Sunday, February 26, 2012

Profiteering Jews?

When preachers preach on Jesus clearing the Temple, it is often asserted that the sellers of sacrifices and money changers charged inflated prices, and that is Jesus' problem with it.

Is there any evidence of inflated money changing/sacrifice prices in the Second Temple?

Or is this charge based on a stereotype of 'Jews'?

To me it is all a distraction from the fact that this takes place in the Gentile courts, which is noted as the problem in John 2.

Anyone know of some ancient sources here?


Matthew Moffitt said...

I seem to remember that in Jeremiah the "den of robbers/thieves" passage, robbers/thieves is literally Canaanites. So the issue isn't just economics but idolatry.

Elise said...

Not sure where the Canaanites come in, the robbers/thieves are just 'przim' ie those who violently take your stuff. The temple is being compared to the robbers' cave or hideout where they retreat for safety. To paraphrase Jer. 7, 'You Judahites oppress and violently defraud the poor and vulnerable, then think you can come and hang out here in your safe haven and be untouchable. Well that's not what my temple is.'

Re your original question Mike: I think in Luke's gospel especially, you see Jesus pointing out similar dynamics operating between rich and poor in his day and not being afraid to call a spade a spade when it came to exploitation and oppression.

Have you read "Wealth and poverty in early church and society?" Helpful in peeling off some of our layers of overprivileged, late western capitalist, wilfully ignorant, narrow thinking about what constitutes theft.

Does that mean Jesus is commenting here about their economic behaviour? I think so, but in the same vein as John the Baptist was in Luke 3:11-15. And by conflating the Isaiah quote in, he's bringing treatment of gentiles into the picture as well.

Not sure where the stuff about inflation/exchange rates came from, I've heard it too. Could so easily be an urban myth of christendom, with standard antisemitic edge. I'd be interested to hear of any primary evidence.

Matthew Moffitt said...

Sorry, seems I was mistaken about the Canaanite idea. But the Gk word lestes and the Heb. word parisim has more to do with bandits, brigands, and revolutionaries.

Mike W said...

@Matt Yeah, I'd picked up that lestes=revolution by banditry thing before too.

I guess the economic thing is there, but I'm yet to find any evidence that suggests inflated prices. I'm more inclined to think crowding out the gentiles is the issue (rather pertinent for todays politics)

Of course, if it is economics, then the judgement seems to be on the entire Temple scheme, and not just an abuse of it.

Mike S said...

The Canaanite comment comes from Zechariah. In the bad shepherd passage, the sheep were sold to the "Caananites of the flock", but the MT Hebrew has a space in the word and some mis-spelling so it kind of looks like "weak ones" or something else grammatically improbable.

Mike W said...

So , I should have gone to Craig Keener's Matthew commentary first. He is the king of ancient sources.

Here is roughly what he has to say (in relation to Matt 21)

The rabbinic "successors of the Pharsees would not have passed up an opportunity to critique a predominantly Sadducean system" yet there is little (almost no) evidence of profteering from the temple sacrifices. Though there are plenty of complaints about priestly families, criticisms do not concern their exploitation of pilgrims. There is one tiny piece of evidence in the mishnah that someone could be overcharged for a sacrifice, where ben Gamaliel moves to reduce the price of doves for women (and also reduce the repetitiveness of the sacrifice). This however, reinforces the view that the Temple attempted to keep sacrifices affordable.
There is further evidence (Mishnah sheqal 1:6-7 that the temple money changers made little to no profit.

There is however, Rabbinic evidence that the market (originally restricted to the Mount of Olives) had recently been moved into the Temple complex, with some resistance.

So, as far as outside sources go, econimic doesn't seem to be the issue HERE.
(although the Temple may be part of Jesus broader critique of the social and economic status quo elsewhere)