How Does God Treat Men Who Destroy His Temple?
A single verse from the second reading this last Sunday caught my attention as a bloggable text. Here are the fruits of that investigation:
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. – Corinthians 3:17
In context, St. Paul was writing about the bodies of the Corinthians (and of us all), but the analogy only works if destruction has, in fact, come upon those who destroyed God’s temple.
The first Temple, built by King Solomon, was sacked by Shishak, king of Egypt, during the reign of Rehoboam (who was a lousy king). Shishak “took everything, including the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the house of the king, even the gold shields Solomon had made.” According to Wikipedia, Shishak’s exact historical identity is unknown, but he is very likely Sheshonk I, about whose death there seems to be no information. However, it may be worth noting that history doesn’t remember much about him (even enough to identify him with certainty) and his tomb is lost to this day. Considering that the memory of the dead was of great importance in ancient Egypt, this could be considered a sort of destruction. That having been said, Shishak didn’t really destroy the Temple, but only sacked it.
Another who looted the Temple was Joash, King of Judah, who did so in order to pay off King Hazael of Aram, who was threatening to attack Jerusalem. Joash was assassinated by conspirators. Yet another was Joash, King of Israel (not Judah), but he didn’t die in a terrible way.
Let’s look at who destroyed it.
Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, destroyed the Temple as part of his conquest of the Kingdom of Judah, along with exiling the Jews. It was this same king against whom Daniel prophesied for great pride. Nebuchadnezzar even went insane, roaming the wilderness for 7 years (see Daniel 4). Nebachudnezzar’s fall was so great that Isaiah 14 uses his story as an allegory for the fall of Lucifer.
Sharing in his predecessor’s evils was Belshazzar, who made sacrilegious use of the Temple’s sacred vessels during a drunken party in the palace (see Daniel 5). When God responded by making a mysterious hand appear out of thin air and writing words of condemnation on the walls – the origin of the phrase “the writing on the walls” – Daniel was called to interpret, but it was of no help to Belshazzar. Neither he nor his kingdom ever saw another dawn.
Cyrus, the King of Persia, later gave the Jews permission to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. With their construction attempts delayed by Samaritan political machinations, they had a pretty difficult time of it, but they did manage to succeed in constructing the second Temple. After many years and several empires and kingdoms (Persia, Macedon/Greece, Ptolemaic Egypt), the Seleucids came to rule over the Jews. Antiochus IV Epiphanes – the patron anti-saint of celebrity musicians known for mocking the liturgy – placed a statue of Zeus in the Temple and instituted the liturgical slaughter of unclean animals, as well as introducing ritual prostitution within the sacred walls and outlawing circumcision (see Maccabees 6).
Not only did he have a horrible and deserved reputation for ostentatious immorality but is own Gentile subjects – themselves generally immoral – call him Epimanes rather than Epiphanes, changing the meaning of his name from “god manifest” to “out of his mind.” (I have Scott Hahn to thank for that tidbit.) Antiochus IV, wicked to the last, died suddenly of disease and is remembered by all as one of the most evil, corrupt politicians of all time.
Fortunately, the Maccabees managed to reclaim the Temple during their revolt and remove the pagan influences placed there by Epiphanes.
Just a little over a century later, the Roman Consul Pompey took a stroll through the Holy of Holies in the Temple (which hardly any Jewish priest could do without desecrating it, let alone a pagan). You may recall from the film Cleopatra that Pompey’s head was later presented in a basket to Julius Caesar by Ptolemy, King of Egypt, after the former’s assassination. Caesar wasn’t very pleased with the gift.
Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman general with great avarice, raided the Temple treasury to add to his treasure, already the largest in Rome. He died in battle a year later.
Finally, the Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD during the Siege of Jerusalem. Titus died of a fever but was deified by his own people, hardly a horribly dramatic death. It’s worth noting, however, that by that point, the Ark of the Covenant had been removed from the Temple for several centuries and Jesus Christ had already shifted the significance of God’s presence in the Temple to God’s presence in His own Body in the Incarnation (see John 2:13-22). Since Christ’s Body was also a Temple (the greatest of all Temples), we should take a look at what happened to the conspirators who put Him to death:
Judas - Committed suicide.
Herod Antipas - Exiled to modern Lyon, France for his many conspiracies against political contemporaries in attempts to gain greater power.
Caiaphas - Unknown
Annas - Unknown
Pontius Pilate - Probably the most interesting of the bunch. According to one apocryphal, early Christian document, Pilate was recalled by the Emperor Tiberius and sentenced to death for murdering Christ, whereupon he killed himself. His body was dumped in the Tiber, but tormented by demons, and consequently moved to Vienna, Austria, then to Lausanne, Switzerland, and finally to an ignominious pit in the Alps. However, Josephus states that Tiberius was dead before Pilate arrived in Rome (and on a different charge, at that, having nothing to do with Christ). Another early document indicates that Pilate repented and went to heaven, but the apology he makes is very weak and the story was probably concocted by the same sort of folks who tried to acquit Judas of any guilt. The Ethiopian Orthodox venerate Pontius Pilate as a saint. The western tradition is much less enthusiastic about a positive view of Pilate; in Dante’s Inferno, he resides on the shores of Acheron – not technically in hell – chased for all eternity by stinging insects.
I have to give credit to Wikipedia for a lot of this article, which helped me discover some facts I was missing (I verified them before writing) and put those facts into a more concise format, rather than jumping all over the Bible to cite passages.