In the gospel of Matthew Jesus repeatedly goes "to the Mountain." Traditionally
scholars have interpreted these passages solely in terms of their ideas
(e.g., Christology and ecclesiology); but they also call for a ritual analysis.
Following a phenomenological analysis of the importance of mountains in a
cross-cultural perspective, a ritual analysis is employed to analyze how the
Evangelist describes Jesus following a three-stage transformative process of
separation, liminality, and aggregation. Beyond this
recognizable sequence, the Evangelist adds a further dimension by employing
catchword associations to call for mimesis of the transformations among the
disciples: the transformations are not solely experiences of Jesus in his
earthly ministry, but are meant to be replicable experiences within the
community on the path of discipleship. The five transformations encompass some
of the basics of the spiritual quest and encounter with the divine: testing,
catechesis, healing, epiphany, and commissioning.
In terms of redaction, the Evangelist chose a set of five transformations—a
number used repeatedly in this gospel to highlight the Mosaic connection (the
five books of the Torah). This connection is reinforced by the importance of Mt.
Sinai and Mt. Pisgah for Moses. The placement of these stories of transformation
in the gospel narrative emphasize their importance to the Evangelist for the
understanding of Jesus' ministry and mission.
I'm a dweller on the threshold
And I'm waiting at the door
And I'm standing in the darkness
I don't want to wait no more
My connection to both valley and sky are different for being on a Mountain.
One does not see clouds or stars the same way when they are framed by peaks
and valleys. The purity of the air, the smell of the trees, and the sound of
the river provide a different ambience than the city below. Living at 5500 feet
above sea level on Mt. Baldy has significantly affected my perspective. An important
aspect of social location is geographical location: locus and worldview are
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus repeatedly goes "to the Mountain." Traditionally
scholars have interpreted these passages solely in terms of their ideas
(e.g., Christology and ecclesiology); but they also call for an analysis which
takes the Mountain setting of the narratives more fully into account. My presupposition
is that location affects perspective. Following a symbolic hermeneutic of the
importance of mountains in a cross-cultural perspective, I employ a ritual analysis
to analyze how the Evangelist describes Jesus following a three-stage transformative
process of separation, liminality, and aggregation. In
addition to this ritual sequence, the Evangelist adds a further dimension by
employing catchword associations which call for mimesis of the transformations
among the disciples. The ritual transformations, then, are not exclusively experiences
of Jesus in his earthly ministry, but are meant to be replicable experiences
within the community on the path of discipleship. The five transformations encompass
some of the basics of the spiritual quest and encounter with the divine: initiation-ordeal,
instruction, healing, epiphany, and commissioning.
In terms of redaction, the Evangelist chose a set of five transformations—a
number used repeatedly in this gospel to highlight the Mosaic connection (the
five books of the Torah). This connection is reinforced by the importance of
Mt. Sinai and Mt. Pisgah for Moses. The Evangelist's linking of these stories
of transformation with mountains emphasizes their importance for the understanding
of Jesus' ministry and mission.
A Hermeneutic of the Mountain Symbol
My interest in rehearsing ancient references to mountains and the scholarly
discussion of them is to highlight the importance of Mountain symbolism in the
ancient Near East, point out the necessity of nuance, and provide the backdrop
for my analysis of mountains as ritual symbols in Matthew. Throughout the ancient
Near East mountains were locations of ritual performance, and the linkage between
Mountain and ritual is pivotal for understanding Matthew's usage of it in the
symbolization of Jesus' story in Matthew.1
Numerous studies have been carried out which have demonstrated the symbolic
signifi- cance of mountains in the ancient Mediterranean, as well as in ancient
Mesopotamian cultures: Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Ugaritic, Greek, Israelite,
Judean, and Samaritan. Most of these works have focussed upon questions of terminology,
ideological functions, and history of religions. The emphasis here, however,
is on the Mountain as a focalizing symbol in Matthew's gospel. By "symbol" I
any object, act, event, quality, or relation which serves as a vehicle
for a conception— the conception is the symbol's 'meaning'. . . they are
tangible formulations of notions, abstractions from experience fixed in perceptible
forms, concrete embodiments of ideas, attitudes, judgments, longings, or beliefs
following Suzanne Langer).
Not only does this definition account for the multivalence of symbol, but combines
both the cognitive and emotive aspects, or "intellective" and "affective," to
use Geertz's distinction (81 n70).
The Mountain is a "focalizing" symbol in that it not only draws the reader's
attention, but also concentrates key aspects of what the Evangelist is trying
to communicate, what Turner
calls "condensation" (1967:28). The Mountain setting heightens, so to speak,
the import of events which transpire on it. F. R. McCurley
sees Matthew's use of the Mountain as specifically exemplary of the "cosmic
Mountain" based upon what Jesus does there (164). T. L. Donaldson
suggests that Matthew does not designate a particular Mountain so as not to
tie the Christian community to a specific location (202; see below). This may
be a partial explanation: by not naming the Mountain Matthew allows "mountainness"
as such to come to the foreground and function in the manner that Turner
calls the "unification of disparate significata" (1967:28).
In addition to condensation and unification, Turner identifies a third aspect
of ritual symbols which opens up the Mountain symbol in Matthew: namely, the
"polarization of meaning." The two poles are the sensory and the ideological.
By "sensory" Turner means the identification between the physical characteristics
of a symbol and its meaning. With regard to mountains, this relates especially
to height and distance from society. The ideological pole relates to the moral
and social order of the culture (1967:28-30).
Mountains are cosmological symbols of the divine-human meeting, as well as the
point of creation-creation of community as well as cosmos.
Depending upon the era, culture, and text, the cosmological emphasis on the
Mountain might be one or more of the following: the assembly place of the gods,
the connection between heaven and earth, the center/navel of the earth (and
thus the locus of creation), the locus of revelation. Donaldson identifies
four types of mountains significant for the interpretation of second temple
Judean theology: covenant Mountain, cosmic Mountain, Mountain of revelation,
and eschatological Mountain (82).
Although Donaldson's conceptual categories may be helpful, the focus here
is rather on the power of the Mountain symbol when it is employed in a context
of rituals of transformation. To use J. Z. Smith's terms, the Mountain becomes
"locative" in Matthew, where ritual transformation "takes place." If ritual
is a "mode of paying attention," and "place directs attention" (Smith: 103),
then Matthew's imaginative use of the Mountain symbol directs attention to the
ritual transformations which transpire on the heights.
