Matthew 17


The transfiguration of Christ, 1-8.

Christ's discourse with his disciples on the subject, 9-13.

He heals a lunatic, 14-18.

His discourse with his disciples on this subject also, 19-21.

He foretells his own sufferings and death, 22, 23.

He is required to pay tribute at Capernaum, 24-26;

and provides the money by a miracle, 27.


Verse 1. After six days] Mr 9:2, has the same number; but

Luke says, Lu 9:28,

after eight days. The reason of this difference seems to be the

following: Matthew and Mark reckon the days from that mentioned in

the preceding chapter, to that mentioned in this; Luke includes

both days, as well as the six intermediate: hence, the one makes

eight, the other six, without any contradiction.

Peter, James, and John] He chose those that they might be

witnesses of his transfiguration: two or three witnesses being

required by the Scripture to substantiate any fact. Eminent

communications of the Divine favour prepare for, and entitle to,

great services and great conflicts. The same three were made

witnesses of his agony in the garden, Mt 26:37.

A high mountain] This was one of the mountains of Galilee; but

whether Mount Tabor or not, is uncertain. Some think it was Mount

Hermon. St. Luke says, Christ and his disciples went up into the

mountain to pray, Lu 9:28.

Verse 2. Was transfigured] That fulness of the Godhead, which

dwelt bodily in Christ, now shone forth through the human nature,

and manifested to his disciples not only that Divinity which Peter

had before confessed, Mt 16:16, but also the glorious

resurrection body, in which they should exist in the presence of

God to eternity.

White as the light.] But the Cod. Bezae, some of the ancient

versions, and several of the fathers, read ωςχιων, as snow; and

this is the reading in Mr 9:3.

Verse 3. Moses and Elias] Elijah came from heaven in the same

body which he had upon earth, for he was translated, and did not

see death, 2Ki 2:11. And the body of Moses was probably raised

again, as a pledge of the resurrection; and as Christ is to come

to judge the quick and the dead, for we shall not all die, but

all shall be changed, 1Co 15:51, he probably gave the full

representation of this in the person of Moses, who died, and was

thus raised to life, (or appeared now as he shall appear when

raised from the dead in the last day,) and in the person of

Elijah, who never tasted death. Both their bodies exhibit the

same appearance, to show that the bodies of glorified saints are

the same, whether the person had been translated, or whether he

had died. It was a constant and prevalent tradition among the

Jews, that both Moses and Elijah should appear in the times of the

Messiah, and to this very tradition the disciples refer,

Mt 17:10.

We may conceive that the law in the person of Moses, the great

Jewish legislator, and the prophets in the person of Elijah, the

chief of the prophets, came now to do homage to Jesus Christ, and

to render up their authority into his hands; as he was the END of

the law, and the grand subject of the predictions of the prophets.

This appears more particularly from what St. Luke says, Lu 9:31,

that Moses and Elijah conversed with our Lord on his death, which

he was about to accomplish, (πληρουν to fulfil,) because in it,

all the rites, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the law, as well as

the predictions of the prophets, were fulfilled.

Verse 4. Peter said-let us make, &c.] That is, when he saw

Moses and Elijah ready to depart from the mount, Lu 9:33, he

wished to detain them, that he might always enjoy their company

with that of his Lord and Master, still supposing that Christ

would set up a temporal kingdom upon earth.

Verse 5. A bright cloud overshadowed them] Or as six MSS. and

Ephraim read it, a cloud of light, νεφεληφωτος; which reading

GRIESBACH has admitted into the text. As a bright cloud, or a

cloud of light could not overshadow, or cast any kind of shade,

the word επεσκιασεν should be translated, surrounded them. A

cloud was frequently the symbol of the Divine presence; but such a

cloud had always something very remarkable in its appearance.

Ezekiel, Eze 1:4,

represents it as a great cloud, and a fire unfolding itself, and a

brightness about it, and out of the midst thereof, as the colour

of amber out of the midst of the fire; and in Eze 1:28, he tells

us that this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of

the Lord.

See also Ex 16:10; 40:33, &c.; Eze 43:2, and 1Ch 5:14.

