The Cleansing of the Temple is one of the more famous tales of the Christian Bible which tells the story of Jesus at his angriest and is my personal favorite for a number of reasons.
I mean, what could possibly drive the infamously peace-loving, forgiving and magnanimous supposed savior of all mankind to a state in which he is flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip from a building?
Money. Or rather people valuing money over that which the building was to have symbolized.
This story is so important to the narrative of Jesus that it occurs in all four canonical gospels of the Bible; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. For those not learned in Biblical topics, these are the gospels which tell the story of Jesus’ earthly life and the culmination of it all in his death and alleged resurrection.
A Bit About Me
Now it is at this outset that I should explain, if it wasn’t already obvious, that I am not a believer. I fully admit there are vestiges of historical events contained within and I am open to the idea that a “Jesus” may have existed but I take a rather Jewish approach and treat that proposed person as just another man, not a demigod/god. What I do believe is that scattered amongst the ruins of a system of control, excuses for the absolute worst of mankind’s behavior and general fucked-up-edness are some truths that hold true even to today. But I am firmly stating here and now that to take this compilation text, which finds it origins with Bronze Age shepherds to be the literal word of god is not only folly but downright destructive.
While I’m not going to read the literal scripture for you, I will provide you with the chapters and verses from which this story comes so you can read it for yourselves. The important passages surrounding the cleansing of the temple saga can be found in Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48 & John 2:13-16.
The essential context for this story is that it occurs during Passover, a major Jewish holiday, which is one of the 3 major Pilgrimage Festivals of the Jewish faith, in which the entire population of the Kingdom of Judah was required (with a few notable exceptions of course) to make a journey to the Temple in Jerusalem for worship.
This means that visitors from all over the ancient world would be present, which also means two things for the purposes of this story: 1) Opportunities for sales and 2) Differing currencies.
Jerusalem was packed by anyone’s definition. The estimated numbers that are commonly used are between 300,000 and 400,000 pilgrims were present at the time which makes for a significant opportunity to profit.
Here We Go
So, as the story goes, Jesus arrived to visit the temple and what he found disturbed him greatly to say the least.
He found it’s courtyard filled to the brim with livestock, merchants of all sorts, and money changers’ tables. You see, the festival required a tithe to be given and that tithe must be given in Jewish & Tyrian shekels. This provided the greatest opportunity for gain out of all the ventures, as the money changers would take the Greek and Roman currency and provide a disadvantaged exchange rate plus a fee for services allowing them to profit greatly off of the travelers who had little to no other options.
He also found sellers of doves, sometime written as pigeons (they’re the same family of birds after all; columbidae). The doves/pigeons were used as a sacrifice by the poor and especially women who could not afford more grand gestures of sacrifice of their faith.
And if you think this is just a condemnation on a practice of “cheating” or “profiting” by a few, the Temple also housed a large amount of money belonging to the wealthy with which they would loan out to the poor with interest rates attached. One of the first acts of the first Jewish-Roman war was the burning of those debt archives. Jesus would have been fully aware of these practices as well.
This is where the story gets interesting. According to these tales Jesus, upon finding that the temple of his father had been desecrated so, proceeded to fashion a “whip of cords” with which he used to begin driving out the sheep and oxen from the temple en mass, resulting in many of the people being chased out in the commotion as well. He took the coins of the money-changers and poured them out and proceeded to overturn their tables one by one. He told the sellers of the sacrificial doves to “take these things away from My Father’s house and do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
He cast them all out, all who dared to buy and sell within those hallowed halls, accusingly telling them that they had transformed a house of prayer into a den of thieves.
Further outrage can be evidenced in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 in which Jesus flat out accuses the temple authorities of thieving and making poor widows their victims. In Mark 11:16 he actually places an embargo upon anyone carrying any merchandise through the temple, disrupting nearly all local commerce.
