666 And The Love Of Money Part 5

In this series, 666 and The Love of Money, we have been looking at how John used the demise of King Solomon to show his readers that the religious leaders of Israel were just as oppressive due to their love of money. In post one and two we looked at how Solomon broke the mosaic covenant due to his love of money. While in the 3rd post we looked at how the prophets in Israel warned the leaders that judgement would fall on the nation, and both the 1st and 2nd temples would be destroyed due to their corruption and love of money.

In Post 4 I also introduced you to the Ananus High Priest Family dynasty who were so corrupt in New Testament times. The High Priesthood in Jerusalem ruled over all Jews no matter where they lived in the Roman Empire. In addition, every adult male Jew was to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem for the 3 very important feasts and would have come in contact with the unscrupulous money changers (the High Priest’s employees at the Ananus bazaar booths) at each visit to the temple.

In this 5th post I have posted below an excerpt from Alfred Edersheim’s book Life and Times of Jesus. He lived between 1825-1889 so all the references to the value of money are only applicable to his era and would be vastly increased if we could convert that monetary value into 21st Century figures. He wrote about how the money changers operated, and the corruption in the temple with the overcharging for sacrifices. But more importantly he wrote about how the Ananus High Priest family, the rulers of Judah acted so corruptly against Judah due to their love of money.


A month before the feast (on the 15th Adar) bridges and roads were put in repair, and sepulchres whitened, to prevent accidental pollution to the pilgrims. Then, some would select this out of the three great annual feasts for the tithing of their flocks and herds, which, in such case, had to be done two weeks before the Passover; while others would fix on it as the time for going up to Jerusalem before the feast ‘to purify themselves’1791 –  that is, to undergo the prescribed purification in any case of Levitical defilement.

But what must have appealed to every one in the land was the appearance of the ‘money-changers’ (Shulchanim), who opened their stalls in every country-town on the 15th of Adar (just a month before the feast). They were, no doubt, regularly accredited and duly authorised. For, all Jews and proselytes – women, slaves, and minors excepted – had to pay the annual Temple-tribute of half a shekel, according to the ‘sacred’ standard, equal to a common Galilean shekel (two denars), or about 1s. 2d. of our money. From this tax many of the priests – to the chagrin of the Rabbis – claimed exemption, on the ingenious plea that in Lev. vi. 23 (A.V.) every offering of a priest was ordered to be burnt, and not eaten; while from the Temple-tribute such offerings were paid for as the two wave loaves and the shewbread, which were afterwards eaten by priests. Hence, it was argued, their payment of Temple-tribute would have been incompatible with Lev. vi. 23

But to return. This Temple-tribute had to be paid in exact half-shekels of the Sanctuary, or ordinary Galilean shekels. When it is remembered that, besides strictly Palestinian silver and especially copper coin,1792 Persian, Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman money circulated in the country, it will be understood what work these ‘money-changers’ must have had. From the 15th to the 25th Adar they had stalls in every country-town. On the latter date, which must therefore be considered as marking the first arrivals of festive pilgrims in the city, the stalls in the country were closed, and the money-changers henceforth sat within the precincts of the Temple. All who refused to pay the Temple-tribute (except priests) were liable to distraint of their goods. The ‘money-changers’ made a statutory fixed charge of a Maah, or from 1½d. to 2d.1793 (or, according to others, of half a maah) on every half-shekel. This was called qolbon. But if a person tendered a Sela (a four-denar piece, in value two half-shekels of the Sanctuary, or two Galilean shekels), he had to pay double qolbon; one for his half-shekel of tribute-money, the other for his change.

Although not only priests, but all other non-obligatory officers, and those who paid for their poorer brethren, were exempted from the charge of qolbon, it must have brought in an immense revenue, since not only many native Palestinians might come without the statutory coin, but a vast number of foreign Jews presented themselves on such occasions in the Temple. Indeed, if we compute the annual Temple-tribute at about 75,000l., the bankers’ profits may have amounted to from 8,000l. to 9,000l., an immense sum in the circumstances of the country.1794

But even this does not represent all the facts of the case. We have already seen, that the ‘money-changers’ in the Temple gave change, when larger amounts than were equivalent to the Temple-tribute were proffered. It is a reasonable, nay, an almost necessary inference, that many of the foreign Jews arriving in Jerusalem would take the opportunity of changing at these tables their foreign money, and for this, of course, fresh charges would be made. For, there was a great deal to be bought within the Temple-area, needful for the feast (in the way of sacrifices and their adjuncts), or for purification, and it would be better to get the right money from the authorised changers, than have disputes with the dealers.

