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JBL 105/2 (1986) 239-250

THE TEMPLE CURTAIN AND JESUS' DEATH


IN THE GOSPEL OF LUKE
DENNIS D. SYLVA
St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI 53207

I. Introduction
This study is an attempt to understand the significance of the state-
ment on the tearing of the temple curtain (Luke 23:45b, "The curtain of
the temple tore down the middle") in Luke's Gospel.1 A brief consideration
of Luke 23:44-46 provides us with the primary matrix within which Luke
23:45b must be interpreted. Luke 23:44-46 comprises the account of the
darkness over the land, the tearing of the temple curtain, 2 Jesus' final cry
1
All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.
2
Katapetasma ("curtain") can refer to either the veil before the sanctuary or the veil before
the holy of holies. Contra G. Hahn (Das Evangelium des Lukas [Breslau: Morgenstern, 1894]
2. 662) and F. Godet (A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke [New York: I. K. Funk, 1881]
495), who said that katapetasma was used only to refer to the curtain before the holy of
holies. This term was used to refer to the curtain between the sanctuary and the holy of holies
in the LXX of Exod 26:31; Lev 21:23; 24:3; Philo Mos. 2.86; Josephus Ant. 8.3.3 75. It was
used to refer to the curtain between the forecourt and the sanctuary in .the LXX of Exod
26:37; 38:18; Num 3:26.
We have no way of knowing the degree of Luke's knowledge of the details of the temple,
and therefore we do not know if Luke knew of both curtains and was referring specifically
to one of them. Luke tends to write about the temple as a whole instead of particular areas
or parts of the temple (see, e.g., Luke 1:10). In Acts 3:1-11 Luke does write of the "Beautiful
Gate" and of "Solomon's Portico." However, scholars are uncertain about the position of the
"Beautiful Gate," and so there is no way of determining how accurate Luke's report is. See
E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971) 198, 199 n. 12.
D. Juel argues, on the basis of J.W. 6.5.3 293-96, that if this term refers to the veil
between the forecourt and the sanctuary then the meaning of its tearing has something to
do with the destruction of the temple (Messiah and Temple [SBLDS 31; Missoula, MT:
Scholars Press, 1977] 140, 141). In these verses, Josephus said that some interpreted the open-
ing of the gate, before which the curtain between the forecourt and the sanctuary was
situated, as a sign that God had granted the invading Romans access to the temple. However,
the tearing of the curtain between the forecourt and the sanctuary need not signify the
destruction of the temple, as Juel suggests. It may also signify God's presence. In J.W. 6.5.3
295 Josephus said that while some recognized the opening of the gate before the sanctuary
as a sign of destruction, "this again to the uninitiated seemed the best of omens, as they
supposed that God had opened to them the gate of blessings" (Eng. trans, from H. St. J.
Thackeray, Josephus: The Jewish War, Books IV-VII [LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1968) 462, 463.

239
240 Journal of Biblical Literature

before his death, and Jesus' death. The verses are a Lucan reworking of
Mark 15:33-38. Mark begins by writing about the darkness over the land
from the sixth to the ninth hour (Mark 15:33). At the ninth hour Jesus cries,
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? "(Mark 15:34). Some of the
crowd think that Jesus is calling Elijah, and one offers him some vinegar
to drink (15:35, 36). Jesus cries out and dies, and then the curtain of the
temple is torn (Mark 15:37, 38). Luke also begins by noting the darkness
from the sixth to the ninth hour (Luke 23:44, 45a);3 however, Luke deletes
the cry of forsakenness and the crowd's reaction to it. Instead he moves the
statement on the rending of the temple curtain (Luke 23:45b) from after
Jesus' death to after the statement on the darkness over the land. Imme-
diately following the statement on the tearing of the temple curtain, Luke
writes about Jesus' final cry and death (Luke 23:46). The Lucan Jesus' final
cry is an articulate prayer and not an inarticulate cry as in Mark's Gospel.
Why did Luke reposition the statement on the tearing of the temple
curtain to before Jesus' death instead of leaving it after Jesus' death as it is
found in the Gospel of Mark? What point is Luke making by such a reposi-
tioning? 4 Three different meanings of the tearing of the temple curtain in
the synoptics have been proposed: (1) it was a sign of the destruction of the
temple; (2) it was a sign of the abrogation of the temple and temple
worship; (3) it was a sign that through Jesus' death the way to God was open
(an idea like that found in Heb 10:19, 20).5 Not many commentators have
attempted to explain the meaning of the tearing of the temple curtain in
Luke's Gospel,6 and there is very little work on this verse in articles,
3
To this Marcan statement, Luke affixes the explanatory phrase tou hliou eklipontos
(p75NC*) or tou hliou ekleipontos (p75cB), or some form of the phrase kai eskotisth ho
helios (AC3DKW).
4
Too often the significance of the rending of the temple curtain at Jesus' death has been
speculated on without exploring the context in which it was placed by the evangelists. Indeed,
M. de Jonge said that the immediate context provides no clue to the meaning of this statement
("De berichten over het schewren van het voorhangel bij Jezus' doot in der synoptische
evangelin," NedTTb 21 [1966] 90-97). In another article de Jonge provides an illuminating
survey of the ways in which the tearing of the temple curtain was interpreted by some impor-
tant fathers of the church ("Het motief van het gescheurde voorhangsel van der Tempel in
een aantal vroegchristlijke geschritten," NedTTs 21 [1967] 257-76).
5
See P. Lamarche ("La mort du Christ et le voile du temple," NRT 96 [1974] 583-99) for
a survey of the interpretations of this event as it is narrated in the Gospel of Mark.
6
E.g., see J. Creed, The Gospel According to St. Luke (London: Macmillan, 1965) 284-88;
. Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Luke (ICC 28; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901)
536-40; C. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels (2d ed.; New York: Ktav, 1968) 628, 629; A.
Loisy, LEvangile selon Luc (Paris: Minerva, 1924) 561; J. Schmid, Das Evangelium nach
Lukas (RNT 3; Regensburg: Pustet, 1955) 350, 351; J. Drury, The Gospel of Luke (New York:
Macmillan, 1973) 219, 220; J. Dillersberger, The Gospel of Luke (Westminster: Newman,
1958) 540-42; W. Grundmann, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Berlin: Evangelische Verlags
anstalt, 1971) 435; E. Klostermann, Das Lukasevangelium (HNT 5; Tbingen: Mohr-Siebeck,
1975) 229; W. Schmithals, Das Evangelium nach Lukas (Zurich: Theologischer Verlag, 1980)
227.
Sylva: The Temple Curtain and Jesus' Death 241

