working together for the future of faith
The traditional material dealing with Jesus' words about the temple's fate is particularly complex. That, in itself, may be an indicator of the sensitivity of the core question for Jesus' earliest followers and especially so after the Jewish War of 66/73CE ended with the temple in ruins.
There seem to be four intertwined traditions that have an explicit reference to the fate of the temple:
The sources can be listed as follows:
(1) Thom 71
(2a) Mark 13:1-2 = Matt 24:1-2 = Luke 21:5-6*
(2b) Luke 19:41-44*
(2c) Mark 14:55-59 = Matt 26:59-61
(2d) Mark 15:29-32a = Matt 27:39-43= (!)Luke 23:35-37
(2e) Acts 6:11-14
(2f) Mark 11:15-17 = Matt 21:12-13 = Luke 19:45-46
(2g) Luke 13:34-35*
(2h) Mark 13:14a = Matt 24.15a = Luke 21:20*
(3a) John 2:13-17*
(3b) John 2:18-22
* These texts are not in Crossan's inventory of early Jesus traditions, but they are included in his Sayings Parallels: 191. Jerusalem Indicted; 449. Temple's Symbolic Destruction; 456. Temple's Actual Destruction; 457. Jerusalem Destroyed; 466. Temple and Jesus. (Note: The item numbers in that collection do not match with numbers used in his later inventory that forms the basis of this database.)
(1) Thom 71
/71/ Jesus said, "I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it [. . .]." [Complete Gospels]
(2) Synoptic Gospels
(2a) Not One Stone: Mark 13:1-2 = Matt 24:1-2 = Luke 21:5-6
/13:1/ As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" /2/ Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
= Matt 24:1-2
/24:1/ As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. /2/ Then he asked them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
= Luke 21:5-6
/21:5/ When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, /6/ "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
(2b) Jesus weeps over Jerusalem's fate: Luke 19:41-44 [see 477 Jerusalem Destroyed]
/19:41/ As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, /42/ saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. /43/ Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. /44/ They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God."
(2c) Trial of Jesus: Mark 14:55-59 = Matt 26:59-61
/14:55/ Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. /56/ For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. /57/ Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, /58/ "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'" /59/ But even on this point their testimony did not agree.
= Matt 26:59-61
/26:59/ Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, /60/ but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward /61/ and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'"
(2d) On the Cross: Mark 15:29-32a = Matt 27:39-43= (!)Luke 23:35-37
/15:29/ Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, /30/ save yourself, and come down from the cross!" /31/ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. /32/ Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe."
= Matt 27:39-43
/27:39/ Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads /40/ and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." /41/ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, /42/ "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. /43/ He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, 'I am God's Son.'"
= (!)Luke 23:35-37
/23:35/ And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" /36/ The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, /37/ and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"
(2e) Trial of Stephen: Acts 6:11-14
/6:11/ Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” /12/ They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly brought him before the council. /13/ They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; /14/ for we have heard him say that Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”
(2f) Temple Incident: Mark 11:15-17 = Matt 21:12-13 = Luke 19:45-46
/11:15/ Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; /16/ and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. /17/ He was teaching and saying, "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."
= Matt 21:12-13
/21:12/ Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. /13/ He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a den of robbers."
= Luke 19:45-46
/19:45/ Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; /46/ and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers."
(2g) Lament over Jerusalem: Luke 13:34-35
/13.35/ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! /35/ See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
(2h) The Desolating Sacrilege: Mark 13:14 = Matt 24.15a = Luke 21:20
But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains ...
= Matt 24:15-16
So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), /16/ then those in Judea must flee to the mountains ...
= Luke 21:20-21
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. /21/ Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains ...
(3) Gospel of John
(3a) Temple Incident: John 2:13-17
/2:13/ The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. /14/ In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. /15/ Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. /16/ He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" /17/ His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
(3b) Conflict over Temple: John 2:18-22
/2:18/ The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you 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, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" /21/ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. /22/ After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
RCL: Lent 3, Year B
ECUSA & RC: Lent 3, Year B
Four years before the war [62 CE], when the city was at peace and enjoying the greatest prosperity, an uneducated peasant, one Jesus ben Hananiah came to the feast when all the people make booths for God [i.e., Sukkoth]. /301/ Suddenly he began to cry out through the temple:
"A voice from the East, a voice from the West,
a voice from the four winds:
a voice against Jerusalem and the temple,
a voice against the bridegroom and the bride
a voice against all the people!"
Crying this day and night he went through all the streets.
/302/ But some of the prominent citizens, upset by this evil announcement, arrested the man and tortured him with many blows. But without a sound concerning himself or for the persons of his persecutors, he kept on crying the "voices" as before.
/303/ So thinking that the man was moved by some greater force, as indeed he was, the rulers brought him up before the Roman governor. /304/ Although he was there flayed to the bone by scourges, he neither begged nor wailed. But bending his "voices" to greater laments, he responded to each blow: "Woe to Jerusalem!" /305/ When Albinus,...who was then governor, asked him who he was and where he was from and why he uttered these things, he did not respond at all to these questions. But he would not stop repeating his lament for the city, until Albinus judged him a madman and released him.
