To Rebuild the Temple or Not (Thom 71)

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion over at April DeConick’s blog, in comments under posts about meta-narratives, sexism, and the temple saying of Thom 71. Regarding the last, in response to April’s claim that “the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the temple would be destroyed unconditionally [without being rebuilt],” I responded as follows:

April wrote:

“Since the Temple did indeed fall, the account that Jesus predicted its fall certainly would not have been embarrassing, but it very well could have been unpopular.”

It’s the part about rebuilding which was embarassing/unpopular, since it never happened. If Thomas’ version — which lacks any reference to the rebuilding — were original, how did the embarassing idea of rebuilding enter the tradition to begin with, necessitating the damage control in Mark/Matthew (where it’s denied) and John (where it’s spiritualized to refer to Jesus’ resurrection)? Doesn’t it make more sense that Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and rebuilding, and that Thomas’ version controls the damage as much as Mark/Matthew and John?

“Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus’ death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus’ body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple.”

As I understand it, Mark and Matthew do no such thing. They simply deny that Jesus predicted that he (God, more likely original) would “destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days” by placing the prophecy on the lips of false witnesses. (Mk 14:55-58/Mt26:59-61; Mk 15:29-30/Mt 27:39-40). Only John revises the prophecy by applying Jesus’ resurrection to it (Jn 2:19-22).

“The opinion that such a saying could only be explained in a post-Jewish war context is nonsense, and does not take into consideration the rich Jewish expectations about the Temple at the End of time – its destruction, either temporary or permanent.”

There wasn’t much precedent in Jesus’ day for the temple’s destruction without being rebuilt. You call attention to many passages involving rebuilding (Jub 1:29, 23:21; I En 14:8-25, 71:5-6, 89:73, 91:13; II Bar 4:2-6, T Levi 5:1, 18:1-14; 4Q266 3:20-4:3), but only one where it is not (T Moses 5-10), in Recovering the Original Gospel of Thomas (p 142). But even in the last, the temple’s actual destruction isn’t made plain.

“So it may be that the Gospel of Thomas is preserving the oldest, harshest, and least popular remembrance of this saying, that the Temple would be destroyed unconditionally.”

I don’t mean to imply that Jesus was slavishly unoriginal — he was capable of manipulating his traditions in many cases. But in this case, for the above reasons, doesn’t it seem rather likely that he predicted the temple’s destruction and its rebuilding, and the latter half was later denied (Mk/Mt), revised (Jn), and dropped (Thom) on account of post-70 embarrassment?

To rebuild or not, ’tis the question…

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4 thoughts on “To Rebuild the Temple or Not (Thom 71)

  1. Loren,You reply to April’s statement:“Bear in mind how Matthew, Mark, and John labor to revise it in light of Jesus’ death, suggesting that the saying referred to Jesus’ body, its entombment in the earth for three days, and its resurrection on the third day, NOT the actual destruction of the Temple.”By replying that:“As I understand it, Mark and Matthew do no such thing. They simply deny that Jesus predicted that he (God, more likely original) would “destroy the temple and rebuilt it in three days” by placing the prophecy on the lips of false witnesses. (Mk 14:55-58/Mt26:59-61; Mk 15:29-30/Mt 27:39-40). Only John revises the prophecy by applying Jesus’ resurrection to it (Jn 2:19-22).”It seems to me that all three apply the resurrection to it. Note that in both Matthew and Mark the “false” allegation made against Jesus is that he will destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. The reference to the three days clearly is a reference to the resurrection of Jesus. Presumably the reference to “false” testimony is to the falseness of the interpretation, not the actual statement. In other words Mark and Matthew are saying that Jesus was accused of saying he would tear down the temple and rebuild it when those who understand and believe in the resurrection will understand that he wasn’t talking about the temple at all, but was talking about himself. They may not say that explicitly, but it seems implied by the reference to the three days.So, presumably the interpretation of the destruction of the temple as being actually about him gets added quite early, before the destruction probably. This would make sense in that after Jesus is killed they needed to deal with an unpopular saying of Jesus in some way and implying that it was about his resurrection was one way to do that.It makes little sense to me that Jesus would have predicted the destruction and rebuilding and that the rebuilding would have been the embarrasing part. I mean if Jesus said around 30 that the temple would be destroyed and rebuilt, and folks waited around 40 years for the destruction part to be fulfilled why would they be so quick to be disappointed that the rebuilding didn’t happen instantly? Wouldn’t they be more likely to say “See folks, it took a while, but it was destroyed just like He said it would be, so just wait for a bit and he will rebuild it!” (Unless you really believe that Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days which seems a bit unlikely. Surely the three days part, at least, follows the resurrection story.)The most likely scenario to me seems to be that the saying about the destruction got interpreted as a reference to the resurrection early on and by the time the temple was destroyed it was too ingrained in the tradition to reinterpret. (But it might have become a bit more “politically incorrect” a metaphor after the actual destruction perhaps explaining why Mark and Matthew don’t explicitly state it.)

  2. One thing that bothers me about all the temple destruction claims allegedly occurring prior to the Jewish revolt is that Herod had already torn down and reconstructed the Temple. Large parts of the reconstruction project continued down to just before the revolt as a major public works project. It is thought by some scholars that the termination of the Temple reconstruction project may have contributed to the unrest leading up to the revolt (due to massive unemployment.)The idea of threatening to tear down and rebuild the temple prior to the revolt just doesn’t strike me as a particularly dangerous concept to the Jews during Jesus’ lifetime, and only seems to make sense in a post-70 context, when Christians argued that the destruction of the temple was a punishment of the Jews by God.

  3. Wade wrote:<>Unless you really believe that Jesus said he would rebuild the temple in three days which seems a bit unlikely.<>It may be more likely than not. I’m persuaded by Paula Fredriksen’s suggestion that Jesus stepped up the apocalypse’s timetable from “soon” to “now” in his last Jerusalem visit, and in line with this he may well have predicted the swift destruction/rebuilding of the temple by God “in three days”.

  4. Dear friends, in this interesting set of comments in a dialog about the meaning of the three days of destroying and rebuilding the temple, the presumption is some literal understanding of the original texts.If we take the approach that sacred scripture presents narrative that may utilize historical events or devices such as parables, similitudes, and allegories as figurations for spiritual processes (as opposed to true historical events; and that it has a homiletic intent and not an intent to review literal history per se, we can recognize a universal pattern. The “three days” is a ubiquitous pattern. The rebuilding of the temple is clearly symbolic. It references the spiritual resurrection of the body (i.e., gathering) of believers, from the state of unbelief to the state of spiritual life. This resurrection passes through three phases, from lowest state (like dwelling in Egypt, the land of materiality), passing through the wilderness wanderings (day two, an intermediate state of spiritual difficulty involving tests and trials), and finally arriving at the promised land. These three phases are recognizable in several motifs (days of Jonah in the belly of the whale; days of the resurrection as a journey as in Luke 13; the three days of revival in Hosea 6; the three sons of Adam and Eve; the three lands in the Exodus account; and so on). They can all refer to the three conditions of ‘man,’ namely the hylic or sarkic (material being), the psychic (searching soul), and the pneumatic (spirit) (from Paul). Christ “rebuilds” the body of mankind by raising people up through these phases to the “last day,” i.e., the state of spiritual awakedness. It has nothing to do with physical resuscitation.The destruction of the temple refers to the destruction of the Jewish religion, destroyed in its spiritual sense; then rebuilt anew in its Christian sense, as the Mosaic dispensation is replaced by the Christian one. The water is turned into wine.

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