Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

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Ben C. Smith
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Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Sun Apr 08, 2018 12:54 pm

We are all of us familiar, no doubt, with the issues surrounding Jesus having been raised from the dead either "on the third day" or "after three days" (link). And some time ago I speculated about the possible existence of an early tradition in which Jesus was raised from the dead after six days (link), a tradition whose principal remnant is that the Transfiguration (a resurrection surrogate) took place "after six days" in Matthew 17.1 and Mark 9.2, in imitation of the six days which Daniel spent in the lions' den in Bel and the Dragon [1.]31.

I noted at the time that Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, says that the Transfiguration happened "about eight days" afterward:

Luke 9.28: 28 About eight days [ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτω] after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

There is some scriptural precedent for eight days being of some importance:

Leviticus 23.33-36: 33 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 34 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Tabernacles [σκηνῶν] for seven days to the Lord. 35 On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. 36 For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day [ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ὀγδόη] you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.'"

Leviticus 23.39: 39 "On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of Yahweh for seven days [ἑπτὰ ἡμέρας], with a rest on the first day [τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ πρώτῃ] and a rest on the eighth day [τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ]."

Ezekiel 43.25: 25 "For seven days you shall prepare daily a goat for a sin offering; also a young bull and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be prepared. 26 For seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it; so shall they consecrate it. 27 And when they have completed the days, it shall be that on the eighth day and onward, the priests shall offer your burnt offerings on the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,' declares the Lord God."

But I doubt that these pieces of Mosaic legislation and prophetic reinterpretation comprise the sole and immediate background to the Lucan eight days; Peter does suggest in Luke 9.33 that he and the disciples erect tabernacles for Jesus and his two guests, but I think there is more going on, as well. Indeed, these scriptural passages themselves are probably the result of the same kind of sabbatical speculation upon which I imagine Luke was drawing: to wit, the eighth day of the week (so to speak) is actually the first day of the week again. Eight/eighth is, in this case, an especially symbolic way of saying one/first.

Gnostic texts capitalized on this symbolism, naturally, with their sacred Ogdoad: an eighth sphere located outside the seven spheres governed by the seven known planets (in order from earth, in the Ptolemaic scheme: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn).

Resurrection, as the beginning of new life, was also a natural fit for this kind of symbolism; the original creation took six days, with God resting on the seventh, and now it is time for a new creation on the eighth day:

Barnabas 15.8-9: 8 Πέρας γέ τοι λέγει αὐτοῖς· Τὰς νεομηνίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ σάββατα οὐκ ἀνέχομαι. ὁρᾶτε, πῶς λέγει; οὐ τὰ σάββατα ἐμοὶ δεκτά, ἀλλἃ ὃ πεποίηκα, ἐν ᾧ καταπαύσας τὰ πάντα ἀρχὴν ἡμέρας ὀγδόης ποιήσω, ὅ ἐστιν ἄλλου κόσμου ἀρχήν. 9 διὸ καὶ ἄγομεν τὴν ἡμέραν τὴν ὀγόην εἰς εὐφροσύνην, ἐν ᾗ καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν καὶ φανερωθεὶς ἀνέβη εἰς οὐρανοίς. / 8 And, further, he says unto them, "Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot endure." See now what he means. The sabbaths that are now are not acceptable unto me, but that which I have made is, even that in which, after that I have brought all things to an end, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, which is the beginning of another world. 9 Wherefore we keep the eighth day as a day of gladness, on which also Jesus rose from the dead and, after he had appeared, ascended unto heaven.

John 20.24-29: 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 The other disciples therefore were saying to him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." 26 And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, "Peace be with you." 27 Then He said to Thomas, "Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing." 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" 29 Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."

As noted above, the eighth day of the week is actually the first day of the week, so it is not surprising to find Jesus being raised on a Sunday in the canonical gospels:

Matthew 28.1: 1 Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.

Mark 16.2: 2 And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

Mark 16.9: 9 Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons.

Luke 24.1: 1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices which they had prepared.

John 20.1: 1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.

John 20.19: 19 When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

(These gospels have conveniently combined an absolute dating, the first day of the week, with a relative dating, on the third day or after three days.)

Unless I miss my mark, then, some tradent in the Lucan line has selected "eight days" for its symbolic value as representing a resurrection (which the Transfiguration event itself symbolizes). This selection would make perfect sense as a substitute for yet another number, six, with (according to my hypothesis) its own symbolic value representing a resurrection from the dead. That the number six once had this value, ex hypothesi, was quickly becoming dated information as the more potent symbolism surrounding the number eight gradually took over.

Ben.
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by gmx » Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:26 am

Ben, what is the significance of "about" with reference to eight days? Is this Luke attempting to stay true to tradition (6 days), while allowing him to invoke the "scriptural precedent" of eight days? If Luke knows the tradition of six days, and he has investigated everything from the beginning, what does his revision to about eight days really mean?
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:52 am

gmx wrote:
Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:26 am
Ben, what is the significance of "about" with reference to eight days? Is this Luke attempting to stay true to tradition (6 days), while allowing him to invoke the "scriptural precedent" of eight days? If Luke knows the tradition of six days, and he has investigated everything from the beginning, what does his revision to about eight days really mean?
That is a great question. The "about" is a bit weird no matter what model we think we prefer, right? If we are taking things very literally and historically, for example, what kind of information could Luke have had about this incident that would allow him to "correct" the six days, but only to the wishy-washy "about" eight days? On my own view, if the number is symbolic, why not just nail it? Why not just say eight and have done?

But perhaps Luke just likes to approximate. In 3.23 Jesus is "about" 30 years old. In 9.14 there are "about" 5000 men. In 22.41 Jesus is "about" a stone's throw away. In 22.59 "about" an hour has passed. In 23.44 it is "about" the sixth hour. The same thing happens in Acts (1.15; 2.41; 10.3; 19.7).

A guess on my part is that Luke knows that such numbers are often either symbolic or just made up in the tradition before him, but he is concerned with history, so he hedges his bets and says "about" so as to claim some plausible deniability, so to speak. We can note his interest in history, which seems to me like a genuine interest to some extent, in his use of archaic vocabulary in apostolic prayers ("child/servant" in Acts 3.13, 26; 4.25, 27, 30, for example), in his use of older names for the Christian movement ("the Way" in Acts 9.2; 16.17; 18.25-26; 19.9, 23; 24.14, 22, or "Nazoraeans" in Acts 2.22; 3.6; 4.10; 6.14; 22.8; 24.5; 26.9), and in his sprinkling in of historical data and tidbits from Jewish history. So perhaps the "about" is his way of covering his bases, as it were, and not claiming to be as historically specific as the bare numbers (probably highly symbolic) would appear.

But hey, if you have other ideas, I am listening.
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Fri Apr 13, 2018 4:51 am

This is fascinating. I read your posts on the this whole thing with the Transfiguration and Peter etc with great joy, Ben! In my opinion the "after six days" is first and foremost a reference to Moses and the cloud at Sinai, Ex 24:16, and I speculate that the common denominator between resurrection, creation, six days and eight days is covenant. I.e. the basic idea that entering into God's covenant is a new creation. I suspect this is the theological reason that circumcision had to be done on the eighth day (Gen 17:12; Lev 12:3) even though no reason is ever given in the Bible (AFAIK), because this was the 'first' day, the day of creation.

In a way the Sinai event was Israel's collective circumcision (or baptism, if you will). God elected Israel and in a way he 'created' them when he 'called' from Egypt and made them into a nation by establishing his covenant with them at Sinai. Just like Mark also has Jesus 'call' his new Israel on a mountain in Mark 3 as a new election ("he called those he wished", Mark 3:13). This new Israel, the twelve apostles, is also named in Mark 3, which also in a significant way marks a new creation, cf. Gen 1. As such it also makes sense that naming happens in connection with baptism where one gets one's Christian name. But when Luke tells us of the naming of both JtB and Jesus it also happens on the day of circumcision, the eighth day (1:59; 2:21), which seems to reflect normal Jewish custom as far as Luke is concerned.

It seems to me that there was already in place a thought-out Jewish theology of 'new creation' connected with the rite of circumcision and naming, with the earliest Christian theologians simply changing or reinterpreting it into the Christian form of the 'new' covenant at baptism. There could very well have been a sort of 'eighth day' mysticism. Consider also that the divinely designed tabernacle ordered at Sinai was built in six stages and rest for the seventh stage, and as such the eighth stage was the inauguration described at the conclusion of the Book of Exodus, the beginning of the covenantal order, the temple cult. It is described the same way as the Sinai event with God's glory enveloping everything in the form of a cloud (Ex 40:34). Just as the mountain of God with the cloud is a symbol for God's abode in the heavens, so the Sinai event is mimicked with the tabernacle, being God's abode on earth. God, with his covenant and Law, his 'wisdom', moving into his new house here on earth among Israel.

Maybe this is part of the context within which we can understand Peter's weird suggestion at the Transfiguration of building three "tabernacles". The Transfiguration has Sinai written all over it, as I see it. And maybe this is also what connects the Transfiguration with the Prologue of gJohn ("And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen his glory ... The law indeed was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"). John is also very aware of the motif of "the Prophet", i.e. the 'new Moses' of Deut 18:15 with whom Jesus is identified at the Transfiguration: "Hear him!"

When Luke apparantly changes the "six days" to "(about) eight days" I believe he may have in mind that the resurrection of Jesus (the concrete thing that is prefigured at the Transfiguration) is a type for baptism, and baptism is an event of covenant inclusion and a new creation. If the Sinai event of the Israelites was understood by the Christians in connection with the theological considerations concerning baptism and therefore a new creation and resurrection, it makes sense that it happen "after six days" but also "about eight days after".
Last edited by Stefan Kristensen on Fri Apr 13, 2018 5:06 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Stefan Kristensen » Fri Apr 13, 2018 5:02 am

Although not directly related to the topic at hand, perhaps we can see another parallel between the Transfiguration and the Sinai event. When Moses comes down from Sinai the faithless Israelites have created their own god, the golden calf. The parallel in gMark would be the "faithless generation" at the base of the mountain of Transfiguration.

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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Apr 17, 2018 5:54 am

Thanks, Stefan. I do think we are possibly at least in the correct area of inquiry, at any rate, however each individual interpretation may stand or fall. :)
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Apr 17, 2018 8:39 am

The origin of the religious interest in the number eight in Hebrew tradition has two contexts:

1. the idea that sh'monah is relate to 'fat' as the excess of the holy number 7 - http://www.balashon.com/2006/05/shmoneh.html
2. the related idea that the ancient Israelites crossed the Sea during the motzae shabbat - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motza%27ei_Shabbat
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by perseusomega9 » Tue Apr 17, 2018 8:59 am

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 12:54 pm
I noted at the time that Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, says that the Transfiguration happened "about eight days" afterward:

Luke 9.28: 28 About eight days [ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι ὀκτω] after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

Thanks for isolating that, it solidifies in my mind that this event was originally a resurrection appearance since the 8th day is first day of the new creation.

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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:46 am

In the Syriac text איך is the corresponding terminology which means 'as if.' In Hebrew it means 'how.'
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Re: Transfiguration, eight days, and the first day of the week.

Post by Secret Alias » Tue Apr 17, 2018 10:05 am

I don't think there is a single attestation for this reading in Luke. Period. It is yet another example of Luke being constructed against the Marcionites/followers of Mark who saw the 'sixth day' as deeply significant - so significant that both Irenaeus and Clement mention the exact same information separately. Luke, the great anti-heretical gospel. Helping define Paul as anti-gnostic one lie and misrepresentation at a time. Date for Luke once again late second century.
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