But it was generally in a thick, dark cloud, that God manifested

himself under the law; see Ex 19:9; 20:21. This might be designed

as emblematical of the old covenant, which was but the shadow of

the good things which were to come, Heb 10:1;

and the cloud of light mentioned here, the emblem of that glorious

display of God, in his Gospel, by which life and immortality were

brought to light, 2Ti 1:10.

This is my beloved Son] ουτοςεστινουιοςμουοαγαπητοςενω

ευδοκησα, This is my Son, the beloved one, in who I have

delighted, or, been well pleased. God adds his testimony of

approbation to what was spoken of the sufferings of Christ by

Moses and Elijah; thus showing that the sacrificial economy of the

old covenant was in itself of no worth, but as it referred to the

grand atonement which Jesus was about to make; therefore he says,

In him HAVE I delighted, (ευδοκησα,) intimating that it was in

him alone, as typified by those sacrifices, that he HAD delighted

through the whole course of the legal administration; and that it

was only in reference to the death of his Son that he accepted the

offerings and oblations made to him under the old covenant. Hear

HIM. The disciples wished to detain Moses and Elijah that they

might hear them: but God shows that the law which had been in

force, and the prophets which had prophesied, until now, must all

give place to Jesus; and he alone must now be attended to, as the

way, the truth, and the life; for no man could now come unto the

Father but through him. This voice seems also to refer to that

prediction in De 18:15. The Lord shall raise up a Prophet like

unto me: HIM SHALL YE HEAR. Go no more to the law, nor to the

prophets, to seek for a coming Messiah; for behold he IS come!

Hear and obey him, and him only.

This transfiguration must have greatly confirmed the disciples

in the belief of a future state, and in the doctrine of the

resurrection; they saw Moses and Elijah still EXISTING, though

the former had been gathered to his fathers upwards of 1400 years,

and the latter had been translated nearly 900.

Verse 6. Fell on their face] Dismayed by the voice, and

dazzled by the glory of the cloud. So Daniel, Da 8:17,

and Saul of Tarsus, Ac 9:4.

Verse 7. Jesus came and touched them] Exactly parallel to this

account is Da 8:18,

I was in a deep sleep, i, e. (a trance) on my face towards the

ground; but he TOUCHED me, and set me upright. From Jesus alone

are we to expect Divine communications, and by his power only are

we able to bear and improve them. It is very likely that this

transfiguration took place in the night, which was a more proper

season to show forth its glory than the day time, in which a part

of the splendour must necessarily be lost by the presence of the

solar light. Besides, St. Luke, Lu 9:37, expressly says, that it

was on the next day after the transfiguration that our Lord came

down from the mount.

Verse 9. Tell the vision to no man] See the note on Mt 16:20;

and farther observe, that as this transfiguration was intended to

show forth the final abolition of the whole ceremonial law, it was

necessary that a matter which could not fail to irritate the

Jewish rulers and people should be kept secret, till Jesus had

accomplished vision and prophecy by his death and resurrection.

The whole of this emblematic transaction appears to me to be

intended to prove, 1st. The reality of the world of spirits, and

the immortality of the soul. 2dly. The resurrection of the body,

and the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, see Mt 16:27.

3dly. The abolition of the Mosaic institutions, and, the

fulfilment of the predictions of the prophets relative to the

person, nature, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ, and

the glory that should follow. 4thly. The establishment of the

mild, light-bringing, and life-giving Gospel of the Son of God.

And 5thly. That as the old Jewish covenant and Mediatorship had

ended, Jesus was now to be considered as the sole Teacher, the

only availing offering for sin, and the grand Mediator between

God and man. There are many very useful remarks on this

transaction, by the late venerable Bp. Porteus.

Verse 10. His disciples] instead of HIS disciples, some MSS.,

with the Coptic, Armenian, Vulgate, all the Itala except two, and

Origen, read simply, οιμαθηται, THE disciples, i.e. those only

who had been with him on the mount, Peter, James, and John.

Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?] As the

disciples saw that Elijah returned to heaven, knowing the

tradition of the elders, and the prophecy on which the tradition

was founded, Mal 4:5, 6,

Behold I send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and

terrible day of the Lord shall come; and he shall turn the hearts,

&c., it was natural enough for them to inquire what the meaning of

the tradition, and the intention of the prophecy, were.

