Monday, March 30, 33 AD

 

"Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers" (Mark 11:17).


The events of Jesus' final week appear to be accounted for by the Gospel writers within the clear context of either Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. The exact timing of what happened on subsequent days, however, appears less certain.

Following Mark's chronology, the day after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus left Bethany for a return visit to the Temple precincts. Along the way he passed a fig tree, and because he was hungry, he looked for fruit, but found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. In his anger he cursed the tree. Normally fig trees around Jerusalem do not produce ripened figs until June. This incident is placed here as a parable to show that Israel was not ready to welcome Jesus (see Mark 11:12-14).

(Below) Satellite view of the traditional sites of Bethany (modern al-Azariyeh) and Bethphage, with the Mount of Olives and Jerusalem's Old City. Undoubtedly Jesus passed this way any number of times when walking from Bethany to Jerusalem and back again, following the same route as his triumphal entry.


In the footsteps of Jesus...


Our first stop for this attempted retracing of Jesus' footsteps on Monday of Holy Week takes us to the "Ophel Archaeological Garden," a series of excavations at the base of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. The name Ophel means hill or hump, and the "hill of Ophel" is mentioned four times in the Old Testament, twice in 2 Chronicles, twice in Nehemiah, while Nehemiah 3:27 has "wall of Ophel." Technically this term refers to the area just outside the southern wall of the Temple Mount, where the "City of David," the oldest part of Jerusalem, is located. Here, scholars have uncovered 22 layers from 12 periods of the city's history; only those related to the 1st centuries BC and AD concern us here.

Entering through the Fountain Gate in the extreme southeastern corner of the city walls, Jesus came the Pool of Siloam (below left; the structure on the raised platform at the bottom of the photo). This day it was especially crowded with pilgrims who had stopped here to bathe after their dusty journeys from far-off lands. From there a 40-foot-wide colonnaded street of many steps ran along the floor of the Tyropoeon Valley (below right). This deep, north-south, valley divided the two hills on which the city was built a low eastern hill, a higher western hill. Ahead, Herod's great Temple loomed large; its gold and white contours and those of attendant buildings atop the grand platform of the Temple Mount could be seen from from almost every part of the city. Ascending the slope to his left was the wealthy Upper City, to his right was the Lower City, in Old Testament times, the site of the palace of David, Solomon, Hezekiah and other kings of Judah and the United Kingdom.

Jesus next came to the foot of grand staircase at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount leading up to the Temple courts and the Temple itself, now called "Robinson's Arch" (below left), named for American Protestant clergyman, Edward Robinson, who first called attention to the bare remains, the wedge-shaped stone blocks jutting out from the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount (below right). This area was the "Times Square" of 1st century AD Jerusalem, with traffic converging from all directions.

(Below left) View of the main north-south street during the Second Temple period, running through the Tyropoeon Valley, alongside the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Prior to excavation it lay buried under some 57 feet of debris. The pile of large stones once composed the upper part of the massive retaining wall above. They have lain here for nearly 2,000 years since being deliberately toppled from their original places by the Romans during their sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, shattering the paving stones of the street below. Both sides of the wide street were lined with shops, but those on the wall side were crushed by the fallen stones. Some of the shops on the opposite side are still intact (doorways on the left). Beside the shops was a mikveh, a ritual bath used by people to purify themselves before ascending to the Temple Mount. Jesus, however, never walked on these particular paving stones! Fresh chisel marks indicate they were laid in the mid-60's AD, some 30 years after the time of Jesus, but just prior to the destruction of the city by Titus' legions in 70 AD.

Here, in Jesus' day, stood the lower Jerusalem market, where jostling Passover pilgrims bargained furiously with the merchants offering their wares. The atmosphere seemed charged with excitement; the air was filled with exotic fragrances. Here pilgrims could buy anything: souvenirs, silver amulets, sacrificial animals and provisions when they retired to their tents for the night. Did they bring the wrong kind of money? No need to worry: there were plenty of money-changers happy to convert foreign currencies into the acceptable Temple coinage.

Turning right, Jesus stepped toward the plaza at the base of the huge southern wall of the Temple Mount (above right), rising to a height of 100 feet from street level. There he immersed himself in one of the seventy-gallon miqvot (ritual bathing pools) at the foot of the steps at the base of the Temple Mount's massive southern retaining wall.

At the top of the monumental staircase, Jesus made his way into one of the two Huldah gates, then up a windowless ramp, emerging onto the splendidly paved Temple esplanade, an area so vast that 20 footballs fields (using a modern analogy) would fit neatly inside.

