Mark 11:15

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And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; (ASV)


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Impossible Action


Mark 11: (ASV) 15 "And they come to Jerusalem: and he entered into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and them that bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves;

16 and he would not suffer that any man should carry a vessel through the temple."

17 And he taught, and said unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers.

18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, for all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.

19 And every evening he went forth out of the city."

Based on the descriptions of the Temple by contemporary authors this would have been Impossible. Therefore, "Mark's" Jesus' Spring Cleaning story must not be historical. Any evidence only involving the Possible as opposed to the Impossible would be insignificant by comparison. The credibility of Possible evidence supporting historicity would be in doubt due to the author claiming an Impossible action. Even though they are insignificant by comparison other Possible evidence that Jesus' Spring Cleaning was not historical are:

1) The way "Mark" writes the related story indicates that he was unaware/unconcerned that an Impossible action would be required creating doubt as to the entire story.

2) "Matthew" and "Luke" while writing replacements for "Mark" largely copy his related story indicating that they lacked an alternative based on history.

3) During "Mark's" Jesus' Trial Jesus is never charged with the Temple disturbance which would have been a capital offense. If part of a story is not plausible this creates doubt as to the entire story.

4) In order to demonstrate that this is Impossible one only need demonstrate that any part of it is Impossible. Of course as you add information to the account it can approach the Possible, such as assistance from disciples/crowd, but as written the implication is that:

Once Jesus entered the Temple area he did not allow anyone to carry vessels through the Temple complex while he sat or stood and taught for an extended period.

Since descriptions of the Temple indicate courtyards comparable to the size of football fields with a Temple sanctuary structure in the middle and several access gates on all four sides, in my opinion it would be Impossible in a Supernatural use of the word for one stationary person to prevent anyone from carrrying vessels anywhere in this complex. Even allowing that Jesus had perfect 12/12 sight the Structure in the middle would always be obstructing his sight no matter where he was.

Origen was a relatively honest commentator by Church Father standards, as Church Fathers before Christianity took power were forced to be, and his critical commentary on Jesus' Temple Tantrum indicates that it would have been Impossible for Jesus Literally to have done what was described. Origen was still a Liar For Jesus in that he started with the Assumption that the Christian Bible must be true in some sense so if an area such as the Temple Tantrum could not be Literally true then it must have been Figuratively true. This was typical of the Early Church Fathers to have primarily Philosophical arguments as opposed to detailed, logical, evidential arguments as they were forced to acknowledge the weakness of their arguments from an evidential standpoint.

Origen though, in line with mainstream Christian Bible scholarship to this day, dishonestly only considered figurative explanations with a Supernatural context, ignoring figurative explanations with a Natural context, such as feeding thousands with a single fish had a figurative Natural meaning that there was no limit to the number of individuals who could take in and prosper from Jesus' teachings or that "Resurrection" just meant that Jesus' teachings survived after he died.

Here is Origen's take on the Temple Tantrum. He's erroneously conflated the accounts since he also starts with the assumption that all accounts are complimentary but here it works against him as "Mark" does not indicate that this event was shortly before a Feast where there would have been significantly less people around the Temple grounds. Keep in mind that "Impossible" can be used without a Supernatural reference and this is in fact how the word is normally used. Enjoy!:

"16. The Story of the Purging of the Temple Spiritualized. Taken Literally, It Presents Some Very Difficult and Unlikely Features.

...If any one objects to this interpretation of the passage and says that it is only pure animals that are mentioned in it, we must say that the passage would otherwise have an unlikely air. The occurence is necessarily related according to the possibilities of the story. It could not have been narrated that a herd of any other animals than pure ones had found access to the temple, nor could any have been sold there but those used for sacrifice. The Evangelist makes use of the known practice of the merchants at the times of the Jewish feasts; they did bring in such animals to the outer court; this practice, with a real occurrence He knew of, were His materials. Any one, however, who cares to do so may enquire whether it is in agreement with the position held by Jesus in this world, since He was reputed to be the Son of a carpenter, to venture upon such an act as to drive out a crowd of merchants from the temple? They had come up to the feast to sell to a great number of the people, the sheep, several myriads in number, which they were to sacrifice according to their fathers' houses, To the richer Jews they had oxen to sell, and there were doves for those who had vowed such animals, and many no doubt bought these with a view to their good cheer at the festival. And did not Jesus do an unwarrantable thing when He poured out the money of the money-changers, which was their own, and overthrew their tables? And who that received a blow from the scourge of small cords at the hands of One held in but slight esteem, was driven out of the temple, would not have attacked Him and raised a cry and avenged himself with his own hand, especially when there was such a multitude present who might all feel themselves insulted by Jesus in the same way? To think, moreover, of the Son of God taking the small cords in His hands and plaiting a scourge out of them for this driving out from the temple, does it not bespeak audacity and temerity and even some measure of lawlessness?"