[SOURCE: Mahlon Smith, Into His Own.]
Marcus J. Borg
Borg devotes chapter 7 of his Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus to a discussion of Jesus and the Temple, with an extended treatment of the texts found in this cluster.
He begins with a brief study of Temple ideology in the Second Temple period, citing the interesting parallel from Paul in 1 Cor 3:16-17 which retains that traditional ideology even when reinterpreting "temple" as reference to the physical body of the Christian:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? /17/ If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Like Crossan (see below), Borg understands the "disruption in the Temple" as a prophetic or symbolic act (p. 182) that would never have been without some prophetic pronouncement to clarify its significance (p. 184).
Borg then directs his attention to the prophetic saying as attested by the complex set of sayings relating to the fate of Jerusalem and its Temple that are placed on the lips of Jesus in our sources. He identifies 8 texts as example of "words against the Temple" and works his way through them carefully. Four of these sayings (Mark 14:58; 15:29-30; John 2:19; Acts 6:14) speak of Jesus as the agent of the Temple's destruction and promise its replacement. They are also typically attributed to the enemies of Jesus. Another set of 4 sayings (Mark 13:2; Luke 19:42-44; 21:20-24; 13:34-35) are more likely to have originated from the prophetic oracle of Jesus that must have accompanied his symbolic act in the Temple. Borg also associates the enigmatic "desolating sacrilege" saying with this group.
... if Jesus did not prophesy about Jerusalem, then who was the insightful prophet in that generation [after him] who was responsible for both this concern and this use of the Hebrew Bible? Of course, the rhetorical question does not imply that the oracles contain the ipsissima verba Jesus, but it does imply that they reflect the ipsissima vox Jesus. Quite probably the Jesus movement and perhaps the evangelist reworked the language of the threats, but without an initial impulse from Jesus, it is difficult to account for their presence in the primitive tradition. (p. 203)
Then Borg draws upon the sayings of Jesus that speak of a threat of war coming on the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Luke 13:1-5; 23:27-31; 17:31 (= Mark 13:14b-16); Matt 26:52b.
Unlike Crossan, Borg observes that Jesus' prediction of the Temple's destruction was not because Jesus opposed the Temple:
... the destruction was not threatened because of an in-principled objection to Temple worship ... Indeed, about the role of the Temple in Jewish worship (including sacrifice), Jesus did not say much. There is only the vague notion of "another Temple" coming from the mouths of accusers and mockers. Though the early Christian movement rapidly spiritualized the understanding of the Temple ... there is little evidence for this in the synoptics. They never report that Jesus opposed the Temple on the grounds that it was obsolete, or that he objected to sacrifice in principle. Indeed, about the Temple as cult there is silence. (p. 211)
John Dominic Crossan
Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
Crossan [Historical Jesus, 354-60] begins by noting the work of Jonathan Z. Smith ("The Temple and the Magician," 1977) who established that a deep tension between traditional sacred places and the emerging role of the sacred person was typical of hellenistic societies in the last two centuries before the Common Era. Crossan goes on to outline the structural conflict between Jesus and the Temple as follows:
Not only John the Baptist but, even more, Jesus, fit within that wider and profounder antinomy. John offered an alternative to the Temple but from another fixed location, from desert and Jordan rather than from Zion and Jerusalem. Jesus was, as we have seen, atopic, moving from place to place, he coming to the people rather than they to him. This is an even more radical challenge to the localized univocity of Jerusalem's Temple, and its itinerancy mirrored and symbolized the egalitarian challenge of its protagonist. No matter, therefore, what Jesus thought, said, or did about the Temple, he was its functional opponent, alternative, and substitute; his relationship with it does not depend, at its deepest level, on this or that saying, this or that action. (p. 355)
In seeking to unravel the complexities represented in this cluster of sayings, Crossan notes the "intensive damage control" to be observed in Mark 13, 14 and 15. Mark is at pains to argue that Jesus did not threaten to destroy the Temple himself; only his enemies make that assertion in Mark's Gospel while Jesus (in ch 13) pointedly schedules the destruction of Jerusalem some time prior to the parousia of the Son of Adam. Still, as Crossan observes, that Markan spin only seeks to underline the fact that in certain Christian circles prior to and contemporary with Mark, there had been a belief that Jesus had said or done something to threaten destruction of the Temple and also that the destruction of the Temple was understood to be associated with the parousia.
Behind the confused set of sayings about the fate of the Temple there lies the incident in which Jesus is described as taking some action to disrupt the functioning of the Temple. We seem to have two independent versions of this tradition: Mark (with Matt and Luke parallels) and John (where it occurs near the start of Jesus' ministry). Mark's version makes it clear that this event was a prophetic condemnation of the Temple, as the events in the Temple are bracketed by the story of Jesus cursing a useless fig tree and then returning to find it withered and dead.
Crossan proposes that there was some historical action by Jesus that symbolically destroyed to Temple (at least to the extent of some disruption to its functioning), and that this action was accompanied by a prophetic saying by Jesus in which he foretold the complete and utter destruction of the site.
