Mentioned only in the account of Jesus' attack on merchants in the Temple, which according to the synoptic Gospels took place shortly before his arrest (Matt. 21.12–13 par.) but is set by John at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (John 2.14–22). According to Exodus 30.11–16, every adult male Israelite was to pay half a shekel annually to the sanctuary (see also Neh. 10.32; Matt. 17.24–27). In the period of the Second Temple this tax was paid at Passover; to assist pilgrims to Jerusalem, money changers apparently functioned within the large open area known as the “Court of Gentiles” (see Map 9) or in the porticoes that framed the Temple enclosure, converting to the proper payment different currencies or those that were religiously offensive because of portraits on coins (see Money). Although rabbinic sources provide some evidence for complaints about profiteering by the money changers, who charged as much as eight percent for their service, the reaction of Jesus seems exaggerated, especially in its fullest form in Mark 11.15–19. It is furthermore unlikely that one person could control all activity within the vast Temple courtyard; the Gospel narratives, written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, are making a theological point about Jesus, depicting him as a prophet in the tradition of Jeremiah and Isaiah, both of whom are quoted directly (see also Zech 14.21).
Michael D. Coogan