Special Edition
Vol. 1, No. 4

In a section headed, "Problems with the Bible," [6] Ehrman's premiere case is the matter of when Jesus cleansed the Temple -- did he do it at the start, as John says, or at the end, as Mark and the other Gospels say? I will begin by presenting my own answer to this issue, in order that we may see just how inadequately Ehrman has represented the matter:

This event presents something of an oddity, as one may find scholars who actually think John represents a more accurate tradition, while the Synoptics have mistakenly put the cleansing at the end of of Jesus' ministry. A standard answer (which has nothing to do with "piety" but with common sense historical detective work) is that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry, and once at the end. Another idea is that there was no personal witness to these events, but that they were handed down through an intermediate source and later arranged according to community needs. Of course one is constrained to ask why speculative and unknown "communities" with speculated and otherwise unknown "needs" is any better an explanation than that each evangelist chose to report a different cleansing to meet certain "needs". In both cases a theory dictates the facts rather than the other way around. The latter idea, however, has a certain advantage, aside from the simple fact that it doesn't mangle the data. Jesus as an observant Jew certainly visited the Jerusalem Temple many times in his life. Cleansing the Temple as an act of "prophetic demonstration" (as most agree it is) is not something that was likely to have been done once. Indeed, it is arguably something Jesus would have done, to some extent, on numerous visits to Jerusalem, during any one of the major Jewish festivals. One may ask the question of whether a pious Jesus would be any less incensed at the Temple abuses at any given time than another. Notably John's Gospel has a chronological marker that is quite incidental and therefore rings of authenticity: the note that the Temple has been under construction for 46 years (2:20), which places this incident in 27-28, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry (Witherington, John commentary, 87). Note as well that in John, Jesus merely orders the sellers of doves (whose wares are more likely to be able to escape) to leave, whereas in Mark and Matthew he overturns their seats, indicating a progression in reaction that suits a later cleansing.

It does remain possible that either John or the others have purposely dischronologized a single event in Jesus' ministry. But there remains no logical or historical barrier to a "dual cleansing action".

Ehrman does acknowledge a simpler form of this answer -- namely, that Jesus cleansed the temple twice in his career. I would say in line with the above that it was done at least 5 times in his career, if not more. How does Ehrman respond to this thesis? His attempts at rebuttal are sorrowful, to say the least: