Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Rewriting the Transfiguration

It has been suggested that the four pericopes identified by Throckmorton as Sections 122-125 beginning with “The Confession at Caesarea Philippi” and ending with “The Coming of Elijah” should be considered together to properly understand the rewriting that has been made. We will review each section beginning with Luke and then proceed to show how the rewriting was conducted by Mark and Matthew.

Luke does not identify the place where the Confession of Peter was made. Matthew and Mark both indicate that this event occurred at Caesarea Philippi. Conzelmann theorized that Luke withheld the name of the location because he did not want to place the ministry of Jesus in Gentile territory. It is more likely that the use of this geographical name would be an anachronism in that the place did not acquire this name until after occurrence of the event. When Josephus mentions in War and Antiquities the construction of a new city by Philip at Paneas, Josephus names the place as Caesaria. The first mention of Caesarea Philippi in Josephus is when Herod Agrippa II is the ruler of the region. Thus Luke did not use the name of Caesarea Philippi to be historically accurate.

All of the synoptic writers include the next pericope about “The Conditions of Discipleship. All three include “For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who will lose their life for my sake will save it” with Matthew replacing “save” with “find”. Mark adds after “for my sake” “and for the sake of the gospel.” The word 'euaggelion' does not appear in the body of the text of Luke and John. The word 'gospel' [euaggelion] appears 77 times throughout the New Testament in places such as 2 Cor. 8:18 and most of the Pauline epistles and also including Gospel of Matthew and Gospel of Mark. 2 Cor. 8:18 is evidence that Paul knows about the gospel. Eusebius states: "It is actually suggested that Paul was in the habit of referring to Luke's gospel whenever he said, as if writing of some Gospel of his own: ‘According to my gospel.’ Rom. ii 16; xvi 25; 2 Tim. ii 8." That the word euaggelion does not appear in the body of the text of Luke and John is evidence of their early publication and the fact that euaggelion did not become associated with the writings we now know of as the gospels until sometime after the publication of the first two books. Thus the use of the word “gospel” in Matthew and Mark is an example of "something out of place in time."

The last pericope in this group is “The Coming of Elijah” which Luke does not include. Both Matthew and Mark include in this passage an instruction of Jesus given to the disciples as they were coming down the mountain to tell no one about what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. This last section has been recognized by scholars as clearly redactional since the theme of the so-called “messianic secret” is so prominent in Mark.

In the Caesarea Philippi periscope, both Matthew and Mark add that Peter rebuked Jesus for the first prediction of the passion and Jesus addressing Peter said, “Get behind me, Satan.” Only Matthew included “And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"

There are also significance differences between how Luke reported and how Matthew and Mark reported the Transfiguration. The Lucan version is included in this post with italics for the location of the significant differences.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered, and his clothes became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Eli'jah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah"--not knowing what he said. As he said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silence and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”

Only Luke include that Moses and Eli'jah, appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Neither Matthew nor Mark reported what was said by Jesus, Moses and Elijah or that Moses and Elijah also appeared in glory. Further, Matthew and Mark replaced “my Chosen” with my Beloved.” Luke's verse in the original Greek reads: "This is my Son, the Elect One (from the Greek ho eklelegmenos, lit., "the elect one"): hear him." The "Elect One" is a most significant term (found fourteen times) in the Book of Enoch. The Book of Enoch contains numerous descriptions of the Elect One who should "sit upon the throne of glory" and the Elect One who should "dwell in the midst of them." Finally, Matthew and Mark replaced “Now about eight days after these sayings” with “Six days later.”

The Transfiguration supports the claim, in Mark and even more pronounced in Matthew, that Jesus is greater than Moses. Matthew presents Jesus as greater than all his predecessors including Moses. Jesus is greater than the Temple (12:6); greater than Jonah (12:41); and greater than Solomon (12:42). In Luke, Jesus is a prophet like Moses who does not walk on water. Luke, ever the diplomat, was very careful not to describe Jesus as a prophet greater than Moses. Such a notion would have been very offensive to the High Priest. In describing the Transfiguration, only Luke indicates that Jesus and Moses and Elijah appeared together in glory.

