There is much "hype" of Jesus cleansing the temple. The unknown New Testament (NT) authors portrayed this as an important event in Jesus' life. This tale has even been included in books and movies. All four gospels write an astonishing tale about Jesus while in Jerusalem going to the temple and angrily cleaning out the moneychangers and merchants from the Temple. According to Matthew 21:12 (KJV),


… Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.”


By saying, “went into the temple of God this means the event happened in the temple proper. Mark and Luke just wrote, “Jesus went into the temple” which could mean the temple area.


However, according to the NIV Study Bible and the New American Bible (Catholic), they have Matthew saying Jesus "entered the Temple AREA (Matthew 21:12). The temple area was large, over 30 square acres, with activities  happening in the courtyard, away from the worshiping area that was inside the Temple building. The King James Version (KJV) of the NT cleverly skipped over the exact details of this event by simply saying all this happened "inside the Temple of God.” To those not understanding, the diagram of the temple area consisted of several acres within four walls on top of a high mount and within these four walls were the areas used for marketing. The temple building itself, for worshiping, also stood within these four walls. Now, how the real story would be told based on the Christians book of authority, the Hebrew bible.


The Christians NIV Study Bible had the courage to fully explain this:


"The Temple Area: the buying and selling took place in the large outer court of the Gentiles, which covered several acres." Several courts surrounded the main temple buildings, including the court of the women, the court of the men and the court of the Gentiles. The Court of the Gentiles was used by Gentiles to worship (King Solomon also opened the Temple to non-Jews). The Gentiles saw that the Jewish pilgrims coming to the Passover needed animals that met the Jewish ritual requirements for sacrifice. Gentile vendors set up their animal pens and money tables in the court of the Gentiles.”


The Christian Abingdon Bible Commentary (pg. 986) explains the reason why Jesus protested was because;


 “the traders were in the habit of defrauding the pilgrims who came to the city from all land. A den of robbers aptly describes the methods of these men. Just as the pilgrims at Mecca today are outrageously fleeced, so they were in Jerusalem in the days of Jesus”.


The commentary wrote, “of these men.” It did not say Jewish men. This is because the merchant’s area was divided into two parts, one for Jewish merchants and one for Gentile merchants. But, most Pastors quote from the King James Version and always imply that the “Den of Thieves” were the Jewish merchants. Couldn’t the Den of Thieves been among the Gentile merchants as well or a combination thereof? The commentary says; “Just as the pilgrims at Mecca today are outrageously fleeced,” clearing stating just like the Arabs in Mecca today. Arabs are non-Jews. Gentiles are non-Jews. Yet the church implies blame belongs on the Jews as being the “thieves.”


The historical facts (not the biblical supposition) of the event show the money-changers and dove-sellers were not doing anything wrong as they were performing a necessary service and were acting in accordance with Jewish laws found in the Torah. Just as tourists today in a foreign country must exchange their money for local currency, so in the time frame of the Jesus story, visitors from other areas outside of Judah needed a place to exchange their coins for local coins. Jerusalem, being the capital and location of the temple was the center of great activity.  The courtyard outside of the temple sanctuary was a natural and appropriate place to set up exchange booths. This too, is confirmed in the Christian NIV Study Bible.


Thousands of Jews from all over the known world would come to Jerusalem three times each year to observe the important Jewish holidays. During Passover, they came to make offerings in the temple of animals, doves, grains and fruits. Instead of traveling to Jerusalem with these offerings, many found it easier to buy the offerings in the temple courtyard thus enabling the foreign pilgrims to trade the shekels of Judea for the drachmas of the Roman Empire to purchase such items as pigeons, doves or anything else they could afford.  Torah authorizes exchanges of produce and livestock for silver. That way coins impressed with foreign images considered idolatrous by Jews were replaced with coins acceptable as donations toward the temple's expense funds i.e. the half shekel head tax (see Deuteronomy 14:24-26).


Outside the temple was also the place for Rome to collect taxes. For Jews to worship, every Jew had to pay-to-pray ― a "temple tax" ― which went into the temple coffer (treasury) that paid the temple expenses and Roman graft. Rome found this was another way to increase their coffer. This tradition of paying the "temple tax" is stated in the gospels when the tax collector went to Jesus for the "temple tax" (Matthew 17:24-27).  The New Testament and thusly most pastors, fail to mention that Roman soldiers were stationed right outside the temple courtyard to watch over the "tax money." Not only were the Roman soldiers stationed outside the temple area, they were all over Jerusalem. During Jesus' time, the Jews were stirring up thoughts of rebellion against Roman rule. Roman soldiers were constantly checking any disorder, which could spill over into an uprising against Rome. According to Jewish scriptures, the Jews had a major concern of keeping the pagan Roman soldiers out of the temple area. Not only would their presence in the holy building be a desecration, but also the Sadducees did not want them to find any opportunity to loot the temple treasury. Therefore, it would not be logical to have any disturbance of any kind in the temple area that would have brought in the Roman soldiers.


Besides, if Jesus had done what the unknown gospel writers claim, the Jewish temple guards would have put a quick end to his behavior because the Jewish pilgrims would not have tolerated any acts of aggression that would have endangered the temple.  These worshippers, having traveled so far would not hesitate to suppress any person who, for no logical reason at all, invited disaster. They would not have appreciated being prevented from fulfilling the religious duties for which they made their pilgrimages. This act of Jesus "cleansing the temple" just doesn't make any sense once you understand Jewish law and what was happening in the courtyard during Jesus' time. The gospel writings made you think that the money-changers and merchants were inside the temple praying area. PEOPLE, think! Is this NT story even feasible ― Jesus just walks in and causes all sorts of commotion and simply leaves, and no one does anything?




Strangely noted are the various inquires at Jesus’ trial ― at which Jesus was repeatedly questioned ― where there was no mention ever made by his enemies (the Jewish high priests, according to the NT) of a violent attack against the commercial activity in the temple. If this “cleansing of the Temple” had occurred, it would have been used against Jesus at one time or another.  It makes no difference, it is all fiction, just another mythological tale.        


"I've often thought the bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction." -Ian McKellen (1939-), Interview on the Today Show, May 2006



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