Today we will look at a fresco from the Vysokie Dechani monastery in Serbia:

The subject is obvious for anyone even moderately familiar with the Bible, but let’s look at the title inscription nonetheless:

It reads:


Well, the spelling is a bit archaic, but one can easily see that it is a line taken from the Gospel attributed to Matthew (21:12):

И войдя Иисус в церковь, изгна вся продающия и купующия в церкви…

I voydya Iisus v tserkov’, izgna vsya prodaiushchiya i kypyiushchiya v tservki …

“And Jesus entered the temple, casting out all those who sold and bought in the temple …”

So this is a depiction of an event described (though somewhat differently) in all four New Testament Gospels, and generally known as the “Cleansing of the Temple” (Изгнание торгующих из Храма/Izgnanie torguiushchikh iz Khrama). Did you notice that the Slavic word for “temple” in the inscription also is used in icon inscriptions to mean “church”?  We find tserkov/церковь and khram/храм used interchangeably from example to example.

We see Jesus at left with a raised whip cord in his hand, looking like he means business:

He overturns the table of the moneychangers, spilling coins on the floor:

We see the sellers of doves being driven out:

And the exiting animals that were to be sold for slaughter and sacrifice in the temple:

Now it has often been pointed out that there are serious discrepancies among the New Testament gospels concerning this event — the “Cleansing of the Temple.”  As I have mentioned previously, from all present evidence, the gospels called “of Matthew” and “of Luke” appear to be simply edited and expanded versions of the gospel called “of Mark.”

In Mark 11:15-17 we find:

15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 And would not allow any man to carry any vessel through the temple.  17 And he taught, saying to them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but you have made it a den of thieves.

In Matthew 21:12-13:

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of those who sold doves, 13 And said to them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.

In Luke 19:45-46

45 And he went into the temple, and began to cast out those who sold therein, and those who bought; 46 Saying to them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves.

There are small variations in wording.  Note that Matthew, Mark and Luke use a composite Old Testament quote made by combining Isaiah 56:7 — “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’  with Jeremiah 7:11:  “… but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.'”  Also, Matthew and Luke have omitted Mark’s longer borrowing, that it was to be a house of prayer “for all nations.”

But there is a much larger discrepancy.  In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the “Cleansing of the Temple” takes place in the last week of the ministry of Jesus, and is used as the reason for plans to arrest him, leading to the Crucifixion.  However, there is another account in the Gospel called “of John” (2:13-17) that places the “Cleansing” near the beginning of his ministry — it happens during the first Passover of that ministry.  If one asks the “true believers” — basically Christian fundamentalists — why the chronologies here are so radically different, they will often say that Jesus must have cleansed the Temple twice — their usual methodology of coming up with any far-fetched attempt to explain glaring biblical discrepancies.  For rational readers, however, it is quite obvious that the Gospels are not historical accounts, but rather manipulate events and sayings to fit the purposes — the “messages” — of their individual authors.

Here is “John’s” version of the event, found in chapter 2:

13 And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a whip of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said to those who sold doves, Take these things away; make not my Father’s house a house of trade. 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of your house has consumed me.

So John, instead of using the combined “den of thieves” quote, has instead taken a notion from Zechariah 14:21:  “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”

There is more to be said about the differences between the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) and that called “of John,” but this much is sufficient for a general view of the iconography.

Depictions of the event are more commonly found in frescos than in panel icons, and title inscriptions vary somewhat from example to example, but the type is easily recognized.

This example has an inscription that appears somewhat anti-Semitic in tone because of one word in the phrasing:

Here it is:

It says:

“Christ casting out the Jews (ЕВРЕIЕ/Evreie“Hebrews”) from the Temple  — Sellers and Buyers.”





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