Some societies identified sacred mountains with the location of their own
political-religious center (e.g., Babylon, Delphi, Zion, Gerezim). Others pointed
to a distant, high Mountain associated with divine presence, abode, or theophany
(e.g., Sinai, Zaphon, Olympus).2
The Sinai and Zion traditions demonstrate that one society could identify with
multiple sacred mountains for different functions, demonstrating the multivalence
One can readily see why mountains came to have these politico-religious significance.
Their height is a multivalent symbol of: reaching up toward the sky (and thus
the divine world); prominence and honor symboled as "above," "high" or "over";
center of attention; distance from daily existence; danger (especially when
volcanic); and inaccessibility. Isaiah captured several of these elements in
reference to the Zion traditions:
It shall happen in the latter days that the Mountain of Yahweh's
house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised
above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall
come and say: "Come, let us go up to Yahweh's Mountain, to the house of Jacob's
God. . . ." (Isa 2:2-3; all translations are mine unless otherwise noted)
And Exodus vividly captures the elements of purity, danger, and inaccessibility
with reference to Sinai:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings,
and a dense cloud upon the Mountain, and a very loud horn blast, so that all
the people who were in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of
the camp to meet God; and they took their place at the foot of the Mountain.
And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because Yahweh descended upon it in
fire; and its smoke went up like kiln-smoke, and the whole Mountain shook
mightily. (Exod 19:16-18)
It was common in the ancient Near East to construct temples and altars with
Mountain symbolism (Clements: 1-16).
The religious center is thus accorded cosmic significance. That is, the Mountain-temple
or temple-mount—especially in the political capital—manifests a divine sanction,
a sacral quality, and thus a relationship to the cosmos which other places do
not possess. The symbolic importance of David's bringing the ark of the covenant
to Jerusalem, for example, can readily be seen: Mt. Zion becomes both the new
political capital and the cultic center with divine sanction (2 Sam 6:12-15;
see Ps 99:9).
Besides natural mountains, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the Canaanite
temples were constructed as sacred meeting places between humans and the gods,
as gateways to the heavens, as divine thrones, and likely also as altars: that
is, locations for the enactment of ritual at or upon the axis mundi.**
Egyptian pyramids also bore this cosmological significance. In the inscriptions
found in the pyramids of Mer-ne-Re and Nefer-ka-Re (both Sixth Dynasty, 24th
century BCE), an analogy is made between the primeval hill that emerged from
the watery chaos at creation and the building of the pyramid:
O Atum-Kheprer, you were on high on the (primeval) hill. . . . (So
also), O Atum, put your arms around King Nefer-ka-Re, around this construction
work, around this pyramid, as the arms of a ka. (adapted from Wilson: 3)
And indeed mountains were favored as locations for temples and altars. They
take worshipers off farmland and up to divine heights. Before David took the
ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, it was at Abinadab's house "on the hill" (2
Sam 6:3). The prevalence of this practice is demonstrated in Hosea's accusation
against the Israelites: "On the tops of the mountains they sacrifice, and on
the hills they make offerings. . . ." (Hos 4:13a).
In several instances the terminology of the umbilicus/navel is used with regard
to the sacred Mountain: Akkadian Dur-an-ki, Greek omphalos ges
, Hebrew tabbur ha-'arets (see e.g., Eliade 1959b:38-47;
The identification of Mountain with navel is itself multivalent: center, birth/creation,
connection/disconnection, and gateway. Judges 9:37 makes reference to troops
descending from "the navel of the earth"-probably so-called because of the central
shrine on Mt. Gerezim (see Boling: 178-79).
And the significance of calling Jerusalem "the navel of the earth" in the biblical
texts is certainly cosmological (Ezek 5:5; 38:12; see Stadelmann:
147-54; McCurley: 162;
622-23). While a minor motif in Old Testament literature, the mountain's cosmic symbolism
is elaborated in later Judean literature. In Jubilees (c. 2nd cent. BCE) one
And he knew that the garden of Eden was the holy of holies and the
dwelling of the LORD. And Mount Sinai (was) in the midst of the desert and
Mount Zion (was) in the midst of the navel of the earth. The three of them
were created as holy places, one facing the other. (8:19; trans. Wintermute:
In 1 Enoch one finds the connection of the navel of the earth, the cosmic tree,
and three holy mountains, all symbols of connection between sky and earth:
And from there I went into the center of the earth and saw a blessed
place, shaded with branches which live and bloom from a tree that was cut.
And there I saw a holy Mountain. . . . And I saw in a second direction, (another)
Mountain which was higher than (the former). . . . In the direction of the
west from this one there was (yet) another Mountain, smaller than it and not
so high. . . . (26:1-4; trans. Isaac: 26)
analysis (1985) of the Sinai and Zion traditions as entry points for understanding
the Hebrew canon indicates how much ancient Israelite and Judean self-understanding
revolved around these two mountains as dynamic symbols of their relationship
Mountains in Matthew: A Symbolic Hermeneutic
T. L. Donaldson's
Jesus on the Mountain: A Study in Matthean Theology (1985) analyzes the
six narratives in Matthew in which Jesus goes up a Mountain. He notes that "Mountain"
also appears in sayings material five times (5:14; 17:20; 18:12; 21:21; 24:16),
but these have no direct bearing on Matthew's redaction or theology (12). His
analysis has two components: analyses of the function of mountains in the gospel's
milieu, and Matthew's literary and theological use of the Mountain motif (13).
After an extensive redactional analysis, Donaldson draws conclusions concerning
the relation of the Mountain motif to Matthean themes. He understands the Temptation
(Matthew 4) and Transfiguration (Matthew 17) stories as relating to Jesus' true
sonship and the path of obedience. The ecclesiology of the eschatological community
is the focus of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), the Feeding (Matthew
15) and the Commissioning (Matthew 28) narratives. "Salvation history" is the
focus of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24–25) (Donaldson:
196). He also concludes that Matthew's Mountain symbolism is dependent primarily
upon the Judean Zion traditions. But the Evangelist also adapts this imagery
for his own purposes:
In Matthean perspective, therefore, it is when Jesus is 'on the
Mountain' that his significance and the nature of his mission are most clearly
seen. Consequently it can be said that mountains in Matthew function not primarily
as places of revelation or isolation, but as eschatological sites where Jesus
enters into the full authority of his Sonship, where the eschatological community
is gathered, and where the age of fulfillment is inaugurated. (197)
. . . .
For Matthew, there is no thought of a 'holy Mountain'- a Christian Zion to
rival the temple mount, to do for the church what Gerizim did for Samaritanism.
