The Temple In Jerusalem: A Monument Of The Imagination – Prof. Simon Goldhill (cambridge University)

The Temple of Jerusalem


Since yesterday’s response from study group members wanting to read this book and then discuss it online was so overwhelming, I decided that we can go ahead and start today! This week we will discuss the first chapter. (For those of you who are just joining in. Please, secure your copy and begin reading the book. (I found a downloadable free copy here and a hard copy here).

On page 7 we read: “The Temple is never just a destroyed building. It has become the most potent symbol of the human search for a lost ideal, an image of former greatness and greatness to come. It is an idea that has prompted struggle, brutal war between cultures and nations, and some of the most moving poetry and art of the Western tradition. A history of the Temple can never be merely an architectural record, nor just an account of religious rituals. We need a special sort of archaeology for this great building of the world, an archaeology that uncovers not so much rock and dust as the sedimented layers of human fantasy, politics and longing.”

Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Why not?

On the page 10 we read: “The ‘new Jerusalem’, the ‘new Temple’ of Jesus, is a central image of Christianity, which opposes an everlasting divine Temple to an earthly temple, made and destroyed by the hands of men, and opposes the community of faithful Christians to the rituals of the Temple. For Christians, the destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity. For Christians, the destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity.”

Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Why not? Post your comment and let us start this conversation. (Please, consider, sending the link to this page to your friends inviting them to join our study group free!).


About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (47 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Kimberley Kincher

    Dr Eli, as you state, clear terminology is absolutely essential to a meaningful discussion. Clarifying definitions of even common words such as “Christians” and “Christianity” is absolutely necessary to ensure that we all understand each other. Early Jewish believers in Y’shua labeled “Christians” and second century Christians “Catholics” were very different indeed!
    I agree with Prof Goldhill that the Temple stands for much more than just a building to us who love and seek G-d. For us, to love G-d is to love what He loves. To others, the destruction of the Temple means nothing more than the destruction of an ancient building.
    As for your second question on page 10, I personally do not see the destruction of the Temple as a “triumph of Christianity”. On the contrary, for many Christians today I see a great enthusiasm for the rebuilding of the Temple. We must avoid heaping groups of people under one all inclusive label. This is a real danger in our world today. “All Christians” or “All Jews” is far too general. As human beings, we have a need to categorize and label but we must become more specific in our use of labels.

  2. Ramon

    I wish to point out two issues that I notice in this new front of discussion you have opened:
    1. The diverging concepts of Jesus Jewishness, Christian origins steming from Judaism and the develoment of Christianity as a separated religion. I think some kind of clarification should be made not to mingle these separate concepts into a single discussion for the result are sometimes catastrophic in terms of even following the line of reasoning. I’m open to anybody’s suggestion or even rejection of the issues butI really think something must be clarified.
    2. The use of the Talmud and the midrash to interpret the meaning of Jesus times and texts. In here I must confess out of range, totally I may add. I may have readed some books and articles but I am not prepared to enter into its use. However, my profesional background is profoundly anchored in time management both in space, and in conceptual development. Thus, I tend to place a heavy mark upon the time and context when something was made in parallel to its use. In my understanding, both the Talmud and midrash are post Jesus knowledge structures developed by rabbis and that puts a mark of (very respectfully addressing this issue) anti Christian exegesis. Then, I tend to take with tweezers the use of this body of knowledge whenprojected into the past of its origin because as a Christian I tend to interpret that both bodies were developed to reinforce Jewishness vs Christianity.

    In regards of the second point I must confess I find this book interesting. The author goes back and comes forth knitting a single storyline interwoving past (BC) texts and materials with post (AC) material to interpret the past claiming authority in this post exegesis to interpret the truth of the past. I am learning a lot by reading this way of constructing a vision, but nevertheless I take caution in accepting the premises of that line of interpretation. AsI have mentioned for comparison, other authors interpret the past texts and data basedd on parallel documentation of the past and not in exegesis from post Jesus traditions.

    However, I must confess that I now understand that this seems to be the real framework of Jewish interpretation and I must deal with it if I want to at least be able to exchange.

