The perfect breast shape of Mount Tabor excited awe and wonder; it has the aura of a sacred mountain. From the dawn of history it was a place where humanity found contact with the numinous and it is hardly surprising that Christian tradition eventually located there the transfiguration of Jesus (Matt. 17:1-8).
The mountain is first mentioned in the Bible in connection with the defeat of the army of the king of Hazor at the hands of Deborah and Barak in 1125 BC. The 900 Canaanite chariots swept across the plain of Jezreel from near Megiddo, but a sudden downpour bogged them near the foot of Tabor, holding them for the Israelite charge from the mountain (Judg. 4-5). Heterodox Jewish worship on Tabor is condemned by Hosea (5:1); for Jeremiah it symbolized the might of Nebuchadnezzar (46:18). In 218 BC Antiochus III of Syria, by feigning retreat, enticed the Egyptian garrison from their position on the summit and slaughtered them in the plain. The same stratagem enabled the Roman general Placidus to defeat the Jews who, under Josephus, had built a wall around the summit in forty days (AD67). This latter text (War 4:54-61) incidentally suggests that a village existed on the summit in the C1 AD, possibly inhabited by the descendants of a garrison left behind by Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) when he consolidated Jewish control over the centre and north of the country.
The localization of the Transfiguration fluctuated at the beginning of the Byzantine period. Eusebius hesitates between Tabor and Mount Hermon, while the Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333) places it on the Mount of Olives. In 348 Cyril of Jerusalem decided on Tabor, and the support of Epiphanius and Jerome established the tradition firmly. The date of the first religious constructions is uncertain. The anonymous pilgrim of Piacenza saw three basilicas in 570. Willibaldus (723), on thecontrary mentions only one church dedicated to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The contradiction disappears if we assume three chapels architecturally linked, as in the present building.
Source: The Holy Land by Jerome Murphy- O’Connor