The Last week: Chapter 2, Monday

Mark 11:12-19

Markan Frames

  • Mark’s gospel often contains pairs of incidents that are intended to be interpreted in light of one another.
  • How exactly do the framing of Incident A and the framed Incident B shed light on one another?
  • An example: Mark 3:20-35
    • Incident A: Mark 3:20-21. Jesus’s birth-family members are rejecting him as insane
    • Incident B starts at Mark 3:22. The Scribes say he casts out demons in the name of Satan.
    • Jesus’s rebuttal in Mark 3:24-25. The rebuttal points toward the framed “kingdom” or domain of Satan and toward the framing “house” or family of Jesus
    • Incident A then picks back up at Mark 3:31-35
    • Mark’s framing technique pushes hearers or readers to meditate deeply on the intercalation of those two dismissals by Jesus. “Think, it says, and keep on thinking.” (page 34)

From The Fig Tree Hear Its Lesson

  • Incident A: Jesus sees a fig tree, doesn’t find figs on it, and pronounces a curse that it would never produce figs again, a curse the disciples hear. 11:12-14
  • Incident B: The temple incident. 11:15-19
  • Incident A conclusion: Jesus’s disciples see that the fig tree has withered away to its roots. 11:20-21
  • Jesus cursing the fig tree is contradictory, and Mark points this out.
    • It was March or April and there could never have been figs on that tree. Mark explicitly says this.
    • On the other hand, Jesus is hungry, expects to find figs, and failing to do so curses the fig tree
  • “The obvious contradiction between these two aspects of the incident is Mark’s way of warning us to take the event symbolically rather than historically.” (page 35)
  • “The framing fig tree warns us that the framed temple is not being cleansed, but symbolically destroyed and that, in both cases, the problem is a lack of the ‘fruit’ that Jesus expected to be present.” (page 35)
  • What exactly is wrong with the temple?

The Meaning Of Blood Sacrifice

  • “Most people in the ancient world took blood sacrifice for granted as a normal or even supreme form of religious piety.” (page 36)
  • Why?
    • In order to eat meat or to have a feast you had to first kill and animal.
    • Long before animal sacrifice was invented, human beings knew two basic ways of creating, maintaining, or restoring good relations with one another — the gift and the meal.
  • Sacrifice as a gift to God, the animal was burned on the altar, totally destroying it.
  • In sacrifice as meal, the animal was transferred to God by having its blood poured over the altar as then returned to the offerer as divine food for a feast with God.
    • “In other words, the offerer did not so much invite God to a meal as God invited the offerer to a meal.” (page 36)
  • Sacrifice: sacrum facere (Latin), “to make” (facere) “sacred” (sacrum)
  • “In a sacrifice the animal is made sacred and is given to God as a sacred gift or returned to the offerer as a sacred meal. That sense of sacrifice should never be confused with either suffering or substitution.” (page 37)
  • “Most Jews accepted blood sacrifice as a normal and normative component of divine worship at the time of Jesus. There is no reason to think that Jesus’s action in the temple was caused by any rejection of blood sacrifice, or indeed, had anything to do with sacrifice as such.” (page 38)

The Ambiguity Of The High-Priesthood

  • “Today some Christian denominations have priests and some do not, but post-Reformation tensions over the clergy either as function or caste should not be retrojected into Jesus’s temple action.” (page 38)
  • The Ambiguous status of the high-priesthood at the time of Jesus
    • Jewish Hasmonean or Maccabean leaders, through successful wards against Syrian imperialism, had elevated their status to that of high priests and kings to become priest-kings. Normally there was a hereditary requirement for candidates for high-priests.
    • Recall how the Romans divided territories of Israel amongst Herod’s children to rule in their place, but they appointed a governor, Pilot, to rule Judea, which contains Jerusalem.
    • There was no longer a single hereditary dynasty that established the next high priest for life; instead there were those four major families competing with one another for appointment to that office.
    • The governor hired and fired the high priest and will.
  • How could a high priest negotiate with a governor who could fire him? It was a recipe for misrule. Hence the collaboration between the high-priest and the Roman governor.
  • “It was possible to be against a particular high priest and the manner in which he was fulfilling his role without being against the office of high priest itself. There was a terrible ambiguity in that the priest who represented the Jews before God on the Day of Atonement also represented them before Rome the rest of the year.” (page 40)

The Ambiguity Of The Temple

  • “That ambiguity of Judaism’s high priest as Rome’s primary local collaborator spilled over to the temple as well. That building was both the house of God on earth and the institutional seat of submission to Rome.” (page 40)
  • After Herod rebuilt the platform of the temple and added the giant Court of the Gentiles, he placed a large golden eagle, symbol of Rome and its supreme divinity, Jupitor Optimus Maximus, at the top of one of its gates.
  • Two Jewish teachers told their students to hack it off the wall since it was contrary to their sacred laws. They were executed, some burnt alive. These martyrs didn’t act against the temple, but against the ambiguity of the Roman eagle on the Jewish temple.
  • This ambiguity went back over half a millenium before Jesus.

