Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-x24gv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-28T12:15:36.829Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

The Narrative of the Transfiguration as a Derashic Scenification of a Faith Confession (Mark 9.2–8 Par)*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Agustín Del Agua
(Avda. Dr Federico Rubio y Gali 57, 28040–Madrid, Spain)


In his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, published in 1969, Professor H. Schürmann said in relation to the exegesis of the passage of the transfiguration ‘Die “literarische Art” der Erzählung, die in ihr verwandten – und in den verschiedenen Traditionen sich wandelnden – Weisen des Denkens, Sprechens und Erzählens sind keineswegs genügend erforscht, um mit verläβlichem Urteil Geschehnis und Aussageweise im einzelnen sondieren zu können.’ Twenty years later, Professor F. Bovon states basically the same in relation to the pericope: ‘Leider fehlt noch eine gründliche Monographie darüber, so daβ der Ursprung wie die Gattungen unbestimmt bleiben.’ However, in this respect, research on the OT tradition, both biblical and non-biblical, has made important contributions which have opened up new methodological paths to the interpretation in order to make progress in the literary and theological understanding of the NT text.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The method for working used in this study is further explained in Agua, A. del, El método midrásico y la exégesis del Nuevo Testamento (Valencia: Institución S. Jerónimo, 1985)Google Scholar. This paper forms part of a series of studies prior to the publishing of a wider study about the subject, The Art of Gospel Narrative (The Art of Matthew's narrative … etc.), which will cover the setting of the narrative of the Gospels in the context of the special narrativity of Israel. The need to place the study of the narrative criticism of the Gospels in the aforementioned context has recently been proposed by Stibbe, M. W. G. in his book John as Storyteller. Narrative Criticism and the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. After having traced the emergence of ‘narrative criticism’ from the time of Eric Auerbach, Stibbe states: ‘I have demonstrated how NT narrative criticism has encouraged scholars to look at the artistry of gospel story, and yet at the same time I have exposed the weaknesses of regarding the gospels as fictional novels, and of neglecting the original milieu in which these narratives were composed’ (p. 12).

2 Schürmann, H., Das Lukasevangelium Erster Teil: Kommentar zu Kap. 1,1–9,50 (HThK3/l; Freiburgi.Br. 1969 1982) 567.Google Scholar

3 Bovon, F., Das Evangelium nach Lukas. 1 Teilband. Lk 1,1–9,50 (EKK 3; Z¨rich: Benziger/Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1989) 491.Google Scholar

4 Cf. Tomson, P. J., Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (Compendia Rerum Judaicarum ad Novum Testamentum. Section three, Jewish Traditions in Early Christian Literature 1; Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1990)Google Scholar. ‘The resources of Jewish and Christian scholarship, which for so long have been developing separately, have to be fused and applied to the gamut of extant Jewish and Christian sources. This does not simply require an application of established insights to well-known documents. What is needed is almost the opposite: a process of re-interpretation which involves continuous questioning of accepted principles and starting points … In this process of re-reading and reinterpreting, both Jewish and Christian scholars have to transcend conventional boundaries and conceptions’ (p. ix).

5 Déaut, R. Le, ‘Apropos a Definition of Midrash’, Interpretation 25 (1971) 270Google Scholar: ‘The authors were conscious of writing in a tradition rather than in a certain literary form.’

6 Cf. Bloch, R., ‘Midrash’, DBS 5 (1975) col. 1263–81.Google ScholarMiller, M. P., ‘Midrash’, in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible Supplementary Volume (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962) 593–7Google Scholar. Macho, A. Díez, ‘Derásh y exégesis del Nuevo Testamento’, Sefarad 35 (1975) 3789Google Scholar. Miller, D.Miller, P., The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen, 1990) esp. 131.Google Scholar

7 The strongest argument for formal and terminological Hellenistic influence in the Jewish exegesis has been made by Daube, D., ‘Rabbinic Methods of Interpretation and Hellenistic Rhetoric’, HUCA 22 (1949) 239–65Google Scholar, and ‘Alexandrian Methods of Interpretation and the Rabbis’, Festschrift H. Lewald (Basel: Helbing and Lichtenholm, 1953) 2744Google Scholar. Lieberman, S., Hellenism in Jewish Palestine: Studies in the Literary Transmission, Beliefs and Manners of Palestine in the I Century B.C.E.–IV Century C.E. (New York: Stroock, 1962) 5668Google Scholar, has denied a genetic influence and restricted the borrowing to terminology.