As noted by Jacob Jervell, for Luke, the law is not altered and is permanently valid. The Lucan Jesus does not abrogate the dietary purity law. Furthermore, the High Priest would have considered such conduct as violating the mosaic laws binding on all Jews. For Luke, God's laws continue in effect for Jews even when they become followers of the Christ. Luke's position accurately reflects the views of the Jewish Christians and the Jerusalem church in its earliest years and is clearly pre-Pauline. It is a position that the High Priest would have found commendable. After all, “Moses was the first and greatest prophet: all that was communicated to the prophets, who followed him, he had already received. No prophet could contradict him or change or add to what he had proclaimed” (citations omitted). For Luke, Jesus is a prophet like Moses.

It was earlier noted that Matthew rewrote the Caesarea Philippi section to make Peter the rock on which the ekklesia is built and providing that Peter now has the keys to the kingdom with the authority to bind and loosen. This writing was necessitated by the destruction of the temple and the Jerusalem community. As part of this rewriting, Matthew rehabilitates Simon and renames him Peter.

It is significance that the authority to bind and loosen is granted in the Caesarea Philippi setting where according to the Book of Enoch the Fall of the Watchers is closely associated with this region. Azazel and the Watchers are bound and imprisoned into a deep pit located in this region. In War, Josephus describes the chasm at the foot of the mountain: “At this spot a mountain rears its summit to an immense aloft; at the base of the cliff is an opening into an overgrown cavern; within this plunging down to an immeasurable depth, is a yawning chasm, enclosing a volume of still water, the bottom of which no sounding-line has been found long enough to reach. Outside and from beneath the cavern well up the springs from which, as some think, the Jordan takes its rise.”

In Matthew, “his face shone like the sun” echoing the conclusion to the Parable of the Weeds, unique to Matthew, where Jesus says “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” In the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, only Matthew has the part about the wedding guest who had no wedding garment. Matthew used the rewriting to emphasize the role of the disciples and discipleship by telling his community that the followers of Jesus are like the sons of God and those who are not will share the fate of the wedding guest who had no wedding garments. Thus Matthew ties together Caesarea Philippi and the Transfiguration with a frightening warning.

Mark rewrote Luke because the disciples did not get it. Mark rewrites by deleting “the departure he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” He did so diplomatically because he could not criticize Luke. Mark also rewrote Luke to place in the mouth of the Marcan Jesus an incident occurring in Acts whereby it could be said that Jesus had declared all foods clean. Mk. 6:45 to 8:26; this entire section has a common theme of sharing food and breaking bread as does Acts 10:1 to 11:18. Mark also added the theology of the cross.

Matthew also rewrote Luke adding a theology of the cross and the pericope making Peter not James the leader of the ekklesia, a word which is an anachronism in Matthew and had the disciples wait for Jesus in Galilee. Luke uses the Greek word ekklesia 23 times in Acts but not once in the Gospel. Matthew uses the word three times and is guilty of an anachronism.

The Lucan Jesus prepares his disciples, Peter, John and James, for the events that are about to transpire concerning his “departure” and linking Luke’s understanding of the event to prayer and the passion. This proper understanding is confirmed by the fact that the voice from heaven echoes the voice of the baptism that was also preceded by Jesus in prayer and was an allusion to Jesus’ suffering and death. Only Luke mentions the events in the context of prayer.

Luke also demonstrates that the prayer of Jesus at Simon Peter’s Confession had been effective since the secret of the messianic person had been revealed to Peter. Luke also includes a saying about the imminent coming of the kingdom of God. Thus the section begins with prayer and ends with the announcement of the coming kingdom. This is the second instance, the first being the baptism of Jesus, where Luke has linked Jesus’ prayer with the kingdom of God.

The experience of a "pivotal mandatory epiphany" by Balaam (Num 22:31-35), Joshua (Josh 5:13-15), and Heliodorus (2 Macc. 3:22-34) provides the principal model for characterizing the transfiguration as an extraordinary "epiphany" of heavenly beings on earth (Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) culminating in a divine "mandatory" announcement to Peter, James, and John: "Listen to him!"

This posting is longer than initially planned and not yet complete as I intend to discuss the significance of “six days later,” the booths of Sukkoth and the location of Caesarea Philippi as being near Mount Hermon. There are also some minor differences among the synoptics that may be significant.

Copyrighted 2006


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