Subsequently, according to Crossan, the story of the action in the Temple developed with various biblical texts being drawn into service to explain and justify Jesus' actions. Meanwhile the saying came to reinterpreted as either a reference to the resurrection or to the parousia.
Fredriksen [Jesus of Nazareth, 207-14] discusses the so-called Cleansing of the Temple; a label she rejects but still uses as a sub-heading in her text. She works from a concern to counter any historical method that opposes Jesus to his contemporaries over issues of ritual observance. Drawing on Josephus' description of the Jews' universal piety and reverence for the Temple's rites, Fredriksen asks "how then do we fit this report of Jesus' action into the solid evidence we have that Jews everywhere overwhelmingly supported the Temple service?" (p. 209)
In addition to other gospel accounts of Jesus' attitude to the Temple, Fredriksen cites the widespread apocalyptic "expectation that, in the new age, in God's kingdom, God would splendidly renew the current Temple or establish a new and more glorious one." (p. 210) She then concludes that Jesus' action in the Temple had a symbolic meaning:
By overturning the tables, Jesus was symbolically enacting an apocalyptic prophecy: The current Temple was soon to be destroyed (understood: not by Jesus, nor by invading armies; but by God), to cede place to the eschatological Temple (understood: not built by the hand of man) at the close of the age. (p. 210)
Color Temple's Destruction Mark 13:2 99 K 89Son 31 23 12 35 0.50 Gray Matt 24:2 99 K 89Son 21 29 14 36 0.45 Gray Luke 21:6 99 K 89Son 18 25 21 36 0.42 Gray Luke 19:44b 99 L 89Son 4 22 33 41 0.30 Gray Luke 19:42-44 99 K 90Cin 4 25 29 42 0.31 Gray Temple and Jesus Thom 71 204 K, T, J 87Sal 8 8 12 72 0.17 Black Thom 71 204 K, T, J 90Son 4 8 24 64 0.17 Black Mark 14:55-61a 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 24 32 44 0.27 Gray Matt 26:59-63a 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 12 20 68 0.15 Black Mark 15:27-30 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 16 32 52 0.21 Black Matt 27:38-44 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 8 16 76 0.11 Black John 2:13-22 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 8 16 76 0.11 Black Acts 6:8-14 204 K, T, J 87Sal 0 4 16 80 0.08 Black Temple's Symbolic Destruction (Temple incident) Mark 11:17 208 K, T, J 89Mk 6 22 17 56 0.26 Gray Matt 21:13 208 K, T, J 89Mk 6 22 17 56 0.26 Gray Luke 19:46 208 K, T, J 89Mk 6 22 17 56 0.26 Gray John 2:19 208 K, T, J 91Cin 0 8 16 76 0.11 Black Temple as Market John 2:16b 209 K, J 89Mk 6 22 17 56 0.26 Gray John 2:16c 209 J 91Son 0 8 16 76 0.11 Black
While "a substantial majority of the Fellows agreed that Jesus spoke some word against the temple" [The Five Gospels, 108], the weighted average reduced the outcome to Gray. Note the summary in Acts of Jesus (p. 121):
The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar approved on three different occasions over a ten-year period the statement that Jesus performed some anti-temple act and spoke some word against the temple. More than a hundred scholars participated in these affirmations. In spite of the confidence that some historical event underlies the report of Mark, the Fellows have had serious difficulty in pinpointing what Jesus actually did.
Luedemann [Jesus, 77f & 87f] considers Mark 13 to be a Christian reworking of an earlier Jewish apocalypse created during the crisis of over Claudius' plans to erect a statue of himself in the Temple. However, he regards the saying in 13:2 as coming from traditional sources before it was used here by Mark. He also accepts the historicity of some incident in the Temple as the basis for the accusation that Jesus had threatened/announced its destruction.
Muslim Jesus Traditions
Tarif Khalidi [The Muslim Jesus, p. 91] provides the following:
/71/ The disciples said, "Christ of God, look at the house of God—how beautiful it is!" He replied, "Amen, Amen, Truly I say to you, God will not leave one stone of this mosque upon another but will destroy it utterly because of the sins of its people. God does nothing with gold, silver, or these stones. More dear to God than all these are the pure in heart. Through them, God builds up the earth, or else destroys it if these hearts are other than pure. [mid-ninth century CE]
This poem originated as a contribution to the HODOS online community by Gene Stecher. It is published with Gene's consent but he explicitly retains full rights as the creative author. You welcome to use it for personal study and worship, but it should not be published in any other form without the author's prior consent. Index to Gene Stecher's poems
I WILL DESTROY THIS HOUSE????
What if two become one,
two make peace within it,
the moving of mountains,
the Adam's child miracle,
the Israeli-Palestinian merger?
DESOLATION LOOMS OVER THE
the widow gives everything,
but NOT ONE STONE
LEFT UPON ANOTHER.
(A reflective HJ)
He did it!
He said it!
We can't aquit!
(An abandoned HJ)
I'LL TAKE MOUNTAIN MOVING
over house destroying any day.
A plea for JS reds and pinks
to provide the needed fix
for Thom 48 (and 106?).