Where did the Transfiguration take place?
Early tradition places the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor, southwest of the Sea of Galilee. While I have opted to follow these historical traditions in the Octagon Tour, it would be fair for me to present to you the arguments that favor Mount Hermon as an alternate location of this miracle.
I admit that there are several problems with the historical hypothesis, and there are basically five reasons for us to pause in our consideration of the location of this story.
1. Every one of the synoptic Gospels places The Transfiguration (Story 117) immediately after Jesus’ teachings at Caesarea Philippi (Stories 114-116). Caesarea Philippi is in the foothills of Mount Hermon. Granted, eight days had transpired between Story 116 and 117 (see Luke 9:28), and Mount Tabor is certainly within an eight-day walking journey of Caesarea Philippi. However, we have no sightings of Jesus in any other place between the two stories. In other words, we have no apparent reason to believe that Jesus left the Mount Hermon area between Story 116 and 117.
2. The Greek text suggests that Jesus was not even in Galilee during the Transfiguration. Mount Tabor is in Galilee, but Mount Hermon is not. Mount Hermon is in the Golan Heights, an area called Iturea in Jesus’ day. After Jesus came down from the mountain, Matthew 17:22 says, “But when they gathered together in Galilee…” The critical Greek texts read “gathered” (Greek - sustrepho), whereas the Textus Receptus reads “abide” (Greek – anatrepho). In either case, both terms seem to suggest that Jesus and His disciples reassembled in Galilee after the Transfiguration, meaning that they weren’t in Galilee during the Transfiguration. If this is true, the theory regarding Mount Tabor being the mount of the Transfiguration is minimized, and Mount Hermon provides the most likely alternative.
3. Placing the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor does not line up with the logical walking path of Jesus. Consider the following map:
A. Stories 114-116 took place in Caesarea Philippi.
B. Stories 117-119 occurred on or at the descent of the Mount of Transfiguration.
C. Story 120 begins with a “gathering” in Galilee.
D. Story 121 has the disciples entering Capernaum.
From the map on this page, it is obvious that Jesus would have had to go through Capernaum to travel between Caesarea Philippi and Mount Tabor. Therefore, it does not make sense that He would overshoot Capernaum, walk another 30 kilometers to Mount Tabor, and then backtrack to Capernaum. The way the text simply reads is that the disciples came out of Iturea (presumably), re-entered Galilee (Story 120), and ended up in Capernaum (Story 121).
4. In The Merged Gospels, there are many occurrences of the word “mountain”, but there are only two occurrences of the term “high mountain” (Greek - horos hupselon). One is in the Transfiguration (Story 117) and the other is in the Temptation of Jesus (Story 20, where Satan leads Jesus to a mountain, notably “high” enough for Him to view all the kingdoms of the world). By comparison, Mount Hermon is much higher (9230 feet above sea level) than Mount Tabor (1843 feet above sea level).
5. A military fort was located on top of Mount Tabor. It was in use during the Hasmonean period and at the time of the Jewish Revolt, and it likely would have been in Jesus' day as well. If this is true, it would not have been a site conducive for the Transfiguration.
Confusion among early Christians regarding the location and season of the Transfiguration, or even the fact that it happened at all, was probably compounded by the fact that the Apostles in attendance (Peter, John and James) were instructed not to speak of it until after Christ’s resurrection. In other words, until Christ’s resurrection, the other Apostles were unaware that the event had even occurred.