As we continued working our way through Hebrews today in my Sunday school class, the mention of the curtain (separating the holy place from the most holy place or “holy of holies”), and the lack of mention of the temple (the author focuses instead on the tabernacle), led us to a broader discussion of the temple in the New Testament.
In talking about the possible meanings of the action of Jesus in the temple (sometimes called the “cleansing of the temple” or the “temple tantrum”), I listed the issue of the presence of animals in the court of the Gentiles bringing impurity, and next to it the issue of the presence of animals interfering with Gentiles coming to worship there. For the first time, it struck me that the two possibilities can be combined. Those who thought it acceptable to bring animals into (and as a result have their dung in) the court of the nations must have considered and articulated the view that, just as Gentiles are inherently impure (that is why they are not allowed further in), additional impurity from animal dung is no big deal. In other words, non-Jews and dung are being equated, whether subtly or bluntly.
And so the driving out of animals, and the reference to the temple being a “house of prayer for all nations” may be closely and naturally connected. Whether or not these particular aims are traceable to the historical figure of Jesus is another matter, which we didn’t get into.
Since we were up to the end of Hebrews 6, and then into chapter 7, we looked at some of the specific allusions to Scripture. Of particular interest is the use of Genesis 22. There was clearly a substantial amount of Christian reflection on this text prior to the earliest of our extant written sources. The notion that “God did not spare his only Son” make an obvious echo to the passage. On this, see Nils Dahl’s 1969 article, “The Atonement – an adequate reward for the Akedah?” in Neotestamentica et Semitica. It is only when one is able to identify some of the assumed connections between Jesus and texts in Jewish Scripture that were already familiar to Christians that the author’s logic begins to become penetrable.