Verse 11. Elias-shall first come, and restore all things.] Or

will reform, αποκαταστησει; this word our Lord quotes from the

Septuagint; who render the Hebrew vehesheb

leb aboth al banim, he will cause the heart of the fathers to turn

to the children, by, οςαποκαταστησεικαρδιανπατροςπροςυιον,

ωηοωιλλχονςερτ, or ρεστορετηεηεαρτοφτηεφατηερτοτηεσον.

We are not therefore to understand the version of the Septuagint

quoted by our Lord in any other sense than the Hebrew will allow.

No fanciful restoration of all men, devils and damned spirits, is

spoken of as either being done, or begun, by the ministry of John;

but merely that he should preach a doctrine tending to universal

reformation of manners, and should be greatly successful: see

Mt 3:1-7, and especially Lu 3:3-15, where we find that a general

reformation had taken place, 1. among the common people; 2. among

the tax-gatherers; and 3. among the soldiers. And as John

announced the coming Christ, who was to baptize with the Holy

Ghost, i.e. to enlighten, change, and purify the heart, that the

reform might be complete, both outward and inward, he may be said,

in the strictest sense of the word, to have fulfilled the

prophecy: and that he was the Elijah mentioned by Malachi, the

words of Gabriel to the virgin Mary prove; Lu 1:17.

And he (John) shall go before him (Christ) in the spirit and power

of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and

the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, &c.; and that his

ministry was powerfully effectual for this purpose, we have

already seen.

Verse 12. Knew him not] Or, ουκεπιγνωσαναυτον, They have not

acknowledged him. That is, the Jewish rulers have not

acknowledged him, did not receive him as the forerunner of the

Messiah. But it appears that all the rest acknowledged him as

such; and some, from the power and demonstration of his preaching,

were inclined to think he was more, even the Messiah himself: see

Lu 3:15.

Verse 13. Then the disciples understood] When he spoke of the

sufferings of this prophetic Elijah, and also of his own, which

had been the subject of the conversation on the mount, during the

transfiguration, they clearly apprehended that he spoke of John

the Baptist.

Verse 14. When they were come to the multitude] It appears

that a congregation had been collected during our Lord's stay on

the mount: how great must have been the desire of these people to

hear the words of Christ! The assembly is self-collected, and no

delay on the preacher's side discourages them-they continue to

wait for him. In the present day how rare is this zeal! How few

by the most pathetic invitation can be brought together, even at

the most convenient times, to hear the same doctrines, and to get

their souls healed by the same wonder-working Christ!

Kneeling down to him] Or falling at his knees, γονυπετων. The

ancients consecrated the EAR to memory; the FOREHEAD to genius;

the RIGHT HAND to faith; and the KNEES to mercy: hence those who

entreated favour fell at and touched the knees of the person

whose kindness they supplicated. See Wakefield's Commentary; and

see the note on Ex 9:29; where the subject is largely


Verse 15. My son-is lunatic] σεληνιαζεται. One who was most

affected with this disorder at the change and full of the moon.

See Clarke on Mt 4:24. But this lunacy was occasioned by a demon, see

Mt 17:18, and Mr 9:17; Lu 9:38. In this case, the devil

intended to hide himself under the appearance of a natural

disorder, that no supernatural means might be resorted to for his

expulsion. See a remarkable account on Lu 9:39.

Falleth ofttimes into the fire, and oft into the water.] The

paroxysms of his disorder frequently recurred; and among his

numerous falls, some were into the fire and some into the water:

so that, on this account, his life was in continual danger. Those

who are under the influence of the devil are often driven to

extremes in every thing. Such are often driven into the fire of

presumption, or the waters of despair. Satan takes advantage of

our natural temper, state of health, and outward circumstances, to

plague and ruin our souls.

Verse 16. Thy disciples could not cure him.] No wonder, when

the cure must be effected by supernatural agency, and they had not

faith enough to interest the power of God in their behalf,

Mt 17:20. A spiritual disorder must have a spiritual remedy:

natural means, in such cases, signify just-nothing.

