Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NT Pod 17: Paul's Conversion on the Damascus Road

NT PodI uploaded the latest NT Pod on Sunday, a little later in the week than usual, because I had to prioritize other things. I hope it will be out a little earlier this week. The topic is Paul's Conversion on the Damascus Road. I wanted to explore each part of that descriptor, not least because it is still used uncritically and without reflection in a lot of contemporary scholarship.

The part that does sometimes get discussed is the "conversion" bit, with people rightly pointing out that it may be preferable to conceptualize it in terms of a "call" rather than a "conversion", especially if one is attempting to see it as Paul sees it. I tend to associate this view most clearly with W. D. Davies, "Paul and the People of Israel," NTS 24 (1977-8): 4-39.

The "Damascus Road" bit is less important than the question of "call" versus "conversion" but my aim is to remind ourselves that this is the way that Luke conceptualizes the event in Acts 9, Acts 22 and Acts 26, with his interest in key events happening on roads and on journeys.


Jim Deardorff said...

I hope you commented on the consensus that the first version (Acts 9) seems earlier, more original, than the later two (Acts 22, 26), which seem designed to alter the first version from an external event into an internal vision, and to ensure that the event could not have taken place at night. And I hope you commented upon the Acts 9 report that the men with Saul heard the voice also, and of course Saul's response to it, notwithstanding that the Greek renders the verbal object in the genitive rather than the accusative.

Richard Fellows said...


you say that there is 'very common' pattern of Luke giving 'on the road' stories, but you do not give very many examples. Also, the phrase 'literary motif' is a little vague, isn't it? Could it not be that Luke, being a companion of Paul, was an experienced traveller and was therefore able to relate to 'on the road' stories, so included many of them in his writings? Why must we see suppose that Luke was doing something as subtle as using a 'literary motif'?

You say that Acts was written 'much later on', presumably meaning that he was not a companion of Paul. You have also argued that Luke shows 'fatigue' in use of his sources. These views seem to be in tension with each other. Why would Luke go to the trouble of getting so many details of geography and Paul's itinerary correct (e.g. Acts 20:1-21:3), but not bother to read his sources properly or proof-read his own text? If, on the other hand, Luke was a companion of Paul, he would have been able to get these historical details correct from memory, without going to any trouble.

It is historically quite plausible that Paul's conversion/calling was on the road. He was not converted directly by a community of believers since his gospel was not 'from man'. Also, the Acts chronology dates his conversion to the Sabbatical year of 34/35 and this is explains why Paul is able to remember that the interval before the Gal 2 Jerusalem visit was '14 years' (14=2x7). Now, a Sabbatical year was a good time for Paul and his companions to travel since there would not have been much else to do (agricultural activity was banned and there would have been a surplus of labour). In the same way a lot of traveling happened 14 years later with Peter and the men 'from James' going to Antioch.

Lastly, Loren Rosson is surely correct that Phil 3:7-11 shows that Paul had, in some sense at least, abandoned his roots.

Jason A. Staples said...
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Jason A. Staples said...

In one sense I agree, but I think it's important that we not fall into the terminological imprecision (an imprecision not shared by Paul) of identifying "Israel" and "the Jews." I'm not sure it's accurate to talk about Paul's "Jewish identity" or his "Jewish heritage" (especially after his Jesus-encounter); rather, it's probably better to reference his "Israelite identity" and "Hebrew/Israelite heritage," a distinction he appears to preserve.

Mark Goodacre said...

Many thanks for these useful and interesting comments. Lots of food for thought here for me and I hope others too.