monographs, or other types of books. The scholars who do deal with the
meaning of this statement in Luke's Gospel usually opt for one or more of
the above explanations.7 However, these scholars do not provide any argu-
ments for their assertions, or, in Pelletier's and Marshall's cases, only the
thinnest of arguments. My research has led me to propose and favor an
altogether different interpretation of Luke 23:45b. The account of the tear-
ing of the temple curtain and that of Jesus' death are placed right next to
each other. Therefore, an understanding of the significance that Luke
attaches to the rending of the temple curtain will help us to appreciate the
Lucan presentation of Jesus' death as well.

II. Punctuational, Translational,


and Interpretive Possibilities
The Lucan repositioning of the statement on the tearing of the temple
curtain (Luke 23:45b) from immediately following Jesus' death to
7
The following scholars interpret it as a sign that Jesus' death has opened up the way to
God for humanity: A. Pelletier, "La tradition synoptique de 'Voile dchire' la lumire des
ralits archologiques," RSR 46 (1958) 175; W. Manson, The Gospel of Luke (London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 1963) 262; G. Caird, The Gospel of Luke (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963)
253; F. Hauck, Das Evangelium des Lukas (THKNT 3; Leipzig: Deichert, 1934) 285, 287;
J. Owen, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (New York: Leavitt & Allen, 1859) 373; H.
Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966) 338; E. Title, The
Gospel According to Luke (New York: Harper & Bros., 1951) 261; L. Morris, The Gospel
According to St. Luke (lyndale New Testament Commentaries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1975) 330; W. Harrington, The Gospel According to St. Luke (New York: Newman, 1967)
267, 268.
The following scholars view it as a sign of the destruction of the temple: J. Ernst, Das
Evangelium nach Lukas (RNT; Regensburg: Pustet, 1977) 639; I. H. Marshall, The Gospel
of Luke (New International Greek Testament Commentary 3; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1978) 875; A. Bchele, Der Tod Jesu im Lukasevangelium (Frankfurter Theologische Studien
26; Frankfurt am Main: Knecht, 1978) 52; L. Fillion, Evangile selon S. Luc (Paris: P. Le-
thielleux, 1882) 397. Similarly, F. Danker interprets it as a sign of Jerusalem's destruction
(Jesus and the New Age [St. Louis, MO: Clayton, 1972] 240).
R. Stoll (The Gospel According to St. Luke [New York: Pustet, 1931] 386) and G. Thompson
(The Gospel According to Luke [Oxford: Clarendon, 1972] 273) see it as signifying the
abrogation of the temple cultus. N. Geldenhuys (Commentary on the Gospel of Luke [Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977] 611) and J. Foote (Lectures on the Gospel According to Luke
[Edinburgh: Ogle & Murray, 1858] 710) said that it signifies both the end of the temple cultus
and the opening of a new way to God.
The following scholars opt for all three of the interpretations mentioned above: E. E. Ellis,
The Gospel of Luke (NCB; London: Nelson, 1966) 269; A. Maclaren, The Gospel of St. Luke
(New York: Armstrong, 1894) 308; E. Rice, Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke
(Philadelphia: Union, 1900) 276; S. P. Kealy, The Gospel of Luke (Denville, NJ: Dimension
Books, 1979) 439, 440.
F. G. Untergassmair does not deal with the significance of the rending of the temple
curtain in Luke's Gospel beyond saying that the eclipse and the tearing of the temple curtain
were "Fakten der Ankndigung des Todes Jesu" (Kreuzweg und Kreuzigung Jesu [Pader-
borner Theologische Studien 10; Paderborn: Schningh, 1980] 191).
242 Journal of Biblical Literature

