It sometimes happened that a solemn decree of parliament would violate the sanctuary, and reconsign the condemned into the hands of the executioner; but this was of rare occurrence. The parliaments stood in great awe of the bishops, and if it did come to a brush between the two robes, the gown generally had the worst of it against the cassock. Occasionally, however, as in the case of the assassination of Petit-Jean, the executioner of Paris, and in that of Emery Rousseau, the murderer of Jean Valleret, justice would overleap the barriers of the Church, and pass on to the execution of its sentence. But, except armed with a decree of parliament, woe betide him who forcibly violated a place of sanctuary! We know what befell Robert de Clermont, Marshal of France, and Jean de Chalons, Marshal of Champagne; and yet it was only about a certain Perrin Marc, a moneychanger’s assistant and a vile assassin; but the two marshals had forced the doors of the Church of Saint-Méry—therein lay the enormity of the transgression.
-Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885). Humpbacked, One-Eyed, Lame (1917).

Moneychangers are referred to only in the account of Jesus’ assault on merchants in the Temple of Jerusalem which according to the synoptic Gospels occurred shortly before he was apprehended, but is placed by John at the start of Jesus’ ministry. 1 2 Exodus 30 says that every adult male was to pay half a shekel every year to the sanctuary. 3 4 In the period of the Second Temple the tax was paid during Passover to help the pilgrims that had arrived in Jerusalem. Moneychangers seemed to have provided these services surrounded by the big open area known as the Court of Gentiles or in the porticoes that framed the Temple enclosure. They converted the coins from the diverse currencies as well as those that were religiously offensive because of the portraits on coins.

As a medium of exchange, it was precious metals like silver that was initially used, according to fixed weights, such as the talent, the mina, and the shekel, which later became units of currency. Minted coins appeared to have begun in Asia Minor around the 7th century BCE and was spread quickly by the Greeks and Persians. The earliest coins found in Palestine are a Macedonian coin from Shechem and an Athenian coin from Jerusalem, both dated to the 6th century BCE. By the 5th century BCE coins had become more frequently used as payment for various occupations and were in widespread use by the 4th century BCE. Consequently coins have become a very important way of dating for archeologists. Coins are also indicators of international trade patterns and political control. They also offer important information about scripts and artistic motifs.

Units of currency in biblical and nonbiblical sources and coins discovered in the course of excavations are typically foreign, chiefly Persian, Greek, Tyrian, and Roman, although in some periods evidence shows that there may have been local mints in places such as Gaza and Ashkelon in the Persian period. Additionally there were a number of comparatively short phases when individual local money was created.

While Judah was a province of the Persian empire during the 4th century BCE a succession of coins were made with the inscription “Judah” (yehud) in Aramaic script on them. Some of the archeologists say that they appear to have been made in Jerusalem with some giving the title and at times the name of the Persian appointed governor. Some say that they may have been the earliest Jewish coins. Exclusive coins were also minted by the Hasmoneans starting with Alexander Janneus near the end of the 2nd century BCE. Herod the Great and his heirs issued their own coins too, as did Pilate and some of the other Roman procurators.

From 66-70 CE the rebels of the First Jewish Revolt issued their our currency as an expression of political sovereignty. The coins were made in several denominations including shekels and half-shekels. Made of silver they date from the first to the fifth years of the revolt. As an additional expression of national sentiment the words inscribed in them are in Hebrew and contain sayings like “Jerusalem is holy,” “the freedom of Zion,” and “the redemption of Zion.” The coins depict chalices, a triple pomegranate and palm as well as other branches. There is a deliberate absence of animals and human figures in adherence to the commandment prohibiting graven images. These coins are in stark contrast to the Greek and Roman currencies.

Similar coins were issued again in the Second Jewish Revolt from 132-135 CE. Many include the name of the leader of the rebels Simeon. “In poignant contrast to these numismaticaly expressed patriotic hopes,” says theologian Michael D. Coogan, “are the Roman coins issues by Vespasian and Titus to commemorate their defeat of the First Revolt; some show a mourning figure and have the inscription “Judea captured” in Greek or Latin.”

