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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

the transfiguration - cultural assumptions (part 4)

Our reader is Jane Studdok from C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. It is now later in the novel and her persistent dreams have been eroding her worldview. Her naturalism has run up against certain new “facts” which have been troubling her. The world has turned out to be a dangerous place. Jane has just narrowly escaped imprisonment by Fairy Hardcastle, the head of the new Gestapo/KGB. She is now at St Anne's, it is late morning and she is killing time in the library waiting to talk with Ransom, The Pendragon. Her mind drifts back to the transfiguration in Matt 17. She finds in the library a commentary by Alfred Plummer. She sits down by a window and finds the place where the transfiguration is discussed. The first paragraph opens with a defense of the historicity of the transfiguration narrative. A short while back she would have rejected that notion out of hand. Her recent experiences[2] make her more cautious now.  

One of the details of the transfiguration narrative which troubles Jane is the cloud that envelops the scene. Matthew mentions that the cloud is full of light φωτεινὴ [3]. Plummer notes that Mark and Luke lack this particular detail. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. The cloud full of light is immediately identifiable in the ancient Jewish culture as a reference to the Shekinah glory, the visible representation of the presence of YHWH at Sinai, in the desert, in the tabernacle and in the temple. Most gentiles would not have made this connection. However, pagan storm theopanies with lightning and thunder were also associated with mountains. Reading Matthew's account, the gentiles might have substituted a cultural equivalent, perhaps Zeus. 
[1] Plummer, Alfred. An Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to S. Matthew.

[2] Jane Studdok's confrontation with spiritual evil and the real dangers involved shocks her out of her secular materialism. This reminds me of a colleague many years ago who had fallen in with the occult while bumming around Europe and middle east in the late 1960s. The reality of spiritual evil was a wake up call for someone who had drifted into a vague form secular materialism. The confrontation with the spiritual realm is not a sure cure for secular materialism. The move from materialism into neo-paganism is the dominant pattern of the last half century. For an early account,  Read The Other Side: An Account Of My Experiences With Psychic Phenomena by James A Pike & Diane Kennedy. 

[3] Matt 17:5 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα· οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα· ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.


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