(Below left) the southern wall of the Temple Mount as it appears today. At the base of the wall is the excavated and restored staircase, the "Rabbis' Teaching Steps," that once gave access to the Temple Mount from the south via the Huldah Gates. It consisted of 30 steps measuring 215-feet-wide and rose 22 feet. Look closely and you can see that the steps alternate in width narrow, wide, narrow, wide... The uneven steps has led some to speculate that the stairways were built to correspond to the rythums  of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-150). From these steps teachers could address those assembled in the plaza below. Possibly Jesus taught from this vantage point. If so, today's pilgrims can truly walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

(Right) interior of the western (or "Double") Huldah Gate. Despite the various destructions that have ravaged the city, it has survived virtually intact. Just inside the doorways are elaborately carved domes and columns, some standing today in their original form. No doubt Jesus and his disciples would have entered the Temple precincts through this gate or its twin to the east and marveled at the skillful craftsmanship.

At Passover, the huge Temple esplanade was jammed with ten of thousands of pilgrims; atop the perimeter walls Roman troops watched closely for any sign of a disturbance much like today when armed Israeli soldiers are seen standing watch over the souk (Arab market) from the roof of the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City's Muslim Quarter.

The east, north and south sides of the Temple platform were surrounded by roofed colonnades which sheltered the people from the sun and rain, and also served as gathering places before and after worship. The eastern colonnade was called "Solomon's Porch," a nostalgic reference to the illustrious son of David who built the first Temple on this site a thousand years earlier. However, it had no connection whatsoever to Solomon.

Extending along most of the length of the 900-foot southern end of the platform was the magnificent Royal Stoa (Hebrew Hanuyot) (above right). This giant basilica-style building was made up of four rows of 40 columns each. The northernmost row of Corinthian columns, each 27 feet high and 4.5 feet in diameter, was without a wall creating an open colonnade through which the people could enter directly into the plaza of the Court of Gentiles. The southernmost row of columns consisted of a set of pilasters (square half-columns) built into the Temple Mount's massive southern retaining wall. The middle two column rows (also Corinthian) flanked a high central hall and were topped by two additional rows of Doric columns to support the upper roof. Soaring to one hundred feet at its highest point, the Royal Stoa was the largest building on the giant Temple Mount. Apparently it served many purposes, including a center for purchasing sacrificial animals, a money exchange, as well as a meeting place for the Sanhedrin. In other words, it housed the law courts as well as all the commercial operations on which the Temple's monetary and sacrificial systems depended.

About three years before Jesus' triumphal entry, the ruling high priest Joseph Caiaphas allowed the money-changers and sellers of sacrificial animals and birds to set up a Merchants' Quarter (Hanuyoth) in the lower sections of the Royal Stoa. Some looked on this relaxation in attitude as an unwarranted intrusion of business into worship, even though some regarded it as only a semi-sacred area. Thus, as Jesus passed through the lower floors of the Royal Stoa, he found it filled with dealers of sacrificial animals oxen, sheep and doves. They performed a necessary, and important function for sacrificial worship in the Temple. Many of the laws in the Torah required that animals be offered at various occasions as sacrifices for sin, or as offerings for such events as the birth of a child, as Mary and Joseph had done after his own birth. Jews who came great distances had to be able to purchase sacrificial animals near the Temple. But the law specified that any animals offered must be perfect and unblemished. The Temple appointed inspectors to examine sacrificial animals, and they charged a fee. It was certain that animals brought in by pilgrims from their own herds would be rejected after inspection. Therefore, replacement animals had to be purchased inside the Temple for overly inflated prices a bare-faced extortion and blackmail in the name of religion.

Furthermore, rulers and cities minted their own coins which caused those pilgrims living outside Judea to bring many kinds of money to Jerusalem. Money-changers were stationed near the Temple for those who needed to exchange again for a fee their pagan coinage into acceptable Temple currency. The charging of fees for changing coins was not in itself wrong. The Talmud specified: "It is necessary that everyone should have half a shekel to pay for himself. Therefore when he comes to...change a shekel for two half-shekels he is obliged to allow the money-changer some gain." The word for this discount was kollubos and the money-changers were called kollubistai, the derivation of the name, Shylock, a ruthless, heartless creditor in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (1595).


The Tyrian shekel the only acceptable Temple coinage


(Right) Tyrian shekels, produced from 127 to 19 BC in the Phoenican city of Tyre (located on the coast of Lebanon), were renowned for their silver content (95% pure). Despite their carved pagan images, they were the only coinage acceptable in the Temple or its precincts for buying sacrifices and paying the mandatory annual half-shekel Temple tax required of all men 20 years of age and older about two day's work for a common laborer. This four-drachmae or "tetradrachma" coin was equal to one Hebrew silver shekel and therefore was acceptable for two payments of the Temple tax. The coin is large and thick, about the diameter of a U.S. quarter, and weighed about half an ounce. (According to one website, the current price charged by antique coin dealers for a Tyrain shekel is $595.00.)

