"Rabbi, it is good that we are here": Moses, Elijah, and John in Mark's transfiguration story (9:2-8)

George William Ssebadduka, Marquette University


Few scholars would question the importance of John the Baptist in Mark's presentation of Jesus. As Mark informs us in 1:7-8, John is the forerunner of Jesus, the messiah. However, when it comes to determining the extent of the Baptist's figure in Mark's gospel narrative, a consensus is hard to come by. Most of us are content with Mark's initial information and see no need to look for John elsewhere in the narrative. In this dissertation I have argued that John's influence is more widespread than his initial mention in Mark 1:4-11 appears to suggest. I have argued that Mark arranges his whole gospel narrative in a way as to highlight the distinction between Jesus, whom Mark believes to be the messiah, and John the Baptist, whom he considers Jesus' forerunner. Within this arrangement, the Transfiguration story (9:2-8) functions as the climactic point of this comparison. On the one hand Jesus' identity is to be sought with God (9:2-3, 7), on the other, John's identity is to be found in OT figures associated with the end times. I back up this thesis by: (1) distinguishing, in Mark's Transfiguration story, between Jesus' transformation (Mark 9:2-3, 6b, 7-8) and the Elijah-Moses material (Mark 9:4-6a); (2) showing that Mark's introduction of these two OT figures is the result of Mark's on-going effort, apparent in his quotations of Scripture in 1:2-3, to link John the Baptist to these messianic figures; and (3) showing that Mark's intention in identifying John with OT figures is to distinguish him from Jesus, whom Mark believes to be the messiah. The two methods most emphasized in this investigation are form and redaction criticism. The method of form criticism is applied to narratives, in Chapter Two, which relate divine encounters and in Chapter Three to Mark's Transfiguration story. The results of the method in both Chapters show that Mark's Transfiguration story exhibits a structure and language similar to that normally associated with encounters between the deity and humans. Hence, it is a theophany. The method of redaction criticism is tested in Chapter Three on the section which traces the figures of Moses and Elijah to Mark's effort to contrast Jesus with John, and in Chapter Four on the effort to reconstruct Mark's christology in the light of the findings of this dissertation. This method reveals a widespread interest by the evangelist to highlight those incidents in Jesus' ministry which bring out more clearly the contrast between Jesus, the messiah, and John the Baptist, the Elijah and Moses redivivus. In retrospect, this investigation achieves the following: (1) it draws attention to the tension between Jesus' transfiguration (9:2-3, 6b, 7) and the Elijah-Moses material (9:4-6a); (2) it demonstrates that enough evidence exists in Mark's narrative to identify John the Baptist with the two OT figures of Mark 9:4; (3) it shows that the disciples' reaction is evidence of their failure to realize that the unity which the two OT figures exhibit before Jesus is afforded by John, in whom the roles of the two coalesce; (4) it highlights the irony involved in identifying Jesus with OT figures. Jesus' identity belongs with God. Any attempt, therefore, to link him to OT figures is a misunderstanding.

Recommended Citation

Ssebadduka, George William, ""Rabbi, it is good that we are here": Moses, Elijah, and John in Mark's transfiguration story (9:2-8)" (1995). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9626944.