Jesus himself, and not any Mountain on which he ministered, is for Matthew
the Christian replacement for Zion. . . . The Mountain in Matthew has significance
only because Jesus is there. Matthew uses it in the framework of his christological
portrait where it functions as a vehicle by means of which Zion hopes are
transferred to and seen as fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. (202)
Substantial agreement with Donaldson's conclusions is possible if one stays
within the sphere of literature and theology. Rather than limited solely to
the realm of ideas or themes (e.g., ecclesiology) and literature
(the literary construction of the gospel), however, the Mountain symbol in Matthew
functions as the focalizer of a ritual process in which those who cross symbolic
boundaries are Transformed through imagination and performance. Analyzing the
symbolic and ritual dimensions will hopefully provide a more complex and nuanced
approach to the material. Furthermore, it will bring into focus the "affective"
aspects of the material, in conjunction with Donaldson's more "intellective"
Ritual Process and Matthew's Strategy
Every society employs means of creating, maintaining, and celebrating its
group identity. If we speak of these cultural performances whether religious
or not-as "rites," then two basic types can be discerned.4
The first are those performed repeatedly (daily, weekly, annually), which can
be labeled "ceremonies." Ceremonies emphasize an already established identity,
solidarity, meaning, and allegiance. They focus upon those within the circle
of belonging, that is, on members and membership per se (see Neyrey 1991).
Examples of ceremonies are: the celebration of the Eucharist (daily, weekly,
monthly, quarterly, annually -- depending upon the particular Christian tradition),
the Passover meal (annually), and the Sabbath (weekly). Ceremonies, then, celebrate
and reaffirm an already existing status.
Related to ceremonies, but quite distinct, are "rituals." Rather than affirm
status, rituals change status through enacting the crossing of boundaries.
Rituals occur as needed rather than according to schedule, and thus unlike ceremonies,
are not usually tied to the calendar. They are "rites of passage," in the phrase
of Arnold van Gennep
(1960). Examples are: circumcision, baptism, marriage, anointing the sick, bar/bath
mitzvah, confirmation, ordination, bishop's consecration. Purification rites
also fall in this category (e.g., Christian penance rites, and Jewish purification
baths [mikvaoth]). Through these various rituals, participants cross
a variety of boundaries: outsider to insider, single to married, life to death,
laity to priesthood, priesthood to bishopric, unclean to clean. The following
comparative chart, adapted from M. McVann (1991:335),
illustrates the relationships between and distinctiveness of rituals and ceremonies:
FIGURE #1: Rite Ritual and Ceremony
We now turn to developing the implications of the left side of this chart.
(1967; 1969) has been the one most responsible for building upon the anthropological
foundation of ritual studies laid by Arnold van Gennep.
These two concluded from their fieldwork that rituals entail three basic steps.
Rather than merely stepping from unclean to clean, or outsider to insider, the
participants must enter an intermediate stage as well.
Step One of the ritual process is constituted by the formal
separation from the larger society. For example, children preparing for baptism
are separated from all other children. Or an individual formally identified
as a postulant for ministry enters seminary. This separation may take place
in space, time, or both.
Step Two is the "liminal" (margin/boundary/threshold) phase.
In this phase the participants are on the margin of society: neither outside
nor inside, but in process. But they are also on the threshold of transformation
to a new state and status. It is here at that ritual transformation occurs.
The change is usually signaled by overt acts: humiliation, cleansing, teaching,
healing, testing, cutting of flesh, etc. Turner identifies
three aspects of this liminal phase: 1) communication of the sacral; 2) recombinations
and inversions of traditional sacral images and symbols; 3) authority between
social categories (elders over initiands), and communitas (egalitarian
relation) is stressed within and among the initiands in a small-scale ritual
replication of the structure of society as a whole (1969:94-165).
And Step Three is the aggregation of the participants to the
larger group. They formally rejoin society or the community, but with a new
status. They necessarily function differently now that the ritual has taken
place and they have a new status: they are clean, knowledgeable, ordained, married,
and so forth, and thus empowered to act with a new capacity in the society which
they have rejoined at the aggregation.
I employ this model with the gospel of Matthew as an interpretive tool to
explain the narrative, linguistic, and performative signals which the Evangelist
inscribes into his narrative. The model both clarifies the Evangelist's mode
of narrative discourse and connects this mode of discourse with other narratives
which draw on the ritual imagination (see Bal 1990).
is correct that to "lose ritual is to lose the way" (4), then to create ritual
is to cut a path, to make a way, and point a direction. The Evangelist thus
cuts a new path by shaping these Mountain narratives into ritual drama, and
is therefore "ritualizing," creating new ritual forms for the community (30).
If mountains in the ancient Near East are often symbolic of where the divine
and human meet, then one would expect to see a juncture where the sacred is
experienced, boundaries crossed, and life Transformed. T. L. Donaldson
ties Matthew's Mountain narratives to the Evangelist's themes, and interprets
them propositionally as cognitive expressions of Christology, ecclesiology,
and salvation history. The Evangelist, however, is not merely interested in
passing along data or iterating ideology about Jesus. He wants rather to communicate
transformative experiences of and with Jesus: actually moving
disciples through the process of formation as disciples. The Evangelist
wants his readers to understand that entering into discipleship entails the
transformation of life, and that transformation takes place not only cognitively,
but concretely in ritual as an emotive and embodying experience.
The thread which ties these transformative experiences together is the focalizing,
ritual symbol of the Mountain. It stands apart from civilization. It is not
a temple made with hands, but a meeting place for the divine and the human,
whose meaning is created by the community (Smith). What
happens here is not what happens daily in the village or on the farm: it is
space apart and time apart. Comparing initiation rituals across cultures, La Fontaine
The effect is to separate members and non-members in terms of distance
travelled. In those rituals, performed within a 'temple' or a 'lodge', the
actual space used is minimal. Those of the Mende and Hopi are not confined
within a building; their candidates for initiation are taken into the forest
away from the village, or down into the sacred chamber underground. Distance
and location emphasize the separation of the novices from ordinary life. (84)
The Evangelist has signaled these transformations and the connections between
them with at least three types of parallels: narrative signals (e.g., departure/separation
and return/ aggregation, change of characters), vocabulary (e.g., "to the Mountain"),
and motifs (e.g., ascent and wonderment).
A further point should be made concerning Matthew's literary technique of
setting up these Mountain ascension narratives. In each case, the Evangelist
leads into the narrative by indicating to the reader Jesus' qualifications to
make the next ritual move. The initiation- ordeal is immediately preceded by
the declaration of God: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am delighted!"
(3:17). The instruction in 5–7 and the healing in 15:29-31 are preceded by the
notice of the spread of Jesus' honor as a healer and exorcist (4:23-25; 15:21-28).
The epiphany in 17:1-8 is preceded by Jesus' declaration that: "the Son of Man
will come in the glory of his Father with his angels. . ." (16:27). And the
commissioning is preceded by Jesus' resurrection (28:1-10).
The following chart identifies the three steps of ritual transformation as
outlined by van Gennep and Turner. But I have also included two other columns
of information indicated by Matthew's linguistic and narrative clues: disciples'
mimesis and communal consequences (usually in wonderment and praise). The regular
occurrence of these two features also requires interpretation in the sections
below. Moreover, the Evangelist each time expands upon Jesus' separation by
tying it to his ascent of the Mountain.
[insert FIGURE #2: Mountains and Ritual Process in Matthew]
The Mountain of Initiation-Ordeal (Matthew 4:1-12)
has demonstrated the ritual structure of this passage. He argues that Jesus,
who had most likely been a disciple of John's is himself Transformed into a
prophet (1993:14-15, 19). Following Jesus' baptism by John at the Jordan (3:13-17),
he was "led up" (anexthê) into the Wilderness by the Spirit, 4:1a. Jesus
is thus separated from the community at the river for forty days of fasting.
The three tests by "the tester" (ho peirazôn v3), "the devil" (ho
diablos vv5, 8, 11), or "satan" (satana v10) culminate in the ascent
to "a very high Mountain" (eis oros upsêllon lian ) in v8. Jesus is now
alone with his ordeal-master on the Mountain to complete his testing.
This ordeal, or ritualized initiation (peirasthênai, v1b), tests his
spiritual strength, loyalty, and obedience: will he opt for food, or perform
spectacular feats, or accept power from an ungodly source? The element of testing
is further accentuated by specifically playing on the larger context of Deut
8:2-5 (see also Exod 16:4), part of which is quoted in Matt 4:4. The motifs
employed are: forty, leading, Wilderness, commandment, humbling, testing (nassotheka),
discipline, obedience, hunger, bread:5
And you will remember each way which Yahweh your God has led
you this forty years in the Wilderness in order to humble
you, to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether or not you
would keep his commandments. And he humbled you, and let you
hunger, and fed you with manna (with which you were not
acquainted, nor were your fathers acquainted), in order that he might bring
you to know that a person does not live only by bread, but that a person
lives by everything that comes out of Yahweh's mouth. . . . Then you will
know with your heart that just as a man disciplines his son, Yahweh
your God disciplines you.
Note that the ordeal of the Flood also lasted forty days (Gen 7:12). More closely
connecting the motif of forty with the Mountain and fasting, Moses fasted forty
days and nights on Sinai when receiving the second set of tablets (Exod 34:28;
Deut 9:9-11, 18); and Elijah fasted forty days and nights on his trip to "Horeb,
the Mountain of God" (1 Kgs 19:8). McVann points
to the importance of the fast in this ritual process:
The fast is what grinds Jesus down, empties him of his old self,
so he can be fashioned anew and endowed with additional powers for his new
station in life. Through the ritual fast, the patterns and dependencies of
the old identity are eradicated so the new can take root. It is at the end
of the fasting in solitude that the testings begin. (1993:16)
Jesus successfully counters each of these temptations with the quotation of
scripture (Deut 8:3b; 6:16a; 6:20a), demonstrating his knowledge of the tradition
and Torah-acumen, and loyalty to God as well. This type of ordeal of degradation
or testing is especially well known in initiation rituals. In hunter-gatherer
societies the adolescents are often required to go into the bush alone and survive
the elements, kill an animal, submit to humiliation, or fight an opponent. In
the initiation ritual of the Powamu association, Hopi children receive the group's
secrets while sitting in cramped space for hours, then receive four severe lashes
with a yucca whip (La Fontaine:
89, 111). La Fontaine goes on to identify several types of testing: oath-taking,
ordeal (privation and pain), harangues, and teasing/ridicule (186-87). One should
add to her list another that is implicit in her discussion: tests of knowledge.
In the Jewish tradition of bar mitzvah, the initiand must successfully chant
from the Torah in Hebrew before the congregation. Even in technological societies,
dissertations have to be written and defend- ed! If Jesus is to lead his disciples
in taking on the demonic forces, he must first demonstrate his own abilities,
survive deprivation, and overcome demonic power.
A further element recognizable here is the folkloric triad (see Olrik: 132-33):
the three tests are located in three different locations: the Wilderness (vv3-4),
the temple pinnacle (vv5-7), and the Mountain (vv8-10)—each with its own associations:
food, miracles, and power. This is diagrammed in figure #3:
[insert FIGURE #3: Progressive Temptations in Locus]
Thus Matthew not only emphasizes multiplicity in the formulaic three, but movement,
inten- sification, and ascension: as the tests become more difficult, the location
changes to a higher plane, culminating on the Mountain. This lends added significance
to the Mountain as ritual symbol of the highest order for Matthew.6
The consequence of Jesus' successful completion of the tests is that angels
arrive to minister to Jesus (4:11). This provides divine confirmation of his
status elevation. As God announced "This is my beloved son, with whom I am delighted"
after the baptism (3:17), here he sends messengers to serve Jesus after his
The final step of the ritual is taken with Jesus' aggregation into the community:
he went to Galilee to settle in Capernaum (v12). This leads into his ministry
of preaching repentance (vv14-17) and the calling of disciples (vv18-22). This
follow-up to Jesus' testing further indicates that the testing is preparatory
to proclaiming his message; the temporal orientation is towards the immediate
future: a new existence, a new status, a new mission.
The Evangelist relates Jesus' ordeal to the life of the Christian community
by reiterating that testing is part of discipleship—even if the testing is
not of identical type (see Luz: 186).
In the "Lord's Prayer" the disciples are taught to pray: ". . . and do not lead
us into testing (peirasmon), but deliver us from the evil one" (6:13).