We can picture to ourselves the scene around the table of an Eastern money-changer – the weighing of the coins, deductions for loss of weight, arguing, disputing, bargaining – and we can realise the terrible truthfulness of our Lord’s charge that they had made the Father’s House a mart and place of traffic. But even so, the business of the Temple money-changers would not be exhausted. Through their hands would pass the immense votive offerings of foreign Jews, or of proselytes, to the Temple; indeed, they probably transacted all business matters connected with the Sanctuary. It is difficult to realise the vast accumulation of wealth in the Temple-treasury. But some idea of it may be formed from the circumstance that, despite many previous spoliations, the value of the gold and silver which Crassus1795 carried from the Temple-treasury amounted to the enormous sum of about two and a half millions sterling. Whether or not these Temple money-changers may have transacted other banking business, given drafts, or cashed those from correspondents, received and lent money at interest – all which was common at the time – must remain undetermined. 

Readers of the New Testament know, that the noisy and incongruous business of an Eastern money-lender was not the only one carried on within the sacred Temple-enclosure. It was a great accommodation, that a person bringing a sacrifice might not only learn, but actually obtain, in the Temple from its officials what was required for the meat, and drink-offering. The prices were fixed by tariff every month, and on payment of the stated amount the offerer received one of four counterfoils, which respectively indicated, and, on handing it to the proper official, procured the prescribed complement of his sacrifice.1796 The Priests and Levites in charge of this made up their accounts every evening, and these (though necessary) transactions must have left a considerable margin of profit to the treasury. This would soon lead to another kind of traffic. Offerers might, of course, bring their sacrificial animals with them, and we know that on the Mount of Olives there were four shops, specially for the sale of pigeons and other things requisite for sacrificial purposes. 17971798 But then, when an animal was brought, it had to be examined as to its Levitical fitness by persons regularly qualified and appointed.

Disputes might here arise, due to the ignorance of the purchaser, or the greed of the examiner. A regularly qualified examiner was called mumcheh (one approved), and how much labour was given to the acquisition of the requisite knowledge appears from the circumstance, that a certain teacher is said to have spent eighteen months with a farmer, to learn what faults in an animal were temporary, and which permanent.1799 Now, as we are informed that a certain mumchehof firstlings had been authorised to charge for his inspection from four to six Isar (1¼d. to about 2d.), according to the animal inspected,1800 it is but reasonable to suppose that a similar fee may have been exacted for examining the ordinary sacrificial animals. But all trouble and difficulty would be avoided by a regular market within the Temple-enclosure, where sacrificial animals could be purchased, having presumably been duly inspected, and all fees paid before being offered for sale.1801 

It needs no comment to show how utterly the Temple would be profaned by such traffic, and to what scenes it might lead. From Jewish writings we know, that most improper transactions were carried on, to the taking undue advantage of the poor people who came to offer their sacrifices. Thus we read,1802 that on one occasion the price of a couple of pigeons was run up to the enormous figure of a gold denar (a Roman gold denar, about 15s. 3d.), when, through the intervention of Simeon, the grandson of the great Hillel, it was brought down before night to a quarter of a silver denar, or about 2d. each. Since Simeon is represented as introducing his resolve to this effect with the adjuration, ‘by the Temple,’ it is not unfair to infer that these prices had ruled within the sacred enclosure. It was probably not merely controvesial zeal for the peculiar teaching of his master Shammai, but a motive similar to that of Simeon, which on another occasion induced Baba ben Buta (well known as giving Herod the advice of rebuilding the Temple), when he found the Temple-court empty of sacrificial animals, through the greed of those who had ‘thus desolated the House of God,’ to bring in no less than three thousand sheep, so that the people might offer sacrifices.18031804

This leads up to another question, most important in this connection. The whole of this traffic – money-changing, selling of doves, and market for sheep and oxen – was in itself, and from its attendant circumstances, a terrible desecration; it was also liable to gross abuses. But was there about the time of Christ anything to make it specially obnoxious and unpopular?

