Saturday, August 24, 2013

court of the gentiles

Ben F. Meyer, writing in The Early Christians:
But to arrive at this "whole meaning" [of the cleansing of the temple] we must first recall the age-old cosmological image underlying the whole biblical tradition on the temple. It is the image of the universe as "firmament," "dry land," and primeval "deep" beneath the dry land and above the firmament. The universe is just as it appears. Sun, moon, and stars are set in the firmament and rain is the primeval water seeping through perforations in it. The land is preeminently mountains, their bases sunk in the primeval ocean, their backs emerging above its surface. At the horizon they are pillars supporting the firmament. Numinous and uncanny, the mountains are rivets binding the stories of the universe: sky, land, subterranean sea. The highest mountain is in the center. In its hollow depths lies the netherworld. Directly above is the point of access to him "who sits above the circle of the earth" (Isa 41:22). The point on earth at which the world axis connects heaven, earth, and netherworld is the site of the world sanctuary.


The symbolic thrust of the cleansing corresponded to the specifying infinitive in an "I have come" saying. And if the cleansing accounts as they now stand in the gospels accentuate the judgment-character of Jesus' symbolic act and so would say "to consign to destruction," the original act bore above all a promise-character, saying: "to purify and renew." Furthermore, in the light of the eschatological context projected by Jesus' whole career, we should accent the symbolism of the temple as the epitome of the universe, the navel and sanctuary not of Israel alone but of the whole world. Jesus' action accordingly said: "I have come to purify and renew not only the temple but Israel, not only Israel but the world." It is possible that the concrete setting of the court of the gentiles supports this significance.


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