PMW 2018-082 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the third and final article in a brief series showing how the destruction of the temple in AD 70 pointed to and even symbolized the destruction of the world at the Final Judgment.
In the last article I noted that the Jews believed the temple was permanent, existing as long as the world would last. Thus, many scholars comment on this religious perspective in Judaism regarding the temple’s relevance to the world order.
The temple’s relation to the world
Lee I. Levine (2002: 246) notes that the temple “was where God dwelled, this was the cosmic center of the universe (axis mundi), the navel (omphalos) of the world that both nurtured it and bound together heaven and earth.”
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Randall C. Gleason (2002: 111) points out that “the Jewish connection between Temple and cosmos was such that the glory of the Temple in Jerusalem symbolized the stability of the Jewish world.”
Shaye J. Cohen (1982: 24) agrees: “the temple was more than a building and more than the home of the sacrificial cult. It was the sacred center of the cosmos, the place where heaven and earth meet.” He continues: “the temple was more than a building and more than the home of the sacrificial cult. It was the sacred center of the cosmos, the place where heaven and earth meet.”
Peter Hayman (1986: 176) cites Sefer Yesira regarding the “edges” of the universe: “the Holy Temple [is] exactly in the middle, and it supports them all.”
The temple’s decor and the world
That the temple’s destruction points to the world’s destruction would be fueled by the temple’s decor itself. For, according to Josephus, the Jews believed that the temple veil and the high priest’s vestments each picture the fact that “God made the universe of four elements” earth, sea, air, and fire (Jos., Ant. 3:7:3 §183-84).
Then later, he explains the colors of the temple veil as “a kind of image of the universe” (J.W. 5:5:4 §212–13; Ant. 3.6.4; 3.7.7). This is because “the Temple, its vessels and even the high priest’s vestments were depicted as representing the entire universe and the heavenly hosts” (Shemuel Safrai and Menahem Stern 1974: 1: 906). As Seth Schwartz (1990: 42) notes, Josephus’ description of the special temple articles “are said to symbolize parts of the cosmos [and] may imply that for Josephus the Temple as a whole symbolized the cosmos as a whole.”
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And this information is not simply a Josephan peculiarity. In Sirach 18:24 we read of the high priest: “on his long robe the whole world was depicted.” Schwartz (1990: 43) argues that this statement “clearly implies the cosmic nature of the priestly vestments.”
Philo agrees, noting that the high priest’s dress seemed to be “a copy and representation of the world” (Spec. Laws 1:16 §84) and was arranged so that it provided “a representation of the universe” (Spec. Laws 1:17 §95). He (Mos 2:24 §122) points out that “some who have studied the subject” see the shoulder stones on the high priest as “emblems of those stars which are the rulers of night and day, namely, the sun and moon.” The twelve stones on the breastplate are emblems of “the circle of the zodiac” (Philo, Mos 2:24 §124).
James Davila (2005, 17) therefore writes that “the Jerusalem Temple is a microcosm of the universe.” D. D. Kupp (1996, 133) agree that “the Jerusalem Temple explained YHWH’s active presence in his created order and functioned as a spiritual and symbolic microcosm of the macrocosm.”
Thus, at Christ’s death the temple veil (picturing the stellar universe) is “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38//). The rending of the veil, then, was a “clear sign of impending destruction of the Temple” (Richard A. Horsley 1987: 162). In fact, due to its embroidery with the starry heavens “its tearing would be an apt symbol of the beginning destruction, not only of the temple (which itself even as a whole symbolized the cosmos) but of the very cosmos itself” as the new creation process is begun in Christ’s death (Gregory K. Beale 1997a: 189).
So just as Christ’s overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables pictured the overthrowing of the temple, the destruction of the temple with all of its cosmic imagery pictured the destruction of the world at the Final Judgment. The temple is a microcosm of the cosmos and therefore it destruction symbolizes the destruction of the world itself.
JESUS, MATTHEW, AND OLIVET
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!