The priesthood must always have derived considerable profit from it – of course, not the ordinary priests, who came up in their ‘orders’ to minister in the Temple, but the permanent priestly officials, the resident leaders of the priesthood, and especially the High-Priestly family. This opens up a most interesting inquiry, closely connected, as we shall show, with Christ’s visit to the Temple at this Passover. But the materials here at our command are so disjointed, that, in attempting to put them together, we can only suggest what seems most probable, not state what is absolutely certain.

To the first of these questions the Jerusalem Talmud1805 gives no less than five different answers, showing that there was no fixed rule as to the employment of these profits, or, at least, that it was no longer known at that time. Although four of these answers point to their use for the public service, yet that which seems most likely assigns the whole profits to the money-changers themselves. But in that case it can scarcely be doubted, that they had to pay a considerable rental or percentage to the leading Temple-officials. The profits from the sale of meat- and drink-offerings went to the Temple-treasury. But it can hardly be believed, that such was the case in regard to the Temple-market. On the other hand, there can be little doubt, that this market was what in Rabbinic writings is styled ‘the Bazaars of the sons of Annas’ (Chanuyoth beney Chanan), the sons of that High-Priest Annas, who is so infamous in New Testament history. When we read that the Sanhedrin, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, transferred its meeting-place from ‘the Hall of Hewn Stones’ (on the south side of the Court of the Priest, and therefore partly within the Sanctuary itself) to ‘the Bazaars,’ and then afterwards to the City,1806 the inference is plain, that these Bazaars were those of the sons of Annas the High-Priest, and that they occupied part of the Temple-court; in short, that the Temple-market and the Bazaars of the sons of Annas are identical. 

  • What became of the profits of the money-changers, and who were the real owners of the Temple-market? 

If this inference, which is in accordance with received Jewish opinion, be admitted, we gain much light as regards the purification of the Temple by Jesus, and the words which He spake on that occasion. For, our next position is that, from the unrighteousness of the traffic carried on in these Bazaars, and the greed of their owners, the ‘Temple-market’ was at the time most unpopular. This appears, not only from the conduct and words of the patriarch Simeon and of Baba ben Buta (as above quoted), but from the fact that popular indignation, three years before the destruction of Jerusalem, swept away the Bazaars of the family of Annas,1807 and this, as expressly stated, on account of the sinful greed which characterised their dealings. And if any doubt should still linger in the mind, it would surely be removed by our Lord’s open denunciation of the Temple-market as ‘a den of robbers.’1808 Of the avarice and corruption of this High-Priestly family, alike Josephus and the Rabbis give a most terrible picture. Josephus describes Annas (or Ananus), the son of the Annas of the New Testament, as ‘a great hoarder up of money,’ very rich, and as despoiling by open violence the common priests of their official revenues.1809 The Talmud also records the curse which a distinguished Rabbi of Jerusalem (Abba Shaul) pronounced upon the High-Priestly families (including that of Annas), who were ‘themselves High-Priests, their sons treasurers (Gizbarin), their sons-in-law assistant-treasurers (Ammarkalin), while their servants beat the people with sticks.’1810 What a comment this passage offers on the bearing of Jesus, as He made a scourge to drive out the very servants who ‘beat the people with sticks,’ and upset their unholy traffic! It were easy to add from Rabbinic sources repulsive details of their luxuriousness, wastefulness, gluttony, and general dissoluteness. No wonder that, in the figurative language of the Talmud, the Temple is represented as crying out against them: ‘Go hence, ye sons of Eli, ye defile the Temple of Jehovah!’1811 These painful notices of the state of matters at that time help us better to understand what Christ did, and who they were that opposed His doing. 

These Temple-Bazaars, the property, and one of the principal sources of income, of the family of Annas, were the scene of the purification of the Temple by Jesus; and in the private locale attached to these very Bazaars, where the Sanhedrin held its meetings at the time, the final condemnation of Jesus may have been planned, if not actually pronounced. All this has its deep significance.

In my 6th post we will be looking at how the New Testament writers described the religious leaders of Israel.

You can read the rest of the blog posts in this series here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.