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ARTICLES

JESUS AND THE MONEYCHANGERS
J. R. Hyland

Undergirding the theory that it was the cheating moneychangers
whom Jesus targeted as the culprits in the system of animal
sacrifice, is the claim that the whole process had become "too
commercial." This is akin to claiming that the institution of
slavery had to be dismantled because it had became too
commercial. Although both Temple sacrifices and human slavery had
a firm economic foundation, it was the inherent immorality of
those systems that brought together the historical forces which
finally led to their collapse.
 
Several hundred years after prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos,
and Hosea had denounced the sacrificial slaughter of animals,
Jesus carried out what is euphemistically called the Cleansing of
the Temple. It was just before Passover and he disrupted the
buying and selling of animals that were being purchased for
slaughter. (See article, "The Slaughter of The Innocent, this
website.) And because Christian scholars and religious leaders
continue to ignore biblical denunciations of that bloody worship,
they also try to obscure the reason for Christ's assault on the
system.  

They have done this by focusing on the moneychangers, although
they were only minor players in the drama that took place. It was
the cult of sacrifice that Jesus tried to dismantle, not the
system of monetary exchange. In all three gospel accounts of the
event, those who provided the animals for sacrifice are mentioned
first: they were the primary focus of Christ's outrage.

The Gospel of John gives the most detailed account of the event.
"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up
to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle,
sheep and doves and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So
he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple, both
sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said:
'Get out of here.'(John 2:13-16)

Matthew's gospel does not detail the kind of animals that were
being sold for slaughter, but it gives the same order of events.
"Jesus entered the Temple area and drove out all who were buying
and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers
and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said
to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer but you are
making it a den of robbers.'" (Matthew 21:12-13)

The same account is given in the gospel of Mark who, like
Matthew, also reports that Jesus accused those at the Temple of
making God's house into a "den of robbers." And there is
universal acknowledgement that in both gospels, when Jesus said
this, he was quoting from the prophet Jeremiah (7:11). That
prophet had hurled the same accusation at the people of his own
time, almost six hundred years earlier. He said it while standing
at the Temple entrance, after he had already warned the people
"do not shed innocent blood in this place." And when Jeremiah
said God's house had been turned into a den of robbers it could
not have had anything to do with moneychangers--they did not
exist in his time.  

In the time of Jeremiah, as in the time of Jesus, there was a
great distinction made between "robbers" and "thieves." In
contemporary times that distinction can best be understood by
comparing the crime of petty theft with crimes of armed robbery
by those who violently attack/kill their victims. But in ancient
Israel there was an even greater distinction. A thief could be
anyone who succumbed to a momentary impulse to steal something,
but a robber was someone for whom violent crime and killing was a
lifestyle.

Both Jesus and Jeremiah were indignant about the violence of
sacrificial worship, not the possibility of petty theft by
moneychangers.  When they said God's house had become a den of
"robbers" the Hebrew word that was used (here, transliterated)
was "per-eets'" defined as "violent, i.e., a tyrant--destroyer,
ravenous, robber." It was the violence of the system, the killing
of innocent victims in the name of God, that they were
condemning. The moneychangers operating in the time of Jesus were
driven out of the Temple because they were taking part in the
process of sacrificial religion, not because they may have been
cheating the pilgrims. 

The gospel of Mark correlates Christ's attempt to dismantle the
sacrificial system with the plot to kill him. Like Matthew's
gospel, Mark's account of the Temple Cleansing starts by saying
that Jesus "began driving out those who were buying and selling
there." It goes on to relate how he explained to the people why
he was doing this, by quoting Jeremiah's opposition to animal
sacrifice: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all
nations. But you have made it a 'den of robbers.'" And in the
verse of scripture immediately following that statement, Mark
reports that "The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard
about this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they
feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his
teachings."(Mark 11:18)

It is ridiculous to claim that the religious leaders of Christ's
time would have plotted his death because he undermined the
function of the moneychangers. Nor would the crowd have been
"amazed at his teachings" if Jesus was simply telling them to
make sure they were not short-changed when they purchased Temple
coins. What the people were amazed at was his condemnation of
animal sacrifice; it had been hundreds of years since that kind
of condemnation had been heard in Jerusalem. And it would not be
allowed. A few days after he tried to overthrow the cult of
animal sacrifice, Jesus was crucified. The religious leaders of
his time were determined to preserve the belief that it had been
ordained by God, who demanded its continuance. 

That determination is echoed in the teachings of contemporary
Christian leaders. In spite of Jesus, and in spite of the many
biblical denunciations of animal sacrifice (*see endnote) they
continue to maintain the ancient fiction that it was God who
demanded His creatures be killed and butchered as an act of
worship.

It is understandable that in the time of Jesus the religious
leaders were committed to upholding the system of Temple
sacrifice at all costs: it was the center around which their
lives revolved and their livelihood depended. And in biblical
times, most people were illiterate and dependant on what their
religious leaders taught them concerning the scriptures. But it
is not easy to understand why contemporary Christians uphold the
validity of the cult of animal sacrifice. In an age of widespread
literacy, there is a choice to be made. The bible clearly
presents an ongoing conflict between those forces that demanded
sacrificial victims in the name of God, and those forces that
opposed it as a man-made perversion.

And because there is a choice to be made, it is deeply disturbing
to see Christian leaders joining hands across the centuries with
their ancient counterparts, in order to validate a system of
worship in which the house of God became a giant slaughterhouse,
awash in the blood of its victims.

---------------------
*Partial list of scriptures opposing animal sacrifice.
Psalm 40:6
Isaiah 1:11-17;
Jeremiah 7:3-7,11,21-25
Hosea 8:11-13,
Amos 5:21-25
Micah 6:6-8
 
Copyright 2002, Viatoris Ministries

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