immediately preceding Jesus' death gives rise to the question of what rela-
tion this statement has in its new Lucan position to the preceding and
following statements. Luke 23:44 reads, "It was now about the sixth hour,
and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour" (Kai en
d hsei hra hekt kai skotos egeneto epK holn tn gn hes hras
enats). Luke 23:45a reads, "while the sun failed" (tou hliou eklipontos).
Luke 23:45a is an explanation of Luke 23:44: an explanation of why it was
dark from noon to 3:00 P.M. Thus, it is primarily connected to Luke 23:44,
and virtually all translations signal this connection by placing Luke 23:44,
45a in the same sentence.
The relation between Luke 23:44, 45a and 23:45b (eschisth de to
katapetasma tou naou meson" the curtain of the temple tore down the
middle") and the relation between Luke 23:45b and 23:46a (kai phnesas
phon megal ho Isous eipen, Pater, eis cheiras sou paratithemai to pneuma
mou, "and calling with a loud voice, Jesus said, Tather, into Your hands I
commit my spirit'") are much less clear. How does the tearing of the temple
curtain (Luke 23:45b) relate to the eclipse of the sun (23:44, 45a) on the one
hand and to Jesus' final cry (23:46a) on the other? There are three options.
First, the tearing of the temple curtain may be linked primarily with the
eclipse of the sun. This is signaled by the connection of Luke 23:45b to
23:44, 45a by means of a comma or a semicolon, as is shown by the follow-
ing translation from the RSV:8
44
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole
land until the ninth hour, 45while the sun's light failed; and the curtain
of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice,
said, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!"
Second, the tearing of the temple curtain may stand alone, not closely
connected with what precedes or with what follows it. This interpretation
is brought out by those translations that make Luke 23:45b an independent
sentence, as does the following NEB translation: 9
44
By now it was midday and a darkness fell over the whole land, which
lasted until three in the afternoon; 45the sun's light having failed. And the
curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud
voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit."
Third, the tearing of the temple curtain may be linked primarily to Jesus'
final cry from the cross (23:46a). In this case a comma or a semicolon would
8
See also the TEV translation and the third edition of UBSGNT. Various punctuational
marks signal different degrees of conjunction or disjunction between the words they separate.
A comma and a semicolon signal a greater degree of conjunction between the words they
separate than does a period, which is a much more disjunctive punctuational mark. The
choice of punctuational marks itself involves an interpretation of the relation of the words
separated by these marks.
9
So too the NAB, "Chicago Bible," Phillips, Kleist-Lilly, and the NIV translations.
Sylva: The Temple Curtain and Jesus' Death 243

link Luke 23:45b to 23:46a.10 Although most translations favor the first or
the second option, my research leads me to favor the third punctuational
possibility as the best indicator of the meaning of the tearing of the temple
curtain in Luke's Gospel. Thus, I would propose the following translation
and punctuation marks for Luke 23:44-46a.
44
It was now about the sixth hour and there was darkness over the whole
land until the ninth hour: 45the sun having failed. Then, the curtain of
the temple tore down the middle, 46and Jesus, crying with a loud voice
said, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit."

III. Luke 23:45b, 46a as Jesus' Communion


with the God of the Temple
In Mark's account Jesus gives a cry and dies, and only after his death
is the curtain of the temple torn in two (Mark 15:36, 37). In the Lucan
account the order of these events is reversed so that first the curtain of the
temple is torn down the middle and then Jesus cries out in a loud voice.
Mark's Jesus utters a wordless cry before the temple curtain is torn. There
is no communication between Jesus and God expressed in the Marcan con-
nection between these events. However, in Luke's gospel after the temple
curtain is torn Jesus addresses God: "Father, into Your hands I commit my
spirit." It is my thesis that Luke 23:45b is primarily connected with 23:46a
and that the image that 23:45b, 46a presents is that of Jesus' communion
at the last moment before his death with the Father, who is present in the
temple. My evidence for this thesis comes largely from a neglected element
in the widely accepted Lucan parallelism in treating the deaths of Jesus and
Stephen and from the Lucan understanding of the ninth hour.
As has often been noted, Luke parallels Jesus' death and Stephen's
death. Both the Lucan Jesus and Stephen ask for forgiveness of their mur-
derers (Luke 23:34a; Acts 7:60).u This saying is not found on the lips of the
Marcan, Matthean, or Johannine Jesus. Both the Lucan Jesus and Stephen
commit their spirits before they die.
Luke 23:46aPater, eis cheiras sou paratithemai to pneuma mou
Acts 7:59Kyrie Isou, dexai to pneuma mou.
No such saying is found in any of the other canonical Gospels. Both the
Lucan Jesus and Stephen utter an articulate cry right before dying (Luke
23:46a; Acts 7:60). The Marcan Jesus and the Matthean Jesus utter inarticu-
late cries before their deaths (Mark 15:37; Matt 27:50). Both the Lucan
Jesus' death and Stephen's death are described in a very similar way.

10
As is the case in the Jerusalem Bible and the Westminster version.
11
However, it is uncertain whether or not Luke 23:34a (ho de Isous elegen, Pater, aphes
autois, ou gar oidasin ti poiousin) comes from Luke or is a later scribal insertion. It is found
in K*ACDbKLX, and it is absent from p75NaBD*W.
244 Journal of Biblical Literature

Luke 23:46ctouto de expon exepneusen


Acts 7:60kai touto eipn ekoimth.
Only Luke among the evangelists describes the man who buried Jesus,
Joseph of Arimathea, as "a good and righteous man" (anr agathos kai
dikaios, Luke 23:50). In Acts 8:2 Luke describes those who bury Stephen
as "devout men" (andres euhbeis). This is similar to Luke's description in
Luke 23:50 of the man who buried Jesus. The preceding features show that
Luke has paralleled the deaths of Jesus and Stephen.12 However, there is
another parallel feature in the deaths of Jesus and Stephen that has gone
unnoticed.
In Acts 7:55, 56, Luke writes that Stephen sees the heavens opened
(dinoigmenous) and has a vision (ther) of God and Jesus. His description
of his vision to his listeners evokes their wrath: they cast him out of the city
and stone him (7:56-58). While he is dying, Stephen says "Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59), and then dies after another utterance that is
elsewhere found only on the Lucan Jesus' lips (Acts 7:60). The words of
Stephen in Acts 7:59 ("Lord Jesus, receive my spirit") refer to and must be
viewed in connection with Stephen's vision as narrated in Acts 7:55, 56.
This saying in Acts 7:59 is an address to the "Lord Jesus," who is revealed
in his lordship in the heavens in Acts 7:55, 56. In 7:55, 56 we read of
Stephen's vision of God and Jesus in the heavens. Jesus is portrayed as
"standing at the right hand of God" (hestta ek dexin tou theou).13 This
is an allusion to Ps 110:1 ("The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at my right
hand . . .'"). That this allusion functions as an indicator of Jesus' lordship
for Luke is brought out clearly in Acts 2:34-36 where Ps 110:1 is cited and
Luke says about this citation, "Therefore, let all the house of Israel know
that beyond a doubt God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom
you crucified" (asphals oun ginsket pas oikos Isral hoti kai kyrion auton
kai Chrteton epoisen ho theos, touton ton Isoun hon humis estaursate).
Ps 110:1 functions for Luke as a scriptural proof of Jesus' lordship, and,
consequently, Stephen's vision in Acts 7:55, 56 is presented as a vision of
Jesus' lordship. Thus, Stephen's address to the "Lord Jesus" in Acts 7:59
must be viewed in relation to his vision of the lordship of Jesus in Acts 7:55,
56. Acts 7:59 is the only time Stephen refers to Jesus as "Lord" in his speech.
Elsewhere he refers to Jesus as a prophts (7:37) or as a dikaios (7:52).

12
This parallelism between the deaths of Jesus and Stephen has been noted by, among
others, M. Simon (St. Stephen and the Hellenists [London and New York: Longmans, Green,
1958] 20, 22); G. H. Talbert (Literary Patterns, Theological Themes, and the Genre of Luke-
Acts [SBLMS 20; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1974] 97); and E. Trocm (Le Livre des Actes
et Vhistoire [tudes d'histoire et de philosophie religieuses, 45; Paris: Presses universitaires de
France, 1957) 186, 187.
13
It is a puzzlement why Luke writes that Jesus is "standing" instead of "sitting" at God's
right hand. A frequent explanation is that the standing signifies the Lord's readiness to receive
Stephen, the martyr.
Sylva: The Temple Curtain and Jesus' Death 245

