Monday, February 13, 2006

temple tantrum/ which curtain was torn?

"Behind the second curtain was a room called the Holy of Holies"
-Hebrews 9:3

We all know "the curtain of the temple was torn in two as Jesus died."

And most assume it was the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, meaning Jesus provides direct access to God.

Good and true that he does that, and it is the proper "evangelical answer"..

but what if the temple torn in two was not the second curtain (or second curtain only),
but the first..

what would the implications be?

The first curtain separated the outer court from the Holy Place; the second curtain, Scripture speaks of dividing the Holy Place and Holy of Holies..

So Jesus here would be dying not only to give us direct access to God, but to provide "direct access to direct access" to the foreigner/outcast/leper/prostitute....the folks who normally couldn't step beyond the outer court into the Holy Place, let alone the inner place, the Holy of Holies.

Why don't most evangelicals know there was a first curtain? And recognize that we may have re-built it in our time..

Most think Jesus's "temple tantrum" was due to his being ticked off about folks selling stuff in church. But he didn't say "Quit selling stuff in church" , but "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations," quoting Is 56:6-8, whose context is all about letting foreigners and outcasts have a place..hmmm. He was likely upset that not that Dovesellers and money changers were doing business selling and changing , but that they were doing so in the "outer court," the only place where "foreigners" could have a pew at "attend church." They were making the temple area "a den of thieves" not (just) by overcharging for Doves and money, but by robbing folks..'all nations'... of a place to pray..and to "access access" to God.

I am glad at least a few pastors( here and here and here) are brave enough admit to their congregations that there were two curtains, and that this "alternative view" might be correct.

Consider and stretch re: the curtain issue below by way of three excerpts below...
perhaps the 3rd article jacks things up by building the case from the very shape of Scripture. Cheers!

>Note:See also Howard M. Jackson's "The Death of Jesus in Mark and the Miracle from the Cross," NTS 33, 1987)

>R.C. Sproul also comments:
"It actually does not matter much which curtain was torn, for the tearing of either one can incorporate the meaning of the tearing of the other."



Many people teach that the curtain that was torn in the Temple was the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Did you know that there were two curtains in the Sanctuary?

Hebrews 9:3 “Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place,” And Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance has this to say about the second “curtain” (the Greek word used here is “katapetasma”) in the Sanctuary: katapetasma { kat-ap-et’-as-mah} “The name given to the two curtains in the temple at Jerusalem, one of them at the entrance to the temple separated the Holy Place from the outer court, the other veiled the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.”

There were two curtains in the Sanctuary. I don’t think that
the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place was the
curtain torn in two [Matthew 27:50-51]. Rabbi Sha’ul (the apostle Paul) reminds
us that Messiah (Yeshua) is not divided or torn in two [1Corinthians 1:13]. All
of this would mean that God is calling all believers (male and female) in the
New Covenant to become ministering priests before Him -

-G.M. Maurer

2)Jesus is crucified. When he dies, the temple curtain is torn in two, from top to
bottom, the sky darkens, an earthquake shakes the earth. As anyone might
remember who saw the Jazz Singer with Neil Diamond, a Jewish father might tear
his clothes when his son dies... so, in effect, God tears the veil when his
beloved son dies. There were two curtains associated with the Temple. One was a
huge tapestry that hung outside with an image of the night sky woven into it.
The other was the veil that hung inside the temple that separated the Holy of
Holies from the rest of the temple... which temple curtain tore? I thought David
Ulansey's analysis was interesting, found here.
(Note, the analysis is copied below as
quote #3)
-Dan McAfee, link


by David Ulansey [Originally published in Journal of Biblical Literature 110:1 (Spring 1991) pp. 123-25]:

In the past few years, several different scholars have argued that there was a connection in the mind of the author of the Gospel of Mark between the tearing of the heavens at the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:10) and the tearing of the temple veil at the death of Jesus (Mk 15:38). [1] The purpose of the present article will be to call attention to a piece of evidence which none of these scholars mentions, but which provides dramatic confirmation of the hypothesis that the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil were linked in Mark's imagination. [2]

To begin with, we should note that the two occurrences of the motif of tearing in Mark do not occur at random points in the narrative, but on the contrary are located at two pivotal moments in the story-- moments which, moreover, provide an ideal counterpoint for each other: namely, the precise beginning (the baptism) and the precise end (the death) of the earthly career of Jesus. This significant placement of the two instances of the motif of tearing suggests that we are dealing here with a symbolic "inclusio": that is, the narrative device common in biblical texts in which a detail is repeated at the beginning and the end of a narrative unit in order to "bracket off" the unit and give it a sense of closure and structural integrity.

Indeed, in his 1987 article, "The Rending of the Veil: A Markan Pentecost," S. Motyer points out that there is actually a whole cluster of motifs which occur in Mark at both the baptism (1:9-11) and at the death of Jesus (15:36-39). In addition to the fact that at both of these moments something is torn, Motyer notes that: (1) at both moments a voice is heard declaring Jesus to be the Son of God (at the baptism it is the voice of God, while at the death it is the voice of the centurion); (2) at both moments something is said to descend (at the baptism it is the spirit-dove, while at the death it is the tear in the temple veil, which Mark explicitly describes as moving downward), (3) at both moments the figure of Elijah is symbolically present (at the baptism Elijah is present in the form of John the Baptist, while at Jesus' death the onlookers think that Jesus is calling out to Elijah); (4) the spirit (pneuma) which descends on Jesus at his baptism is recalled at his death by Mark's repeated use of the verb ekpneo (expire), a cognate of pneuma. [3]

According to Motyer, the repetition by Mark of this cluster of motifs at both the baptism and the death of Jesus constitutes a symbolic inclusio which brackets the entire gospel, linking together the precise beginning and the precise end of the earthly career of Jesus. Seen in this context, the presence at both moments of the motif of something being torn is unlikely to be coincidental. However, at this point an important question arises: if there was indeed a connection for Mark between the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil, which veil was it that he had in mind? For the fact is, of course, that there were two famous veils associated with the Jerusalem temple.

It has been debated for centuries which veil it was that Mark was referring to: was it the outer veil, which hung in front of the doors at the entrance to the temple, or the inner veil which separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple? [4] Many interpreters have assumed that it was the inner veil, and have understood the tearing of the veil to have been Mark's way of symbolizing the idea that the death of Jesus destroyed the barrier which separated God from humanity. Recently, however, favor seems to have shifted to the view that it was the outer veil, the strongest argument for which is that Mark seems to have intended the awestruck response of the centurion to the manner of Jesus' death (Mk 15:39) to have been inspired by his seeing the miraculous event of the tearing of the veil, but he could only have seen this event if it was the outer veil that tore, since the inner veil was hidden from view inside the temple. [5]

In his 1987 article "The Death of Jesus in Mark and the Miracle from the Cross," Howard Jackson argues that the question of which veil it was that Mark was referring to can be easily answered if we acknowledge that there was a link in Mark's imagination between the tearing of the heavens at the baptism of Jesus and the tearing of the temple veil at his death. For, says Jackson, if there was a parallel in Mark's mind between the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil, then Mark must also have intended there to be a parallel between Jesus at the baptism and the centurion at the crucifixion: just as Jesus witnessed the tearing of the heavens, so the centurion witnessed the tearing of the temple veil. But, as we have already noted, the centurion could only have witnessed the tearing of the veil if it was the outer veil, since the inner veil was hidden from view. Thus it must have been the outer veil that Mark had in mind. [6]

Jackson's argument is suggestive although certainly not conclusive. However, there exists a piece of evidence which Jackson does not mention in his discussion which, I believe, provides decisive proof that Mark had in mind the outer veil of the temple, and which also provides rather spectacular confirmation of the existence in Mark's imagination of a link between the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil.

The evidence to which I refer consists of a passage in Josephus's Jewish War in which he describes the outer veil of the Jerusalem temple as it had appeared since the time of Herod. According to Josephus, this outer veil was a gigantic curtain 80 feet high. It was, he says, a

Babylonian tapestry, with embroidery of blue and fine linen, of scarlet also and purple, wrought with marvelous skill. Nor was this mixture of materials without its mystic meaning: it typified the universe....

Then Josephus tells us what was pictured on this curtain:

Portrayed on this tapestry was a panorama of the entire heavens.... [7] [emphasis mine]

In other words, the outer veil of the Jerusalem temple was actually one huge image of the starry sky! Thus, upon encountering Mark's statement that "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom," any of his readers who had ever seen the temple or heard it described would instantly have seen in their mind's eye an image of the heavens being torn, and would immediately have been reminded of Mark's earlier description of the heavens being torn at the baptism. This can hardly be coincidence: the symbolic parallel is so striking that Mark must have consciously intended it.

We may therefore conclude (1) that Mark did indeed have in mind the outer veil, and (2) that Mark did indeed imagine a link between the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil-- since we can now see that in fact in both cases the heavens were torn-- and that he intentionally inserted the motif of the "tearing of the heavenly veil" at both the precise beginning and at the precise end of the earthly career of Jesus, in order to create a powerful and intriguing symbolic inclusio.

-David Ulansey


  1. I am holding a singles retreat at the end of the month. You have given me a whole new perspective on the temple veil. I will continue my study, and appreciate your opinion.

  2. Jodi:

    That is so wonderful. I really appreciate you letting me know. I'll pray for the retreat; let me know how it goes.

    If you have time, you may want to read teh articles I linked to (the link in my post is down, but can be accessed by cache here.

    Also, you can hear me teaching on this at a camp on the podcast box on left hand side of my blog, just
    select "Deep Bible Study" parts 1 and 2.


  3. BTW: The two-legged horse still creeps me out.

  4. I have always taken R.C. Sproul's view that destruction of one curtain implied the destruction of the other. Still, it is an interesting point that the more important message to Jews at the time was the inclusion of all comers to God, not just them. I don't think that I will ever see either curtain in the same way that 1st century Jews did.

  5. Amen on both points (especially the horse!~), Arn.

    BTW, did you know Sproul is Alice Cooper's spiritual mentor/discipler?

  6. But how likely is it that the average Roman centurion would both know and appreciate the subtleties of Jewish theology (heavens being rent, a descending dove, etc)?
    Are you saying the centurion knew, and cared about, details of Jesus' baptismal day three years earlier (such as the heavens opening up)?
    Or are you saying this was no average centurion (i.e. that he was a secret believer/seeker who studied Jesus' life). I find no evidence of this anywhere.
    It seems more likely to me that the pre-crucifixion centurion was just an average centurion, a Roman pagan, and was more freaked-out by the darkness and earthquake. He definitely could not have missed those two events; and it was those two events and Jesus’ words from the cross that caused him to declare Jesus' deity.
    However, the centurion easily could have missed the curtain ripping in two. In fact, scripture never claims that the centurion saw the ripped curtain.
    The outer curtain theory is definitely poetic and beautiful, but a stretch of what scripture tells us.
    And, for what it's worth, I personally find the inner curtain theory infinitely more poetic and beautiful.

  7. Hi Anonymous..Thanks for the conversation.
    No I am not saying any of that. I agree with all your points.

    First: the part about the centurion was not written by me, but by an article I was quoting.
    I do thinl it would be a stretch that centurion knew all that..but surely he knew enough to know about temple curtain, if indeed that was what his quote was in response to

    Secondly: I do think that the gospel writer (like all writers) had a theological agenda..and structured his gospel in such a way that there was literary inclusio to make a point. I don't think this takes away at all from the divine inspiration...

  8. thanks dave.
    fyi, no problem as I was not trying to infer that it takes away from divine inspiration.
    also, I think my comments were in response to mr ulansey's commentary above, not yours.
    question tho. in your response to me, you write "surely he knew enough to know about temple curtain..."
    precisely what do you mean by that?
    do any of the gospels report that the centurion had EVER seen the outer curtain?
    if so, what verses?
    if not, where is the logic in positing that any Roman centurion had EVER seen the outer curtain, let alone this specific centurion?

  9. I have no real passion to believe Ulsaney's take..
    no verses..just think a centurion would know some about such a huge cultural symbol as the temple


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!