gospel since it is the most extensive and also has an appended

theological commentary.


John and the Synoptics

            It is not within the scope of this paper to discuss satisfactorily the

manifold problems of historical provenience and source dependence

raised by the character of the Gospels. We will only touch upon these

matters when they bear on our central questions. The parallel accounts

are cited below for the convenience of the reader:


John 2:13-22

            (13)The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to

Jerusalem. (14) In the temple he found those who were selling oxen


            34 See later in our paper under "Jewish Expectations." McKelvey (Temple, 52-53)

who agrees that the Essenes had spiritualized the cult (not unlike the church) also

recognizes that the hope of a new, restored temple "was cherished just as ardently by

these Jews [Essenes] as by others" (p. 53).

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     115


and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business.

(15) And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep

Iand oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the

money-changers and overturned their tables. (16) And he told those

who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make

my Father's house a house of trade." (17) His disciples remembered

that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." (18) The

Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing

this?" (19) Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three

days I will raise it up." (20) The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-

three years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three

days?" (21) But he spoke of the temple of his body. (22) When there-

fore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he

had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which

Jesus had spoken.


Mark 11:15-19

            (15) And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and

began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the

temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the

seats of those who sold pigeons; (16) and he would not allow anyone

to carry anything through the temple. (17) 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." (18) And

the chief priests and the scribes heard It and sought a way to destroy

him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at

his teaching. (19) And when evening came they went out of the city.


Matt 21:12-13

            (12) And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who

sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the

money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (13) He said

to them, 'It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer';

but you make it a den of robbers."


Luke 19:45-46

            (45) And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who

sold, (46) saying to them, "It is written, "My house shall be a house of

prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."


            Synoptics. The Synoptic accounts agree that the temple event

transpired the last week of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem and that it led

to the arrest of Jesus by temple authorities. The accounts also concur

that Jesus drove out those "who sold" animals in the temple courts.

Matthew and Mark add that the money-changers and the "seats" of

those selling pigeons were dispersed. The Synoptics attest that Jesus



justified his action by appealing to this composite OT saying: "'My

house shall be called a house of prayer' (Isa 56:7), but you have made

it a 'den of robbers'" (Jer 7:11). Finally, the Synoptics imply by the

subsequent actions of the priests that the issue at hand was the

unprecedented authority Jesus took upon himself in issuing his orders

(Mark 11:18 pars.).

            The Marcan account has three significant differences which

distinguish its testimony as more helpful to our study. First, Mark inter-

rupts the chronology of the Triumphal Entry and the Temple

Cleansing by reporting Jesus' curse of the fig tree. Upon Jesus' entry

into Jerusalem, he visits the temple where he surveys its activities

(1:11) and then departs for Bethany at evening. On the next day as

Jesus approaches the temple, he stops to curse the unfruitful tree. This

arrangement of events effectively makes Jesus' actions in the temple

calculated ones, and the narration uses the fig tree incident to introduce

and interpret the Temple Cleansing. The analogy between tree and

sanctuary is that although both are alive and thriving, they are

not productive for their intended purposes and therefore must be


            Second, the Marcan version gives the fuller rendering of Isaiah:

"'My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations'" (11:17).

This last phrase better reflects the prophet's original context where all

nations come to worship Yahweh in the ideal eschatological age.

Mark's record appears more concerned about the universalistic nature

of worship, whereas Matthew and Luke focus on the charge of legiti-

mate versus profane worship.36 The phrase is appropriate for the

temple incident since the temple's commerce took place in the "Court

of the Gentiles."37 By omitting "all the nations," Matthew and Luke

contrast more forcefully the "house" of prayer with the "den" of

robbers;38 by this contrast the two Evangelists describe what the

sanctuary should be as opposed to what it has become.

            Third, unique to Mark is the observation that Jesus refused any-

one passage through the temple grounds who was carrying a vessel

(11:16). This restriction has been likened to the Mishnah where the


            35 L. Williamson, Jr. Mark (Atlanta: Knox, 1983) 206-7.

            36 McKelvey, Temple, 62.

            37 We know that money-changers operated in the temple and also there is evi-

dence of cattle sold on the temple grounds from rabbinic sources (J. Jeremias, Jeru-

salem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969 [English] 49). However, it has

been assumed that the trade in Jesus' day occurred in the "Court of the Gentiles"; this

assumption is reasonable since Jesus came into the city from the Mt. of Olives through

the East Gate. This would have led him directly into the larger, outer court first (Hiers,

"Purification," 84).

