- Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 and Psalm 27
- Philippians 3:17-4:1
- Luke 13:31-35 or Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
Despite the usual high degree of convergence in the lectionary texts during Lent, this week we see several options for the Gospel:
- RCL: Luke 13:31-35
- RCL alternative: Luke 9:28-36
- RC: Luke 9:28b-36
- ECUSA: Luke 13:(22-30)31-35
- Australian Anglican: Luke 13:1-9
If your community is using the Transfiguration readings this weekend, you may wish to consult the notes from the Last Sunday after Epiphany.
This week’s notes will focus on the text in Luke 13:31-35, and specifically Jesus’ prophetic oracle against Jerusalem.
Jesus and the Jerusalem Temple
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:
- A saying of Jesus threatening to destroy the temple
- A saying where Jesus foretells the siege of the city and its destruction
- A saying of Jesus predicting total destruction of the imposing structures (not one stone upon another)
- An incident where Jesus threatened or symbolically enacted the destruction of the temple
The sources are cited in full in the Jesus Database but 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
Texts marked with * 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 the Jesus Database.)
Josephus, Jewish War 6.300-305
The 1C Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, has left us a fascinating description of prophecies against the city, this time featuring a later Jesus:
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]. 301Suddenly 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. 302But 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.
303So thinking that the man was moved by some greater force, as indeed he was, the rulers brought him up before the Roman governor. 304Although 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!” 305When 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 a 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?
17If 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-principle 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
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)
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.
Lüdemann [Jesus, 77f & 87f] considers Mark 13 to be a Christian reworking of an earlier Jewish apocalypse created during the crisis 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 example of how this memory of Jesus continued to function within the Muslim tradition long after the 1C:
/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]
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site
Other recommended sites include:
See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.