8 Fishbane, M., Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985)Google Scholar is the deepest and widest study about this phenomenon of interpretation within the Hebrew Bible.

9 Bruns, G. L., ‘The Hermeneutics of Midrash’, in Schwartz, R. (ed.), The Book and the Text. The Bible and Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) 189208, esp. 189–90.Google Scholar

10 Thus mainly Wright, A. G., The Literary Genre Midrash (Staten Island, New York: Alba House, 1967).Google Scholar

11 Neusner, J., The Midrash: An Introduction (Northvale/New Jersey/London, 1990Google Scholar) ix. Cf. id., What is Midrash? (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987): ‘Three Dimensions of Midrash: Exegesis, Document, Process’ (pp. 1316)Google Scholar. Porton, G., ‘Midrash: die Rabbinen und die Hebraische Bibel’, Judaica 47 (1991) 124Google Scholar. Strack, H. L.Stemberger, G., Introducción a la literatura talmúdica y midrásica (Biblioteca Midrásica 3; Valencia: Institución S. Jerónimo, 1988Google Scholar; translation corrected and revised by G.Stemberger, of the 7th German edition of Einleitung in Talmud und Midrash [München: Beck, 1982] 320–1)Google Scholar.

12 A. Díez Macho, ‘Derásh y exégesis del Nuevo Testamento’, 37 n. 1.

13 R. Le Déaut, ‘Apropos a Definition of Midrash’, art. cit. in n. 5.

14 D. Miller-P. Miller, The Gospel of Mark as Midrash on Earlier Jewish and New Testament Literature, 4.

15 H. L. Strack-G. Stemberger, Introductión a la literatura talmúdica y midrásica, 328 n. 11.

16 Agua, A. del, ‘Die “Erzahlung” des Evangeliums im Lichte der Derasch Methode’, Judaica 47 (1991) 140–54.Google Scholar

17 Heinemann, I., Darke ha-Aggada (Jerusalem: Magnes, 3rd ed. 1970) 1595Google Scholar.

18 Ibid, 96–164.

19 A. del Agua, El método midrásico y la exégesis del Nuevo Testamento, 84ff.

20 Cf. Gerhardsson, B., Memory and Manuscript. Oral Tradition and Written Transmission in Rabbinic Judaism and Early Christianity (Lund: Gleerup/Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1961)Google Scholar: ‘Early Christianity was not Torah-centric: it was Christo-centric’ (225).

21 Cf. Ricoeur, P., ‘Interpretative Narrative’, in Schwartz, R. (ed.), The Book and the Text. The Bible and Literary Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990) 237–57, esp. 241Google Scholar. Pérez-Fernández, M., ‘La herencia de la Biblia hebrea: El caso paradigmático del evangelio de Marcos’, in A., Piñero (ed.), Orígenes del cristianismo. Antecedentes y primeros pasos (Madrid/Córdoba: Universidad Complutense, El Almendro, 1991) 99120.Google Scholar

22 Scholars in general see a closer relationship between the passage about the transfiguration and its context. For Mark we can refer to Rivera, L. F., ‘El misterio del Hijo del Hombre en la Transfiguración”, RBi 28 (1966) 1934, 79–89Google Scholar. For Matthew: Davies, W. D.Allison, D. C., The Gospel according to Saint Matthew 2 (Edinburgh: Clark, 1991) 684ff.Google Scholar ‘The transfiguration, with its wealth of theological associations, relates itself in diverse ways to the immediately preceding narrative’ (705). For Luke: H. Schürmann, Lukas 1, 552ff.

