The paper comes out of work I did this summer on connections between the transfiguration of Jesus and passages in Exodus that talk about Moses' and the Israelites' meetings with God at Mount Sinai. Most scholars who notice the connections--for example, the mountain, Jesus' transfigured appearance, glory (in Luke), an overshadowing cloud, a voice that speaks from the cloud, a response of fear--imagine the Gospel writers are setting up some sort of comparison between Moses and Jesus. I suggest up front that the web of connections is spun between events rather than people. Instead of dwelling only on similarities between Moses and Jesus, Luke (along with the other Gospel writers) wraps the entire transfiguration narrative in a complex of allusions to the wilderness theophany narratives that are associated, in the first place, with
I plan to argue that memories of the covenant at Mount Sinai evoked by Luke in his transfiguration account contribute to his story of Jesus in at least two ways:
- The subject of Moses' and Elijah's conversation with Jesus is Jesus' "departure." The Greek word is ἔξοδος (exodos), and the other allusions to Mount Sinai in the context suggest that we should be thinking of the Israelites' departure from Egypt when we consider Jesus’ “exit” from his earthly life at his death, resurrection and ascension. Just as the exodus from
formed the basis of the Sinaitic covenant, so Jesus' "departure" is associated by Luke with a new redemption. Even though Luke, in contrast to Paul, so rarely highlights the saving significance of Jesus' death, I think this passage helps us see that Luke viewed Jesus' death and resurrection as inaugurating a new covenant (see Luke 22:20). Egypt
- The main emphasis in this passage—one that makes sense of (most of) the OT echoes and that is emphasized elsewhere by Luke—is not that Jesus is the prophet like Moses, or even that Jesus is superior to Moses and Elijah, but that Jesus, the chosen Son must, like Moses, be heard. Just as hearing and obeying the words of God mediated by Moses was at the center of the Sinaitic covenant ceremony (e.g., Exod 19:8 LXX; 24:7), so now hearing the son forms the basis for God’s relationship with the people gathered around Jesus. For Luke, the command to “hear him” is much more than a reminder that to be good disciples his followers better listen up, and it goes beyond simply catching on that Jesus had to die (Luke 9:22-27), though this is central. For Luke, how one "hears" Jesus determines one’s eternal destiny.
(The blurry picture at the top is of a painting of the transfiguration in one of Cappadocia's abandoned cave churches [now part of a popular open-air museum].)