Verse 17. O faithless and perverse generation!] These and the

following words may be considered as spoken: 1. To the disciples,

because of their unbelief, Mt 17:20. 2. To the father of the

possessed, who should have brought his son to Christ. 3. To the

whole multitude, who were slow of heart to believe in him as the

Messiah, notwithstanding the miracles which he wrought. See


Perverse, διεστραμμενη, signifies-1. Such as are influenced by

perverse opinions, which hinder them from receiving the truth:

and, 2. Such as are profligate in their manners. KYPKE. This

last expression could not have been addressed to the disciples,

who were certainly saved from the corruption of the world, and

whose minds had been lately divinely illuminated by what passed at

and after the transfiguration: but at all times the expression was

applicable to the Jewish people.

Verse 18. Jesus rebuked the devil] Deprived him of all power

to torment the child; and obliged him to abandon his present

usurped habitation.

There are some souls whose cure God reserves to himself alone,

and to whom all the applications of his ministers appear to be

utterly ineffectual. He sometimes does all without them, that

they may know they can never do any good without him. QUESNEL.

Verse 19. Why could not we cast him out?] They were confounded

at their want of success-but not at their want of faith, which was

the cause of their miscarriage! When the ministers of the Gospel

find their endeavours, with respect to some places or persons,

ineffectual, they should come, by private prayer, to Christ,

humble themselves before him, and beg to be informed whether some

evil in themselves have not been the cause of the unfruitfulness

of their labours.

Verse 20. Because of your unbelief] Are we preachers of the

Gospel? Do the things of God rest upon our minds with a deep and

steady conviction? Can we expect that a doctrine which we do not,

from conviction, credit ourselves, can be instrumental in our

hands of begetting faith in others? So we preached, end so ye

believed. The word preached generally begets in the people the

same spirit which the preacher possesses. Instead of απιστιαν,

unbelief, the famous Vatican MS. and Cod. Cyprius, six others,

Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Arabic, Origen, and Chrysostom,

read ολιγοπιστιαν, littleness of faith. The disciples had some

faith, but not enough-they believed, but not fully.

As a grain of mustard seed] Some eminent critics think this a

proverbial expression, intimating a GREAT DEGREE of faith, because

removing mountains, which St. Paul, 1Co 13:2, attributes to ALL

FAITH; i.e. the greatest possible degree of faith, is attributed

here, by our Lord, to that faith which is as a grain of mustard

seed. However this may be, there can be no doubt that our Lord

means, as BISHOP PEARCE well remarks, a thriving and increasing

faith; which like the grain of mustard seed, from being the least

of seeds, becomes the greatest of all herbs; even a tree in whose

branches the fowls of the air take shelter. See WAKEFIELD'S

Comment, and See Clarke on Mt 13:32.

Verse 21. This kind goeth not out but by prayer, &c.] τουτοτο

γενος, this kind, some apply to the faith which should be

exercised on the occasion, which goeth not out, doth not exert

itself, but by prayer and fasting; but this interpretation is, in

my opinion, far from solid. However, there is great difficulty in

the text. The whole verse is wanting in the famous Vatican MS.,

one of the most ancient and most authentic perhaps in the world;

and in another one of Colbert's, written in the 11th or 12th

century. It is wanting also in the Coptic, Ethiopic, Syriac,

Hieros., and in one copy of the Itala. But all the MSS.

acknowledge it in the parallel place, Mr 9:29,

only the Vatican MS. leaves out νηστεια, fasting. I strongly

suspect it to be an interpolation; but, if it be, it is very

ancient, as Origen, Chrysostom, and others of the primitive

fathers, acknowledged it. But while candour obliges me to

acknowledge that I cannot account for the fact here alleged, that

a certain class or genus of demons cannot be expelled but by

prayer and fasting, while others may be ejected without them, I

can give a sense to the passage which all my readers will easily

understand: viz. that there are certain evil propensities, in some

persons, which pampering the flesh tends to nourish and

strengthen; and that self-denial and fasting, accompanied by

prayer to God, are the most likely means, not only to mortify such

propensities, but also to destroy them. For other remarkable

circumstances relative to this case,

See Clarke on Mr 9:17, &c.

Verse 22. They abode in Galilee] Lower Galilee, where the city

of Capernaum was.