In 10:16-25 Jesus tells the disciples to expect persecution; but he also assures
them that they will be provided with the words to answer the accusers. But successful
completion of the ordeal is a necessity: "the one who endures to the end will
be delivered" (10:22; see also 18:7). And in 26:41 Jesus warns Peter, James,
and John: "Be on guard and pray so that you do not enter into testing (peirasmon)."7
From the Evangelist's connection between the testing of Jesus and the disciples,
one may conclude that he knows that testing is a part of the life of discipleship,
but a dangerous business. Jesus successfully completed the testing, but it is
an open question how well the disciples will perform. The danger inherent in
any ritual is that it will either be done wrong, or that it will not be successfully
completed. For an example of failure at a three-fold "test," note Peter's three-fold
denial of Jesus in Jerusalem (Mark 14:66-72// Matt 26:69-75//Luke 22:54-62//John
The Mountain of Instruction (Matthew 4:25—8:1)
The Evangelist indicates the popularity of Jesus in 4:25 as a transition in
which Jesus gathered crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea
(the north, east, and south). "And seeing the crowds, he ascended up the Mountain;
and when he sat down, his disciples gathered to him" (5:1); in ritual terms,
he left the general population and gathered his disciples for instruction. Jesus'
disciples must follow him, receive his teaching, and acknowledge him; all this
must happen on the Mountain.
Like Sinai, this Mountain is the place where revelation will proceed from
God to the community via a mediator. But whereas the Israelites remained at
the base of Sinai waiting to receive the divine message brought down from Moses
(Exod 19:10-25), Jesus' followers ascend with him to receive his teaching on
the Mountain—the place where the divine and human meet. The multivalence of
the Mountain-symbol is clearly manifested here: it unites the symbol of revelation/instruction
(Mountain as gateway to the heavens) and the symbol of creation since new community
is created here (Mountain as umbilicus or point of creation). Both of these
themes are reflected in the Sinai narratives as well (e.g., Exodus 19–24), and
these are sources from which Matthew undoubtedly drew heavily.
What happens on the Mountain is the group's initiation into Jesus' teaching.
In terms of composition, the Evangelist provides an overview of Jesus' message
by gathering the many individual Jesus-sayings into this "sermon." But in terms
of the story, a single crowd of disci- ples is initiated into his teaching.
Prior to Matthew 5–7, the reader is only given one brief summary of what Jesus
is up to: "Repent, because the Kingdom of the Heavens is drawing near!" (4:17).
So this "sermon" functions to instruct Jesus' followers in the content of his
message. Furthermore, the address is Jesus' first full discourse to his disciples
as a prophet. Hearing the message, they know what they are responding to.
The fact that this is the broader group of followers, and not only the Twelve,
is indicated by the response of the crowd in 7:28, the same crowd (ochlos)
mentioned in 4:25 and 5:1. They are now all initiands.
The response to his teaching is acclamation: "And when Jesus completed these
sayings, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one possessing
authority, and not as their scribes" (7:28-29). This highlights the distinction
between what Jesus does in contrast to the scribes. While the scribes interpreted
the tradition, Jesus proclaimed a distinctive message of the Kingdom. The acclamation
also indicates that the master-teacher has guided the initiands into a new status.
The astonishment also highlights that what has transpired is an extraordinary
and uncommon, indeed divine event.
Having initiated the crowds into his teaching, Jesus descended (katabantos)
the Mountain, and was again followed by the crowds (8:1). He and they re-enter
society. The revelation is complete, the meeting between the divine and human
concluded; they cannot and must not stay in the liminal phase of receiving instruction.
They step back across the threshold into daily life, but with a new identity
as Jesus' disciples. Thus, on the Mountain of Instruction, Jesus is portrayed
as the master who initiates others into discipleship and thus transforms their
The Mountain of Healing (Matthew 15:29-31)
Sickness and brokenness are signs of disorder and chaos. On the Mountain of
healing Jesus demonstrates his power over this chaos. He has healed before,
but the Mountain setting stresses the greater significance of Jesus' action.
"Then Jesus left there [the Phoenician region of Tyre and Sidon], passing along
the Sea of Galilee; and he ascended the Mountain (anabas eis to oros),
sitting down there" (v29). Not only does Jesus leave Phoenicia, but the Galilean
villages as well.
The boundary-crossing that Matthew describes is Jesus taking "the lame, the
maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others" from brokenness to wholeness:
he "healed" (etherepeusen) them (v30). This encompasses the taxonomy
of three body zones repeatedly articulated in the Bible, as first identified
by De Geradon
(1960; see Malina: 73-81):
hands/feet (lame and maimed), heart/eyes (blind), and mouth/ears (mute). Symbolically,
then, Jesus addresses all the bodily zones in this healing narrative, which
also relate to those excluded from the temple (see Pilch 1986).
As J. J.
Pilch has demonstrated in numerous articles, what is at stake physically
in biblical healing narratives is not the "curing" of "diseases," terms referring
to modern medical diagnosis and interventions. Rather, traditional societies
are concerned with "healing" of "illness." That is, "When an intervention affects
an illness, that activity is called 'healing.'" This "involves the provision
of personal and social meaning for the life problems that accompany human health
misfortunes"; put succinctly, curing relates to disease, as healing to illness
(1991:192; see also 1986). This is true in general for traditional societies,
and it is especially highlighted in this text. The sick and those who care for
them follow Jesus up a Mountain and separate themselves from society to follow
Jesus through a ritual of healing. All types of maladies are healed, and those
healed cross the boundaries of marginalization/integration, meaninglessness/meaningful,
chaos/order. Thus the symbol of the Mountain here is not linked to revelation,
but creation, specifically the creation of order out of chaos.8
The "wonder" (thaumasai) of the crowds, and their "glorifying the God
of Israel" (edoxasan ton theon Israêl) again emphasize the extraordinary
character of the healing Jesus performs as God's Son (v31). A profound and world-encompassing
change has occurred on this Mountain-top, and those who have experienced it
return to the world below wholly renewed and Transformed.9
The mimesis of the disciples, in parallel to the other Mountain symbol passages,
is further argument that the ritual performance on the Mountain is healing,
and not feeding. In Matt 10:1 Jesus "called his twelve disciples to himself,
giving them authority over unclean spirits, to exorcise them, and to heal (therapeuein)
every disease and every malady." The power which Jesus has demonstrated over
all sorts of brokenness, he has given to the twelve. The healing, integrating,
and including which he begins, they are to continue. The aggregation is vague
here, compared with the other passages: Jesus moves from dealing with the sick
to addressing his disciples (v32), and then they depart for the region of Magadan
The Mountain of Epiphany (Matthew 17:1-8)
The particular narrative unit is 17:1-8, but the ritual process has to be
seen in 17:1-14. Vv9-13 narrate the action "while they descended the Mountain"
(v9), and full aggregation is not mentioned until v14: "And when they approached
the crowd. . . ."
Jesus took Peter and James and John, separating them not only from society
generally, but also from the other nine disciples, "and led (anapserei)
them to a high Mountain by themselves" (v1). This highly significant event is
reserved for the innermost circle. The scene is reminiscent of Moses taking
Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders with him to Sinai: "they had a vision
of God, and they ate and drank" (Exod 24:11).
What happens on the Mountain as a vision/audition experience is a variation
on the classic form of an Israelite/Judean "vision report"; Jesus was:
Transformed (metamorphôthê) before them, and his face shone
like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, Moses and
Elijah appeared (ôpsthê) to them, talking with him . . . and a voice
from the cloud said, "This is my beloved son with whom I am delighted; listen
to him." (17:1-3)
demonstrates that this account integrates different aspects of Israelite/ Judean
Mountain symbolism (170-77). Many of the narrative details are analogs of the
Sinai narratives in Exodus 24 and 34 (cloud, audition, transforming glory, etc.).
The auditory "This is my son" plays on the royal adoption motifs connected with
Mt. Zion in Psalm 2: "I have placed my king on Zion, my holy hill" (2:6), and
"You are my son; today I have begotten you" (2:7b). And the phrase "beloved
son" (huios agapêtos) appears in the LXX only with regard to Abraham's
sacrifice of Isaac on a Mountain in Moriah (Gen 22:2, 12,16). McCurley also
notes that Mt. Moriah and Mt. Zion are identified with each other in 1 Chron
3:1; thus he identifies the integrative and re-symbolization process as diagrammed
in Figure #4, what he calls the "Quality of the Transfiguration Mount" (176):
[Insert FIGURE #4: Integration and Re-symbolization in the Mount of Transfiguration]
Clearly, this passage has a double focus: attention is directed to Jesus' sonship/kingship,
and to the manifestation of the holy, whether one calls this epiphany, theophany,
or Christophany. That this is a vision is stated explicitly in v9 (horama)
and further indicated by the term "appeared" in v2 (ôpsthê).
The reaction of the three disciples was to fall upon their faces, awestruck
(v6). This is the appropriate and expected reaction to a theophany/revelatory
experience, e.g.: "This was the visionary likeness of Yahweh's glory. And when
I saw it, I fell upon my face. . . ." (Ezek 1:28).10
But more than simply a literary motif, this is the appropriate ritual action
and posture. The disciples have been taken further along on their journey
of discipleship in being granted this vision in which Jesus' unique status as
God's son is revealed to them. Thus, their status as disciples is heightened
even as Jesus' exalted status is revealed.
One might expect this visionary experience to be unique to the three disciples.
But the Evangelist indicates that it is much broader in implication. In Matt
5:8 the grant of honor to the "pure in heart" is that they shall see God. This
is rooted in a long Judean tradition of seeing God in the context of the temple
worship: "They go from strength to strength; the God of gods shall be seen in
Zion" (Ps 84:7; see further Hanson 1994).
Additionally, this vision prepares for the appearance of the resurrected Jesus
which the Eleven will have at the gospel's conclusion when they are commissioned
The Evangelist extends the aggregation into a dialogue on the way down the
Mountain (vv9-13). V9 begins with them descending the Mountain; but they do
not fully aggregate until v14 "When they came to a crowd . . . ."
Mountain of Commissioning (Matthew 28:16-20)
This pericope is the conclusion toward which the whole gospel builds: here
the Transformed Jesus transforms his inner circle from an inwardly-directed,
tightly knit, fictive kin-group to an outwardly-directed group of teachers and
disciplers. It also plays upon the dialectic of presence and absence. Jesus
is present with them in the story, and the story ends without Jesus having left.
But Jesus' words imply his absence, even while vowing continued presence.11
The Eleven depart for Galilee, and go "to the Mountain" (v16); this separates
them from Judea and Jerusalem, and from Galilee itself. Note that the phrase
"to which Jesus directed them" modifying "Mountain" (v16b) acknowledges that
it must be a specific location while maintaining the mountain's anonymity. Important
for the Evangelist, then, is not the identity of the Mountain, but its "mountainness"
and the resurrected Jesus' presence to his disciple/apostles.
Jesus' commission of the Eleven is introduced with his statement that he has
been given "all authority in heaven and on earth" (v18; see also 7:29; 9:8;
11:27; 21:23-27; Dan 7:14; John 3:35).12
As in the other Mountain passages, the basis for Jesus' action is established:
authority ascribed by God (see John 20:21). Jesus had previously commissioned
the Twelve to preach, heal, resurrect, cleanse, and exorcise (10:5-15); but
this earlier mission explicitly excluded gentiles and Samaritans (10:5-6). So,
while they had previously been sent out, their mission has now been Transformed
from an ethnic into a global one. And a further shift is that they are now to
teach and baptize (v20b). The commissioning, then changes the status of the
Eleven from disciples to apostles, matching the nature of their changed mission.
The encounter with Jesus, however, produced a mixed reaction: "they worshiped,
but some doubted" (28:17). Each of the earlier examples of "consequence" were
unequivocal: ministered, astonished, wondered and glorified, and greatly awed.
In this final scene, even some of the Eleven are doubting. Note how Matthew
had earlier played upon the "mixture" within church, for example: the sown seed
with various yields (13:3-9), the wheat and weeds (13:24-30), and the mixed
catch of fish (13:47-50). The Evangelist seems to use this theme one last time
to emphasize the lack of purity in the church, even among the leadership. As
I noted before, one of the dangerous aspects of ritual is that a participant
may be unsuccessful in its completion, and the Evangelist is alerting the reader
to this danger.
The missing element in this pericope, when compared to the other Mountain
ascension passages, is the aggregation: neither Jesus nor the Eleven rejoin
society; the scene ends with all of them still on the Mountain. This lack of
closure provides the gospel with a sense of openendedness: the success of the
Eleven is left undeveloped, Jesus remains standing within the community, the
future is uncertain except for Jesus' vow of continued presence.13
That is, Jesus' status as resurrected Lord to whom all authority has been given
is firmly established. What is uncertain is what will become of the newly commissioned
apostles. Thus the ritual model further illuminates the lack of narrative closure.
Matthew's sequence of the ritual Mountain ascensions and descents is not accidental.
The Mountain passages chart the developmental process of discipleship and formation
from initiation to deputation. This sequence of ritual movements up and down
mountains takes the disciples from group-maintenance to group-building, from
self-in-relationship to the community-within-society. Before they can move outward
into the world to preach, teach, and baptize (itself a central ritual of status
transformation), the disciples must be taught, "healed," and given a glimpse
of the divine. The ritual transformations associated with mountains in Matthew
are not "once for all"; they are part of the on-going tradition. Neither are
they narrated in great detail, but are suggestive and multivalent. They may
be experienced and manifested diversely in the community; but despite that diversity,
they are no less fundamental transformations. And finally, Matthew's ritualized
Mountain symbolism integrates the affective and intellective processes: it exhibits
conceptual and ideological content, but also provides the concrete expression
of emotive and experiential realities.
