The story of the transfiguration began when Yeshua "brought them up alone with him on a high mountain" (Mark 9:2). Mountains are a common place to seek divine revelation. The Master enjoyed heights, often praying on hilltops and teaching on hilltops. He slipped off for prayer by Himself. He was accustomed to praying alone on a hilltop through the night. At other times, He rose early in the morning to pray at some remote location where He could pour His heart out before the Father in privacy. On that particular evening, He wanted to spend the night in prayer, but He did not go alone. He decided to take His closest disciples with Him. “He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28).
The gospels do not indicate the location of the high mountain that the Master chose. Early church tradition places the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, a prominent hill at the eastern end of the Jezreel valley, not far from Nazareth. During the Byzantine period, Christians began to make pilgrimage to Mount Tabor to remember the miracle. Byzantine Christians erected churches and monasteries atop the hill.
Despite the strong tradition, the location seems unlikely. In the days of the Master, Mount Tabor was populated and fortified by military installations. The Sanhedrin used Tabor as part of their network of hills on which they lit signal fires to announce the sighting of the new moon. Occupied Mount Tabor does not seem like an appropriate place for the private, mystical revelation of the transfiguration. Even during the Byzantine Era, Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea and church historian, suggested that the transfiguration should be associated with Mount Hermon near Caesarea Philippi.
The gospels place the story of Peter’s confession some forty-five miles northwest of Mount Tabor, in the region of Caesarea Philippi. The city of Caesarea Philippi sat at the base of lofty Mount Hermon, the highest peak in Israel. Mount Tabor stands some fifty miles away, back in the territory of Herod Antipas. The geography of the story suggests the heights of Mount Hermon as the most likely candidate for the location. This does not imply that the Master brought His disciples to the peaks of Mount Hermon. To climb to the top of Hermon would be a serious Alpine ascent, occupying an entire day, scrambling up the slopes like mountain climbers. More likely, Yeshua merely took His disciples onto one of the surrounding ridges or partially up one of the slopes of Hermon.
Mount Hermon already had mystical associations in Jewish literature and lore. It had messianic associations as well. Psalm 133 connected the “dew of Hermon” with the anointing oil. The mountain’s remote location afforded the Master a private location to bring His disciples; its magnificent grandeur and awe-inspiring heights provided the appropriate, heavenly-Sinai environment. Ultimately, it does not matter where the transfiguration occurred. The important thing is that it testified to the coming kingdom and the splendor of King Messiah.