§ 77. The cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 77.

The cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple.

Mark 11, 12-26.

Errors finally find – i.e. understood in their true purpose – the corpses that must first fall and fill up the deep chasm over which mankind must pass if it is to conquer the world. So honour the errors, for without them we cannot reach the truth! But shame on those who again hold up the dead corpses to us as the living and true, after we have long since passed over them and won the real, life-warm truth.

As in other cases, we do not enter into the question of whether the account of the cursing of the fig tree is based on a historical event or on the fact that Jesus once portrayed the fate of the Jewish people in a parable which later gave rise to that story. We will once again prove the origin and priority of Mark’ report.


On the day after the entry, Jesus goes from Bethany to the city, is hungry – early in the morning – and goes up to a fig tree that is leafy to see if it has fruit, and curses it because he finds none. The disciples heard. Arriving in the city and in the temple, he cleansed it of the abominations that had turned the place that was supposed to be “a house of prayer for all nations” into a den of thieves. The next morning, as the company returned to the city and “passed by”, they saw the fig tree withered to the root, Peter remembered the curse which the Lord had pronounced yesterday and drew his attention to the withered tree.

Mark has suffered much from the critics so far. It is easy to defend him.

It is only afterwards, in a later passage, that it must be noticed that the tree is withered, because Mark has formed the whole narrative according to that description of the fate of the wicked which the Psalmist describes. I have seen an ungodly man, defiant, spreading himself out like a fresh tree; when I passed by, behold, he was no more; I inquired for him, and he was nowhere to be found.” Ps. 37:35, 36.

But why must it be a fig tree? Why did Mark, when Jesus found no fruit on it, remark: “for it was not the season of figs?” Where did this addition come from, which seemed so crazy to the critics and gave the apologists so much cause for blasphemy *)?

*) If, for example, Hoffmann, p. 374, thinks that “Jesus’ intention to find figs was not quite so serious, perhaps not even his hunger, for he does not say that he was hungry,” we will leave it to him to consider how much blasphemy is contained in this opinion.

Answer: because Jehovah found Israel in the wilderness like the premature early branch on the fig tree.” Hos. 9, 10.

Jesus wants to see if he will also find Israel, but as He found nothing in the fig tree, so he finds the divine destiny of the people missed in Jerusalem. The house of prayer, which was supposed to be a point of unity for all peoples, has become a den of thieves. Just as the word was called to the fig tree, “No one shall eat any more of your fruit until eternity,” so Jerusalem too shall be barren and unfruitful from now on, and just as surely as the fig tree was withered the next morning, just as surely as this curse was not without power, so surely will Jerusalem not escape its fate.


It is certain: the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple belong together, and here in Mark, where the development of the symbol so firmly and at the same time so threateningly encloses what is depicted, the whole was first created.

The fact that it is merchants whom Jesus drives out of the temple was, as Gfrörer has correctly found *), prompted by Zechariah’s prophecy C. 14, 21 , “there will no longer be an Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day”. Of course we must not refer to the explanation of Jonathan, who translates Canaanite “merchant”, but it is very probable that the prophet himself wanted to designate the merchant under the Caananite, no it is certain, because immediately before it is said that on that day of completion every pot would be holy and the sacrificers would take from it, i.e. one will not first buy pots from merchants in the temple for the purpose of the sacrifice. Thus we do not need to refer to other passages in the OT in which the word Canaanite is used in the sense of merchant.

*) The Sacred and the Truth, p. 148. 149.

None of the three following copyists has included in the account of the cleansing of the temple the provision necessary for the sense and contrast that the temple should be a house of prayer “for all nations”.

That the Fourth placed the cleansing of the temple in a very wrong place will now be fully clear – even to the blind sighted. Matthew has inappropriately placed the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree on different days, and must now let the disciples notice the success immediately when Jesus speaks the word about the tree. Luke treats the temple ritual very superficially (C. 19, 45. 46) and from the report of the cursing of the tree he has made a parable (C. 13, 6-9), in which only the remarkable thing seems to be that the owner says: he had already looked for fruit on his fig tree for three years in vain. Should the chronologist Luke have already dared to hypothesise that the Lord had been working among the people for three years, and have supplied the Fourth, who had learned so much from him, with some mortar for his giant chronological edifice? No! The master of the tree wants to wait another year before he cuts it down. Only the eternal holiness of the number of three brought Luke to this calculation, but we do not mean to say that this calculation did not give the fourth man some courage for the erection of that building.


Mark again gives us an example of how weak the art of evangelical historiography is in every respect. He believes that he has completely achieved the purpose of his composition as soon as Peter draws his master’s attention to the complete withering of the tree, and now he thinks that he can let the conversation drift off in any direction. This is followed by the conversation about the miraculous power of faith!



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