5) From Michael Turton's Historical Commentary On Mark:

[Note - this is verbatim and needs to be Edited]

"This is perhaps the most important single event in Mark outside the Crucifixion, for in many interpretations it triggers the authorities' actions against Jesus. Even when rejected as historical, scholars believe that there is an underlying kernel of history. Therefore it will be analyzed in some detail. There are several reasons to think that the author of Mark invented this story.

First, there is the historical improbability of the Temple Cleansing. The Temple area itself is tremendous in size, more than 12 football fields across and capable of holding tens of thousands of people. Looking at these facts, Paula Fredriksen (2000) has recently explained why she has altered her position on its historical probability:

"...approximate measurements that give a sense of the sheer size of the place: the total circumference of the outermost wall ran to almost 9/10ths of a mile; twelve soccer fields, including stands, could be fit in; when necessary (as during the pilgrimage festivals, especially Passover) it could accommodate as many as 400,000 worshipers.

. . . . It was not until I started walking around the Temple Mount that I began to understand how huge the Temple area - specifically its outermost court, around the perimeter of which, beneath the protection from sun or storm offered by the stoa or the Royal Portico, "those who sold" could be found - must have been. Its very size shrank the significance of Jesus' putative action, and prompted the question: If Jesus had made such a gesture, how many would have seen it? Those in his retinue and those standing immediately around him. But how many, in the congestion and confusion of that holiday crowd, could have seen what was happening even, say, twenty feet away? Fifty feet? The effect of Jesus' gesture at eye-level would have been muffled, swallowed up by the sheer press of pilgrims. How worried, then, need the priests have been?"

Price (2003, p295) points out that the Temple covered 35 acres, the size of 34 football fields.

As Josephus notes, there were Roman auxiliaries on call in the Fortress Antonia right nearby. The moneychangers undoubtedly had their own guards and servants, and so did the local priests. It is therefore unlikely that Jesus could have generated an incident there that was prolonged enough for anyone to notice. There were too many warm bodies to squelch it before it got rolling. A further problem, as Buchanon (1991) points out, is that the Temple was not merely the main religious institution of the Jewish religion, it was also the national treasury and its best fortress. The Temple's importance should not be underestimated: all three sides in the internal struggle during the Jewish War fought to gain control of the Temple. Not only is it highly unlikely that Jesus could have simply strolled in and gained control of the Temple, it is also highly unlikely that anyone would have permitted him to leave unmolested after such a performance.

An additional problem is provided by the awkwardness of v17, which has Jesus teaching as he is tossing out the moneychangers. It is almost comic to imagine Jesus shouting out parts of the Old Testament while overturning benches and preventing people from carrying the sacrificial vessels around an area that is thousands of square yards in size. Note that Jesus turns over the tables as if there were only a handful of them, rather than some tables.

David Seeley (2000) notes many of the practical arguments against historicity:

"Consider the obstacles to taking the temple act as historical, starting with the practical ones. For instance, how would one man drive out all the traders and money changers? ... Did not even one merchant get angry at having his table overturned and having his accounts scattered along with his money? Did not even one wrestle with Jesus and try to stop him? If so, did no others join in? Did Jesus' disciples help him out? If they had, it would have looked like a virtual takeover of the area by a gang that had suddenly shown up from Galilee, a region noted for its revolutionaries. Would the Romans really have stood idly by and done nothing? Mark says that the crowd protected Jesus, but it has already been pointed out that many in the crowd could hardly have been very familiar with him. ... As for prohibiting vessels, how would one man keep everyone in such a large area from carrying them? ... Did he run back and forth confiscating them? If his disciples helped out, then once again we must imagine a group of Galileans suddenly showing up at the temple and effectively taking over--an unlikely prospect, for the reasons just mentioned."

In addition to the commonsense issue of implausibility, as Crossan has noted in The Birth of Christianity, a story may be labeled invented when, on every level, it shows obvious literary derivation. Speaking of the Passion Story, he writes: "The individual units, general sequences, and overall frames of the passion-resurrection stories are so linked to prophetic fulfillment that the removal of such fulfillment leaves nothing but the barest facts..." (1998, p.521). The Temple Cleansing is one such story; indeed, the combination of OT creation and Markan redaction leaves nothing at all, not even the barest facts.

At its lowest level, the individual details of the story itself, the Temple Cleansing is composed of two basic strands, one of Markan redaction, the other of OT literary invention. The Temple Cleansing in part is taken from the story of Nehemiah and the Temple, and borrows from it two key details:

First, Jesus overturns the benches of the moneychangers, just as Nehemiah was displeased and threw Tobias' furniture out of the rooms that had wrongly been given to him (Nehemiah 13:9). Troughton (2003, p14) writes:

"The vivid and physical action of Nehemiah is mirrored in the gospel accounts. Mark's representation of Jesus has him 'overturning' ( katestreyen) the furniture of the sellers and the money-changers. In this case, the furniture is identified specifically as tables ( trapeza) and seats (kaqedra), which are also potentially 'household' goods."

