Mount Tabor: Site of the Transfiguration?
Summer-Autumn 32 AD

 

"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves" (Matthew 17:1).


In the account of the Transfiguration, recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, but not in John, Jesus ascended a high mountain with an inner circle of three disciples Peter, James and John and appeared in glory alongside Moses and Elijah.


In the footsteps of Jesus...



"After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!' When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. 'Get up,' he said. 'Don't be afraid.' When they looked up, they saw no-one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, 'Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.'" (Matthew 17:1-9)


Often mountains are places of revelation in the Bible. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively, who were heralds of the Messiah:


"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes." (Malachi 4:5)


The voice from the cloud, a symbol of divine presence, recalls three Old Testament passages:


"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him." (Deuteronomy 18:15)..."I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." (Psalm 2:7)..."Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1)


The strange suggestion of Peter to erect three booths suggests the Feast of the Tabernacles or Booths which symbolized protection, preservation and shelter from heat and storm in other words, the new Messianic age.


Localizing this significant event


No exact location is given in the Synoptic Gospels for this intense religious experience. As early as the 6th century AD pilgrims honored the physically isolated Mount Tabor, in the Jezreel Valley, just southeast of Nazareth, as the site of the Transfiguration. But, Tabor is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and, according to at least one commentary, it was probably fortified and inaccessible in Jesus' day.

In Gospel chronology, Jesus' appearance with Moses and Elijah took place shortly after Peter's confession ("You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.") in "the region of Caesarea Philippi" (Matthew 16:13) or "the villages around Caesarea Philippi" (Mark 9:27).

Recent scholarship has identified the high and isolated Mount Hermon (below) as the "high mountain" of Matthew's Gospel. As the photo shows, it certainly fits the description. At sunrise, the huge shadow of the mountain, know by local Arabs as "Chief of the Mountains," falls thirty to forty miles westward upon the Mediterranean Sea, and at sunset eastward past Damascus. Moreover, a ledge of the mountain directly overlooks the site of Caesarea Philippi from around 8,500 feet.

Jesus' Life Home n Jesus' Final Journey to Jerusalem