23 Cf. esp. Pesch, R., Das Markusevangelium 2 (HThK 2/2; Freiburg, 3rd ed. 1984Google Scholar): ‘Jesu Metamorphose ist eine Prolepse seiner Auferstehung’ (72). The relationship between the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus is particularly well explained in the redaction of the Gospel of Luke, in which the Kingdom is inseparably linked to the path followed by Christology. Accordingly, the transfiguration, as a prelude of the path of Jesus, which leads him through the passion and death to the glory, occupies an important place in the third gospel in anticipation of the main theme of the ‘central section’ which begins at Luke 9.51: Jesus, the Prophet like Moses, undertakes the New Exodus through the setting up of the Kingdom which takes place at Easter. Cf. Moessner, D. P., Lord of the Banquet. The Literary and Theological Significance of the Lukan Travel Narrative (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989).Google Scholar

24 We accept the designation ‘collective narrative’ borrowed from the ‘formal’ classification of narrative material from the Gospels as is provided by Zimmermann, H., Los métodos histórico-críticos en el Nuevo Testamento (BAC 295; Madrid: Catolica, 1969) 160ff., 168–9Google Scholar. We accept this classification in a mere formal sense, i.e., without prejudging anything about the historicity of the pericope.

25 Longenecker, R. N., Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 79103Google Scholar. A. del Agua, El método midrásico y la exégesis del Nuevo Testamento, 154–207. Juel, D., Messianic Exegesis. Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988)Google Scholar.

26 H. Schiirmann, Lukas 1, 552ff.

27 Cf., for example, Rowland, C., ‘Apocalyptic: Scripture and the Disclosure of Heavenly Knowledge’, Christian Origins. An Account of the Setting and Character of the Most Important Messianic Sect of Judaism (London: SPCK, 1985) 5664Google Scholar: ‘Visions of a type found in the apocalypses are evident in early Christian literature and serve to initiate the careers of key-figures (Mark 1.10 …)’ (64). Cf. Fishbane, M., Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985) 447–57.Google Scholar

28 This is a particularly common phenomenon in the Targum.

29 Bruns, G. L., ‘The Hermeneutics of Midrash’, in R. Schwartz (ed.), The Book and the Text, 195.Google Scholar

30 Mainly H. Schümann, Lukas 1, 556. And also W. D. Davies-D. C. Allison, Matthew 2, 685ff.

31 Charlesworth, J. H., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1983)Google Scholar: ‘The ancestor of the transfiguration motif in Judaism may ultimately be the translation of Elijah in 2Kgs 2:11 or the account of Moses' shining face in Ex 34:29. The expectation that all who are righteous will be transfigured is based on Dan 12. The theme is enthusiastically expanded in apocalyptic literature. Compare 4 Ezra 7:97,125; 2Bar 51:3,10; lEn 39:7; 104:2’ (512 footnote 5a on ‘The Apocalypse of Zephaniah’ 5.4). The Matthean redaction seems to be closer to Exod 34.29: ‘and his face shone like the sun’, but it is also very close to the apocalyptic: cf. 1 En 38.4; 4 Ezra 7.97; T. Leui 18.40; Rev 1.16. Cf. R. Pesch, Markus 2: ‘μεταμορφόω bezeichnet die Verwandlung der Gestalt, nicht im Sinne hellenistischer Metamorphose, sondern im apokalyptischen Verständnis der Verwandlung zur himmlischen Auferstehungsherrlich-keit (vgl. 1 Kor 15,51f)’ (72). Together with the Jewish background, other scholars argue that there is also a Hellenistic background. So, for example, F. Bovon, Lukas 1, 490–1.

32 M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, 372. The author stresses on pp. 350–79 of this excellent book the ‘typology’ as ‘hermeneutical pattern’ of aggadic exegesis within the Hebrew Bible. In this respect he states that ‘the term typology and the hermeneutical aspect with which it is associated, which sees in persons, events, or places the prototype, pattern, or figure of historical persons, events or places that follow it in time, are particularly associated with classical Christian exegesis’ (350). He classifies the inner-biblical typologies by their morphology: cosmological-historical correlations; historical correlations; spatial correlations and biographical correlations.

33 A. Díez-Macho, ‘Derásh y exégesis del Nuevo Testamento’, esp. 47, 53ff.

34 I refer especially to W. D. Davies-D. C. Allison, Matthew 2, 684ff.

35 Witness of the splendour of Moses' face is Philo's interpretation in De Vita Mosis 2.70. A later collection provides proof of a midrash of this type: Gedullat Moses 2, in Wertheimer, S. A., Batei Midrashot 1 (Jerusalem, 2nd edition 1968) 277Google Scholar. Strack, H. L.Billerbeck, P., Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch 3 (Munchen: Beck, 1926, 7th ed. 1979)Google Scholar: ‘In der altrabbinischen Literatur ist uns keine Stelle begegnet, in der auf die “Decke Moses” Ex 34, 33ff Bezug genommen würde’ (516).

36 Cf. Fitzmyer, J. A., ‘Glory Reflected on the Face of Christ (2 Cor 3,7–4,6) and a Palestinian Jewish Motif’, TS 42 (1981) 630–44Google Scholar. Lambrecht, J., ‘Structure and Line of Thought in 2 Cor 2,14–4,6’, Bib 64 (1983) 344–80Google Scholar. Richard, E., ‘Polemics, OT, and Theology: A Study of 2 Cor 3,1–4,6’, RB 88 (1981) 340–67Google Scholar. Theobald, M., Die überströmende Gnade (FzB 22; Würzburg: Echter, 1982) 167239.Google Scholar

37 So, among others, Taylor, V., The Gospel according to St Mark (London: Macmillan, 2nd ed. 1966) 390CrossRefGoogle Scholar. H. Schürmann, Lukas 1, 557.

38 Some scholars view Elijah as the forerunner (Mai 3.23–4), identified with John the Baptist (Mark 9.13 par; Matt 11.14), and Moses as the typological figure of the ‘Prophet like me’ (Deut 18.15), identified with Jesus as ‘the new Moses’. So R. Pesch, Markus 2, 74. Others see evidence of a tradition referring to the return of the eschatological leaders. So, for example, Pérez-Fernández, M., Tradiciones mesiánicas en el targum palestinense (Valencia: Institutión S. Jerónimo, 1981) 186–7.Google Scholar

39 Lev 23.41–3 and Deut 16.13–16 deal with the feast of Sukkôt. Witnesses of the eschatologization of the feast are Ezek 47.1–10 and Zech 14.16–21. A further witness of the feast is Jub. 32.27–9. The NT derash transferred the feast of Sukkôt to Jesus: John 7.2, 37–8; cf. John 4.10–14; also Rev 22.17. About the feast of Sukkôt, cf. Martin-Achard, R., Essai biblique sur les fêtes d'Israel (Genève: Labor et Fides, 1974), 83–8Google Scholar. About the feast in the passage of the transfiguration, cf. H. Schiirmann, Lukas 1, 560. F. Bovon, Lukas 1, 499.

40 V. Taylor, Mark, 391.

41 Luzárraga, J., Las tradiciones de la nube en la Biblia y en el Judaísmo primitiuo (Analecta Biblica 54; Roma: Biblical Institute, 1973)Google Scholar.

42 For a relationship between TgN Lev 23.43 and Mark 9.4 par, cf. Déaut, R. Le, in RSR 52 (1964) 8790Google Scholar. J. Luzáragga, Las tradiciones de la nube, 212–20. F. Bovon, Lukas 1, 499–500.

43 It may deal with the Bath qol, as a means for undertaking the derashic interpretation, cf. Strack-Billerbeck 1, 125–32.

44 Cf. R. N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, 38–45. The author uses the term pesher in a restricted way as a text claiming that ‘this is that’, i.e., that a current event is the fulfilment counterpart of a sacred text. Ellis, E. E., Prophecy and Hermeneutic in Early Christianity. New Testament Essays (Tübingen: Mohr, 1978), esp. 147–72, 173–87, 201–5.Google Scholar

45 Cf. Bacher, W., Die exegetische Terminologie der jüdischen Traditionsliteratur 1 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1905) 51–5, 182–3.Google Scholar

46 4QFlo, Tg and Midrash of Ps 2 coincide a great deal in their Messianic interpretation. This corroborates the antiquity of this tradition. Cf. Strack-Billerbeck, 3.19–22. Cf. also A. del Agua, El método midrásico y la exégesis del Nueuo Testamento, 158–60.