Stephen's address to the "Lord Jesus" in 7:59 is an address to the Lord who
was revealed to Stephen in a vision (7:55, 56).
There is a striking parallelism between Luke 23:45b, 46a and Acts
7:55, 56, 59: a parallelism that explains the meaning of Luke 23:45b. In Acts
7:55, 56 one reads of an opening (dinoigmenous) into a place of God's
presence (the heavens). In Luke 23:45b one reads of an opening (eschisth)
into a place of God's presence (the temple). In Acts 7:59 one reads that as
Stephen is dying he commits his spirit ("Lord Jesus, receive my spirit") to
the Lord who was revealed by the opening of the heavens (Acts 7:55, 56).
In Luke 23:46a one reads that as Jesus is dying he commits his spirit
("Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit").14 On the basis of this paral-
lelism we may conclude that Jesus' commitment of his spirit is an address
to the God revealed to him by the tearing of the temple curtain, as Stephen's
commitment of his spirit is an address to the Lord revealed by the opening
of the heavens.
The Lucan understanding of the ninth hour also supports the pre-
ceding interpretation of Luke 23:45b, 46a. Luke received the tradition of
the occurrence of Jesus' death at the ninth hour from Mark 15:33-38.
However, it does not seem to have been an uncritical takeover. Luke, as Acts
3:1 shows, had a very definite understanding of the ninth hour as "the hour
of prayer" in the temple. Acts 3:1 reads as follows: "Now Peter and John
were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour" (Petros
de kai lannes anebainon eis to hieron epi tn hran tes proseuchs tn
enatn). At the ninth hour Luke places a prayer on Jesus' lips after the
temple curtain rips (Luke 23:44-46). This is consistent with his understand-
ing of the ninth hour.15 Luke's understanding of the ninth hour as a time

14
Luke's choice of citations is interesting. There are many other expressions of confidence
in God's saving power in the OT. Luke's choice of the LXX of Ps 31:5a (eis cheiras sou
parathsomai to pneuma mou) seems to have been motivated by the way in which Mark (and
Luke himself, following Mark) described Jesus' death, that is, by the use of the term exepneu-
sen. The second part of this verb, pne, has the same root as pneuma. Thus, Luke says that
Jesus committed his pneuma into his Father's hands and then exepneusen. The connection
between the two terms is reinforced by Luke by means of his explicit linking of the pneuma
saying and the exepneusen term together with a phrase not found in Mark's gospeltouto
de expon.
15
Luke writes about the ninth hour as the hour of prayer also in Acts 10:30. However,
Luke's replacement of the Marcan Jesus' inarticulate cry with a prayer after the temple
curtain rips (Luke 23:45b, 46a) establishes a relation between prayer, the temple, and the
ninth hour (Luke 23:44) that is best explained by the evidence in Acts 3:1 that Luke presents
the ninth hour as the hour of prayer in the temple.
The ninth hour was one of the two times for the incense offerings (see Str-B 2. 696-700).
Luke 1:8-10 reflects this practice, but Luke shows no signs that he was aware that this offering
occurred at the ninth hour. Rather, he simply designates it as occurring "at the hour of
incense" (t hra tou thymiamatos, Luke 1:10). For Luke, the ninth hour is the hour of prayer.
It is doubtful that the use of Ps 31:5a as the evening prayer of pious Jews is the background
for the Lucan use of this verse, because the witnesses for such a usage are quite late, coming
246 Journal of Biblical Literature

of prayer in the temple (Acts 3:1) reinforces my thesis that Luke presents
Jesus' final words on the cross as a prayer to the God of the temple.16
Though not as strong an argument for this interpretation of Luke
23:45b, 46a as are the two preceding arguments, there is a possibility that
the Lucan account of one group of eyewitnesses' reactions to Jesus' death
also supports this interpretation. Following Jesus' death, Mark writes that
the Roman centurion said "truly this man was a son of God" (Mark 15:39)
and that female followers of Jesus were present (Mark 15:40, 41). Mark
makes no mention of the crowd at this point. Luke also writes about the
centurion's response to Jesus' death; however, according to Luke the cen-
turion "praised God" and said "certainly this man was innocent" (Luke
23:47). Luke continues by saying "and all the multitudes who assembled to
see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating
their breasts" (Luke 23:48), and he concludes his account of the eye-
witnesses' responses to Jesus' death by noting that all of Jesus' "acquaintances
and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and
saw these things" (Luke 23:49) .17
Two of the distinctly Lucan features of this account may lend support
to my interpretation of Luke 23:45b, 46a as Jesus' prayer to the God who
is present in the temple. Only Luke affixed to the centurion's statement the
note that he praised God (edoxazen ton theon, Luke 23:47). This is appro-
priate for the prayerful context that Luke has established for Jesus' final
moments before his death. As I have noted above, in Luke 23:46a Luke
replaced the Marcan Jesus' inarticulate cry with a prayer to God. Further,
Luke may have presented the crowds' reaction to Jesus' death in a manner
befitting the specific context of temple prayer. There have been few inter-
pretations of why Luke wrote that the crowds "beat their breasts" (Luke
23:48). An account of these interpretations provides the context for my own
interpretation of this phrase.
A. Loisy said that this phrase is "pour l'accomplissement de la proph-
tie de Zacharie."18 He is referring to Zech 12:10. Luke 23:48 has no verbal

from the Gemara of the Talmud and from Numbers Babbah. In the rabbinic literature it is
a prayer said before one goes to sleep, not a prayer said at the ninth hour (Luke 23:44; see
Str-B 2. 269 for the uses of Ps 31:5 as a bedtime prayer).
1
M. Lagrange does not think that Luke was concerned with the time in which the rending
of the curtain occurred (vangile selon Saint Luc [7th ed.; Paris: Gabalda, 1948] 592). He
said that Luke's placing the tearing of the curtain before Jesus' death was for the purpose of
presenting events "in order" (kathexs, Luke 1:4), and so Luke placed the tearing of the
curtain next to the other miraculous feature in the account of Jesus' death, the solar eclipse.
So too C. Osty, Lvangile selon Saint Luc (Paris: Cerf, 1953) 159 note c. My arguments have
shown that Luke was concerned with the time in which the temple curtain ripped in relation
to the time of Jesus' death.
17
These translations from Mark 15:39-41 and from Luke 23:47-49 are from the RSV.
18
Lvangile selon Luc, 562, 557.
Sylva: The Temple Curtain and Jesus' Death 247

connections to Zech 12:10.19 Further, M. Lagrange has stated correctly that


the passage in Zechariah is one of sorrow, whereas this is not the case in the
Lucan passage 20 Thus, one should not interpret Luke 23:48 on the basis of
this passage from Zechariah.
Lagrange, A. Valensin and J. Huby interpret the phrase "beating their
breasts" (typtontes ta stth) in Luke 23:48 as a sign of repentance.
Lagrange notes that the same phrase appears in Luke 18:13 (etypten to
stthos autou), and he says that here it is a sign of repentance as is shown
by the words accompanying this action: "God be merciful to me a sinner."21
The only two places in which Luke writes about people "beating their
breasts" are in Luke 18:13 and in Luke 23:48. Luke 18:13 is part of the
parable on the Pharisee and the tax collector who went up to the temple
to pray (Luke 18:9-14); Luke 18:13 is the account of the tax collector's
actions and prayer while he is in the temple. The prayer in Luke 18:13 is
the tax collector's acknowledgment of his sinfulness; however, Simon also
utters such a prayer on Lake Gennesaret without beating his breast (Luke
5:8). The prayer in Luke 18:13 is the only prayer or confession of Jesus'
lordship that is accompanied by beating one's breast, and Luke uses the
temple as the setting for the events he records in Luke 18:13. A number of
times the act of falling at Jesus' feet accompanies a prayer or confession
(e.g., in Luke 5:8, 12; 8:28, 47; 17:16), and a number of other times Luke
records prayers or confessions without any action accompanying them (e.g.,
Acts 1:14, 24; 4:24-31; 6:6; 7:59, 60).
In the light of these facts, the possibility exists that for Luke beating
one's breast may be associated with temple prayer, because Luke does not
have such an action accompany prayer at any other time. This may explain
Luke's use of the phrase typtontes ta stth in Luke 23:48: as a sign of
temple prayer, typtontes ta stth may witness to a specific context of
temple prayer for Jesus' last moments before his death, as the centurion's
praising God corresponds to the more general context of prayer that Luke
has established for Jesus' final moments before his death. 22

19
It is John (19:34, 37), not Luke, who alludes to this passage from Zechariah.
20
M. Lagrange, vangile selon Saint Luc, 594. However, in a few manuscripts (syr^it 8 )
the phrase typtontes ta stth does appear to function as an expression of sorrow, because a
lament is found after this phrase.
G. Schneider said that the background of Luke 23:48 is 3 Mace 5:24 (Das Evangelium nach
Lukas [Gtersloh: Mohn, 1977] 2. 487). This is doubtful, since this verse in 3 Maccabees
speaks only about the gathering of a crowd in expectation of an execution, not of a similar
type of reaction by this crowd.
21
M. Lagrange, vangile selon Saint Luc, 593; A. Valensin and J. Huby, vangile selon
Saint Luc (Paris: Beauchesne, 1952) 449.
22
In this case we may have the same type of literary feature in Luke 23:44-49 as is found
in Luke 24:50-53. In Luke 24:50, 51 Jesus gives his disciples a priestly blessing while he is
ascending. So A. Schlatter, Das Evangelium des Lukas (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1931) 149, 150; D.
Daube, The New Testament and Babbinic Judaism (London: Athlone, 1956) 234; E. E. Ellis,
248 Journal of Biblical Literature