            36 E. Haenchen, John I (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980) 187.

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     117


rabbis prohibited transporters using temple grounds as a thoroughfare

across the city (m. Ber. 9:5).39 This Marcan addition is significant for

our study and affects our interpretation of Jesus' attitude toward the

temple since it shows an explicit concern for ritual purity.

            John's Gospel. The Fourth Gospel shares the main features of

the Synoptic accounts but possesses differences that are essential for

determining Jesus' response to temple abuse. First, the event occurs at

the first Passover of Jesus' public ministry and not during the last

week. Second, whereas the Synoptics tie the event to Jesus' death, the

theological expansion of John (2:21-22) links the event to Jesus' resur-

rection as well.

            Third, the composite quotation is absent; instead, Jesus' defense

is an allusion to Zechariah: " . . . you shall not make my Father's house

a house of trade" (2:16). The allusion enables a play on the word

"house"40 similar to the Synoptic effect of drawing attention to "house"

by contrasting it with "den." Also, as the Isaiah passage provided an

eschatological context in the Synoptics, the prophecy of Zechariah

does the same and with more force: " . . . and a trader will not again

be in the house of the LORD of hosts in that day."

            Fourth, unlike the Synoptics, the narrative (2:17) adds a post-

resurrection comment by the disciples where they cite Ps 69:9.41 This

reminiscence is included to further justify Jesus' actions; as the

Psalmist's righteousness led to persecution, Jesus' passion for the

temple--not his opposition to it-meant his death. At the same time,

John adapts the Hebrew by translating it with a future tense (kata-

phagetai) to create a prophecy of Jesus' death; this prepares the

reader for the discourse on the resurrection which follows (vv 18-22).

Finally, we discover that 2:18-22 has no parallel in the Synoptics.

These verses explicitly address the question of authority while the

Synoptics only imply it.42 The "sign" (2:28) requested by the Jews to


            39 For other opinions, see C. K. Barrett, "The House of Prayer and the Den of

Thieves," Jesus und Paulus (eds. E. E. Ellis and E. Grasser; Gottingen: Vanderhoeck

ana Ruprecht, 1975) 14-15. This "vessel" has been taken as a merchant's item and

therefore would fit the context of commercialization. However, the text does not

describe what kind of vessel it was. While the precise nuance of Jesus' prohibition may

be debated, it is clear that Jesus expressed here a concern for temple sanctity.

            40 Since emporiou means "house of trade," the inclusion of oikon is intentionally

redundant to create the play on words (C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John

[London: SPCK, 1955] 165.

            41 C. H. Dodd (The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: University

Press, 1953] 301) explains that Psalm 69 was an oft-quoted Psalm of the primitive

church applied to Christ's death.

            42 In Mark the explicit question of authority occurs later in the chapter: "By what

authority do you these things?" (11:28); "these things" (tauta) refers to Jesus' eruption at

the temple.




authenticate Jesus' actions is not answered by him unless he intended

it to be his comment on raising up the temple, by which he meant his

death and resurrection (2:21).43 This retort, "Destroy this temple and

in three days I will raise it up," became the grounds of accusation at

his trial (although garbled by mistaken witnesses [Matt 26:60-61;

Mark 14:57-59]) and also mockery at his crucifixion (Matt 27:30, 40;

Mark 15:29).44

            Typical of John's manner, he exploits the Jews' gross misunder-

standing of Jesus' words and resolves their bewilderment by explain-

ing Jesus' deeper meaning.45 For John, Jesus' statement is a reference

to his own "body"; the Resurrected Christ is the "temple".46 It was

only after the resurrection that the disciples could so interpret Jesus'

words (2:22). In contrast to the unbelieving "Jews," the combination

of the prophecy of Psalm 69, Jesus' reply, and the reality of his

resurrection convinced them that he was the Christ. 47

            John's Gospel and its plot. In the four Gospels, the main scheme

is the same: the action, the justification of Jesus' own words, the

question of authority implied or discussed, and the context of a

Passover setting. These features and various details in vocabulary that

John shares with the Synoptics have strongly suggested that one event

is in view. 48 However, there are sufficient differences to cause some to

opt for two Cleansings.49


            43 Elsewhere, we know that "three days" is a sign of Jesus' resurrection (Matt

12:38-40; Luke 11:29-30). G. R. Beasley-Murray (John [Waco: Word, 1987] 40-41)

compares Jesus' answer to a masal ("riddle") that is also parabolic. For "three days" as

a sign, see Dodd, Fourth Gospel, 302; contra this interpretation, see R. Bultmann, The

Gospel of John (tr. G. R. Beasley-Murray et al.; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971)

126 n. I.

