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The Transfiguration of Jesus: Narrative Meaning and Function of Mark 9:2–8, Matt 17:1–8 and Luke 9:28–36

The Transfiguration of Jesus: Narrative Meaning and Function of Mark 9:2–8, Matt 17:1–8 and Luke 9:28–36

John Paul Heil

| Pontifical Biblical Institute | 2000

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This is the first monograph devoted to all three accounts of the transfiguration of Jesus from a narrative-critical, audience-oriented perspective. It proposes a new literary genre designation for all three versions, that a “pivotal mandatory epiphany,” based upon the precedents in Numbers 22:31–35, Joshua 5:13–15, and 2 Maccabees 3:22–34.

The background and meaning of each of the major motifs of the three accounts of the transfiguration is explained: Jesus is externally and temporarily transformed into a heavenly figure to anticipate his future attainment of heavenly glory and to enable him to speak with the heavenly figures of Moses and Elijah. Rather than symbols of the Law and the Prophets, Moses and Elijah represent prophetic figures who, in contrast to Jesus, attained heavenly glory without being put to death by their people. The three tents Peter wants to build have their background primarily in the Tent of Meeting as a place of divine communication. The cloud overshadows only Moses and Elijah; it has both a vehicular function of implicitly transporting Moses and Elijah back to heaven and an oracular function of providing the divine mandate that serves as the climax of the mandatory epiphany.

The climactic divine mandate to listen to Jesus as God’s Son refers primarily to the various predictions of his suffering, death and resurrection throughout the narrative. The “pivotal” nature of this divine mandate is confirmed by a demonstration of the narrative function of the transfiguration epiphany in relation to its preceding and succeeding contexts in each Gospel.

Author Bio

Professor of New Testament, Catholic University of America, School of Religious Studies.