Now, biblical scholars and followers have discussed these supposed events ad nauseum over the millennia since these words were laid to bare, but most, based on the various writings, have come to the conclusion that Jesus did this not once but twice within the context of the biblical stories. Plus it is worth mentioning that Professor David Landry suggests that the importance of the episode is signaled by that within a week of the primary telling of the incident, Jesus was dead. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke agree with this summation in that his actions in the temple served as the trigger for his execution.
So why am I, an affirmed non-believer, telling this story?
Because for better or for worse, I was born in and continue to live in a little country called America. In this country we have ourselves an ever increasing problem of evangelical, so-called Christians.
They are the money-changers, merchants and dove sellers of our modern age. They seek to falsely align themselves with a figure and philosophy they have no honest claim to, all the while actively harming and condemning to suffering those around them in Jesus’ name.
Starting at the most obvious and egregious of sins committed today. The prosperity theology (or sometimes called prosperity gospel or seed faith) is horseshit. It’s worse than horseshit for at least horseshit can help fertilize crops. It is a plague unleashed upon the world by humans who have no soul, who would likely drown a baby for a buck.
If you’re not familiar with this particularly virulent brand of American pseudo-Christianity then I commend you on your ability to effectively isolate yourself. It’s a belief born of Protestantism that in essence states that financial and physical well-being are the will of God and if you have them, then obviously you have been blessed and by extension are the recipient of Gods approval.
This odious belief system came to be born of the “Healing Revivals” of the 1950s although some have linked its inception to the “New Thought” movement of the 19th century and a man by the name of Phineas Quimby. The New Thought movement held that God is everywhere, that true human self-hood is divine and that sickness and poverty originates in the mind and the Healing Revivals were a movement that began in 1946 giving rise to charismatic evangelists and the modern evangelical movement. It is in this era that you find the likes of Billy Graham and Oral Roberts begin to rise to power.
In either case, I’m sure you can see how potentially dangerous and damaging such a train of thought could be.
These toxic ideologies eventually came to be entwined with and a mainstay of the “Word of Faith” which is an evangelical idea started in the 1980s in, of course, America and quickly was spread to other places around the world. It holds that Christians can access the power of faith though speech, which allowed for it to easily and quickly contaminate radio, television and eventually the Internet. Now it can easily be found throughout many denominations and Christian communities.
These beliefs, which condemn and exploit the poor, disabled and those suffering rather than attempt to aide them as Jesus clearly instructed became the swampy foundations for the likes of Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland and countless other so-called preachers and pastors to begin amassing ungodly fortunes and taking on the trappings of all that Jesus spoke and fought against. These false-prophets fly on private jets, ride in Bentleys and Rolls Royces and wear the finest of suits; all paid for by their religiously gullible marks.
Let’s get this straight, Jesus was definitely against the accumulation of wealth, he actively advocated for the rich to give away the entirety of their earnings. He hung around the poor, the sick, the down-trodden and the social outcasts.
Yet in today’s world, so poisoned by capitalism, authoritarianism and downright shameless hypocrisy, you commonly find people doing the very opposite of what Jesus would have you do all the while maintaining that they are Christians. They condemn and judge their fellow humans, they give in to their greed and allow willful ignorance to blind them to the suffering they either cause or play a part in causing. The modern American so-called Christian not only often supports the greed laden capitalistic system they find themselves, they vocally support it and American imperialism both.
It is one thing for anyone else to have these failings as a human, yes we should all strive to be improve and to do less harm but it is another thing entirely to classify yourself under the heading of “Christian” or “follower of Christ” and literally revel in such sins.
If anyone, anyone at all should be the most supportive, the most immersed in leftist politics it should be Christians. They of all people should understand the philosophy of giving and sharing, of not taking too much of not bowing to authoritarian measures even in the face of extreme consequences. But instead they have aligned themselves largely with the exact opposite. The greedy and prideful conservative movement. A group of people more concerned with their stock portfolio than a dying baby directly in front of them.
There have been and will always bee notable exceptions to this condemnation, of course. But the truth of the matter is that if you claim to be a Christian today, you need to look deep inside your heart and ask yourself am I living in the manner in which Christ told me to?