            44 The saying also was used at Stephen's trial (Acts 6:14).

            45 R. A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. A Study in Literary Design

(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 155. D. A. Carson ("Understanding Misunderstandings in

the Fourth Gospel," TynBul 83 [1982] 80, 90) observes that the Jews did not so much

misunderstand as they did not understand. This was true of the disciples who did not

understand until after the resurrection.

            46 Cf. Matt 21:6, "But I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the


            47 See B. Lindars, The Gospel of John (NCB; London: Marshall, Morgan and

Scott, 1972) 144.

            48 So Haenchen, John, 186. Brown (John, 1.118) posits that Jesus' early visit gave a

prophetic warning and the actual intervention occurred at the last Passover. If Brown is

correct, we must conclude that John has telescoped the two visits for theological


            49 For a defense of this position, see L. Morris, The Gospel According to John

(NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971) 100-92, and D. A. Carson, "Matthew," The

Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) 441.

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     119


            John introduces events in chaps 1 and 2 by specific chronological

notices: "the next day" (1:35), "the day following" (1:43) and the

"third day" (2:1), but this tight chronology is abandoned with the

introduction of the temple scene (2:13). Since John gives priority to

thematic development over chronology in the writing of the "Book of

Signs," it has been argued that John places the Temple Cleansing

after the Cana miracle to advance his thesis.50 Of course, the same

literary effect occurs if in fact there were two events. It is the sub-

stance of his thesis that concerns us here.

            John's Gospel is intent on contrasting the Jews, who represent

those in disbelief, with the disciples who had accepted the Risen

Christ. This contrast is shown by the conflict the Jews had with Jesus

throughout his ministry. Jerusalem provides the ideal setting where

this conflict can be seen at its clearest; by Jesus' early presence in the

temple, the narrative can establish the plot of conflict at the begin-

ning.51 Also, the temple incident continues the idea of succession

established in John 1 where John the Baptist's disciples switch allegi-

ance to Jesus and where Jesus provides new wine at Cana's wedding

feast. This idea of the old order supplanted by the new reappears in

the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman where we learn that

the place of worship is no longer relevant (4:23-24).


Reform or Destruction

            However, the Synoptics, particularly when compared to John,

portray Jesus as an outraged reformer who, like the OT prophets, did

not object to the temple as an institution and did not reject it outright.

He showed a concern for the detail of ritual purity (Mark 11:16), and

even in John's account, he is said to have a "zeal" (2:17) for the temple

which can be taken as a positive sign toward the cult.52 It is concluded

by some that Jesus' displeasure was not against sacrifice but against

those who profaned the sanctity of the site where the animals were

sold.53 B. Lindars has suggested that Jesus attacked the presuppositions


            50 Morris (Ibid., 189-00) states that if one event is adopted, then a theological/

literary reason is the proper explanation (as opposed to charging John with a disregard

of the facts [see P. 189 n. 47]).

            51 Culpepper (Anatomy, 90, 97) discusses this relationship between the event and

the Gospel's plot. Cf. also F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1983) 77; Dodd, Fourth Gospel, 300. Haenchen (John, 182) points out that the Passover

settings in John are occasions for Jesus to speak about himself. As a result, the Temple

Cleansing occurs at the first Passover in John since Jesus' protest against the Jews' kind

of worship could not wait until the end.

            52 Beasley-Murray, John, 39.

            53 Morris (John, 195) is representative of this position.

120                               CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW


upon which the purification laws were founded, but did not reject the

institution of sacrifice; he argues that this distinction is consistent with

Jesus' attitude toward purity rites (cf. Mark 7:1-23).54

            John, as we have seen, interprets Jesus' action as calling for a

disjuncture between the old and new orders of worship. John's Gospel

comes to this conclusion based on the explicit warning by Jesus,

"Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (v 19).55

Because the Jews were so tied to the old order of thinking, they

mistakenly took Jesus' reference to the temple as the physical structure

and therefore missed the whole point of his action and explanation.

This interaction highlights the antipathy between Jesus' conception of

worship and that of the Jewish authorities. The eventual abolition of

the temple is the only fair conclusion the reader can draw from John's

spiritual interpretation.56

            Since the Gospels present two interpretations of the temple inci-

dent, it is not surprising that commentators integrate both. At one

place L. Morris can speak of Jesus not condemning the whole sacri-

ficial system, but only the chosen location of the market, and at

another place in his commentary he concludes that the deeper mean-

ing of Jesus' words (2:19) has to do with the "ultimate abolition of the

temple and of the temple sacrifices."57 R. J. McKelvey can insist that

Jesus broke from the old order, but mitigates this when he says that

Jesus did not object to the temple per se but only the "institution

symbolized by the temple."58

            The reason for this two-fold depiction is that the temple incident

functions at two levels in the Gospels. First, the Temple Cleansing, as

told by the Synoptics, is the Messiah coming to his temple to inaugu-

rate the eschatological kingdom. In this ideological context, Jesus'

action is a messianic claim. Certainly, the authorities understood Jesus'


            54 Lindars, John, 137.

            55 The imperative is taken as conditional: "if this temple is destroyed. . ." (Robert-

son, 948; BDF 387, n. 2; cf. also Dodd, Fourth Gospel, 302 n. 1). The succession of

"temples" is made possible because of the Jews themselves who by destroying the

body of Jesus doomed the temple they had sought to defend (P. D. Duke, Irony in the

Fourth Gospel [Atlanta: Knox, 1985] 87). Therefore, in John the responsibility of

destruction is placed upon the Jews, but in the Synoptic accounts Jesus is responsible

for the threat of temple destruction. Mark 14:58: "I will destroy this temple that is made

with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands." Matthew's

account admits only to the possibility: "I am able to destroy. . ." (26:61).

            56 Cf. Haenchen, John, 187-89.

            57 Morris, John, 203; cf. also p. 195. This can be explained as the result of the

biblical context where his disparate statements are found. In the first case, Morris is

commenting on the Synoptic passages and in the latter statement he is commenting

on John.

            58 McKelvey, Temple, 71; cf. also p. 67.

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     121


actions this way, because they challenged his authority as a result of

this messianic claim. The parallel recorded in the Fourth Gospel

(2:13-17) is consistent with this Synoptic depiction of Jesus as a

messianic rebuilder. Jesus' warning of destruction in v 19, when inter-

preted in this light, completes the messianic role anticipated by the

Jews. The messianic age included the building of a new, heavenly

temple lowered to the earth by God.

            At the second level, however, the appended commentary by

John (vv 18-22) gives the temple incident a post-resurrection interpre-

tation which takes the action and saying of Jesus as a prophecy of his

death and resurrection. As the new temple his "body" has become the

only meeting place with God; this is clearly a Christian understanding

of the nature of mediation (Heb 10:10). Thus, in a post-resurrection

context, Jesus' action takes on a different shape.

            We should not take this to mean that the Gospels are in conflict.59

The Cleansing in John only states explicitly what the Synoptics have

implied in their telling of the event. As we noted of Mark, the cursing

of the fig tree casts the shadow of rejection on the temple scene;

Matthew accomplishes the same result by placing the curse of the fig

tree after Jesus' first day in the temple (Matt 21:18-20). Luke chooses

the parable of the wicked husbandman to condemn temple authorities


            When we read the Cleansing accounts with these two aspects in

mind, there is no inconsistency between Jesus as Messiah of the new

kingdom and Jesus as the Resurrected Lord of the new order of

worship. One leads to the other.


Eschatological Temple

            Jewish Expectations. The evidence from Jewish apocryphal and

pseudepigraphal writings of the Hasmonean period and the later

rabbinic works show the Jewish expectation of a new temple which is

made by God and brought to the earth. Attendant to this is the belief

that at the coming of the messianic figure he would establish the

eschatological temple, secure the city, and draw all nations to worship

at Jerusalem.61 These expectations have their inception in the OT

vision of the eschaton, yet, as we saw earlier, it was disappointment in


            59 Brown (John, 1.122) argues a two-fold meaning in John on the basis of his

literary studies; he observes that the purification scene (vv 13-17) may have been

independent from the rebuilding (vv 18-22). He admits that the sources are in any case

consistent since the purification is the first step toward the messianic rebuilding.

