Something Awry In The Temple? The Rending of the Temple Veil And Early Jewish Sources that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple Around AD 30 -- By: Robert L. Plummer

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 48:2 (Jun 2005)
Article: Something Awry In The Temple? The Rending of the Temple Veil And Early Jewish Sources that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple Around AD 30
Author: Robert L. Plummer


Something Awry In The Temple?
The Rending of the Temple Veil And Early Jewish Sources
that Report Unusual Phenomena in the Temple Around AD 30

Robert L. Plummer

Robert Plummer is assistant professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theologial Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

I. Introduction

When Jesus died on the cross, the Gospels report that the veil of the temple was torn in half (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). While believing Christians take on faith that this event actually happened, can extra-biblical confirmation also be given for the incident?1 That is, can non-biblical writings demonstrate that Jesus' unbelieving contemporaries acknowledged that miraculous portents occurred in the Jewish temple around the year ad 30?2

To discover what Jesus' non-believing contemporaries were saying about the temple in ad 30, we must examine early non-biblical Jewish literature.3 We will be approaching the literature with this one question: do these early Jewish sources provide any corroborating evidence for the historicity of the rending of the temple veil?4 First, I will briefly examine the NT passages that provide the basis for our question. Second, I will survey some of the early non-biblical sources pertinent to our investigation. Third, I will draw some tentative conclusions.

II. New Testament

The passage that provides the basis for our question is found, in some form, in all three Synoptic Gospels. The Gospels report that when Jesus died, the καταπέτασμα of the temple was torn in half (Matt 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). Scholars debate whether this καταπέτασμα was the curtain which cordoned off the Holy of Holies (J.W. 5.219) or whether it was the veil which separated the sanctuary from the outer courts (J.W. 5.212-14).5 Some early Jewish sources indicate that there were in fact two curtains at the entrance to the Holy of Holies.6 If there were two curtains and the Gospel authors

were referring to this inner barrier, it is possible that the ev...

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