IV. God and Jesus in the Temple


Finally, the thesis that Luke 23t45b, 46a presents Jesus' communion
with the God of the temple presupposes both Luke's acceptance of the idea
of God's presence in the temple and a Lucan comfortableness with present-
ing the temple as the locus of Jesus' activity. Both are attested in Luke's
Gospel. Luke 2:22-24 conflates the account of the purification of Mary
with the account of the offering to redeem the firstborn. Luke 2:22a ("And
when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses")
and Luke 2:24 ("and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law
of the Lord, 'a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons'") refer to the law
of purification of a woman after she gives birth to a child.23 According to
Lev 12:2-8, a woman who bears a male child is unclean for forty days. After
this time, she should bring "a lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon
for a sin offering." If she cannot afford a lamb, she should bring "two turtle
doves or two young pigeons." Luke 2:22b, 23 ("they brought him up to
Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written, 'Every male that
opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord'") refers to the law of
redeeming the firstborn.24 This was supposed to occur thirty days after the

The Gospel of Luke, 279; E. Tinsley, The Gospel According to Luke (Cambridge: University
Press, 1965) 208; W. Arndt, The Gospel According to St. Luke (St. Louis, MO: Concordia,
1956) 501, 507; W. Schmithals, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 237. Others interpret this bless-
ing even more specifically as a high priestly blessing: so P. A. Van Stempvoort, "The Inter-
pretation of the Ascension in Luke and Acts," NTS 5 (1958-59) 34-37; I. H. Marshall, The
Gospel of Luke, 908, 909; N. Geldenhuys, The Gospel of Luke, 645, 646; W. Grundmann,
Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 453, 454; G. Schneider, Das Evangelium nach Lukas, 2. 505,
506; C. Stuhlmueller, "The Gospel According to Luke,"/BC 2. 163-64; J. Ernst, Das Evange-
lium nach Lukas, 672; R. Karris, The Gospel of Luke (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, 1974) 96;
R. Summers, Commentary on Luke (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972) 337.
The raising of one's hands while pronouncing a blessing (eparas tas cheiras autou eulogsen
autous, Luke 24:50) indicates a priestly (or high priestly) blessing. See, e,g., m. Ta1 an. 4:1,
2; Sir 50:20. Following Jesus' priestly blessing and ascension, the disciples "returned to Jeru-
salem" (hypestrepsan eis Ierousalm, Luke 24:52) and went to the temple and praised God
(kai san dia pantos en t hiero eulogountes ton theon, Luke 24:53). In Luke 23:45b, 46a Jesus
addresses the God who is present in the temple. After this address and Jesus' death, the
multitudes returned (hypestrephon) to Jerusalem with an action associated with temple
worship, that is, "beating their breasts." (Although Luke 23:48 says simply that they returned
[hypestrephon], Luke means that they returned to Jerusalem. This is shown by the fact that
the multitudes are said to have followed Jesus to "The Skull" from Jerusalem [see Luke 23:27].
Thus, their return [hypestrephon, Luke 23:48] is to Jerusalem.) Both Jesus' death and Jesus'
ascension are accompanied by Jesus' temple-related activities (i.e., a prayer at the hour of
temple prayer to the God who is present in the temple [Luke 23:44-46] and a priestly blessing
[Luke 24:50, 15]) and by the onlookers' response to these events by returning (hypostreph)
to Jerusalem and by temple-related activities (i.e., "beating their breasts" [Luke 23:48] and
blessing God in the temple [Luke 24:53]).
23
Only Mary needed to be purified, and so the use of "their purification" (katharismou
autn) in Luke 2:22, well attested in the textual tradition, is a puzzlement.
24
See especially Exod 13:2, 12. These translations of Luke 2:22-24 are from the RSV.
Sylva: The Temple Curtain and Jesus' Death 249

birth of the child (Num 18:16), whereas the offering for the purification of
the mother was to occur after the fortieth day if she gave birth to a male
child (Lev 12:6). Luke has not simply blended the offering for the purifica-
tion of the mother with the offering for the redemption of the child. He has
also made the redemption offering a part of a presentation of Jesus to the
Lord (Luke 2:22b, "they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the
Lord"). Nowhere in biblical or extrabiblical Jewish literature is there a
mention of a need to present the child while redeeming the firstborn with
the payment of five shekels. What this Lucan mention of a presentation
does show is that Luke approves of the idea of God's presence in the temple,
because he presents his protagonist (i.e., Jesus) to God in the temple (Luke
2:22b, 27). Such a feature is found in no other canonical Gospel.25
That Luke is comfortable with presenting the temple as the locus of
Jesus' activity is shown by his treatment of Jesus' final days in Jerusalem.
Whereas Mark presents Jesus as teaching in a number of places, both
within and outside of Jerusalem, Luke places all of Jesus' teaching in the
temple.26 In addition, the Lucan version of the duration of Jesus' teaching
in the temple also signifies a comfortableness with presenting the temple
as the locus of Jesus' activities. Mark presents Jesus' activities in the temple
as lasting only three days. Luke, on the other hand, establishes the idea of
a longer period for Jesus' temple ministry by such remarks as "he was
teaching daily in the temple" (Luke 19:47), "one day, as he was teaching the
people in the temple," (Luke 20:1), and "every day he was teaching in the
temple" (Luke 21:37).27 Luke is comfortable with Jesus' teaching in the
temple, and consequently he edits the Marcan temporal references to a
brief stay there.