            60 Luke's account is so terse that it is not clear how Luke interpreted the temple

incident (I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978] 721).

            61 McKelvey, Temple, 25-41.



the temple during the Hasmonean era that fueled this recurring theme

of a new temple among the Hasidim.

            The sectarians at Qumran shared with these Jerusalem pietists

both their outrage at the temple and their expectation of an idealized

sanctuary. From the Essene writings 4QFlorilegium and the Temple

Scroll we know they anticipated a future temple. This temple may be

the same one described in an Aramaic manuscript (5Q15) coming

from the Herodian period. It describes the city of the New Jerusalem

which possesses a temple based on Ezekiel's design.62

            It is apparent that both the Hasidim and the sectarians saw a final

solution to their problems in such an apocalyptic sanctuary. The

difference lies in the Essenes' more critical attitude toward the present

temple and their insistence that only they as the "true Israel" could

receive it. Thus, through rites of purification and an ascetic life the

covenanters prepared themselves for its coming.

            Jesus and the Eschatological Temple. The temple incident

showed that Jesus was sympathetic to the concerns of these pietists.

Before the First Jewish War (67 A.D.), another Jesus (ben Ananias)

pronounced woes of doom upon Jerusalem's temple, and so great was

the stirring that city officials attempted to silence him (J. W. 6.5.3).

This reflects the atmosphere of impending calamity felt during the

time of the Lord, so he seized the temple setting as an occasion to

declare that the awaited period of restoration had arrived.

            Jesus laid claim to the role of messianic Lord over the sanctuary

by exposing the present failure of temple authorities and by demon-

strating his control over temple proceedings. First, he exposed the

present faults of the temple in three ways. (1) He pointed out an

example of ritual uncleanness at the temple which showed Jesus'

displeasure at the compromise of the sacred grounds (Mark 11:16).

We cannot know if Jesus' action is exactly paralleled by the concerns

of the later rabbis who objected to using the grounds for purposes

other than worship (m. Ber 9.5). At least we can conclude that Jesus

sees the ritual sanctity of the place somehow jeopardized by the

presence of profane vessels. Since the Essenes were known for their

strict standards of Purification, no doubt they would have happily

greeted Jesus' reform.

            (2) Jesus' composite quotation in the Synoptics revealed the Jews'

misuse of the temple sanctuary. In the imagery of the prophets, Jesus

challenged those who had changed the purpose of the temple.63


            62 For the text, see M. BaiIlet, J. T. Milik, and R. deVaux, Les 'Petites Grottes' de

Qumran (DJD 3; Oxford: Clarendon, 1962) 184-93.

            63 Haenchen (John, 186-89) concludes that the original Jeremiah and Isaiah con-

texts were not appropriate for the temple situation. This is an example, he contends, of


            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     123


Rather than a house of prayer, it had become a ritual haven for the

wicked; as in Jeremiah's day, Jesus charged those in the temple with

substituting ritual piety for righteous obedience.

            The Gospels are not explicit as to why Jesus disrupted the temple's

market. It has been assumed that he was angry at the commercializa-

tion because of wide-spread graft, but this is hard to demonstrate. On

the contrary, N. Q. Hamilton has shown that the temple treasury

under the high-priestly aristocracy was utilized for beneficent pur-

poses.64 Money-changers as well as the selling of animals met the

needs of worshippers, and the absence of money-changers in fact

would have jeopardized the sanctity of the temple since they were

necessary to exchange Roman coin for the biblical shekel (cf. Exod

30:13-16). Although the priestly house of Ananias prospered,65 there is

reason to believe that Caiaphas' strict controls over the bazaar would

not have left him open to the charges of robbery. The Roman pro-

curators oversaw the temple treasury,66 and it seems improbable that

unrestrained avarice could have gone unchecked.

            Jesus is not scoffing at the merchandizing but at the promotion of

ritual for its own sake. It may be that Jesus was drawing from a

common catalogue of accusations; from Jewish writings and the sec-

tarian CD there is listed a three-fold criticism of lust, wealth, and

defilement. It was the specific image of plunder that Jesus used to

issue a general attack against what the temple had come to mean to

the people and authorities who were satisfied with rite and not

righteousness. In this way Jer 1:11 was perfect for Jesus' point, because

it also provided him this image of robbery.67

            (3) To show Jerusalem's failure, Jesus appealed to the apocalyp-

ticism of Isaiah's new temple which Mark tell.s us is "for all the


the Christian community not paying attention to the OT context and choosing passages

here and there to suit their situations. Haenchen under-estimates the appropriateness of

Jesus' quotation. It is true that the Isaiah passage does not specifically condemn sacrifice

but the passage establishes the eschatological setting Jesus desired; it is against this

idealized vision that the present temple can be seen to fall short. The Jeremiah passage

is used to charge his audience with the same sins as the prophet's era when the temple

had become the people's false hope for survival.

