Where did Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white?

By | March 13, 2009

Tabor and the Jezreel

Tabor is a mountain in the Jezreel Valley of Galilee, about six miles east of Nazareth, which was Jesus’ boyhood home. The mountain is wreathed with pine trees and the valley below is filled with olives trees and cotton plants. Tabor rises 500 meters above sea level and stands solitary above the plain below.

Since it is also located along the Via Maris, a primary trade route in the ancient world, Tabor was often a battlefield. Here, under the direction of the Hebrew judge, Deborah, the military general, Barak, defeated the Canaanites about 1,100 years before Christ. And, shortly after the time of Jesus, Hebrew resistance fighters built a fortress here. They were defeated by the Romans in 67 A.D.

Since the fourth century, when Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem, referred to Tabor as the Mount of the Transfiguration, there have been churches built here. Many were destroyed. The present Franciscan church (along with a monastary), built in 1924, stands near the ruins of a Crusader chapel from the early 12th cenutry and over the ruins of a fifth century Byzantine church. There is also an Orthodox monastery on Tabor today.

Hermon on the border

A second candidate for the Mount of Transfiguration is Hermon, located much further north in Galilee. So far north, in fact, that part of it lies in Syria. Hermon is not a single mountain, like Tabor, but is really a 20-mile ridge with three peaks of equal height, rising to 9,200 feet. It marks the northern border of Israel and has several names, including Syrion and Mount Sion or Siyon (Deut. 4:48.)

Hermon is known as the Mountain of Snow, because its peaks have snow in winter and spring. Hermon boasts Israel’s only ski resort and, even in Jesus’ day, was known as a vacation spot.

It is here on Hermon, from snowmelt and the underground geography of the mountain range, that the source of the River Jordan is found. There is a waterfall on Hermon that was dedicated to the Greek god Pan in the third century B.C., giving the name of Paneas to the area. This was changed to Caesarea Philippi, by King Herod’s son, Philip, as a Roman city in 14 AD.

The Gospels speak of Jesus and his disciples traveling to Caesarea Philippi, and it was here that Jesus revealed his mission to found a church, and to go to Jerusalem to die and rise again (Mt 16:13-21, Mk 8:27-30). It was also here where Jesus gave Peter the charge of caring for the church.

Mount Horeb, or Sinai

A third potential site for the Transfiguration – though admittedly the least likely – is Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai. St. Jerome, the fifth century biblical translator, believed Sinai and Horeb were one and the same. Other scholars say Horeb refers to the entire Sinai range, with a prominent peak called Sinai. Sinai is not located in Israel, but in Egypt on the Sinai Peninsula.

While it is unlikely the Transfiguration happened here – since it is far from Galilee – Mount Sinai still holds a great place in Scripture history. Here Moses received the Ten Commandments. And, even earlier, where he saw the burning bush and heard God speak on Sinai.

Sinai is also the site of one of the oldest Christian monasteries, the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine. It was built in the sixth century to enclose the Chapel of the Burning Bush, built by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, in the fourth  century.

The monastery church, called the Basilica of the Transfiguration, contains some of the most ancient Orthodox icons. The monastery also has a wonderful library, with some of the most ancient of Christian documents.

Whichever site was the mountain on which Jesus was transfigured, these three peaks remind us that Christ came to be a beacon for all, “a light shining in the darkness” (Jn 1:5).

Sources: en.wikipedia.org; The Catholic Encyclopedia; Franciscan cyberspot at www.christusrex.org; www.sacred-destinations.com; and www.catholic.com.




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