V. Conclusion
Luke repositions the statement on the tearing of the temple curtain
from its position after Jesus' death in Mark's Gospel to before Jesus' death.

25
One of the most common interpretations of Luke 13:35a ("Behold, your house is for-
saken") is that it expresses the idea of God's abandonment of the templa Even if this inter-
pretation is correct, and I am not convinced that it is, Luke would not have viewed this
departure as occurring sometime during the period of time covered in Luke-Acts. This is
shown by the fact that Luke presents both the apostles (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46; 3:1) and Paul
(Acts 21:2) participating in temple worship. Thus, the temple functions as a holy place
throughout the Lucan narrative Thus, Luke 13:35a does not argue against my thesis that
Luke 23:45b, 46a presents Jesus' communion with the God of the temple; God is present in,
and may be worshiped in, the temple throughout the period of time covered by the events
that Luke narrates in his bipartite work.
26
See Mark 11:22-25; 13:1-37; 14:3-9; Luke 19:47; 20:1; 21:37, 38.
27
See Mark 11:11, 12, 15, 19, 20, 27; 13:1. See R. Lightfoot, who noted the Marcan
temporal plotting during Jesus' final days in Jerusalem, and the vaguer Lucan temporal
references (Locality and Doctrine in the Gospels [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938] 141).
250 Journal of Biblical Literature

He also replaces the Marcan Jesus' inarticulate cry (Mark 15:37)28 with a
direct address to God (Luke 23:46a). These emendations establish a relation
between these two events that is best described as Jesus' communion with
the God of the temple, 29 as is shown both by Stephen's vision of and com-
munication with God at the corresponding point in the events surrounding
Stephen's death and by the Lucan presentation of the ninth hour as the
hour of prayer in the temple. Moreover, there is the possibility that the
description of the crowds' "beating their breasts" in Luke 23:48 also wit-
nesses to such an interpretation of Luke 23:45b, 46a. Thus, Luke's purpose
in Luke 23:45b, 46a was not to signify the temple's destruction, the abroga-
tion of the temple cultus, or the opening of a new way to Gd, but rather
to present the last moment of Jesus' life as a communion with the God of
the temple. 30

28
X. Lon-Dufour wrote that in Mark's Gospel Jesus "meurt seul, il entre seul dans le nuit
de la mort. Tel est le point culminant de la Passion" ("Le dernier cri de Jsus," tudes 348
[1978] 672).
29
Thus, A. Valensin and J. Huby are incorrect when, commenting on Luke 23:46, they say
that Jesus "est tout entier son Pre qui est dans les deux" (Evangile selon Saint Luc, 446;
emphasis added). Although Luke presents God as being in the heavens (see, e.g., Acts 7:55,
56), in Luke 23:45b, 46a Luke emphasizes the presence of God in the temple.
This is another example of the use of the temple motif as an inclusio to structure Luke's
Gospel, which opens and closes by portraying scenes in the temple (1:5-23; 24:50-53). In
Luke's Gospel Jesus' first words occur while he is in the temple (Luke 23:49), and his final
words before his death are an address to the God of the temple (Luke 23:46a).
30
It is interesting that in Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis the reference to the rending of the
temple curtain in Luke's Gospel is placed after the reference to Jesus' final cry and death, as
is the case in Mark's Gospel. This may be due to an attempt to harmonize the Marcan and
Lucan accounts, but the possibility exists that there is a theological motivation for this altera-
tion. There is a "heightened anti-Judaic attitude and sentiment" in Codex Bezae (see E. J.
Epp, The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis in Acts [Cambridge: Univer-
sity Press, 1966] 41-171; P. H. Menoud, "The Western Text and the Theology of Acts," NTSB
[1951] 19-32). As E. J. Epp has shown (Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae, 64-119, 165,
166, esp. pp. 87-90, 107-115), one of the ways in which this anti-Judaic bias is expressed is
by minimizing the importance to Christianity of both Jewish institutions and Judaism's
"customs and practices." Although the only Jewish institution that Epp has shown that Codex
Bezae demonstrates a bias against is the Jewish synagogue, this bias, as well as the bias against
"the customs and practices of Judaism," may be the proper frame of reference for interpreting
the repositioning of the statement on the tearing of the temple curtain in Codex Bezae. It is
possible that the scribes of Codex Bezae recognized and attempted to remove the positive
valuation of the temple that the Lucan repositioning of the statement on the tearing of the
temple curtain has achieved. This type of alteration would be in line with the "heightened
anti-Judaic attitude and sentiment" found in Codex Bezae
^ s
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