The Historical Background to the Cleansing of the Temple – White Horse Inn


In John two:13-16 we’re told that Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, and that when “he discovered these who have been promoting oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the revenue-changers sitting there, [he made] a whip of cords [and] drove them all out of the temple.” According to one  commentary, “It was in the outer court that the temple authorities arranged booths (called ‘the Bazaars of Annas’ and belonging to the family members of the higher priest) to offer animals authorized for sacrifice and to exchange foreign currency for coins acceptable for paying the half–shekel temple tax. For the reason that most nearby coins have been stamped with pagan symbols, they have been not acceptable” (Understanding the Bible). In actuality, the coin that the Jewish authorities accepted throughout this period had its personal pagan symbol on it.

The coin sanctioned for the use at the Jerusalem Temple was the Tyrian shekel due to it is distinct weight and silver content material. In reality, the Mishna especially says, “The 5 selas for redeeming the firstborn son are in Tyrian coinage. The thirty for the slave…are to be paid in the worth of shekels of the sanctuary, in Tyrian coinage” (Bek. eight:7). About the edge of this Phoenician coin was written, “Tyre the Holy, city of refuge.” The back of this coin bore the image of an eagle, and on the front, an image of Melkart, who was “accepted by Greeks as the Olympian Hercules, and derided by Jews as Beelzebub.” 1 coin specialist writes, “It is ironic that Tyrian coins bore the image of Melkart, a Phoenician deity equivalent to Baal, Israel’s old enemy.”

In a different section of the Mishna we see a confirmation of the claim produced in all 4 Gospels that the revenue-changers sooner or later started to set up tables inside the walls of the Temple itself:

On the 1st day of Adar [i.e., around the time that the Jews begin to prepare for the festival of Passover] they make public announcement regarding shekel dues (Ex 30:13)…On the fifteenth day…they repair the paths, roads, and immersion pools. And they carry out all public desires. And they mark off the graves…[and] set up revenue changers’ tables in the provinces. On the twenty-fifth they set them up in the Temple. When they have been set up in the Temple, they started to precise pledges…and they do not precise a pledge from priests…He who pays the shekel…for himself and for his fellow, he is liable for a single surcharge…Just as there have been shofar chests [for receiving the shekel tax] in the Temple, so there have been shofar chests in the provinces (Sheqal 1:1ff).

Alfred Edersheim, who was a Jewish convert to the Christian faith in latter aspect of the nineteenth century, delivers a excellent deal of historical background that aids us to comprehend the correct significance of Jesus’ actions as he drove the revenue-changers out of the Jerusalem Temple: 


It was a excellent accommodation, that a individual bringing a sacrifice may not only understand, but really get, in the Temple from its officials what was needed for the meat, and drink-offering…and these transactions will have to have left a considerable margin of profit to the treasury. This would quickly lead to a different sort of site visitors. Offerers may, of course, bring their sacrificial animals with them, and we know that on the Mount of Olives there have been 4 shops, specially for the sale of pigeons and other items requisite for sacrificial purposes. But then, when an animal was brought, it had to be examined as to its Levitical fitness by persons routinely certified and appointed. Disputes may right here arise, due to the ignorance of the purchaser, or the greed of the examiner…Now, as we are informed that a particular examiner of firstlings had been authorized to charge for his inspection…all problems and difficulty would be avoided by a standard market place inside the Temple-enclosure, exactly where sacrificial animals could be bought, getting presumably been duly inspected, and all charges paid just before getting provided for sale. 

It desires no comment to show how utterly the Temple would be profaned by such site visitors, and to what scenes it may lead. From Jewish writings we know, that most improper transactions have been carried on, to the taking undue benefit of the poor individuals who came to offer you their sacrifices. As a result we study (Ker.1. 7), that on 1 occasion the cost of a couple of pigeons was run up to the massive figure of a gold denarius.

[It] can scarcely be doubted, that [the moneychangers] had to spend a considerable rental or percentage to the top Temple-officials…If this inference…be admitted, we obtain significantly light as regards the purification of the Temple by Jesus, and the words which He spake on that occasion. For, our subsequent position is that, from the unrighteousness of the site visitors carried on in these Bazaars, and the greed of their owners, the ‘Temple-market’ was at the time most unpopular. This appears…from the reality that well-known indignation, 3 years just before the destruction of Jerusalem, swept away the Bazaars of the family members of Annas, and this, as expressly stated, on account of the sinful greed which characterized their dealings. And if any doubt should really nevertheless linger in the thoughts, it would certainly be removed by our Lord’s open denunciation of the Temple-market place as ‘a den of robbers.’ Of the avarice and corruption of this Higher-Priestly family members, alike Josephus and the Rabbis give a most terrible image. Josephus describes Annas (or Ananus), the son of the Annas of the New Testament, as ‘a excellent hoarder up of revenue,’ really wealthy, and as despoiling by open violence the typical priests of their official revenues. …It have been uncomplicated to add from Rabbinic sources repulsive facts of their luxuriousness, wastefulness, gluttony, and common dissoluteness. No wonder that, in the figurative language of the Talmud, the Temple is represented as crying out against them: ‘Go therefore, ye sons of Eli, ye defile the Temple of Jehovah!’ (Pes. u. s.). 

These painful notices of the state of matters at that time enable us greater to comprehend what Christ did, and who they have been that opposed His performing. But we can now also comprehend why the Temple officials, to whom these Bazaars belonged, only challenged the authority of Christ in as a result purging the Temple. The unpopularity of the complete site visitors, if not their consciences, prevented their proceeding to actual violence…There was not a hand lifted, not a word spoken to arrest Him, as He produced the scourge of little cords…His Presence awed them, His words awakened even their consciences they knew, only also properly, how correct His denunciations have been. And behind Him was gathered the questioning multitude, that could not but sympathize with such bold, ideal royal, and Messianic vindication of Temple sanctity from the nefarious site visitors of a hated, corrupt, and avaricious Priesthood. It was a scene worth witnessing by any correct Israelite, a protest and an act which…gained Him respect and admiration, and which, at any price, secured his security (The Life &amp Occasions of Jesus The Messiah, Chapter five, “The Cleansing of the Temple”).  

Shane Rosenthal is the executive producer of White Horse Inn, and also serves as a ruling elder at Christ Presbyterian Church in St. Charles, Missouri.

To view an image of the Temple coin referenced in the above post, click right here:



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