§ 69. The Transfiguration

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 69.

The Transfiguration.

1. The synoptic report.

Luke has done a great favour to those who like to get rid of a miracle by means of natural explanations, or who, like
Schleiermacher, are at least satisfied if they can keep the miracle, in all its ghastly essence at bay and leave it in that mysterious distance in which they no longer need to worry about it.

Peter and the others, with whom Jesus had gone up the mountain, Luke says, had fallen into a deep sleep when Moses and Ellas appeared and talked with the Lord. Only when they awoke, they saw the glory of Jesus and the two men at His side, and when they departed from Him, Peter said to Jesus: “Master, it is beautiful here, let us build three huts, one for you, one for Ellas and one for Moses” (Luk 9, 31 – 34). “Every attentive reader,” Schleiermacher triumphs, “easily sees that the assertion that the two were Ellas and Moses has its basis only in the half-asleep remarks of Peter *). But whether Peter and the two others were still half asleep or completely asleep when they awoke, Luke did not like to tell us anything more precise about this; rather, every attentive reader will easily see that his opinion is that Peter had judged correctly about the strange apparitions and that his mind was very clear when he awoke. But we shall see at once that Luke was not very fortunate in inserting the invention of his head into the account of Mark. How then does he know, or how is the reader to know, how it became known that the two holy men “talked with Jesus of his going forth, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem?” Is it not the custom of this kind of ideal view, with which we have here to do, to set in motion the simplest means? Should it, after having once drawn the three chosen disciples, Peter and the Zebedees, into the secret, now once more trouble Jesus, that he should afterwards instruct the disciples about the subject of that conversation? What a thing! What an absurdity, moreover, that Peter, as is certainly necessary when he has slept through the main matter, should, at the moment when the two strangers parted, have the idea whether he should not build huts for them. He could only grasp this thought when they were standing quietly beside the Lord and talking to him. Mark has presented the matter correctly when he has Peter make this suggestion precisely in relation to the fact **) that the men were standing next to the Lord and talking to him. Mark knows nothing of the disciples sleeping; but to them, he says, appeared Ellas ***) and Moses, and they conversed with the Lord; for Mark says nothing of the strangers conversing with Jesus about his exit; he relies on the fact that every reader will put into their connection the immediately preceding discourse of Jesus about his body and this glorification itself. Mark now says that Jesus took the three most worthy disciples with him up the mountain; naturally, so that they might be witnesses of his glorification. Luke also uses the expression that Jesus took the three with him, but he destroys the whole structure of the story when he – to use his favorite formula – suddenly forgets about the disciples, the narrative that draws us towards the following miracle stagnates and interrupts, and he notes that Jesus went up the mountain “to pray.”

*) a. a. O. p. 148. If one wishes, they can read on page 149 how Jesus avoided getting “involved in this dark event.”

**) that is, that ἀποκριθεὶς. Mark 9, 5.

***) V. 4. ὤφθη αὐτοῖς. Luke also still has this keyword: xai ιδού άνδρες…… οι οφθεύτες εν δόξα……


Luke has also twisted the ending. While Peter was talking about building a hut, a cloud came and overshadowed them. And they were afraid when they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son. Hear him! And when the voice came, Jesus was found alone. The repeated “they” is disturbing, the remark that the disciples were afraid interrupts the train of the narrative, makes the way in which the figures disappear dragging and much too slow and destroys the contrast between the lively scene and the solitude of Jesus which followed it. Mark knew better how heavenly apparitions must disappear: and there came, he says, a cloud which overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, and said; that is …. . and looking around at that very moment, they saw no one but Jesus alone with them. (The remark before (v.7) “for they were afraid,” the remark which is supposed to explain the senselessness of Peter’s proposal, is certainly a foreign addition borrowed from Luke. If Mark wanted the disciples to be afraid, he would have already made arrangements for it before, that is, he would have mentioned it before the appearance. Now he only has to deal with Peter and his proposal.)

Only at the end, when the voice already comes from the cloud, he is misled by Luke, by the remark that the disciples, when they heard it, fell on their faces and were very afraid, and that Jesus first had to come near and touch them and speak to them: Rise up and do not be afraid, to weaken the contrast that the men were there a moment ago, and that “now, when they opened their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus alone. That the disciples were afraid is a remark that is too clumsy in any case, but here, where they were supposed to be all ears for that very voice, it was in the wrong place.


When Luke says that the disciples were afraid when the apparition finally caught their eyes and even slept soundly when the heavenly guests appeared to the Lord, he wants to illustrate the sublimity of the apparition and by the latter remark its tremendous force, to which the disciples’ humanity had to succumb.

Only at the end does Mark, in his vivid manner, bring his reflection on the profound significance of the apparition, when he says (C. 9, 9) that when Jesus came down from the mountain, he forbade the disciples to speak to others of what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. That is, only when his resurrection had opened the eyes of all would others be able to understand the meaning of this vision. Jesus, i.e. Mark, therefore presupposes that they, the three, already understood this meaning, so the following remark (v. 10), which is in itself extremely incoherent, that “the disciples held fast the word, asking one another what it meant to rise from the dead”, does not in the least come from Mark. A later glossator inserted a reflection here, which only Luke inserted into the type of the Gospel story. In Mark’s account, this remark is not in its place, as it would be too crude a pile-up of questions if the disciples, who had just been asking themselves what it meant to rise from the dead, were to raise the question at the same moment of what the statement of the scribes that Elijah must first come meant. Matthew (17:9) also only tells of that prohibition of Jesus, so he knows nothing of that strange, childish question of the disciples about the meaning of one of the most well-known words in the Gospel of Mark. He only knows that the disciples questioned their master about the assertion of the scribes when they were coming down the mountain. Luke, who brought the meaning of the vision to recognition by other means, omits the prohibition of Jesus and only reports that the three remained silent on the matter and “did not tell anyone what they had seen” for “those days.” But what “in those days” means can only be understood by the reader who is also fortunate enough to possess the original Gospel.


Mark expressed in his vivid style that even the three disciples could not immediately understand the meaning of the vision. Peter had to step forward and speak as if he believed that the vision, which should only be understood as a passing revelation of an eternal idea, could be positively grasped and celebrated. However, the disappearance of the vision taught the disciples about its meaning, and if there was still any point that remained unclear to them, Mark ensures their complete understanding through the following conversation about Elijah.

*) Correct Calvin: Petrus stupidus speciem illam, quae temporalis erat, aeternam fore somniat. Quid quod hoc modo regnum Christi viginti aut triginta pedum angustiis inclusum fuisset?

2. The Johannine account of the transfiguration 

Joh. 12, 28 -36.

Earlier the question was raised why John knew nothing of the transfiguration or did not report it. How great was the embarrassment in which the theologians were placed by this question can be seen from the answers with which they tried to justify their most beloved evangelist because of his silence. Hoffmann, among others, gives the theological answer to the question that has earned the best credit today, when he says*) that the Transfiguration is “again an event whose absence in the Fourth Gospel was to be expected in advance, because it belongs exclusively to the portrayal of Jesus’ omnipotent becoming the perfected God-man. “

*) a. a. O. p. 375.


It would be wrong for us not to give vent to our displeasure at this foolishness, and not to call a foolishness which is a thousandfold. Humanity, insulted and so shamefully insulted for so many centuries, may and must even, if it is to be deceived with such folly and is now still being deceived, call foolishness foolishness.

So when once a man is changed in his form – Mark 9, 2 μετεμορφώθη – when his “garments are white as snow, as white as no dyer on earth can make them white, begin to shine – ” then has he only become “the perfected God-man?” Furthermore, if that process was really a link in the development of Jesus into the perfected God-man, if Jesus really had to become the perfected one, etc., even during his public activity, and if Jesus’ favourite disciple, who was also present on the Mount of Transfiguration, reports nothing of this process, nothing of that gradual becoming, has he not concealed from us an essential, very important and very strange side of his Master’s life? Has he not portrayed this life very one-sidedly, and therefore also very wrongly, when he says nothing of that becoming? Has he not then portrayed the life of Jesus in such a way that we must now think that this becoming was no longer necessary for the Lord once he had appeared?

Only a theologian can write such filthy blasphemies. But this blasphemy is no more and no less filthy than the other with which the theologian must now insult the Jesus of the Synoptics. Is this Jesus a man who must first become the completed one, etc.? Is he not already so from his baptism, has he not proved himself as such in the temptation, does he not speak and act as the completed Messiah as soon as he has won the first disciples and gone with them to Capernaum? Was the voice that called out to him at his baptism (Mark 1:11), “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, the voice of a liar?


Look, the theologians want to tempt us to such blasphemies, to such folly.

Jesus – this is how Mark wants us to view the matter – is not only brought closer to the perfection of the Messiahship through the transfiguration, he is rather the perfected Messiah from the beginning, the Lord over life and death, the Lord of the universe, but the revelation of his glory only becomes more definite, more powerful and more explicit, it becomes so for the disciples and because it is only to become clearer for them, that is why Jesus takes them up the mountain where he knows that his glory will dawn on them in a new light.

The Fourth, however, saw the matter partly with a theological eye and thought that what he read in Mark was an event that had been of importance for the development of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus himself. Perhaps he is suppressing a view that was contrary to his own? No. He did it as he had done in the past; he included a trait in his writing which, if he had wanted to proceed consistently, he would have had to suppress.

In other respects, too, he proceeded in such an inconsistent manner. For example, he could not acknowledge the significance of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel; instead of not mentioning Jesus’ baptism, which only in that sense is not only worthy, but only significant, he nevertheless lets the Baptist remember it, but in a way that cannot be more degrading.

Of course, he does not want to know anything about temptation, although he has read about it in the writings of his predecessors; instead, he does not leave the Lord in the company of the devil for forty days like Mark and Luke, but during his whole public life the Lord must now have to deal with the devils. The Jewish people have become a bunch of children of the devil and Judas is the devil who is constantly at the Lord’s side.


With the mother Jesus must not, as Mark tells us, come into unkind fame, and yet he cannot help treating her unkindly at the wedding in Cana. If Mark at the same time puts the brothers of Jesus in opposition to him, the Fourth also picks up on this theme, and he has since learned (!) that it was during the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus’ brothers demonstrated their unbelief.

The Fourth should least of all (C. 6, 42) have let the people speak as if Joseph were the father of Jesus, since he had been better instructed on this subject from the Scriptures of Luke and since, according to his dogmatic presupposition, the eternal Logos could not have a human father. Indeed! However, that formula, which only has its natural, human, and dignified meaning in the scripture of Mark, was extremely convenient for him personally, as he believed his readers, who had taken part in the progress of Christian consciousness, would understand it correctly and be offended by the false rumor of Jesus’ low origin. As we have seen in the criticism of his gospel, he even often used this irony, and its meaning has now become completely clear to us.

He should not have reported anything about the Transfiguration, but he did so anyway, but he did it in such a way that Jesus himself leads it, forcibly opens the heavens, and compels the Father to glorify him and bear witness to his glory. “Father, glorify your name – of course in the Son,” he cries. And a voice came from heaven, *) “I have glorified him and will glorify him again.” According to the Fourth Gospel’s manner, it is self-evident that various opinions are now being expressed about the origin of this voice, so that – not to enlighten people about the real origin and meaning (which is not necessary since the Fourth Gospel and its readers are sufficiently informed about it), but so that Jesus can assure his dignity out of jealousy: “This voice did not come for my sake, but for yours” (C. 12, 30). Therefore, the person of Jesus, whose dignity and self-sufficiency seemed to be in danger to the author, if he should need glorification through a divine voice, is now completely secure again since he has been glorified.

*) Joh. 12, 28, ήλθε φωνή εκ του ουρανού. . . .
Mark 9, 7, ήλθε φωνη εκ της νεφέλης . . . .


Without any doubt, it is assumed that the author here only reworks the account of Mark, which we also notice, since he also has the Lord speak about his death just before, and even recites the same saying of self-denial that we find in Mark. **).

**) Joh. 12, 25, ο φιλων την ψυχήν αυτού, απολέσει αυτήν και . . . .
Mark 8, 31, δς γαρ αν θέλη την ψυχήν αυτού σώσαι, απολέσει αυτήν . . . . .

The similarity – as far as we can speak of similarity when comparing the clear presentation of Mark with the fragmented work of the author of the Fourth Gospel – is even better, much better, surprisingly so under these circumstances. In the Transfiguration, the author of the Fourth Gospel allows Jesus to speak again about his death in his pretentious and figurative way, in order to give the people an opportunity to make a – naturally quite silly – objection, just as in Mark’s account, the disciples find a difficulty after the Transfiguration in a statement made by the scripture scholars, which does not seem to agree with the previous history of salvation. *).

