“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, December 12, 2008

Matthew 17:1-8: Similarities to Other Theophanies

3.5 Similarities to Other Theophanies

In addition to echoing events related to Moses and Elijah, Matthew’s language is reminiscent of divine revelations in the Old Testament, most prominently Daniel’s vision of a glorious heavenly being. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor points out the strikingly similar language between Matthew 17 and Daniel 10 (Murphy-O’Connor 12):

“I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, a man clothed in linen…his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a multitude…I was left alone and saw this great vision, and no strength was left in me. My radiant appearance was fearfully changed, and I retained no strength. Then I heard the sound of his words, and as I heard the sound of his words, I fell on my face in deep sleep with my face to the ground. And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright…” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not…” (Daniel 10:5-6, 8-12)
Notice the numerous phrases which are also present in Matthew’s transfiguration account, as well as the similar sequence of events. Murphy-O’Connor remarks, “the similarities between the texts are too numerous to be coincidence” (Murphy-O’Connor 12). John uses even more of the phrases and descriptions from this text in his description of the one “like a son of man” in Revelation 1:12-18. When Matthew 17:1-8 is considered in light of these and other similar accounts of revelation, it is clear that Matthew is intentionally writing in this subgenre. Davies and Allison remark, “The motif of falling on one’s face in fear is a standard part of any heavenly ascent or revelation story. But there is more, for there is a contrast between Jesus’ face, which is shining, and the faces of the disciples, which are hidden” (Davies and Allison 703). The description of shining light, another common element in such divine epiphanies, has eschatological overtones (cf. Matthew 13:43). Matthew, then, seems to be entering into the tradition of describing theophanies with language similar to that found in apocalyptic literature. The allusion again shows how Matthew, like John in Revelation, is looking back at the entire history of redemption and revelation, and bringing it to a focus and culmination here in the person of Jesus, who ushers in the kingdom of God and is the “one like a son of man” foreseen in eschatological/apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament...

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