            64 N. Q. Hamilton, "Temple Cleansing and Temple Bank," JBL 83 (1964) 368. It

seems unlikely that if such social causes were supported by the treasury that they

would warrant so strong a condemnation as "den of robbers."

            65 Josephus calls him the "great procurer of money" (Ant. 20.205); Jeremias

(Jerusalem, 49) concludes that the high-priestly family was characterized by "avarice."

            66 The Roman procurators were greedy and more concerned about their tax

revenue and share of the profits, and therefore would have watched for Temple

deception. See Hamilton, "Temple Cleansing," 369-70.

            67 C. Roth ("The Cleansing of the Temple and Zechariah XIV 21," NovT [1960],

176-77) answers the problem of the Jeremiah quotation by defining laston as "rebels";

thus, the "den of rebels" is Jesus' rebuke against those who advocated nationalism.



nations." The temple's market although expediting ritual had actually

thwarted the higher purpose of the temple. The mishnah tells of four

markets on the Mt. of Olives which served the needs of worshippers

but also during the time of Caiaphas trade was established in the

temple courts.68 This trade in the Gentile Court would have reflected

the exclusivism the priests promoted in Jesus' day; as long as such

trade flourished, the Gentiles no longer had room in the temple. The

convenience of sacrifice had meant the loss of religion.

            Second, in addition to pointing out Jerusalem's failure, the Temple

Cleansing was a demonstration of Jesus' messianic rule. In expressing

his authority by deed and saying, Jesus declared the inauguration of

the eschatological age. The reaction of the priests and scribes show

that they understood Jesus' action as a direct challenge to their posi-

tion. He demonstrated his rule in three ways. (1) Jesus showed his

dominion over the laws of sanctification when he prevented the trans-

port of vessels through temple grounds (Mark 11:16). This must be

construed as an usurpation of priestly privilege. Also, this verse contri-

butes to the OT picture of the messianic age painted by the activities

of Jesus in the Gospels. The prophets required a purging of the

sanctuary to prepare for the eschatological blessing;69 this gesture by

Jesus would have met that expectation.70 (2) By driving out the

animals, Jesus was countermanding the current policies of the high-

priestly office. If V. Eppstein's proposal is correct that Caiaphas had

only recently established the bazaar, Jesus' action could have been

understood by the house of Ananias as an attack on the high priest-

hood; this would explain the urgency that the priests felt to rid

themselves of Jesus. (3) The allusion to Zechariah, "you shall not

make my Father's house a house of trade," drew attention to his


Barrett ("House of Prayer," 16) agrees that the temple had become a stronghold for

nationalism and that this was Jesus' criticism of the people. The difficulty with this

interpretation is two-fold: (1) laston commonly means robbery and (2) the idea of

exclusivism is at best only secondary to the Jeremiah context (cf. Marshall, Luke, 720).

            68 Jeremias, Jerusalem, 48-48. V. Eppstein ("The Historicity of the Gospel Account

of the Cleansing of the Temple," ZNW 55 [1964] 42-58) proposes that vendors were

installed by Caiaphas only at A.D. 30 after he had expelled the Sanhedrin for the temple;

because they set up commerce at the Mt. of Olives, Caiaphas responded for punitive

reasons to compete by establishing the temple bazaar.

            69 Hiers, "Purification of the Temple," 89.

            70 This interpretation has been taken further by C. Roth, '"The Cleansing of the

Temple," 177. Jesus alluded to Zech 14:21b, but the first half of the same verse says in

the last days all domestic utensils shall be declared holy and therefore appropriated for

use in sacred meals. Thus, Jesus' action was an appropriation of those vessels that

entered the sacred grounds and thereby he effectively called for the new age. This

interpretation is doubtful since we wonder why this portion of the verse was not also

quoted (cf. Barrett, "House of Prayer," 20).

