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Jesus as Whippersnapper: John 2:15 and Prophetic Violence

This essay challenges a pacifistic interpretation of John 2:15. In particular, it addresses the linguistic, historical and literary arguments of N. Clayton Croy, who argued that Jesus should not be portrayed as committing any act of violence in John 2:15. More recently, Andy Alexis-Baker concludes that Jesus did not even strike any animals with a whip, which was made of materials too soft to injure anyone or any animal. A violent portrait of Jesus is consistent with the Deuteronomistic view of divine anger and prophetic zeal that may have influenced the portrait the Johannine Jesus. Otherwise, the temple episode in John exemplifies another case where some streams of Christian scholarship seem reluctant to characterize Jesus’ behavior as unjustifiably violent.

See Also: Jesus Was Not Against Imperialism: New Testament Ethics as an Imperialist Project

By Hector Avalos
Religious Studies
Iowa State University
May 2017

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Comments (2)

Perhaps Kierkegaard would say that if religious institutions get to the point where they are magnificent on the outside but sordid and rapacious inwardly (see also the Widow's Mite) then the renewal of the spirit of morality and religion sometimes requires unethical forms of challenge. Of course we might question whether this portrait of the doomed Temple is fair. Hobbes might say that a possibly lethal attack on people going about their lawful business, one risking a serious disruption of public order, was a shocking breach of the social contract - though he might also say that Jesus, as the only person in history who genuinely represented God here on earth, was within his rights, unique to him, to dissolve the social contract and commission
another. There are terrifying ramifications to this question.
#1 - Martin Hughes - 05/24/2017 - 20:26

Returning, if I may, to the historical aspect of the subject - it seems to me that the full impact of the Temple Cleansing story has rarely been noted. It's possible to treat the Synoptic version of the story as recording an event comparatively minor in the disturbance caused - just a few tables upset and a few words of protest. John increases the tension by introducing the possibly lethal weapon and possible stampede by animals that might have been quite dangerous to human lives in a crowded place. On the other hand he reduces the tension somewhat by locating the event to an early phase in Jesus' ministry, perhaps forgotten before the final events. But on any version there is a major problem in reconciling this story with the constant claim that not even malevolent accusers could find a crime attributed to Jesus of which Pilate might have been expected to take cognisance. It might not have been that serious or that recent or in any event worthy of death but it was (if it happened) at least a significant threat to the conduct of apparently lawful business in a very sensitive place and thus to public order. At that rate it was not on any reasonable judgement trivial or unworthy of mention. There's no need to think of either the Jewish or the Roman authorities as exceptionally neurotic or severe in order to think that cognisance of this matter was to be expected once Jesus was at the forefront of attention and that to ignore it would have verged on irresponsibility. To me all this is a reminder that we are dealing with texts of a basically theological and only secondarily of a historical nature. Jesus is above the violence of this world's kingdoms but his right to chastise evil, as a prophet must, is asserted.
I don't mean to avoid the moral question. Jesus is the great exemplar of Western civilisation and the moral question arises in much the same terms whether we are talking about him as he was or only as he is reported.
#2 - Martin Hughes - 05/28/2017 - 15:17

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