Mount of Transfiguration in the New Testament
Records of the Transfiguration are found in Mt 17:1 ff; Mk 9:2 ff; Lk 9:28 ff. From these narratives we gather that Jesus went with His disciples from Bethsaida to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter's memorable confession was made. Some six or eight days later Jesus went up into a high mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. There He was transfigured before them. Descending the next day, He healed a demoniac boy, and then passed through Galilee to Capernaum.
It is quite evident that the tradition placing the scene on the Mount of Olives must be dismissed. Another tradition, dating from the 4th century, identifies the mountain with Tabor. Reasons are stated for rejecting this tradition. It was indeed possible in the time indicated to travel from Caesarea Philippi to Tabor; but there is nothing to show why this journey should have been undertaken; and, the mountain top being occupied by a town or village, a suitable spot could not easily have been found.
In recent years the opinion has become general that the scene must be placed somewhere on Mt. Hermon. It is near to Caesarea Philippi. It is the mountain paragraph excellence in that district (Lk 9:28). It was easily possible in the time to make the journey to Chasbeiyah and up the lofty steeps. The sacred associations of the mountain might lend it special attractions (Stanley, S and the Priestly Code (P), 399). This is supported by the transient comparison of the celestial splendor with the snow, where alone it could be seen in Palestine (ibid., 400).
It seems to have been forgotten that Mt. Hermon lay beyond the boundaries of Palestine, and that the district round its base was occupied by Gentiles (HJP, II, i, 133 f). The sacred associations of the mountain were entirely heathen, and could have lent it no fitness for the purpose of Jesus; hos chion, "as snow," in Mk 9:3, does not belong to the original text, and therefore lends no support to the identification.
It was evidently in pursuance of His ordinary custom that Jesus "went up into the mountain to pray" (Lk 9:28). This is the only indication of His purpose. It is not suggested that His object was to be transfigured. "As he was praying," the glory came. There is no hint that He had crossed the border of Palestine; and it is not easy to see why in the circumstances He should have made this journey and toilsome ascent in heathen territory.
Next morning as usual He went down again, and was met by a crowd that was plainly Jewish. The presence of "the scribes" is sufficient proof of this (Mk 9:14). Where was such a crowd to come from in this Gentile district? Matthew in effect says that the healing of the demoniac took place in Galilee (Mt 17:22). The case against Mt. Hermon seems not less conclusive than that against Tabor.
The present writer has ventured to suggest an identification which at least avoids the difficulties that beset the above (Expository Times, XVIII, 333 f). Among the mountains of Upper Galilee Jebel Jermuk is especially conspicuous, its shapely form rising full 4,000 ft. above the sea. It is the highest mountain in Palestine proper, and is quite fitly described as hupselon ("high").
It stands to the West over against the Safed uplands, separated from them by a spacious valley, in the bottom of which runs the tremendous gorge, Wady Leimun. It is by far the most striking feature in all the Galilean landscape. The summit commands a magnificent view, barred only to the Southwest by other mountains of the range. It rises from the midst of a district which then supported a large population of Jews, with such important Jewish centers as Kefr Bir`im, Gishcala, Meiron, etc., around its base.
Remote and lonely as it is, the summit was just such a place as Jesus might have chosen for prayer. It was comparatively easy to reach, and might be comfortably climbed in the evening. Then on His descent next day the crowd might easily assemble from the country and the villages near by. How long our Lord stayed near Caesarea Philippi after the conversation recorded in Mt 16:21 ff we do not know. From Banias to Gishcala, e.g. one could walk on foot without fatigue in a couple of days. If a little time were spent in the Jewish villages passed on the way, the six days, or Luke's "about eight days," are easily accounted for. From this place to Capernaum He would "pass through Galilee" (Mk 9:30).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain.