Where did the Transfiguration take place?

Q. This week we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6). Do we know exactly where the Transfiguration took place? The Bible says it was on a mountain, but it doesn’t say which one.

A. The first three Gospels provide an account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36); the Second Epistle of Peter recalls it (1 Peter 1:16–18); and the Gospel of John has a statement that may allude to it (John 1:14). Yet none of these passages specify the mountain on which it took place. As usual, scriptural scholars have long speculated and debated about the matter.

In the third century, the Alexandrian theologian and biblical commentator Origen (c. 184–c. 253) and other Christian writers identified the site of the Transfiguration as Mount Tabor. This mountain rises in lower Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, eleven miles west of the Sea of Galilee, in what is now the modern nation of Israel. It was the site of the ancient Battle of Mount Tabor, between the Israelites and the Canaanites, described in the Old Testament (see Judges chapters 4 and 5). Some rabbis have referred to the mountain, which has a strategic location for both trade and military purposes, as “the navel of the world.”

Given this ancient tradition, Tabor has been a place of Christian pilgrimage for many centuries. The Church of the Transfiguration, part of a Franciscan monastery complex, stands there today and was completed in 1924. But this structure was built on the ruins of an ancient Byzantine church (constructed in the fourth or fifth century), and a twelfth-century Catholic Church built during the Crusader period. A Greek Orthodox church and monastery, built in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stand on Tabor as well. These, too, were built on the ruins of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches.

Scholars have suggested several other mountains in Israel as alternate locations for the Transfiguration: Mounts Banias, Meron, Hermon, and Nebo. But ancient tradition and long centuries of church-building and pilgrimage favor Mount Tabor as the place.