The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men]

μελλειπαραδιδοσθαιειςχειρας-The Son of man is about to be

delivered into the hands, &c. I am fully of the mind of two

eminent critics, Grotius and Wakefield, that παραδιδοσθαι should

be here translated delivered, or delivered up, not betrayed; and

that the agency, in this case, should be referred to God, not to

Judas. Jesus was delivered up, by the counsel of God, to be an

atonement for the sin of the world. See Ac 4:27, 28.

Against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed to do what

thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done, Herod and

Pontius Pilate-were gathered together.

Verse 23. They were exceeding sorry] Since the conversation on

the mount, with Moses and Elijah; Peter, James, and John could

have no doubt that their Lord and Master must suffer, and that it

was for this end he came into the world; but, while they submitted

to the counsel of God, their affection for him caused them to feel

exquisite distress.

Verse 24. They that received tribute] This was not a tax to be

paid to the Roman government; but a tax for the support of the

temple. The law, Ex 30:13, obliged every male among the Jews to

pay half a shekel yearly; for the support of the temple; and this

was continued by them wherever dispersed, till after the time of

Vespasian, see Josephus, WAR, book 7. c. 6, who ordered it

afterwards to be paid into the Roman treasury. The word in the

text, which is generally translated tribute-ταδιδραχμα, signifies

the didrachma, or two drachms. This piece of money was about the

value of two Attic drachms, each equal to fifteen pence of our

money. The didrachma of the Septuagint, mentioned Ex 30:13, was

twice as heavy as the Attic, for it was equal to a whole shekel,

this being the value of that piece of money at Alexandrina, the

place where the Septuagint translation was made; for the half

shekel mentioned in the above passage, they render ημισυτου

διδαχμου, the half of a didrachma.

Verse 25. He saith, Yes.] From this reply of Peter, it is

evident that our Lord customarily paid all taxes, tributes, &c.,

which were common among the people wherever he came. The children

of God are subject to all civil laws in the places where they live

-and should pay the taxes levied on them by public authority; and

though any of these should be found unjust, THEY rebel not, as

their business is not to reform the politics of nations, but the

morals of the world.

Verse 26. Then are the children free] As this money is levied

for the support of that temple of which I am the Lord, then I am

not obliged to pay the tax; and my disciples, like the priests

that minister, should be exempted from the necessity of paying.

Verse 27. Lest we-offend them] Be a stumbling-block to the

priests, or rulers of the Jews, I will pay the tribute-go thou to

the sea-cast a hook, and take the first fish-thou shalt find a

piece of money, στατηρα, a stater. This piece of money was equal

in value to four drachms, or two shekels, (five shillings of our

money,) and consequently was sufficient to pay the tribute for our

Lord and Peter, which amounted to about half-a-crown each. If the

stater was in the mouth or belly of the fish before, who can help

admiring the wisdom of Christ, that discovered it there? If it

was not before in the mouth of the fish, who can help admiring the

power of Christ, that impelled the fish to go where the stater had

been lost in the bottom of the sea, take it up, come towards the

shore where Peter was fishing, and, with the stater in its mouth

or stomach, catch hold of the hook that was to draw it out of the

water? But suppose there was no stater there, which is as likely

as otherwise, then Jesus created it for the purpose, and here his

omnipotence was shown; for to make a thing exist that did not

exist before is an act of unlimited power, however small the thing

itself may be. Some suppose that the haddock was the fish caught

by Peter, because this fish has a blackish mark on each side of

its neck or shoulders, as seems to exhibit the impression of a

finger and thumb. The haddock is the gadus eglesinus. But this

being a sea fish, could not be a native of the sea of Galilee or

Tiberias, &c., for the river Jordan runs through the sea of

Galilee, and falls into the Dead Sea, which has no outlet to the

ocean: no sea fish of any kind can be found there; and we may add

to this, that Belzoni, a learned traveller, who examined the

produce of the lake of Tiberias, found only trouts, pikes,

chevins, and tenches. That it may, besides these, have some

fishes peculiar to itself, as most extensive fresh water lakes

have, need not be denied; but it could have no sea fish.

THE account of the transfiguration, the peculiar case of the

lunatic, with his cure, and the miracle wrought to pay the tribute

money, render this one of the most interesting and instructive

chapters in the New Testament.