    However I bring a note of comparison: Christianity and Catholicism stand over Jesus to the future as Tradition and Magisterium stand fundamentally over Him. Talmud and midrash stand ignoring Jesus as Messiah and constructing and reinforcing a Jewish past from without and after Jesus point of view, thus this exegesis parts from a disconnectof Jesus existence into Judaism. This forums tries to insert Jesus into Judaism and into Jewishness. The tools to do that are as important as the aim.
    My urban planning thesis was a redevelopment of a couple of urban blocks using Systems Theory as framework. A professor said that I was using an axe to perform eye surgery. I responded that a Chinesse intelectual said that in fact you could use an axe to perform surgery as long as you carefully cut along the intersticials of the muscles with a really sharp axe. I passed with notable grade.

  3. Fred Aguelo

    “…sedimented layers of human fantasy, politics and longing.” I don’t think the faith of the Jews nor my faith is considered human fantasy, otherwise the change that YESHUA began would not have turned the world upside down or shall we say right side up. The Temple is a symbol of the worship of the one true ELOHIM and its influence has sparked both piety and hatred depending on which side you’re on.

    “The destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity.” If we view it through the prophecies of Isaiah and YESHUA himself, it was indeed the will of the Father for the Herodian Temple to be destroyed. Particularly, Isaiah 66:1-4 speaks of the LORD’s sentiment for people who would rather perform rituals than worship Him in spirit and truth. After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70AD and killed the descendants of Aaron, I wonder if any of Aaron’s descendants could be found to perform any ritual for Yom Kippur as prescribed in Torah. It seems to me that the Father saw to it that the rituals could not be performed any more until the Temple of the New Jerusalem in installed on earth.

    We can all discuss this to no end but I am curious about your opinions with regard to what the prophets say about the Temple.


    1. Ramon

      Fred: Even though I concur in the thought that the phrase “The destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity” is a preposterous thought to frame the issue and should be rejected as correctly depicting or labeling Christianity, it must nevertheless be fully appreciated in its overall reach.
      The phrase is catchy and in media terms attractive. It presents an over simplified image of a complex situation, thus, another media objective in the age of Twitter. And then it presents an anti Jewish bias of Christianity which is another label that sells media for it supposedly denounces prejudice and implies genocidal attitudes. All of which is feverish media sensationalism aimed to sell media, news coverage, pundits incessant debates and create a false and vacuous understanding of a religion. So in the end, that phrase may serve media, sell the book, gain notoriety to its author, generate invitations to seminars and professorships even before just making sense.
      However, human nature has an enormous underlying of violence and warmongering. History is fraught over this real occurrences, i.e. did Titus wanted to protect or to destroy the Temple…? Who cares…?, after all it was destroyed and Titus got some parts of it in his own memorial. Most of Egypt history resides in the British Museum together with the corpses of their rulers and not precisely entombed but displayed eleganlty decaying and sprayed with resisns. Just imagine if the remains of Richard the Lionheart were located in Cairo as of now. They wouldn’t be there, Cairo would be a British resort, Churchill would have been Abdullah and we would be speaking arab.
      History is written by the victor and teached in their classrooms. Sadly, this is true.

  4. Randall Price

    The “new Temple” of Jesus as the center of Christianity was not an image or concept advanced by Jesus, Paul, or any of the Apostles. Such a term is not used in the NT. Jesus and Paul clearly thought of the Temple as did the writers of the OT and the community of Jews of their day. In Lk. 2:49 and Jn. 2:16 Jesus called the Temple in Jerusalem “His Father’s house” and cited isaiah 57:6 with respect to its universal purpose for Jews and Gentiles (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:41-43). Paul even interrupted his missionary mission to be at the Temple according to the Temple calendar to celebrate Shavu’ot (Ac 20:16), worshipped in the Temple and offered alms and sacrifices in the Temple (Ac 21:26; 24:11-12, 17-18), and confessed that he had never violated the laws governing the Temple (Ac 25:8). Yes, this same Paul wrote of the Church as the Body of Christ being “a temple” (Eph. 2:19-21), but this was an analogy borrowed from the sanctity of the Temple as the place of the Shekinah. He used similar language to describe the body of the believer, drawing on the concept of desecration of the Temple as a capital offense (1 Cor. 3:16-17; cf. 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:14-18). The same understanding applies to Paul’s “allegorical” usage in Gal. 4:24-27). The references to the heavenly Jerusalem and heavenly Temple in the NT (including the reference to a “temple not made with hands” in Ac 6), especially Rev. 21-22, are not the spiritual Church on earth replacing the old material Temple of the Jews, but consistent with Jewish interpretation of the original divine design from which the earthly sanctuaries and vessels were copied (Ex. 25:8-9, 40; 1 Chr. 28:11-19; cf. Heb. 8:5). There was a Temple on earth that was constructed to enable the Divine Presence to dwell with men, and there is a Temple in heaven which God’s people will see after this life (Rev. 11:19; 21:22-23). The idea that Jesus became the new Temple for Christians replacing (superseding) the Temple for Jews was a post-apostolic invention and became the heart of an anti-Semitic denial of Israel as God’s Chosen People and of a future for ethnic (national) Israel as Paul had affirmed (Rom. 11:25-27). Too many scholars have accepted Christian tradition rather than accepted the NT in its Jewish context. For more on this viewpoint see the 1958 Harvard dissertation by John Townsend, “The Jerusalem Temple in NT Thought.”

    1. Ramon

      I must confess that I don’t follow from whence does the concept of Jesus being a new Temple stems from but surely not from Himself. That I know He never asked to be worshipped as a Temple but asked openly for people to “believe” in Him as the One sent by the Father, the One from the Father, the One who was One with the father. This is a direct personal reference, not a building metaphor about Himself.
      Yes, Jesus respected the Temple and even defended the Temple from robbers and merchants declaring that it was the House of God. In this he was absolutely and truly Jewish. But the veil of the Temple was teared from its top in two when He died, this clearly “opening” the Holy of Holies for all. This precisely worded text means that God was open to come to His new Temple, people’s heart asJesus preached, and people were now free and able again, without priests in the way, to enter into God’s presence. Remember, the veil was imposible to tear from the top for a human forits size and height. Only God or an Act of God could do so.
      As lawyers hermeneutics say, when the letter is clear, the meaning must be construed direct and not through hermeneutics.
      Thanks for your thought provoking comment and interpretation. We continue learning and sharing.

      1. Dr. Randall Price

        There is debate concerning whether the veil that was torn was the inner veil as Ramon states or the outer veil, which was the larger veil and would have been visible from the Court of Israel. The iconography of this veil (Babylonian weave with images of the heavens) would have made the point of a heavenly origin for the event and it must be questioned whether the Temple could have continued to function as it did (without any record of interruption in the daily service) for the next 40 years if the inner veil had been violated and the Holy of Holies subjected to ritual desecration. The absence of any such mention (except for mention of the scarlet cord that failed to turn white on Yom Kippur)would indicate that the Temple continued to function and the NT accounts support this as the early church met in the Temple precincts from the outset (Lk. 24:52-53; Ac 1-3). It seems incredible to me that if the inner veil had been torn and the theological belief hd been that the legitimacy of the Temple and its services had ended with the death of Jesus that the church would have frequented it (for worship and not just meeting) and that this theological point would not have been made elsewhere in the epistles, especially the epistle to the hebrews. The closest one can come to this is Eph. 2:14-15 and Heb. 10:20, but in each case the reference is to Jesus as the mediator between God and man (Jew and Gentile)and the spiritual analogy is drawn from the actual separation veil in the Sanctuary (whether Tabernacle or Temple).