Several rabbinic sources offer some proof for the complaints about profiteering by the moneychangers at the Temple saying that they charged as much as eight percent for their services. “The reaction of Jesus seems exaggerated,” adds Coogan,” especially in its fullest form in Mark 11: 15-19. It’s furthermore unlikely that one person would control all activity within the vast Temple courtyard; the Gospel narratives, written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, are making a theological point about Jesus, depicting him as a prophet in the tradition of Jeremiah and Isaiah, both of whom are quoted directly. 5

Sources:

Holy Bible (NRSV)

II. Humpbacked, One-Eyed, Lame. Book IX. Hugo, Victor Marie. 1917. Notre Dame de Paris. Vol. XII. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction:
http://www.bartleby.com/312/0902.html
Accessed July 22,2005.

Oxford Companion to the Bible, Russell Fuller and Bruce Metzger, author; Michael D. Coogan, edited by Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p .523-524.

In my days as a "freethinking agnostic" I often used the story of Jesus and the Temple moneychangers as an example of a glaring contradiction in the story of the New Testament. Now, as a heretic who prefers to look at these stories without getting bogged down by two thousand years of reinterpretations, I've had pause to study it again.

The contradiction I wrote about some twenty years ago had to do with the sudden change in the Nazarene's behavior, from one who embraced and loved all to one who suddenly had a complete mental fit and started throwing tables and money all over the place. After all, this is the dude who embraces and welcomes a hated tax collector into his circle of friends. How are these moneychangers any different than Levi the tax collector?

Levi, later renamed Matthew, was a government tax collector. He worked for the government and part of the functioning of the government involved the collection of taxes. Regardless of the fairness and equity of Levi's actions and whether he was involved in self-serving corruption or not was not important. It relates to the "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" business, which has nothing to do with Caesar specifically but the workings of the temporal world.

The machinations of the temporal world are not of concern to the Nazarene, only the well being of the souls of those who are consigned to the temporal world. The temporal world offers temptation, easy paths to sin and opportunities to do wrong by one's brothers and sisters. The Nazarene accepts this to be true. What he takes issue with is the corruption of the spiritual world by the temporal world through the elements of the Temple of Jerusalem, held in regard by the people as the House of God.

The Nazarene's quest to go to Jerusalem has little to do with taking a "seat of power" as some kind of king. It has to do with his sorrow over the heart of the law being overshadowed by the word of the law and the consolidation of temporal power by those who claim to be representatives of the spiritual world. In a sense, the Temple itself has become no more than another political manifestation that sets laws and passes judgment on people as good, devout Jews or sinners to be cast out.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

--Matthew 7:1
(New International Version)

Instead of offering comfort and acceptance to a people living under a difficult occupation, the Temple has become a place of judgement and of opulence in a time of suffering. The moneychangers exist because the temple priests insist on following the letter of the law regarding graven images on money. It follows with the Nazarene's cries of hypocrisy, the ignorance of the heart of the law overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance of following the letter of the law.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

--Matthew 23:23
(New International Version)

The people, who are already heavily taxed by the Romans, travel to Jerusalem to follow the letter of the law, but in order to do so they are asked to exchange their money before paying the tithe. Here they are again taxed, this time essentially, although indirectly, by the Temple itself for the moneychangers charge them a variety of exchange rates. They are indirect representatives of the Temple, which is supposed to be representative of the spiritual world. Profit is being made by the requirements of the spiritual law. Profit is a machination of the temporal world which has taken hold within a symbolic representation of the spiritual world. This is what sets off the Nazarene. It is also the point at which he establishes himself as standing apart from the religious hierarchy of the time. In essence, it is where he proves himself to be a heretic. To question the laws, rules and regulations of the Temple itself is open heresy.

Those things which are of the temporal world, such as the Temple of Jerusalem, are merely symbolic. When the Nazarene says he could tear down down the Temple and rebuild it in three days he is mocking the high value placed on the Temple over what it is meant to represent. The opulence and riches of the Temple mean nothing. The overwhelming focus on the value and importance of the Temple have come to overshadow what it is supposed to stand for. This is why the symbolic mental fit of the Nazarene is important. In following his teachings you find, time and again, that the true temple is within the heart and soul of the individual and that such majestic symbols as the Temple of Jerusalem can fall and be destroyed without it meaning anything in a spiritual sense. The destruction of the Temple only matters in a temporal sense.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."

--Matthew 7:7
(New International Version)

The Kingdom of Heaven is inside you
No structure, no construct of the temporal world, means more than that.

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