In 19 BC Rome closed the mint in Tyre and began to import silver coins from the Far East consisting of 80% pure silver. The Jewish religious leaders realized that the new coinage was not sufficiently pure to fulfill religious obligations, and appealed to the emperor for permission to produce a ceremonial coin of sufficient purity. They received special dispensation on condition that they continue using the motif of the Tyrian Shekel, so as not to arouse objections within the Roman Empire that the Jews were granted autonomy to mint their own coinage. However, this presented a serious problem, because one side to the coin contained the image of the Phoenician god, Melkhart, known to us as Hercules, wearing a laurel wreath on his head; on the reverse was an eagle clutching the prow of a ship in its right claw, with the legend in Greek: "of Tyre the Holy and Invincible," and the date of issue.

Both images, a foreign god (or any human likeness) and an eagle, were prohibited by the Torah. But a careful reinterpretation of the law swayed authorities the Jews themselves should never make carved images, but if they were made by Gentiles and not worshiped by the Jews, then they were permitted. The Jewish authorities decided that the importance of the giving of the half-shekel superseded any technical violations incurred from using the Tyrian coins. Thus you have the irony of coins with pagan imagery filling the vault of the Temple treasury inside the sacred Temple precincts where no Gentile was permitted to enter.

As on previous visits to the Temple precincts, Jesus took note of the all the activity the clanking of coins, the haggling, the pens of struggling sheep and lowing oxen, the pigeons beating their wings against their cages. The stench from the animal droppings assaulted his nose. On one side he watched an old man, nearly blind, purchase a lamb. When the merchant realized that the man could hardly see, he put the fattened animal back into its pen and, instead, gave him a malnourished ram. Jesus glared at the tables of money-changers stacking coins and spotted another man exchange his Roman coins for the equivalent in Tyrian shekels. He watched one money-changer slip a coin off the bottom of the stack of proper change into his pocket. With that, Jesus gave vent to the righteous anger that had been brooding at least since the previous day (probably even longer). Well aware that he was tampering with a well-protected institution, Jesus "overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons." He stopped those who were using the Temple courts as a shortcut to carry goods from one section of Jerusalem to another:


"Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers" (Mark 11:17).


This was a very blunt statement by Jesus. Here, the word "den" is a translation of the Greek spelaion "cave" or "grotto." Caves could serve either as shelters or homes, or hiding places for thieves. Jesus was really saying, "How dare you turn God's house, my house, into a haven or hideout for injustice and oppression." He was not staging a protest against paying the Temple tax or the Temple rituals themselves. Responding to a question by tax-collectors as to whether Jesus paid his Temple-tax, Peter replied, "Yes, he does." (Matthew 17:24-25) Jesus likely carried out this attack against the money-changers and animal sellers because of the system of selling sacrificial animals and exchanging money had become so corrupt that the cost of making the sacrifices required by the Law had become prohibitive for the poor. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims came to Jerusalem for Passover and other major festivals. Some exchangers profited greatly by loaning money and making investments, charging exorbitant interest rates. The opportunities to siphon off the profits from the hundreds of enterprises associated with the Temple greatly enriched the former high priest, Annas, his son-in-law and current high priest, Joseph Caiaphas, and their fellow Sadducees, not to mention their Roman cronies. It is no coincidence that the long tenure in office of Caiaphas (18 years) coincided with most or all of that of two prefects, Valerius Gratus (11 years), and his successor, Pontius Pilate (10 years). Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, were the "Godfathers" of Jerusalem and greatly profited from kick-backs on Temple transactions. The Temple was the city's main industry. Literally and figuratively it had become a safehouse for robbers, and the chief robbers were high Jewish officials whose monopolistic control generated hundreds of thousands of shekels annually (the equivalent of millions today). For all practical purposes the Temple had become a worship center for the rich.

But there is another, more compelling reason for Jesus' actions, and it is seen in the words "for all the nations" recorded only in Mark (11:17). The money-changers stationed themselves in or near the Court of Gentiles; they did not conduct their business in the Jewish-only inner precincts the Court of Women, the Court of Men and the Court of Priests immediately surrounding the actual sanctuary. The noise of bleating sheep, the stench of animal droppings, the clinking of coins and the constant din of conversation was confined to the only area of the Temple precincts where non-Jews could participate in worship. In essence they were saying that Gentiles were relegated to second-class status in God's kingdom, and this rightfully angered Jesus.

Not only did Jesus disrupt the business and profits of the Temple, he caught the attention of the Roman soldiers stationed in the nearby Antonia Fortress who did not take kindly to political disturbances right under their noses. But, Jesus' actions proved especially popular with the people, and children in the Temple area began shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David." (Matthew 21:15) The Temple officials, however, were indignant. Jesus, they decided, must be removed from the scene before he could do any more damage. But, they were afraid the people would turn on them if they arrested him, so they bided their time and continued to plot against him:
"The chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. 'But not during the Feast,' they said, 'or the people may riot'" (Mark 13:1-2).

After teaching in the Temple courts, according to the chronology of Matthew, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives for a private session on the final judgment with his disciples (see Matthew 24:3ff), which included the parables of the ten virgins, the talents and the separation of the sheep and goats; that night he returned to the safety of the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany.

Jesus' Life Home n Tuesday, March 31, 33 AD