Transfiguration, Mount of

Transfiguration, Mount of

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

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.... 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)

With these words the Bible tells the story of what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. We have no idea where the mountain is or what really happened there. Some believe Mount Tabor was the site; others, the foothills of Mount Hermon. All we know is that from that time on, Jesus "set his face toward Jerusalem" and his death.

The story is full of mystery. Elijah and Moses both had died under suspicious conditions. We don't know what happened to Moses, only that he was buried secretly "by the hand of God" and "no one to this day" knows where. Later, the New Testament book of Jude reveals that the angel Michael, for some reason, "disputed with the devil about the body of Moses." Why did Satan want the body? We don't know.

Elijah's demise was even more spectacular. He never really died. He just went up to heaven in a fiery chariot.

Things get even more mysterious in the New Testament. First both Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration. Then, in the final days of history, the book of Revelation presents two witnesses who come down to Earth to preach about Jesus. They have the power to "turn the waters into blood," just like Moses did in Egypt, and "shut up the sky so it will not rain," Elijah's most famous trick.

Peter was certainly impressed. Showing his typical pattern of speech before thought, Peter blurted out, "Lord, this is wonderful! Let us make three tents; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."

No real explanation is ever given about why this particular meeting takes place. Given that Jesus, from that point on, began preparations for his crucifixion, it has been surmised that Moses and Elijah came to talk to him about death.

For those who approach passages like this with a bit more skepticism, the question is phrased a little differently. What is the author trying to tell us? What's the meaning behind the myth?

Again, we don't know. Early Christian writers liked to link both Testaments together, so maybe this was a device used to pull Moses and Elijah, both Hebrew heroes, into the new movement. There are prophecies in the Old Testament that say "Elijah must come" before Messiah appears. Matthew seems to say that John the Baptist was a sort of reincarnated Elijah, a type or symbol of the prophet himself. Perhaps that was what the author had in mind. Or perhaps Moses and Elijah were chosen because they represent "the law" (Moses) and "the prophets" (Elijah).

Then there is the matter of the enigmatic words just preceding this trip up the mountain. Jesus had said, "Some of you will not taste death before you see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." The Gospels, written after most of those who knew Jesus had died, must have troubled believers who couldn't understand why Jesus, after predicting his return before the death of the disciples, had still not returned, even though the twelve were now gone. Had he been mistaken?

Matthew suggests that perhaps he was referring to the fact that at least three apostles were going to experience the eternal kingdom, meeting with three of its most distinguished residents high atop the Mount of Transfiguration. That would explain the reference.

Again, we just don't know. What we do know is that the Christian Church still celebrates the Transfiguration every August 6th. In the scripture reading for the day, Christians listen for the words God is said to have uttered on that mountain: "This is my Son, whom I love. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him."

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