47 The idea of the Messianic Son has been combined with the idea of the Servant in a new and creative form, i.e. Christian derash. Cf. V. Taylor, Mark, on p. 162 about the formula of the declaration of the heavenly voice in Mark 1.11.

48 Déaut, R. Le, La Nuit Pascale. Essais sur la signification de la Pâque juive à partir du Targum d'Exode XII.42 (Analecta Biblica 22; Roma: Biblical Institute, 1963)Google Scholar: ‘L'amour d'Abraham pour son fils se trouve aussi évoqué dans le N.T. (Hebr 11,17), surtout dans les emplois du mot agapetos: l'interprétation d'agapetos dans les récits du Baptême (Marc l.llpar) comme comportant aussi une allusion au sacrifice d'Isaac aurait l'avantage d'inclure dans ces passages une double note sacrificielle par une référence à Gen 22 et Is 42. C'était d'ailleurs un procédé classique de la synagogue d'expliciter un texte de la Torah par un autre des prophètes, surtout en cas de concurrence dans les lectures liturgiques’ (p. 203–4). Vermes, G., Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2nd ed. 1973)Google Scholar. ‘The same pre-Christian Jewish association of the Akedah and Servant motifs reappears in the Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus. By using words borrowed from Genesis 22,16 and Isaiah 42,1, the heavenly voice implies that Jesus is destined for salvation and deliverance from sin’ (222).

49 Cf. M. Pérez-Fernández, Tradiciones mesiánicas en el targum palestinense, 183ff.

50 A summary of the main interpretations of the transfiguration pericope is to be found in Nützel, J. M., Die Verklärungserzählung im Markusevangelium (FzB 6; Würzburg: Echter, 1973) 113–22Google Scholar. Also in Fitzmyer, J. A., The Gospel according to Luke I-IX (Anchor Bible 28: Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1981) 795–7Google Scholar. W. D. Davies-D. C. Allison, Matthew 2, 689–93.

51 Evans, C. F., Saint Luke (TPI NT Commentaries; Philadelphia/London: SCM Press, 1990) 414.Google Scholar

52 ‘Narrative patterns’, taken from the biblical and aggadic infancy of Moses, seem to be the basis of the composition of Matt 1–2. ‘Narrative patterns’ can be found in passages such as ‘the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness’ (Matt 4.1–llpar); ‘the Ascension’ (Acts 1.9–11); ‘Pentecost’ (Acts 2.1–13) etc.

53 Bultmann, R., Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 7th ed. 1970)Google Scholar. ‘Daβ diese Legende eine ursprüngliche Auferstehungsgeschichte ist, ist längst erkannt worden’ (278). And he describes as ‘Legende’: ‘die erzählende Stücke der Tradition, die nicht eigentlich Wundergeschichten sind, aber doch auch keinen geschichtlichen, sondern religiös-erbaulichen Charakter haben’ (260).

54 The following scholars consider our passage of the transfiguration as midrash: Rivera, L. F., ‘El misterio del Hijo del Hombre en la transfiguración’, RBib 28 (1966) 20Google Scholar and R. Pesch, Markus 2: ‘Da für diese Verarbeitung die atl. Schrift maβgebend ist, kann auch von einem ‘christologischen Midrasch’ gesprochen werden’ (70).

55 Cf. Frei, H. W., The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics (New Haven/London: Yale University, 1974).Google Scholar

56 I have suggested the derashic school as basic overall Sitz im Leben for the composition of the NT. A. del Agua, El método midrásico y la exégesis del Nuevo Testamento, 273–90.

57 P. Ricoeur, ‘Interpretative Narrative’, 237.

58 Kermode, F., The Genesis of Secrecy. On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University, 1979).Google Scholar