Could the merchants who sold animals in Jerusalem’s temple rightly be called “robbers”?
ACCORDING to the account of Matthew’s Gospel, “Jesus entered the temple and threw out all those selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. And he said to them: ‘It is written, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it a cave of robbers.’”
Jewish historical records show that temple merchants exploited their customers by charging exorbitant prices. For example, the Mishnah (Keritot 1:7) records an occasion in the first century C.E. when the price of a pair of sacrificial pigeons rose to a golden denar. That was the equivalent of what an unskilled laborer might earn for 25 days’ work. Pigeons or doves were an acceptable sacrifice of the poor; yet, the price even of these birds had become prohibitive. (Lev. 1:14; 5:7; 12:6-8) Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel, outraged by this state of affairs, reduced the number of obligatory sacrifices, upon which the price of two pigeons immediately fell to a hundredth of the former price.
In light of the above, Jesus was justified in calling the temple merchants “robbers” on account of their exploitation and greed.