*) Joh. 12, 34, ημείς ηκούσαμεν εκ του νόμου the other iſt not worth to be written down.
Mark 9, 11, ότι λέγουσιν οι γραμματείς, ότι ηλίαν δεί ελθεϊν πρώτον.


Enough! If St. John allowed himself to overthrow the report of Mark in this way, it will not be too hard for us poor sinners if we give him the benefit of the doubt in a somewhat purer way. Or rather, we have only to explain that this report no longer appears to us as a report of a real external story.

Hoffmann does try to maintain it – as is the duty of every theologian – by giving us to “consider” that “Jesus was in great need of strengthening for the weaker moments of his inner life.”

Does the theologian always want to force us to express our innermost indignation about his blasphemous foolishness and foolish blasphemy? Will we never have peace? Jesus would have been weak if he spoke of his suffering in such an extraordinary way – as in Mark 8:32 – he called Peter Satan because he did not want to know anything about his suffering. Would Jesus have had such a “weak moment,” he who demanded unconditional self-denial even from his own?

You theologians are terrible!

And set the case! Is this the way a man is to be strengthened?

But Jesus, the Jesus of Mark, was strong and his strength was only revealed to the disciples in their full divinity.

“The ‘life course’ of Jesus,” Hoffmann continues, “was – what a language! – an internal development, in which even the outward expression of his exaltation did not always seem completely necessary.” If self-awareness is a prerequisite for this type of expression, then who would know how to express their inner elevation better than by electrically discharging the inner phosphorus through the pores of the skin and illuminating a coat?


If we have yet to see how the report came into being, and if it turns out that the revenge of the origin of a biblical report is its dissolution, that is not our fault.

3. Resolution of the original account.

Weisse speaks very badly of Strauss’s explanation that the meaning and purpose of this narrative was “to repeat the transfiguration of Moses in Jesus in an elevated manner, to bring Jesus together with his forerunners, and by the appearance of the Lawgiver and the Prophet at his side to represent him as the consummator of the Kingdom of God and as the fulfilment of the Law and of prophecy”. “If this were really so, we have in such outward glorification of the Messiah an indifferent as well as insignificant invention.”

We would think the invention at least witty, and very happy in the manner in which it represents Jesus as the fulfilment of the law and prophecy.

“The narrative can have a true, ideal content, says Weisse, under no other condition than if it reports, even in a figurative form, something that actually happened to those disciples who appear in it as witnesses of the transfiguration of Christ. “

Thus, for the sake of his all too great material desire, Weisse has not avoided the appearance as if – or rather, it has now really come to the point for him that the ideal is essentially conditioned for him by the fact that these three disciples experienced the thing, just as Strauss always falls into the other or rather completely corresponding error, that for him the Old Testament models are the ideal, the generating and the last positive.


If Weisse declares that which Strauss claims to be ideal content to be “idle finery and tinsel state,” then we may call that which he calls the presupposition of all ideal content only a crude block, but not the frame on which an ideal figure has its worthy place.

Rather, the inner movement and history of Christian self-awareness is the only possible and true prerequisite for the ideal content that the account carries within itself.

Weisse refers to the fact that “to the Hebrew every spiritual elevation, every deeper vision of intelligence, presents itself in the image of a vision, a foam of shining figures and a hearing of heavenly voices.”

But “every”? We know nothing of the fact that the Hebrew thought he saw heavenly visions and heard heavenly voices whenever a deeper look became possible to his intelligence. But we know for certain that when the spirit saw something in the image, that image was not always an external, real phantom – or what shall we call it? – not a real dream-face, but can also be a pure, free product of self-consciousness.

Even in truly poetic and artistic creation, the self-awareness has gone beyond itself, despite the freedom of production, because it conceives and views the essential content of the spirit as an external, independent entity. However, religious self-awareness, being absolute alienation, only becomes fully certain of its inner movements and the result of its development when it has brought them to view as a history that is foreign to itself.

We have given our explanation here.

If Weisse now says that the vision of which Mark tells us is – but we do not understand what this is supposed to mean – “a spiritual, not a sensual, an awake, not a dream vision, a vision, finally, which the three disciples themselves, not another and not even just one of them, had seen,” *), it is not only impossible and incomprehensible how the three should have seen the same phantom of a heated imagination at the same time and each in the same way, but this explanation is also contrary to the report, since according to it the vision is indeed a sensual one.

