Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Temple

While the synagogue was a place for prayer and study of scripture, the Temple was a place for sacrifice. Just as sacrifice of animals is always a part of religion in the ancient world, it played an important part of the practice of religion in Jerusalem.

Judaism differed from other pagan religious ceremonies in some very important ways.  For example, unlike Greco-Roman religions, there is only one place in the world where and acceptable sacrifice can be made, the Temple at Jerusalem. This was not always the case for the Jews, even as late as the reign of Hezekiah in the 8th century B.C. there were still local shrines where sacrifices to the Lord were made.  Hezekiah attempts to reform this system with limited success. In the post-exilic period there are several examples of competing temples in Egypt (at Elephantine and Leontopolis).

Jewish sacrifices were more expensive than Greco-Roman sacrifices primarily because there was a class of priests who needed to be supported by the populace. There was no professional priesthood in Greece or Rome, anyone could function as a priest (Alexander the Great and the Caesars, for example, were priests). Priests in Israel were hereditary and were prohibited from working to support themselves outside of their role as priest.  See this previous post on the wealth of the Temple.

The Temple was central to the life of the “common Jew.”  As N. T. Wright puts it, “At the heart of Jewish national life, for better or worse, stood the Temple” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 224).  The impression one gets from reading the more extreme views of the Essenes or Jesus’ sharp critique in the New Testament is that the Temple was viewed negatively in the first century. Despite politically ambitious High Priests and possible corruption in the first century, most Jews supported the Temple through offerings willingly given.  Diaspora Jews even supported the Temple through the half-shekel “Temple Tax,” a practice the Romans required to be continued after the revolts, although the money was diverted to Rome (War 7.218; Dio Cassius, 66.7).

Sanders warns us it is possible to have too positive of a view of the Temple based on Josephus (a priest), Philo (a pilgrim, in this case) and other early writers (Judaism, 54). There were wealthy, powerful priests and others who lived in poverty.  The critiques of the Temple by the Essenes and the Gospels may therefore be taken as a corrective to the positive material in the Jewish sources.

Yet in the New Testament the Temple is impressive to the Disciples (Matt 24:1-2) even if the current leadership is under God’s judgment and about to be replaced (Mark 12:1-12). It is still the main place for the apostolic preaching in Acts 2 and 3, although by Acts 7 Stephen is accused of attacking the Temple. Both Paul (Eph 2:19-22) and Peter (1 Peter 2:4-5) refer to believers as stones in a living Temple.

9 thoughts on “Core Beliefs of Second Temple Judaism: Temple

  1. The references to believers as living stones in a living temple would have been a perfect visualization of the role that believers play in the body of Christ. Early Christianity was often compared to familiar elements of Judaism. For example, the obvious comparison between the sacrifices at the temple and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The stones of the temple were special, cut specifically for the purpose of being put into the temple. In the same way, being a member of the body of Christ means believers have been intentionally purposed for a role in the Kingdom of Heaven. This comparison creates a compelling image of the idea that every believer makes an essential contribution to the Kingdom as a whole.

  2. I never thought about this, but even today, most senior pastors or priests do not have a job outside of the church. I do not know if there is actually a rule saying that senior pastors and priests cannot have a separate job outside of the church, but they do not typically have to worry about things like a house payment because the church pays for that kind of thing. On the other hand, if the church has a youth pastor or associate pastor, they typically do have another job so there must not be an actual rule saying that pastors and priests cannot have another job.

  3. I have never really thought about having too positive of a view of the Temple during Jesus’ time as Sanders warns. Unfortunately, however, “politically ambitious High Priests and possible corruption” sort of makes sense given the often corrupt, power hungry Hasmonean high priest-kings. Corrupt priests trying to make points with or gain power through their pagan rulers certainly would not be a good thing for the lay Jews. The Temple was where the sacrifices for the nation was made and was supposed to be the holiest place in Israel, not a place to gain political power or prestige.

  4. Probably due to the current pop culture view of Greco-Roman culture I had always thought they had their own sort of priesthood in which one may have had to be specially trained in order to be a priest, though still different from Judaism in that there was no lineage required. God established many of the Laws for the Jews in order to separate them from those around them. The priesthood is a part of what makes Judaism unique though not completely unique. Egypt also had a similar thing in the form of the pharaohs.

  5. It is very interesting to read about the history of the temple in beliefs. It would make it difficult but also special to have only one temple to worship and sacrifice for God. Other religions had multiple places to worship and sacrifice. I can not see how frustrating it would be when the Jews would get persecuted and then set free and then persecuted again never having the temple for good. If they truly believe this was the only place to worship then I am sure it would be miserable to have that taken away. The temple was everything to a Jew, it was where they learned and The Jews would help pay for the temple because it was expensive to run the place, especially paying the salary for all of the priests who served there. It was interesting to see that some believe that the temple could have been too much. Some of the priests get paid a lot while there were people in the city who were very poor. But even in the New Testament, the temple was respected. A lot of times it was a good place to worship and to preach. The Jews still do not have their temple, it is so interesting to see how this is played out and how they will act once they get it built again. Will they sacrifice animals? Will all of the Jews move there? I am anxious to see it play out.

  6. It’s difficult for us in the twenty-first century to imagine having one place of worship. It has always astounded me that some of the Jews were at a loss with the destruction of the Temple, because that was the central place of worship. I sometimes wonder how it would feel to enter a place deemed so sacred. I can hardly imagine the devastation that would result from the loss of this connection to God. At the same time, I can understand why there would be criticism of the Temple, especially if priests were actually living cushioned lives while there were people hardly scraping by in the cities. It is extremely sad that political ambition often overshadowed the true purpose of the High Priest.

    Today, we are like “living stones.” 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NIV). The temple curtain that separated the presence of God from those outside of the Holy of Holies has been torn and today God resides within us. As Tomasino points out in Judaism Before Jesus, the destruction of the Temple was something used to the glory of God, that ultimately forced Jews to think about a new way of worship and what it looked like without that central place (2003). We often take our bodies (which are described as temples several times throughout the Bible) for granted. Like the Temple was protected and treated as sacred by the Jews of the past, we should treat our bodies in such a way, glorifying God with them.

  7. Government and political corruption has been a thing since the beginning of time with the fall. The temple was a power trip for corrupt power chasers back then just like any political office is now in the USA. The elected priests would typically not have the best intentions with the betterment of their people but rather a personal agenda for their own name and personal power making deals and treaties with corrupt rulers around them. Gaining points with them.

  8. I really like reading about the Temple in Jerusalem because I find it very interesting. As a Christian today, we can think of the church building that we go to as something that is similar to the Temple for the Jews, but the two are very different from one another. The Jews were required to go to the Temple often for sacrifices and more. Christians do not have to go to their church and give sacrifices like the Jews had to. Also, Christians are not required to go to church at all. I personally know many Christians who have not been to a church in years, but still have a strong love for God. Another thing that I find interesting is that there was one Temple, but there are churches that we can go to today all over the place. There are even different kinds of churches depending on what denomination of Christianity you practice. I wonder if many Christians would not go to church as often if there was only one available or even if there were a very limited amount, such as one per city. However, in today’s world, there is the option of watching virtual church which could change things, especially since we do not have to give sacrifices. There is a lot that I feel can still be learned about the Temple even though we read about it a lot in the Bible and in other historical texts. It was a major part of the Jewish faith and tradition, which I think makes it very important to study.

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