1. To what has already been said on the subject of the

transfiguration, nothing need be added: I have given that sense to

it which the circumstances of the case, the construction of the

words, and the analogy of faith warrant. That others have

understood the whole transaction differently, is readily granted.

Some of the foreign critics, who are also called divines, have

stripped it, by their mode of interpretation, of all its strength,

use, and meaning. With them, it is thus to be understood:-"Jesus,

with his disciples, Peter, James, and John, went by night into a

mountain, for the purpose of prayer and meditation; while thus

engaged, the animal spirits of the disciples were overcome by

watching and fatigue, and they fell asleep: in this sleep they

dreamed, or Peter only dreamed, that he saw his Master encompassed

with a glorious light, and that Moses and Elijah were conversing

with him. That early in the morning, just as the sun was rising,

there happened some electric or thunder-like explosions (a thing

not unfrequent near some mountains) by which the disciples were

suddenly awoke; that Peter, whose mind was strongly impressed with

his dream, seeing the rising sun shine gloriously upon his Master,

and his strongly impressed senses calling to remembrance his late

vision, he for a moment imagined he saw, not only the glory of

which he had dreamed, but the persons also-Moses and Elijah, still

standing on the mount with Christ; that not being as yet

sufficiently awake, finding the images impressed on his

imagination fleeting away with his returning exercise of reason,

he cried out, before he was aware, Lord! it is good for its to be

here, let us make three tabernacles, &c.; but in a short time,

having recovered the regular use of his senses, he perceived that

it was a dream; and, having told it to our Lord and his brother

disciples, lest the Jews might take occasion of jealousy from it,

he was desired to tell the vision to no man." This is the

substance of that strange explanation given by those learned men

to this extraordinary transaction; a mode of interpretation only

calculated to support that system which makes it an important

point to deny and decry all supernatural and miraculous influence,

and to explain away all the spirituality of the New Testament.

Whatever ingenuity may be in this pretended elucidation, every

unprejudiced person must see that it can never be brought to

accord with the letter and concomitant circumstances of this most

remarkable case.

2. The cure of the deaf and dumb lunatic has been treated, by the

same critics, in nearly the same way, and for the same obvious

design, namely, to exclude from the world all supernatural agency;

and could they succeed in this, of what value, or, indeed,

utility, could the whole New Testament be to mankind? We might be

well astonished to find such a history, with such a great variety

of curious and apparently interesting circumstances:-a wondrous

person, labouring, preaching, suffering, dying, &c., &c., without

having scarcely any thing in view, but a sort of merely moral

reformation of the outward man! Truly, this:-

"Is like an ocean into tempest toss'd,

To waft a feather, or to drown a fly."

But the truth of God's miraculous interpositions, the miracles of

the New Testament, demoniacal possessions and influence, the

atonement, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the regeneration of

the corrupted human heart, &c., &c,, must not be given up to

please a certain description of persons, who have no commerce with

God themselves, and cannot bear that others should either have or

pretend to it.

3. The miracle wrought for the paying of the temple tribute

money, is exceedingly remarkable. See Clarke on Mt 17:27,

which brings this particularly to view. To what is there said, it

may be added, that our Lord seems to have wrought this miracle for

the following purposes:-

1. More forcibly to impress the minds of his disciples, and his

followers in general, with the necessity and propriety of being

subject to all the laws of the different states, kingdoms, &c.,

wheresoever the providence of God might cast their lot.

2. To show forth his own unlimited power and knowledge, that they

might be fully convinced that he knew all things, even to the most

minute; and could do whatsoever he pleased; and that both his

wisdom and power were continually interested in behalf of his true


3. To teach all believers a firm trust and reliance on Divine

Providence, the sources of which can never be exhausted; and

which, directed by infinite wisdom and love, will make every

provision essentially requisite for the comfort and support, of

life. How many of the poor followers of Christ have been enabled

to discern his kind hand, even in the means furnished them to

discharge the taxes laid on them by the state! The profane and

the unprincipled may deride, and mock on, but the people of God

know it to be their duty, and their interest, to be subject to

every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; and, while his grace

and providence render this obedience, in things both spiritual and

secular, possible, his love, which their hearts feel, renders

their duty their delight. The accomplishment of such ends as

these is worthy both of the wisdom and benevolence of Christ.

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