So, briefly, the previous post took up the question of what are we to make of Jesus’s temple tantrum being the reason for his arrest in Mark, while in John the arrest is because of Jesus’s raising of Lazarus? Cleary, if Jesus was threatening the temple, this would be a reason for the Romans to step in. But the story itself is absurd. There would have been guards there to prevent such a disturbance. Price comments that:
33. Cleansing the Temple (Mark 11:15-18)
- Jesus’ overthrow of the Temple service (not only does he scatter the livestock for offerings but somehow bans anyone carrying sacrificial vessels) is historically impossible as it reads here. The envisioned area is huge, and for Jesus to commandeer it like this would have required a military raid, something of which Mark’s text seems oblivious. Though it is not unlikely that the story preserves some faded memory of the entry of Simon bar-Gioras into the Temple to clean out the robbers of John of Giscala on the eve of the Temple’s destruction, the story may simply conflate various scripture passages, which it seems to do in any case. The “cleansing” must have in view that of Malachi’s messenger of the covenant who will purify the sons of Levi (3:1-3, as hinted by Mark 1:2 and 9:3), as well as the oracle of Zechariah 14:21b, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” The saying of Jesus on that occasion is merely a conflation of Isaiah 56:7 (“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”) and Jeremiah 7:11 (“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”). The priests and scribes react to this disturbance by plotting to destroy Jesus, just as the priests, prophets, and people lay hold of Jeremiah and cry out, “You shall die!” when he likewise predicts the destruction of the city and the Temple (26:8) (Miller, p. 274).
Mark thus gives the reader a wink that something else may be going on. Now, given the temple narrative elements, it seems that Mark was written post 70CE when the temple was destroyed. This is significant. The Jews viewed their societal problems not as foreign gods conquering their God, but their God punishing them through foreigners. So, when the Babylonians destroyed the temple, the idea was that the Jewish God was punishing the Jews through the Babylonians, not that the Babylonian gods were superior. This is a perfect fit for Mark. It’s pure apologetics. The destruction of the temple by the Romans was being apologetically rationalized as God passing judgment on the temple because of it’s corruptness. So, the famous story of Jesus overturning the tables at the temple never happened, but with Jesus as God’s son or stand-in we see what the story is figuratively doing there in Mark. The historical absurdity of the temple tantrum story points to a higher figurative meaning.
So what really happened? The Gospel of John says Jesus was getting too popular (really so after raising Lazarus) as a wonder worker and stealing away followers from the establishment, so in that way he signed his own death warrant. Makes sense!