Transformed on the Mountain
Ritual Analysis and the Gospel of Matthew*

K. C. Hanson
Wipf and Stock Publishers
Eugene, Oregon 97401

kchanson [at] wipfandstock [dot] com

Published in Semeia 67 (1994[95]) 147–70
(© 1995 Society of Biblical Literature; Reprinted here by permission of the publisher)


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

Feel the angel of the present
In the mighty crystal fire
Lift me up and soothe my darkness
Let me travel even higher
(from Morrison ©1982)

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 intimately connected.
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 significance 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 mean:
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 (Geertz: 91, 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 of symbols.
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 gês , Hebrew tabbûr ha-'arets (see e.g., Eliade 1959b:38–47; Terrien: 315–20; McCurley: 139–41). 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 socalled 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; Levenson: 115–20; contra Sperling: 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 reads:
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: 73)
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)
Levenson's 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 to God.

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" analysis.3

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:

insert FIGURE #1: Rite—Ritual and Ceremony

We now turn to developing the implications of the left side of this chart. Victor Turner (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). If Driver 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 argues:
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)

M. McVann 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" (anêxthê) 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 v. 3), "the devil" (ho diablos vv. 5, 8, 11), or "satan" (satana v. 10) culminate in the ascent to "a very high mountain" (eis oros upsêllon lian ) in v. 8. Jesus is now alone with his ordeal-master on the mountain to complete his testing.
This ordeal, or ritualized initiation (peirasthênai, v. 1b), 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 defended! 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 (vv. 3–4), the temple pinnacle (vv. 5–7), and the mountain (vv. 8–10)—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, intensification, 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 ordeal.
The final step of the ritual is taken with Jesus' aggregation into the community: he went to Galilee to settle in Capernaum (v. 12). This leads into his ministry of preaching repentance (vv. 14–17) and the calling of disciples (vv. 18–22). 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 18:15–18,25–27).

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 disciples 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 status.

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" (v. 29). 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 (v. 30). 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 (v. 31). 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 (v. 32), and then they depart for the region of Magadan (v. 39).

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. Vv. 9–13 narrate the action "while they descended the mountain" (v. 9), and full aggregation is not mentioned until v. 14: "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" (v. 1). 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)
McCurley clearly 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 v. 9 (horama) and further indicated by the term "appeared" in v. 2 (ôpsthê).
The reaction of the three disciples was to fall upon their faces, awestruck (v. 6). 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[8]; 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 as apostles.
The Evangelist extends the aggregation into a dialogue on the way down the mountain (vv. 9–13). v. 9 begins with them descending the mountain; but they do not fully aggregate until v. 14 "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" (v. 16); this separates them from Judea and Jerusalem, and from Galilee itself. Note that the phrase "to which Jesus directed them" modifying "mountain" (v. 16b) 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" (v. 18; 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 (v. 20b). 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 persecution, 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 cultures, 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 studies.
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:
    When 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 of Esagila,
    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 mountain narratives.
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 mountain units.

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 and 1991.

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, 69–70).

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; Vermes: 92)

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 (vv. 9–10), 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 (vv. 11–15). 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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