Targeting the Dove Sellers

All four gospels recount Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. A provocative act that seemed to seal his fate during the Passover Week.

Three of the four gospels note that Jesus targeting a particular group when we cleared the temple. The dove sellers.
Mark 11.15-17
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Matthew 21.12-13
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

John 2.13-16
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 
Jesus also targeted the money changers. But for this post I want to focus on the dove sellers. Why target these people and these transactions?

As most know, the preferred sacrifice to be offered at the temple was a lamb. But a provision is made in the Levitical code for the poor:
Leviticus 5.7
Anyone who cannot afford a lamb is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin—one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.
By going after the dove sellers we see Jesus directly attacking the group who were having economic dealings with the poor. When the poor would go to the temple they would head for the dove sellers.

The point being, while we know that Jesus was upset about economic exploitation going on in the temple, his focus on the dove sellers sharpens the message and priorities. Jesus doesn't, for instance, go after the sellers of lambs. Jesus's anger is stirred at the way the poor are being treated and economically exploited.

That is what causes Jesus to engage in a protest action that shuts down the financial system of the city during the annual peak of its commercial activity, where he "would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts" during the Passover week. An action akin to shutting down the Wall Street trading floor or shopping during Black Friday.

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9 thoughts on “Targeting the Dove Sellers”

  1. Except instead of shutting down Wall Street, he would probably be shutting down the payday loan industry.

  2. It is interesting to look at Mark 3.20 ff as a passage setting up the Temple cleansing, particularly as a text that centers around "Robbing" and "house." It's almost as if the Temple has become so oppressive it needs to be exorcised.

  3. Ched Myers in his commentary on Mark, Binding the Strong Man, makes the argument that the temple cleansing is an exorcism, Jesus's "binding the strong man" foretold in chapter 3.

    Specifically, Myers notes three verbal parallels between Jesus's discussion of "binding the strong man" in chapter 3 and the clearing of the temple in chapter 11: There is a reference to "driving out" (3.23, 11.15), a reference to "goods" (3.27, 11.16), and a reference to a "house" (3.25, 11.17).

  4. Interesting!  I had never read this from the perspective of exploiting the poor, but I do wonder if other factors were at work as well.  Does any evidence exist that people of means would still sacrifice doves, rather than a lamb,  in order to save a few shekels?  Religious people generally make a big deal of tithing the requisite 10%, but common sense tells us that many cut corners on giving.  Human nature being as it is, I wonder if some first century Jews did the same thing?  By aggressively selling doves,  were these merchants perhaps complicit in people cheating and "robbing" from God the true level of sacrifice?  Just a thought.

  5. This is an interesting component of the story that I hadn't given due consideration. If you don't mind, I think I'm going to steal this for the Bible study/Sunday School we're doing on poverty and the Bible.

    Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite makes some interesting -- and provocative -- observations on these passages in her recent book, _#Occupy the Bible_, and (separately) notes that Luke is sometimes gentler in his economic language since he's writing for a wealthier audience. Specifically, she argues that the money-changers acted as a de facto bank and were partially responsible for the increases in poverty in Jerusalem. That dovetails nicely with this reading of the doves.

  6. The way I understand this episode. The mishnah states that the high priest during the atonement ritual, in the temple, with the blood, with a Whip-Like motion cleanses the temple. The temple represented the world, so I find it highly significant that the one sin Jesus the High Priest  is cleansing the temple/Creation of is usury.

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