A final comment on the disciples' mimesis is in order. The Evangelist has
not only paralleled Jesus' action with that of the disciples in other parts
of the gospel, but has set up the principle of mimesis. In the context of the
disciples' travels, deeds, and subsequent persecu- tion, Jesus declares: "A
disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his owner. It is sufficient
for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the slave like his owner (Matt
10:24-25a). Thus for Matthew, Jesus' deeds are paradigmatic for the community;
mimesis is fundamental for identity, action, and relationship. And ritual becomes
the creative medium which mediates mimesis. In order to follow Jesus,
the disciples must pass through the dangers of ritual process. Following Turner,
ritual has the power and potential to both preserve and transform the community.
* I am indebted to several people who are both friends
and colleagues for their reading, critique, and help in formulating the issues
developed in this paper. Prof. Gwen Miller MacKinnon (St. Joseph's College,
University of Alberta) gave invaluable input at every stage of this essay. But
the critiques of Dr. Kathlyn Breazeale and Ken Stenstrup (both of The Claremont
Graduate School), Joanna Satorius and Michael Boddy (both of The School of Theology
at Claremont), and Dr. William Yarchin (The Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center,
Claremont) were also of immeasurable help. I have also appreciated the editorial
hand of Mark McVann who helped me keep the focus.
1. A caveat, however, is in order. As Clifford's
study keenly demonstrates (190-92), it is too simplistic to lump all references
to sacred mountains in the ancient Near East together without nuance. Furthermore,
every sacred Mountain is not the "world Mountain." Eliade played an important
role in articulating the phenomenological significance of Mountain symbolism,
especially as it relates to "the center." But J. Z. Smith points out that Eliade's
homologizing model of the "center" is too broadly drawn to cover all examples
of symbolic mountains (see Eliade 1959a:12-16;
1959b:36-50). Smith comments:
This is not to argue that there are not ideological statements and
titles, particularly in societies that have been labeled examples of "oriental
despotism," that claim the status of "center" for various temples, palaces,
and capitals. It is to insist, only, that such titles may not be easily or
universally homologized to world-mountains. . . . The language of "center"
is preeminently political and only secondarily cosmological. . . .
The "Center" is not a secure pattern to which data may be brought as illustrative;
it is a dubious notion that will have to be established anew on the basis
of detailed comparative endeavors. (Smith: 16-17)
In other words, Smith rightly argues that Eliade has been reductionistic with
regard to the Mountain-symbol: Eliade has obscured its multivalence, failing
to differentiate between cul- tures, historical periods, and ideologies (despite
Eliade's own contention that this kind of reductionism is not appropriate [1985: 14]).
Furthermore, as Smith points out, Eliade's model was constructed upon Akkadian
and Sumerian linguistic conclusions which have not been sustained by more recent
Eliade's numerous cross-cultural references to mountains of different types
are not without importance, however; they point up the pervasive use of Mountain
imagery throughout history, over a broad range of cultures, and especially in
the ancient Near East (see Butterworth
1970 for even more examples). Furthermore, Eliade's insights about "the center"
are demonstrably relevant to Judean symbolism, as the examples from Jubilees
and 1 Enoch above illustrate.
It is important to heed the warnings of Clifford and Smith when evaluating
any symbolic significance of mountains. I would argue further that each culture
which employs Mountain symbolism articulates its own ideology with its unique
set of variables: conceptions of the divine, kingship, topography, ritual, purity
code, and social structure.
2. One text which illustrates this is "The Babylonian Creation
Epic," in which the Babylonian tower is erected as Marduk's throne:
the second year arrived,
They raised high the head of Esagila equaling Apsu.
Having built a stage-tower as high as Apsu,
They set up in it an abode for Marduk, Enlil, (and) Ea
In their presence he was seated in grandeur.
To the base of Esharra its horns look down. After they had achieved the building
All the Anunnaki erected their shrines.
The three hundred Igigi... ...all of them gathered,
The lord being on the lofty dais which they had built as his abode,
The gods, his fathers, at his banquet he seated:
"This is Babylon, the place that is your home!"
(6.60-72; trans. Speiser:
68-69; his italics and ellipses)
** [NB: The quotation in this note was deleted in
editing for the published version] For El's Mountain abode, see CTA 2.1.19-20;
for Baal's home on Mt. Zaphon, see RS 24.245; UT 51.5.114-120; 7.10-20. An analog
of the references to the axis mundi in ancient mythology is the story of
the tower of Babel (Gen 11:3-4). The same is true of the "mound" or "ramp" (Heb.
sullam)—not ladder—which Jacob envisioned at Bethel (Gen 28:10-22),
as McCurley argues
(140). And the design for the altar in Ezekiel's "temple vision" may also resemble
a ziggurat (Ezek 43:13-17), although Zimmerli thinks this imagery stands far in
the background (426-28).
3. With regard to two of Donaldson's
beginning points I find myself in disagreement. First, he calls Matthew 15 the
"Mountain of feeding" (122-35). He sees the healings in 15:29-31 as the introduction
to the feeding of the four thousand in 15:32-39. But this completely overlooks
the healings on the Mountain. Furthermore, this fails to take into account that
the Evangelist provides closure of the healing scene with the glorifying of God
(v.31), and opens the next narrative by introducing the disciples into the scene
(v.32). But this is, admittedly, the least clear handling of closure of the five
Second, Donaldson includes the discourse on the Mount of Olives in Matthew
24–25 among the relevant passages (157-69). He is able to show one linguistic
connection between this discourse and the commissioning in 28:16-20, the phrase
"end of the age" 24:3//28:20. But he dismisses four important indicators which
demonstrate that the Evangelist is not identifying this as a "Mountain experience"
parallel to the other five. (1) In the other five the Evangelist employs a verb
of movement (took, ascended, led, went) followed by the prepositional phrase
"to a/the Mountain" (eis oros or eis to oros). In the Olivet discourse
there is no movement ("he sat," 24:3), and the prepositional phrase is "on the
mount" (epi tou orous). (2) While Matthew specifically omits any name
for the other five mountains, 24:3 identifies this location as the Mount of
Olives (orous tôn elaiôn). (3) Each of the other five passages culminates
in specific responses by those present (e.g., "the crowds were astonished at
his teaching" 7:28). No response is recounted at the end of the discourse. And
(4) the Evangelist does not bother to identify Jesus' aggregation with society
in Matt 26:1-3, but immediately proceeds to what the chief priests and elders
were doing (26:3).
