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Sunday, February 06, 2011

high mountains & theophany: cultural assumtions

I am still mulling over the question of cultural frameworks and hermeneutics. I decided to look at the transfiguration of Jesus and ask a few questions about the imagery in the story. The setting in Mark & Matthew is a  ὄρος ὑψηλὸν high mountain.  I am going to completely ignore Luke since he uses ὄρος without a modifier. First question, what is a  ὄρος ὑψηλὸν high mountain? Well were not dealing here with Tibet in this story so we can rule out the 8,000 meter peaks. I looked for the superlative ὕψιστος most high with ὄρος mountain and didn't find it. However in Matt. 4:8 we do see ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν very high mountain and in Rev. 21:10 ὄρος μέγα καὶ ὑψηλόν mountain great and high which sounds somewhat similar.

The text does not say that Jesus took the tree disciples to the summit of the mountain.  ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν, here  εἰς in the phrase εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν marks the goal of ἀναφέρει. It is very easy to supply the notion of summit from my cultural framework because similar language in my framework would imply  an assent to the summit.  

Matt. 17:1 Καὶ μεθ᾿ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν.

Mark 9:2 Καὶ μετὰ ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ τὸν Ἰάκωβον καὶ τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ᾿ ἰδίαν μόνους. καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν,

Matt. 4:8 Πάλιν παραλαμβάνει αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν λίαν καὶ δείκνυσιν αὐτῷ πάσας τὰς βασιλείας τοῦ κόσμου καὶ τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν

Rev. 21:10 καὶ ἀπήνεγκέν με ἐν πνεύματι ἐπὶ ὄρος μέγα καὶ ὑψηλόν, καὶ ἔδειξέν μοι τὴν πόλιν τὴν ἁγίαν Ἰερουσαλὴμ καταβαίνουσαν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ

In many ancient cultures all over the world divinity is associated with mountains. For that reason it isn't much of a surprise that this theophany transpires on a mountain. We don't need to go hunting for cultural parallels or assume that the NT author is borrowing ideas from Tibet, China, Peru, Native Americans, or Eskimos. 


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