        1. Ramon

          Thanks for your remarks Dr Price.
          My comment concerning the opening of the Holy of Holies didn’t referred to the inner or external veil simply because I didn’t knew there were two veils or at least in didn’t matter to Make my point. However it’s very interesting in terms of my evolving understanding and appreciation of Jewishness.
          First, based on purely textual criticism, narrative and the nature of the Gospels as literature in relation to history telling, I understand the mention of the veil to mean the “obvious one” which would be the big one with the scenery of the cosmos that separated the world of the living from the world of God and could only be passed through by priests. It would be that veil the one which made sense to anyone hearing the proclamation of the Gospel. That is, the Gospel would not be mentioning a disruption in ritual but a disruption in meaning, thus, the rupture would mean God has come to dwell among us as Flesh as us, as John states in the Grand Opening of his Gospel.
          Then, it follows for me, that Jewishness relies more in form than in meaning (this is a personal understanding) for which since Jesus times to the present, the rupture between Judaism and Christianity has been forced to be understood as a rupture in ritual relation of men to God in terms of the Covenant clauses and not a rupture of the reality of God’s proclaimed presence among us as clearly written in the Gospels.
          If we maintain such approach to reading the Gospels, we will never enter into the rupture itself but will always devote an eternal discussion of form and ritual. The actual real presence of God Incarnate as Jesus among us would be eternally out of discussion because we would presumably would be devoted to discuss the ritual disruption which would mean a rejection of the Covenant. And I think this is the objective of Jewish exegesis developed AFTER Jesus died and Christianity rised. In a way, by defining the rupture as ritual, Judaism may have forced Christianity out of Judaism and thus Christianity became a religion instead of an evolution of the Covenant as Jesus clearly stated.
          Thanks for your profound reflection.

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Dr. Price. Please, see my response to Debora G. (Comment.1). I think it is also connected with your legitimate points.

  5. Ramon Sanchez

    I am enjoying this book. However, I contrast it with some of Margaret Barker’s articles, books and comments which state that there was an israelite pre Temple worship (the ancient worship represented by Melchizedek) and an israelite Temple worship and then cathegorizes the 2nd Temple as a purge of the ancients worships of Israel, in fact, a corruption from her point of view of the ancient worship. She then develops an intriguing theory that Jesus was reconstituting the ancient cult, that of the Eternal Priest and that she develops from the parallels between Jesus and Melchizedek.
    Parting from this point of view, the analisys following this book takes us in one direction, that is, under the spell of the Temple as a central reference for comparison between Christianity and Jewish roots. But parting from Mss. Barker radical ideas, which I throughly like a lot for they make sense to my research, I focus the Temple in a radical way, as something that Jesus came to combat for it was not a Temple for God but a Temple by priests for them to dominate their society. For me, this focus makes more sense as a Christian.
    In the end. This book is fascinating and I truly welcome the oportunity to continue exploring it here. And after all, its free…! Not many free lunches anywhere now…!

  6. anna dempsey

    Thank you for putting together a forum like this where people can discuss this subject. The Temple is such a powerful symbol for both the old and the new covenant as is Jerusalem and the destruction of it has not helped Christians far from it the Temple is a physical symbol of the Temple not built with human hands and promises in its remains the excitement of the Millennial return of the Lord to a New Jerusalem as has been so rightly endorsed by other comments. If anything the Diaspora following its destruction sadly took the early church away from its Judiaic roots to which it is now returning after far too long.

  7. James J. DeFrancisco, PhD

    With some qualification I agree with both quotes. Professor Goldhill is coming from the perspectives of human history and archaeology. The Temple did represent much more than a great physical form. From a religious perspective its destruction did represent the triumph of Christianity as well as Rome because within a few centuries the Roman Empire was replaced by the Roman Church. To a large degree the physical temple is an achievement of man and gives glory to man, e.g. Herod, as is mentioned in the book. However, there is another temple “not made with hands” that is described throughout the Holy Scripture and symbolized by both Ezekiel and Revelation. For Jews, the destruction of Herod’s temple brought in a replacement of ritual sacrifices by a renewed emphasis on Torah and documentation of the Oral Torah as well as prayer. In many respects this would make the prophets very joyful because of their emphasis of mercy, justice, and righteousness over ritual sacrifices. The destruction of Herod’s temple, as great as it was, yielded benefits for both Jews and B’nai Noach as well as Christianity.

  8. Raymond Walker

    For Christians, the destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity.”
    I disagree. I believe that the temple today is viewed in Christianity very much as the symbol of the coming millennial kingdom albeit in a different form. For those who would discount the temple and its artifacts, I wonder if you were in the place where the Ark is discovered would you lay hands on it and open it?

  9. kostya

    “The ‘new Jerusalem’, the ‘new Temple’ of Jesus, is a central image of Christianity, which opposes an everlasting divine Temple to an earthly temple, made and destroyed by the hands of men, and opposes the community of faithful Christians to the rituals of the Temple. For Christians, the destruction of the Temple heralds the triumph of Christianity.”
    I disagree. When we read the arguments of people like Prof. Oskar Skarsaune, in his book “In the Shadow of the Temple. Jewish influences on early Christianity”, we see that the temple and Jerusalem (Jerusalem’s centrality and importance being due to the temple) played a central role in the early church, and in the writings of the apostles. The centrality of the Jerusalem community as ‘the mother church’ is well substantiated, even in the Book of Acts. The key Christian concepts we have, for example: atonement, purification by blood, a holy people, a royal priesthood, sacrificial lambs, and so on, are all derived from the temple. Justification by faith is, after all, temple language before it is court language, having its basis in the sacrificial atonement and the mercy seat.
    The early Jewish church even stayed in Jerusalem when it was dangerous to do so, and after the destruction of the temple, because of the importance of Jerusalem, which drew its importance from the temple. Even after the destruction of the temple, the importance of Jerusalem continued because of the temple. The word of the Lord was still to go forth from Zion in the preaching of the gospel.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      See my response to Debora G. (Comment.1)

  10. Deborah G.

    I agree with the first quote (from page 7) but disagree with the second (from page 10). The whole world, and indeed the human psyche, is enthralled with the Temple. Consider the blockbuster movie “Raiders of the List Ark” (1981) and its portrayal of fear and awe surrounding temple artifacts. To the individual psyche the temple represents eternal God dwelling tangibly among finite man, a bastion of hope and fear. Hope for perfect justice, and yet fear of perfect justice, as we truthfully confront our own hearts.
    I take issue with the statement (page 10) “for Christians, the destruction of the temple heralds the triumph of Christianity.” Not so. Consider John’s vision in Revelations of the New Jerusalem with 12 tribes of Israel still represented. Christianity is inexorably linked with Judaism. Also, the same secular Rome which sacked the Jewish Temple also executed Paul and had Christians burned at the stake or fed to the lions for sport. Today Jews and Christians face many of the same enemies, whether they be secularists at home or fanatics abroad.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think (and this can be applied to all the comments that disagreed with Prof.Goldhill’s comment on Pg.10) that both Prof. Goldhill and its critics are perfectly accurate. You may say how could this be? If they stand for sharply contradictory points of view. Well… I think this is a wonderful example of the need for clear terminology. Clear terminology is the very basis of any serious empirical research. So, please, allow me to elaborate. As could be seen from this and next chapters of the book Prof. Goldhill uses the word “Christians” and “Christianity” in a very different sense from many of you (his critics). What those who disagreed with him mean by Christianity is essentially Early Jewish Jesus movement (Jewish Christ-followers) as depicted by the New Testament collection, while what Prof. Goldhill means by Christianity is the system of thought that was practiced by later Non-Jewish Christ-followers. So, I agree with many of you that early Jewish Christ-followers and their writings (NT collection) is in no way celebrate the Jerusalem Temple’s destruction (by the way so are the case in early Eastern Church Fathers such as Aphrahat, the Persian Sage), but I also agree that the later non-Jewish Christ followers who severed the Jewish connection of their faith do often do just what Prof. Goldhill says they do. So, just like a rabbi from the Fiddler of the Roof movie I say: “You are right. And you are right. And you are also right!” 🙂

      I do not know a better article about this that Inventing Christian Identity by Dr. Anders Runesson. You can click here to read it –

      1. Deborah G.

        Dr. Eli, I would agree with you except to state that Christianity without the New Testament is like Judaism without the Tanach. Are they really Christianity or Judaism?

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Well… its more complicated than that. Do read Anders Runesson’s article. I think it is important that you do. eli

      2. Conny Young

        As I was reading your reply to Deboral G., I was thinking how like you were to the character in Fiddler on the Roof. Then at the end of the paragraph, there was the qoute.:)