These points do not diminish the importance of the Olivet discourse; but they
do mean that the Evangelist has not constructed it in parallel fashion to the
other five. As noted above, the number five is repeatedly significant in Matthew's
overall construction of the gospel, and thus omitting Matthew 24–25 leaves five
4. Note that these are heuristic constructs rather than
ontological categories, so overlaps frequently occur. For a critique, see Grimes (1990).
5. For Deuteronomy, see Weinfeld: 388-91;
for this type of midrashic technique, see Sanders 1972
6. We have a Judean analog from the Qumran sectarians.
Qumran initiands went through a three-stage process of questioning and examination:
upon entrance, again at the end of one year, and finally after a second year,
when the initiand would be given full status (1QS 6.13-23; see Vermes: 7-8,
7. We find this same expectation of testing in the Qumran
documents: "And you, O sons of his covenant, be strong in God's testing!
Until he moves his hand for his trials to come to an end, his mysteries
shall strengthen you" (1QM 17.8-9; see also 1QS 8.4).
8. For a contemporary description and analysis of healing the
blind which demonstrates these points, see Driver: 176-79.
Three texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls inform a symbolic interpretation of
the Mountain of Healing. The first is from the "Damascus Rule" (CD; otherwise
known as the "Zadokite Document"); and the second is from the "Messianic Rule"
(1QSa). In them the handicapped are specifically excluded from membership in
the community, or, if in the community, from fully participating:
No madman, or lunatic, or simpleton, or fool, no blind man, or maimed,
or lame or deaf man, and no minor, shall enter into the Community. (CD 15;
And no one afflicted in his flesh, or paralyzed in his feet or hands, or lame,
or blind, or deaf, or mute, or afflicted in his flesh with a visible blemish.
. . . None of these shall take office within the congregation of men of renown.
. . . (1QSa 2.5-8; modified from Vermes: 102)
In contrast to this exclusion, what Jesus does on the Mountain of Healing is
transform and include the handicapped: they are no longer marginalized. This
issue of marginalization, inclusion, and healing is also pivotal in the "man
born blind" story in John, where the healed man's newly gained sight is contrasted
to the "blindness" of the Pharisees who refuse to acknowledge Jesus (esp. 9:35-41;
see also Mark 8:22-26 and 10:46-52).
The third Dead Sea text is from the "Community Rule" (1QS). This includes
a list of offenses identified as "the spirit of perversity." After several common
items, such as greed and haughtiness, the list concludes:
. . and a tongue of revilings, blind eyes and dull
ears, a stiff neck and a heavy heart in order to walk
in all the ways of darkness and guile. (1QS 4.9-11; modified from Vermes:
66-67; my emphasis)
My point is that blindness, deafness, and problems with speaking and walking
are all used here as metaphors of social deviance, and specifically resistance
against—and failure to obey—the community's norms. The three zones are again
employed: hands-feet ("walks"), eyes-heart ("blind" and "a heavy heart"), and
mouth-ears ("tongue of revilings" and "dull ears"). I am arguing that the Evangelist
is interested in both the physical level as a healing-miracle story, but also
in the symbolic level of transforming the resistant or ignorant to the obedient.
Note the Evangelist's use of Isa 9:1-2 in Matt 4:15-16, which employs the metaphors
of sitting in darkness and seeing a great light for ignorance and revelation.
9. The healing of the people as a function of Judean leadership
(being a "shepherd") is connected with the Mountain in Ezek 34:1-31, where the
prophet is directed to shame the leadership for taking care of themselves rather
than the people (see also Zech 11:15-17). Ezekiel's prophecy does not only reproach
the leaders, but speaks of Yahweh taking care of the people's needs (for Ezekiel,
see Zimmerli: 203-23;
for the translation of "shame" for the Hebrew hôy, see Hanson 1994):
Thus says the Lord Yahweh: "Shame on you shepherds. . . . The weak
you have not strengthened, the ill you have not healed,
the lame you have not bound up, the strayed you have not returned,
the lost you have not sought. . . . My sheep were scattered, they wandered
over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were
scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one searching and no one
seeking. . . ."
"And with good pasturage I will feed them, and on the Mountain heights
of Israel shall be their habitation. . . . I myself will shepherd my sheep,
and I myself will make them lie down," says the Lord Yahweh. "The lost I will
seek and the strayed I will return, and the lame I will bind up, and
the weak I will strengthen . . . I will feed them with justice."
"And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing.
. . . And you are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God," declares
the Lord Yahweh. (Ezek 34:2b,4,6,14-16,26a,31)
Not only will Yahweh heal, comfort, strengthen, and gather, but, instead of
aimlessly wandering on mountains, the people will be blessed on Yahweh's "hill."
The symbol of Mountain (har) as the dangerous place where sheep get lost,
sick, and injured is replaced with the hill (gib'ah) of Yahweh's blessing.
If the Evangelist did not have this prophetic passage in mind in the construction
of 15:29-31, he certainly employed similar symbols to speak of the transformation
on the Mountain of Healing.
10. For further examples of this narrative/ritual motif
of falling upon one's face when experiencing a theophany or angelophany, see
Gen 17:2; Lev 9:24; Judg 13:20; 1 Kgs 18:39; Ezek 3:23; 9:8; 43:3; 44:4; Dan
8:17; 10:9; Tob 12:16; Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14; Rev 7:11; 11:16.
11. Between this conclusion and the encounter of the risen
Jesus and Mariam Magdalene and the other Mary (vv9-10), the Evangelist situates
the story of the tomb guards, who are paid off by the Judean leadership to spread
a concocted story about Jesus' body being stolen (vv11-15). With this sequence
the Evangelist establishes several things for the audience: loyalty and gender
division (the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection), social geography
(the traditio-historical combination of the Jerusalem and Galilean resurrection
traditions), external boundaries and conflict (the continuation of conspiracy
against Jesus among the Judean leadership), and internal hierarchy (the singling
out of the Eleven).
12. The passive construction "has been given" [edothê]
is the oblique way of referring to God's action (see e.g., Matt 10:19; 19:11),
the so-called "divine passive."
13. Note that Mark 16:1-8, John 20:26-29; and 21:20-23
all conclude with the narrative left open. Of the four canonical gospels, only
Luke 24:44-53 provides narrative closure for both Jesus and the disciples.
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