Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mount of Transfiguration

Six days after leaving Caesarea Philippi, Jesus took Peter, James and John "up a high mountain" and there he "was transfigured before them." The face of Jesus "shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light" and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. Then a "bright cloud" came over them and a voice from within the cloud said,"This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" The three disciples were frightened and "fell facedown to the ground." Jesus went over to them, touched them, told them not to be afraid, and told them to get up. As the disciples got up they found the other visitors were gone. 
A painting of the Transfiguration we saw in St. Peter's Monastery in Jaffa, Israel. 
A mosaic of the Transfiguration we saw in St. George's Church in Madaba, Jordan. 
The traditional location for the Mount of Transfiguration is Mount Tabor, 1,886 feet high, just outside of Nazareth. Origen, in the third century, was the first to identify it as the site. We drove by the base of Mt. Tabor and got great views of it from the Precipice above Nazareth, but unfortunately we were not able to visit the summit. The Church of the Transfiguration, a Franciscan church, was built on the summit in 1924 on the ruins of a 4th to 6th century Byzantine church and a 12th century Crusader Kingdom church. Also on the summit is the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Elias, named after Elijah, built in 1845 and closed to the public. There are also the ruins of a Church of St. Melchizedek which reflect a tradition that Melchizedek spent seven years as a hermit on Mt. Tabor before meeting and blessing Abraham.  
Mount Tabor, back and center, from the Precipice near Nazareth.
A more focused view of Mt. Tabor. 
Mount Hermon has also been suggested as the location because it is the highest mountain in the area, at 9,232 feet, and it is located near Caesarea Philippi where Jesus had just been. Frederic Farrar, in The Life of Christ, notes that "Mount Tabor has been engrained for centuries in the tradition of the Christian Church; and three churches and a monastery erected before the close of the sixth century attest the unhesitating acceptance of this belief. Yet it is almost certain that Tabor was not the scene of that great epiphany. The rounded summit of that picturesque and wood-crowned hill, which forms so fine a feature in the landscape...had probably from time immemorial been a fortified and inhabited spot, and less than thirty years after this time, Josephus, on this very mountain, strengthened the existing fortress of Itaburion. [Mount Tabor] was not a spot to which Jesus could have taken the three Apostles "apart by themselves." Nor, again, is there the slightest intimation that the six intervening days had been spent in traveling southwards from Caesarea Philippi, the place last mentioned;...It is distinctly intimated by St. Mark...that Jesus did not 'pass through Galilee' (in which Mount Tabor is situated) till after the events here narrated. Nor again does the comparatively insignificant hill Paneum, which is close by Caesarea Philippi, fulfill the requirements of the narrative...It is therefore, much more natural to suppose that [Jesus]...journeyed slowly forward till He reached the lower slopes of that splendid snow-clad mountain, whose glittering mass, visible even as far southward as the Dead Sea...Its very name [Mount Hermon] means 'the mountain'...On these dewy pasturages, cool and fresh with the breath of the snow-clad heights above them, and offering that noble solitude, among the grandest scenes of Nature, which He desired as the refreshment of His soul for the mighty struggle which was now so soon to come, Jesus would find many a spot where He could kneel with His disciples absorbed in silent prayer."
Mt. Hermon is truly a "mountain." This picture was taken from our bus.
We visited the foothills of Mt. Hermon at Caesarea Philippi, now known as Banias, and appreciated the sight of snow on its sides as we baked in the sun. 

Mormon Interpretation

The LDS view of the Transfiguration is that after Jesus promised to Peter the keys of the kingdom in Caesarea Philippi, he took Peter, James and John, the first presidency of his church, up on the mountain where they received the priesthood keys from Jesus, Moses and Elijah that had been promised. On April 3, 1836, in the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery had a similar experience. They saw Jesus "standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit," his "eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun." Jesus told them he'd accepted the temple and would appear to them and speak to them. Then Moses appeared and committed to them "the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north." Then Elijah stood before them and told them that the time had come which was spoken by Elijah to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers" (D&C Section 110)


  1. I love Farrar's description of "noble solitude" needed for "the refreshment of His soul for the mighty struggle . . . soon to come." He makes a very good argument for Hermon.

  2. .It would have been fun to do a little climbing or either of these Mounts.