Scala/Art Resource, New York, NY

Hand raised, Jesus drives the money changers from the Temple in a fresco by Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267–1337) in the Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy. Jesus’ haloed disciples comfort two frightened children at left, while at right caged sacrificial animals leap free as the startled money changers fall back.

Jesus’ action, argues author Neusner in the accompanying article, must have astounded and bewildered Jews who saw and heard of it—all except Jesus himself and his followers. While their role at the Temple has been widely assumed to have been a blemish on the sacrificial system, the money changers actually performed a greatly needed and much appreciated service: They changed all varieties of coinage into the half-shekel tax required of adult Israelite males to pay for the daily whole-offerings atonement sacrifice or they would loan the half-shekel to those who had not yet paid the tax. Thus Jesus’ attack on the money changers was tantamount to branding the atonement sacrifice as worthless, an act that must have been utterly incomprehensible to Jews at that time. Jesus would soon reveal to his disciples a very different route to atonement through the Eucharist.

This scene measures about 5 feet by 5 feet and, like the Last Supper (see next image), is one of 53 panels illustrating events from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The chapel was built between 1303 and 1305 on the ruins of an ancient Roman arena, hence the name Arena Chapel.