While this topic has been done a few times on various e-lists, it has not, to my knowledge, been seriously addressed by any contemporary scholarship. The temple incident is, by and large, taken as a given. I suspect this is largely due to its explanatory power, which is nearly universal. It provides an adequate culmination for the career of virtually any reconstruction of the historical Jesus, and leads nicely to his execution. Meier once noted that any Jesus who did not offend the authorities cannot be the historical Jesus: using that requirement, as it seems the majority of scholarship does, any HJ model fairly invites the temple incident. Yet this, IMO, is far more a product of what he was (Jewish), than who he was. Whether Jesus was a prophet of the eschaton or a social reformer, an expected focal point is the temple, since it was so emphasized in Jewish life. The temple incident, like a certain epistle writing Jew, is "all things to all people." I suspect this uniformity is what leads to the near consensus of the event's historicity; indeed, I am aware of but two scholars who deny its historicity--Paula Fredriksen, and Burton Mack. Because of this overwhelming majority, I will not focus here on arguments for its historicity, but instead on arguments against.
Firstly, it might be prudent to point to the temple incident as it is described in Mk.11.15-18. I think that there is a sizable majority who do not think the event transpired as described: Perhaps, most notably, as pointed out by Sanders and agreed upon by many, there is simply no reason for Jesus, whatever his message, to oppose the trade in the temple. The trade was devoted to the temple's very functioning: Without doves to buy, or coinage to exchange, temple tax would go unpaid, and sacrifice would be considerably more challenging, if not impossible. This points us to our first problem: I do not think the motivation ascribed by Mark (upon whom I believe John to be, either directly or indirectly, dependent) is accurate. But if Jesus did, in fact, overturn the tables, why did Mark not understand why? Why, for that matter, didn't anyone else?
Secondly, as Fredriksen points out, the temple was of considerable size. Nearly 169,000 square feet, and capable of holding up to 400 000 pilgrims during festivals. Who would notice such a gesture in such a space? Who would care? I recall an analogy from somewhere or other to overturning a table at an enlistment office during the draft, but even this analogy, while perhaps captures the right mood, does not fully capture the futility. It would be more analogous to overturning a table at Woodstock. Why would Jesus, if he is attempting to create a furor by his opposition to whatever he was opposing (this varies by scholar--which one prefers doesn't matter to the present point), do so in such a meaningless manner?
Thirdly, the OT parallelism for this event is plentiful (perhaps most notably, Hos.15.9 and Jer.7.30). This does not, in and of itself, point to much--many events described in OT terminology, in a wealth of literature, are described in ways that clearly parallel the OT (eg, Mark's "little apocalypse." No matter how Mark phrased it--whether in Tanachic terms or in gibberish, it really doesn't matter--the temple did fall). But taken together with other evidences, it provides a source--a "how" for Mark's invention of the narrative.
Finally (at least for now, the hour groweth late and I must be off--I might have more to add later), as Fredriksen cogently argues, it simply isn't necessary to explain the death of Jesus--it doesn't even provide the best explanation, IMO, as Jesus was crucified, but his followers weren't, and the movement seems to have continued unmolested by Rome for decades. Robbed of the explanatory power mentioned above, the weight in favor of the incident diminishes substantially.
In keeping with the dilettantist nature of this blog, it is perhaps most prudent that we close by reflecting on the conclusion of Fredriksen's most recent paper on the matter:
And that is how my own very apocalyptic, very Sandersian Jesus ended up not overturning the moneychangers’ tables, and saying nothing about the Temple’s destruction.
"Sandersian?" It seems to me convention demands we pronounce that "SanderZHan" (like Ephesian). Yet this potentially shifts the emphasis to the second syllable, distorting the correct pronunciation of the man's name. So I propose we buck tradition here, and pronounce it "SandersEan". Any thoughts?