A Ritual Perspective on NT Approaches to the Jerusalem Temple

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Much has been written about the Temple in the New Testament, and it is commonly argued that Jesus takes the place of the Jerusalem Temple. This paper raises a different question: what is the effect of the engagement with the Temple? I will address this topic through the prism of ritual studies. All four gospels place Jesus in the Temple. In his many visits, he teaches and makes speeches, not always on cultic matters. In Acts, the apostles and Paul visit the Temple or discuss it several times. Clashes with the Temple priests and high priests are especially characteristic of Mark and Acts. Jesus and Paul also address the Temple cult on occasions which occur outside the Temple. In the Pauline epistles and 1 Peter, metaphors pertaining to the Temple and sacrifice are common. In Hebrews and Revelation these themes are extremely central to the theology of the authors. As most of these authors are writing after 70 CE, the main question is: why are they concerned with the Temple and its sacrifices if they longer exist? What do the authors and readers gain from their profound interest and the discussion of Temple-related issues? In this paper I will build on the evidence discussed in my The Temple in Early Christianity (Yale University Press, 2019), pointing to the relevance of the Temple cult for the NT authors. My methodology is based on theories and models pertaining to symbolism, metaphor, and especially ritual. My point of departure is that discourse about ritual incorporates some of the social effects of ritual itself. This text-as-ritual model enables me to suggest several ways in which discourse about the Temple was used to achieve various aims, including: experiencing the sacred; connecting to the lost center of Judaism; gaining ritual power; furthering in-group social solidarity and integration; advancing Jesus' authority; and rituals which are set against the Temple leadership. Exploring these social functions of the discourse on ritual will demonstrate how they utilized the Temple and sacrifices in diverse and complementary ways to consolidate the identity formation of believers in Jesus. They did so by relating to distinctive Jewish symbols, thus developing their ideas in relation to Jewish traditions and practices. The Temple was therefore a means through which the early Christians could formulate their own identity against Jewish identity, stressing both alignment and divergence from the Jewish concept of the Temple.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2019
EventThe SBL Annual Meeting - San-Diego, United States
Duration: 23 Nov 201926 Nov 2019


ConferenceThe SBL Annual Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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