*) I, 535. 536


And what remains of the vision when Weisse says **), “the Lord later spoke to the disciples about this event and gave them an interpretation (!) to clothe the entire event in the symbolic form in which it is presented”? The only content of the vision is that Moses and Elijah are standing at the side of the transfigured Messiah, so if this symbolic form is only a later, free work of the disciples, then the vision falls into nothingness – into the same nothingness into which Weisse‘s explanation has now fallen.

*) I, 544

The ideal foundation of the account is the gradually developed self-awareness of the community that the powers of the past have found their glorified point of unity in its principle. In his plastic work, Mark has placed the two heroes of the Law and the Prophets, as it were, as attributes next to the transfigured Savior. This juxtaposition is the ingenious work of the original Gospel writer, and in order to shed the appropriate light on it and to give the great story its worthy splendor, he used a multitude of references to the story of Moses.

Moses, too, was once transfigured, and when he descended from the mountain of his transfiguration, the children of Israel were afraid to approach him: just as, according to the account of Mark – the two others did not know how to appreciate this trait, and therefore omitted it – the people, when they saw Jesus again after his return from the mountain, were terrified (Mark 9, 15). As Jesus takes the three chosen disciples with him out of the mountain, so Moses, when he ascended the mountain on an earlier occasion, takes with him three confidants besides the seventy elders. The number seven, which is modelled on the Sabbath cycle, also occurs on this occasion: Moses was on the mountain for six days: Six days Moses was on the mountain, and on the seventh day the voice from the cloud spoke to him. So Jesus climbs the mountain after six days – counting from Peter’s confession – so it was also on the seventh day when that voice from the cloud called out: “This is my dear Son! and Luke was not particularly happy when he wrote instead of the formula of his predecessor: “about eight days after that conversation” (about the suffering). Luk. 9, 28. 2 Mos. 24, 1. 16.


Wilke also pointed out the following parallels *). Moses had appointed helpers to judge the people in his name; only the more difficult matters were to be brought before him (Ex. 18, 26). When he ascended the mountain (Ex. 24, 14), he left the seventy elders with Aaron and Hur, so that whoever had a matter could turn to them. So also the disciples are below while the Lord is on the mountain, so indeed a matter is brought before them, but it is too difficult for them and is only settled by the Lord after they have tried in vain **). Matthew and Luke therefore did a great injustice when they omitted Jesus’ question to the man how long his son had been afflicted with his disease, and the man’s answer: “from childhood”, since it was precisely because this case appeared to be a very difficult one. This is what Mark is working towards when he describes in great detail the sickness of that demoniac which the disciples could not relieve, and in just as much detail the tremendous spectacle with which the unclean spirit left the son of that man at the word of Jesus. Luke has copied the former description very untidily, he does not even tell us that the demoniac was dumb, he does not describe this spectacle at all and only in the middle does he copy Mark’ description, but only incompletely, of the rage which the unclean spirit displayed the very first moment he saw Jesus. Matthew did not include any of these beautiful things in his report, called the demoniac a seriously ill moonstruck man and only used the note that the boy falls into the water and into the fire, the note that is solely motivated by Mark, to characterize the illness. (Mark 9, 22. Matth. 17, 15.)

*) p. 661. 662.

**) Mark 9, 18, xai ουκ ιοχυσαν. In Luke, too, it is by no means doubtful, as Schleiermacher thinks, whether the disciples had made an attempt; the father of the demonic says according to Luke (Ch.. 9, 41) εδεηθην των μαθητών σου, ένα εκβάλωσιν αυτό και ουκ ηδυνήθησαν. Matth. 17, 16, και ουκ ηδυνήθησαν αυτόν θεραπεύσαι.


Finally Wilke shows us another parallel, which also proves the originality of Mark’ story, how Moses, when he came from the mountain, heard from far away shouting and commotion in the camp (Ex. 32, 17) and Jesus, when he returned from the mountain, found the disciples surrounded by a large crowd and scribes and in a lively quarrel with them. Mark 9, 14. The two others do not have this trait. “One more thing! Moses has cause to complain of what happened during his absence. So Jesus must complain that his constant presence is required.”

The explanation which the report of the transfiguration has found, has now also been given to the report of the healing of the demoniac, and we shall only consider it again because of some remarks of Jesus, when we have first come to an understanding of the conversation which took place between Jesus and the three during the descent from the mountain.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)