In the next verse (13:9) Nehemiah returns the sacred vessels back to the rightful place, just as Jesus prevents the vessels from being moved out of the precincts (Mk 11:16). "Nehemiah 13.4-9 details the threat to the Temple cult through accommodation of "foreign influences," notes Troughton (2003, p6), clearly paralleled in Jesus' attack on the merchants as a den of robbers.

Further borrowing of details from the OT is apparent in the key line that Jesus' utters: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations' But you have made it 'a den of robbers.' -- which combines Isaiah and Jeremiah. The word "robbers" used here is better translated as "insurrectionists." Some have seen a reference to the occupation of the Temple by Jewish Zealots during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The Jeremiah passage containing 7:11 Mark quoted in v17 is also quoted by Jesus Ben Ananias in Book VI of Josephus Wars. Some exegetes have argued that Jesus may be modeled after Jesus ben Ananias. Earl Doherty (1999, p248-58) has identified other OT cites that may form the basis for this passage, including Malachi 3:1, Hosea 9:15, and Zechariah 14:21.

Malachi 3:1 "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.(NIV)

Hosea 9: 15 "Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious. (NIV)

Zechariah 14:21 Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the LORD Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a merchant in the house of the LORD Almighty. (NIV)[some manuscripts read "Canaanite" for "merchant."]

Of these, the most likely is Zech 14:21, a classic example of Markan hypertextuality, which is Temple-focused. There the nations of the world are pictured worshipping at the Jerusalem Temple. Further, Zech 14:4 will be cited later in the gospel. Numerous exegetes have linked Zech 14:21 to this passage (Duff 1992, p65). Krause (1994) has also detected the shaping hand of Hosea 9 behind the Fig Tree and Temple sequence. Note how the sequence contains both the fig tree and a driving out of individuals from the Temple.

10: Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree, in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Ba'al-pe'or, and consecrated themselves to Ba'al, and became detestable like the thing they loved. 11: E'phraim's glory shall fly away like a bird -- no birth, no pregnancy, no conception! 12: Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them! 13: E'phraim's sons, as I have seen, are destined for a prey; E'phraim must lead forth his sons to slaughter. 14: Give them, O LORD -- what wilt thou give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. 15: Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels. 16: E'phraim is stricken, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit. Even though they bring forth, I will slay their beloved children. 17: My God will cast them off, because they have not hearkened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.(RSV)

The other details of the story are redaction of the author of Mark and contain no items of historical value.

At the next level, the level of intermediate structure, the writer of Mark is again using the OT. The story of Jesus closely parallels the Elijah-Elisha cycle in Kings. Thomas Brodie (1998, p92) explains. At the climax of the two legend cycles, the Temple is cleansed (Jesus drives out the moneychangers, Jehu kills the priests of Ba'al). Both are annointed (2 Kings 9), undergo accession with cloaks on the ground (2 Kings 9), wait before taking over (2 Kings 9:12-13, Mark 11:11), challenge the authorities (2 Kings 9:22-10:27), Mark 11:11 - 12:12), and money given to the Temple (2 Kings 12:5-17, Mark 12:41-44). As Brodie puts it (p93):

..."the basic point is clear: Mark's long passion narrative, while using distinctive Christian sources, coincides significantly both in form and content with the long Temple-centered sequence at the end of the Elijah-Elisha narrative."

At the highest level, the overall story structure, the writer of Mark is again relying on the Elijah-Elisha cycle. Jesus north-to-south movement generally parallels the movements in the Elijah. Where Jesus departs from this movement, so does Elijah. As the EEC narrative approaches Jerusalem, so does Jesus, and the parallels intensify. A second narrative source for this might well be 1 & 2 Maccabees, where in 11:1-9 the writer parallels Simon's entry into Jerusalem in 1 Macc 13, and then in 11:15-19 he parallels the story of Onias III and the Temple vessels in 2 Maccabees.

To sum up:

Markan redactional elements are obvious in "On reaching Jerusalem" (v15) and v18 (the conspiracy and crowd amazement) and v19. The whole passage is typical of the writer of Mark. "Overturning the tables" and "not permitting vessels to be carried out of the courts" are taken from Nehemiah. These two details would not be transmitted by oral tradition; they exhibit clear literary dependence. Hence, the writer of Mark had to have added them via OT construction. Jesus' words cite two different OT authors and cannot be oral transmission; they exhibit literary dependence. The use of the Elijah-Elisha narrative for both the plot of the current set of pericopes and the overall framework of Mark is another example of literary construction that could not have been transmitted. The entire "event" smacks of either Markan redaction or literary dependence on every level."

--JoeWallack 18:23, 6 Jun 2006 (CDT)

--JoeWallack 08:34, 7 Jun 2006 (CDT)

--JoeWallack 09:20, 8 Jun 2006 (CDT)

Contradiction with "John"


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Edit this section to note miscellaneous facts.

External links

Michael A. Turton's Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark