Transfigured in Light

“Transfigured in Light”
A reflection on Matthew 17:1-9 and Exodus 34:29
Solemnity of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Year A)
©️2023 Gloria M. Chang

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

Exodus 34:29 (ESV)

Horns of Light

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus, like Moses on Mount Sinai, “sent out rays.” In Exodus, the Hebrew verb qaran (to send out rays) describes the skin of Moses’ face, which “shone” after his meeting with the Lord. Derived from the noun qeren, which means “horn,” the etymon denotes authority, strength, and might. In ancient cultures, animal horns served as weapons, trumpets, and regal headdresses. Reflecting an ancient mindset, the Latin Vulgate translates qaran as “horned.” See Exodus 34:29-30 below:


Cumque descenderet Moyses de monte Sinai, tenebat duas tabulas testimonii, et ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua ex consortio sermonis Domini. Videntes autem Aaron et filii Israel cornutam Moysi faciem, timuerunt prope accedere.


And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord. And Aaron and the children of Israel, seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near.

Moses by Michelangelo
Photo credit: Jörg Bittner Unna, CC BY 3.0
Icon of the Transfiguration

Michelangelo’s horned Moses sculpture literally portrays the Vulgate rendering. Symbolized by horns in the Hebrew Scriptures, divine power and authority radiated from Christ on the mountain as a blinding light, bright as the sun.

Transfigured in light and set ablaze,
Jesus, the new Moses, sent out rays.

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