The Sermon on the Mount

The name "Mount of Beatitudes" is given to the place where Our Saviour delivered the "Sermon on the Mount", beginning with the Beatitudes......

The name "Mount of Beatitudes" is given to the place where Our Saviour delivered the "Sermon on the Mount", beginning with the Beatitudes. The scene of this discourse is traditionally located on Karn Hattin (or Kurun Hattîn), the Horns of Hattin, a mountain which receives its name from the little village at its northern base and from the two cones or horns which crown its summit. Karn Hattin is in Galilee in easy distance of Nazareth, Cana, and Mt. Tabor to the southwest, of Tiberias and Lake Gennesaret (the Sea of Galilee) to the east, and of Capharnaum to the northeast, in the centre, therefore, of much of the ministry of Jesus. It lies 1, 816 feet above the lake and 1,135 feet above the sea level (according to Baedeker, Palestine and Syria, Leipzig, 1898, pp. 285, 288, which has the high authority of Socin and Benzinger).

This mountain, rising above the hills that skirt the lake, is the only height to the west that can be seen from its shores. It consists of a low ridge about one-quarter of a mile long extending east and west, and rising at each extremity into a cone or horn. The horn, which is the taller, is only sixty feet above the ridge. Between the horns lies an uneven platform which could easily accomodate the crowd that followed Jesus; but it is believed that the spot on which the discourse was given is lower down, on a level place on the southern side of the mountain, corresponding with St. Luke's description (topou pedinou), 6:17, which may mean a level place, as well as a "plain". From the eastern slope of the hill there is a beautiful view, to the east, of the lake with the Jôlan (Gaulanitis) mountains beyond, to the south, the plateau of Ard el-Hamma and Mt. Tabor, and to the north the snowy height of Mt. Hermon. The tradition that there was a village on the mountain top, if true (the only proof being the remains of a wall which served as defence to a camp), might lend point to the reference in the sermon to the city which was seated on a hill and could not be hid (Matthew 5:14); and the beautiful flowers that abound there might include the unidentified "lilies of the field" (6:28). Bishop Le Camus (Notre Voyage aux Pays Bibliques, II, pp. 220-222) thought he never saw elsewhere and never imagined so lovely a variety and harmony in the beauty of flowers; other travellers are scarcely so enthusiastic, but all agree the spot has a charm of its own. The Horns of Hattin are mentioned by a feeble and late tradition as the site of the second multiplication of loaves. The Jews of the locality point out here also the tomb of Jethro, father-in-law of Moses. During the Crusades the plain below was the scene of the battle in which Saladin dealt the death-blow to French power in Palestine (3-4 July, 1187).

The church of Mount of Beatitudes Galilee

The tradition regarding the scene of the Sermon on the Mount, though usually received with a certain degree of favour by Scriptural scholars, apparently does not go back beyond the crusaders. St. Jerome, the best informed man of his day on points of this nature, knew of no such tradition and merely conjectured that the scene was on Mt. Tabor or some other high mountain of Galilee (Comm. in Ev. S. Matt. in Cap. v). The Gospels, in fact, afford but little help in determining the site. Matthew 5:1, locates the sermon on the mountain (to oros), and Luke 6:12, uses the same expression for the spot from which Our Lord descended before He preached on the "level place", 6:17. The expression most naturally "suggests that the sermon had long been traditionally connected with a mountain and seems to mean the mountain on which the sermon was delivered" (Allen, St. Matthew, New York, 1907).Some scholars even see in the definite article the indication of a particular mountain which the Evangelists suppose known to the reader; but popular curiosity concerning the scene of particular Gospel events is a growth of later date. Some interpret it as "the mountain that was at hand". Others refuse to see in the mountain a reference to any particular mountain at all, but interpret the word as meaning "the tableland, the mountainous district". To oros is used in this sense in the Septuagint translation of Genesis 19:17-30, 31:23-25 and 36:8-9, and appears to have the same meaning in Matthew 14:23, Matthew 15:29, Mark 6:46, Luke 9:28 and John 6:3. Possibly the word is to be thus interpreted here also, but St. Luke more probably refers (6:12) to a particular mountain on which Our Lord spent the night in prayer and from which he descended to the level place or tableland to preach the discourse.

According to another opinion recently put forth by certain critics, the mountain is purely ideal in Matthew, while Luke a plain is the place on which the Beatitudes were spoken. The author of the First Gospel, in the opinion of Loisy (Le Discours sur la Montagne) "desires to have for the publication of the New Law, a setting analogous to that which is described in Exodus (20:18-22) for the Old Law. The mountain of Matthew is the Sinai of the Gospel where Jesus speaks as the prince of the kingdom of God and shows himself greater than Moses . . . To seek an exact geographical determination here is no more expedient than in the case of the mountain of the temptation", which was purely, being represented as high enough to afford a view of all the kingdoms of the world. There is probably an element of truth in this opinion; nearly all the Fathers seek a symbolic meaning in the mountains (v. St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea, loc. cit.) and are probably right in attributing it to Matthew. But his account and that of St. Luke have too matter-of-fact an air to allow us to believe that either intended the mountain to be regarded as purely ideal. Matthew, believed then, that the New Law, just as the Old, was really given on a mountain. We are assuming here, of course, that the Sermon on the Mount was a genuine discourse by Our Lord, not a mere rearrangement of His sayings made by Matthew.

If we seek to determine the particular mountain to which the Evangelists allude, we cannot advance with anything like certainty beyond the ancient opinion of St. Jerome (Comm. in Ev. Matt.) that the events before and after the discourse show that it was given on some mountain in Galilee. It is not unlikely that the locality was not far distant from Capharnaum, into which Our Lord entered after finishing his discourse (Matthew 8:5; Luke 7:1); but the Evangelists do not say how soon after the discourse he entered Capharnaum. We know from their literary methods that it may have been a day, a week, or even more, for they had little interest in the chronological sequence of events, and the attempt to press details of this sort only results in interminable contradictions. Besides, the site of Capharnaum itself is uncertain. Neither Evangelist gives us a hint as to what vicinity Jesus set out from to ascend the mountain, except that it was somewhere in Galilee; how can the mountain be determined? It is true many (e.g. Stanley) assume it must have been from the lakeside or its neighbourhood; but no word in the Gospel warrants the assumption though it is the most likely one.

In favor of Karn Hattin, it is said, is the fact that it is accessible from all sides, which is thought to be demanded by the narratives of Matthew (4:25 and 5:1) and Luke (6:17). But this argument, although it is accepted by Dean Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, London, 1883, p. 369) who is usually quite rigorous in requiring proof, has little force, since the multitude did not flock to the mountain from all sides, but, according to Matthew, at least, first gathered together and followed Jesus up the mountainside. (Cf. 4:25, 5:1, with 7:28, where the multitude, not merely the disciples, are found on the spot where the sermon was delivered). There is little but negative evidence in favour of Karn Hattin; Edersheim (Life and Times of Jesus, New York, 1896) says there are several reasons which make it unsuitable, but gives none. It is near the scenes of Our Lord's greatest activity and fulfills all the requirements of the narrative. We must add, however, that so great an authority as Robinson (Biblical Researches in Palestine, III, 487) says there are a number of hills to the west of the lake equally suitable as Karn Hattin; but this hardly gives its proper force to the word, the mountain, which seems to mark the place as distinct from the hills of almost uniform height in the vicinity.

© 2023 Duns Scotus Bible Centre. All rights reserved