            Mathews: JOHN, JESUS AND THE ESSENES     125


messianic position.71 The original eschatological context of the proph-

ecy and Jesus' use of "My Father's house" rather than the common

OT expression "house of God" reinforced the claims of Jesus. The

expulsion of the beasts and the absence of any trader were signs of

the eschatological order; the idealized temple had no sacrificial system

and thus no need for commercial exchange.


Jesus as the New Temple

            We have seen that Jesus inaugurated the eschatological temple,

but we have not yet answered the question of the nature of that new

temple. As we have already implied, the expulsion of the beasts

symbolized the new order of worship whose temple will have no

sacrificial rite. If we do not understand the expulsion as a symbolic

act, we have no reason for it since the animals were necessary and

were not in themselves an abuse of the temple's sanctity. Their re-

moval was meant to symbolize the end of mediation toward God by

sacrifice; the Mosaic system was not condemned but rather it was

displaced as a result of its being superseded by the presence of Jesus.

            The eschatological temple, then, was reinterpreted by Jesus meta-

phorically (John 2:21). As R. Bultmann observes, the old eschatology

of the idealized temple had been given new meaning.72 Jesus linked

the destruction of the present temple with his own resurrection (2:19);

the word "raise" (egeiron) often refers to the resurrection in John.73

From a post-resurrection perspective, John brings out the fuller impli-

cations of Jesus' words; the death and resurrection of Jesus' body is

the means by which the old has been replaced by the new.74 This new

mediation is the ultimate resolution Jesus had for temple abuses.

            The Covenant Community continued to use the temple cult with

reservations due to ritual differences required by the covenanters, but

they awaited a replacement temple to satisfy their final purification

requirements. The temple they conceived of was a physical entity

whose sacrificial system met the specific rites of purification and

calendaric table they believed God had revealed to them. Both the

Hasidim and the sectarians desired a temple made by God and


            71 Zechariah was an abundant source for the Gospels as they constructed the

prophecy's depiction of the coming messianic king (e.g., cf. Triumphal Entry and Zech

9:9). See Roth, "Cleansing of the Temple," 174-75.

            72 R. Bultmann, John, 128.

            73 Cf. John 5:21; 12:1, 9, 17; 21:4 (but see 5:8; 7:52; 11:29 et aI.). C. H. Dodd

(Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel [Cambridge: University Press, 1963] 90 n. 2)

shows egeiron is used for erecting a building, but egeiron is contrasted here with

oikodomeo (v 20). Contrast also Mark 14:58 and Matt 26:61 where the witnesses use


            74 The theme of replacement is typical Johannine theology (Brown, John, CXLIII).



established by the Messiah where they might worship God in holiness.

The new temple, in other words, was an extension of the old. It

simply met a higher standard of ritual purity because of God's


            Jesus and the early church (Acts 2:46) also continued their rela-

tionship with the Jerusalem sanctuary as an indication of continuity

between Israel and the Church, but their hopes were not in the old

system as represented in the Second Temple. The old was abrogated

and the declaration of John is that mediation is achieved now through

Jesus' death and resurrection. The essential difference between the

Jewish apocalyptists and Jesus was their conception of worship as

evidenced by different expectations of the new temple: he is the new

temple "made without hands."75 Only this new spiritual vehicle could

provide the ultimate spiritual meeting ground for God and his people.

The question of reform for an impure Jerusalem or an adulterated

Gerizim was made moot by the coming of Jesus.76 The "worship of

God in spirit" was now possible because of the Resurrected Lord

(John 4:23-24).

            There is no indication of this thought in the Jewish literature of

the day. Jesus' actions were not seeking reforms in the same sense the

sectarians would have wanted. By his coming the kind of reforms

the OT prophets had called for were not necessary. No longer could

the mire of human sin jeopardize the sanctity of God's meeting place

with redeemed Israel.


            75 Mark 14:58 distinguishes between the literal Second Temple and the spiritual

temple: "this temple made with hands" versus "another [temple] made without hands."

John reads "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it (auton == "same") up";

in other words, Jesus could be understood to have had the physical temple in mind.

The appended commentary in John, however, makes it clear that the Evangelist

interpreted it as spiritual. Matthew's testimony (26:61) is uncertain as a result of textual

problems (Dodd, Tradition, 00).

            76 See Dodd (Fourth Gospel, 314) who indicates that the main point of John 4 is

that the old form of worship was flesh and Jesus has introduced worship in spirit.




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