Jeremiah And The Temple

  • “In Jeremiah 7 God tells Jeremiah to stand in front of the temple and confront those who enter to worship (7:1). About what? About their false sense of security.” (page 41)
  • “Do you think, charges God through Jeremiah, that divine worship excuses you from divine justice, that all God wants is regular attendance at God’s temple rather than equitable distribution of God’s land?” (page 42)
  • Jeremiah 7:5-7, 11
  • “Den of robbers”: The people’s everyday injustice makes them robbers, and they think the temple is their safe house, den, hideaway, or place of security.” (page 42)
  • “There was an ancient prophetic tradition in which God insisted not just on justice and worship, but justice over worship.” (page 42)
  • “What will happen if worship in the house of God continues as a substitute for justice in the land of God?” (page 43)
  • Shiloh, which was destroyed by the Philistines, was the place were the ark of the covenant was enshrined in the tent of God before it was removed to the temple of God built by Solomon.

Jesus And The Den Of Robbers

  • “The Temple incident involved both an action by Jesus and a teaching that accompanied and presumably explained it.” (page 44)
  • The action, Jesus:
    • began to drive out the buyers and sellers
    • overturned the tables of the money changers
    • overturned the seats of the dove sellers
    • would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple
    • “It means that Jesus has shut down the temple. But it is a symbolic rather than a literal ‘shutdown.'” (page 45)
    • Recall the Markan frame of the fig tree and the temple set up earlier. (page 45)
      • The tree was “shut down” for lack of the fruit Jesus demanded, and so was the temple.
      • In the case of the temple, it is not a cleansing, but a symbolic destruction, and the fig tree’s fate emphasizes that meaning.
  • The teaching:
    • “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:17
    • Gospel footnotes usually indicate the sources as Isaiah 56:7, for the “house of prayer” part and Jeremiah 7:11 for the “den of robbers” part, but the former is given in quotation marks and the latter is not. In other words “den of robbers” is not indicated clearly as a quotation, and that has caused misunderstanding of Jesus’s action. “Den” is ignored and “robbery” is taken to refer to what is going on in the outer Court of the Gentiles
    • “But clearly from the quotation’s context in Jeremiah 7 and 26, a “den” is a hideaway, a safe house, a refuge. It is not where the robbers rob, but where they flee to for safety after having done their robbing elsewhere.” (page 46)
    • “But God is a God of justice and righteousness and when worship substitutes for justice, God rejects God’s temple — or, for us today, God’s church.” (page 46)

For All the Nations

  • Distinction between what Jesus said and what Mark adds. Borg and Crossan say it’s difficult to imagine the historical Jesus using the Isaiah 56:7 quotation because he was standing in the Court of the Gentiles.
  • “In the year 30 CE, therefore, neither Jesus nor anyone else could stand where the money changers sat and the pure animals were sold and say that the temple was not open to all people, that it was not “a house of prayer for all the nations.” (page 47)
  • Mark is thinking not so much of Jesus around 30 CE as his own people forty years later.
  • Mark is writing sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE, and explaining to Christian Jews why God allowed it to happen.
  • “Between 67 and 70 the temple was certainly no longer open to ‘all the nations,’ but had become a stronghold for Zealot insurgents, a stronghold initially against their own Jewish aristocracy and eventually against the besieging Roman legions.

Twin Symbolic Actions

  • Sunday’s demonstration occurs at the entrance to Jerusalem, and Monday’s at the entrance of the temple. For market these are not so much two separate incidents as a single double one.
  • The structure of Sunday and Monday’s events are similar. (page 48)
  • Mark 11:11 connects the two events, and it serves to emphasize that it also was a preplanned action.
  • “Taken together, and they must be taken together, those action-word combinations proclaim the already present kingdom of God against both the already present Roman imperial power and the already present Jewish high-priestly collaboration. Jerusalem had to be retaken by a nonviolent messiah rather than by a violent revolution, and the temple ritual had to empower justice rather than excuse one from it. What is involved for Jesus is an absolute criticism not only of violent domination, but of any religious collaboration with it.” (page 49)
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