Why was Paul taking a Road Trip?

We know of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the way to Damascus. But does the reason claimed for why he was headed there make sense?

Is Acts a good historical reference in this regard?

The first thing to note is that Paul himself never refers to receiving any letter or authority from the high priest, in his description of his own testimony. (Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:32) While this does not exclude the possibility of it occurring, I prefer it come from the horse’s mouth, as it were. In fact, if one studies what Paul said in his letters compared to what the Gospel writers wrote, or what Acts records, it is amazing the different contrast. According to Acts, after Damascus Paul went to Jerusalem within a short period of time. (Acts 9:27) According to Paul, Barnabas did not introduce him until 17 years later!

We don’t have Paul telling us anything about this mission from the High Pries (although with his bragging of how much he was attuned to Judaism, one would think an intimate connection with the High priest would warrant at least a mention.)

Paul claims to be like a Pharisee. (Phil. 3:5) [And another side note. Odd that Paul does not specifically claim to be a Pharisee, but rather, “in regard to the law; a Pharisee.” Yet the author, in Acts. 23:6, states Paul claims to be an actual Pharisee. Further, the author records in Acts 23:6 Paul claims to be “a son of a Pharisee” yet in Phil. 3:5 Paul simply claims to be a son of a Hebrew.]

Pharisees believed that oral tradition could be considered in addition to the Torah. The Sadducees did not. Even the Bible records conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. (Mt. 22:34; Acts 23:7). The High priest at the time of Paul was a Sadducee. (Acts 5:17)

What was Paul, a Pharisee, doing in cohorts with the high priest, a Sadducee? Christians, in reading of the early Church persecutions recorded in Acts, presume that the two groups would be united in a “common enemy” being Christianity. Yet that is NOT what we see. Acts itself records the Pharisees tending to side with the Christians! (Acts. 5:34; 23:9) The Christians, by being a liberal sect of Christianity, and maintaining a resurrection, would find sympathy among the Pharisees.

Would a Pharisee align themselves with a Sadducee? Not likely. Possible? Yes. Probable? Not hardly.

Strike one.

Now look at the political climate. Damascus was not part of the Roman Empire. Perhaps I did not state that strong enough. King Aretas was the ruler of the Nabataean. We know the story of John the Baptist exposing Herod Antipas for marrying his own niece. What is not discussed, is that in order to do so, Antipas divorced his wife, who was Nabataean. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This infuriated King Aretas.

This King hated the ruler of Judea, and felt he was totally independent of the Roman Empire. He would have despised any High priest attempting to exert control over any of the king’s citizens. A systematic persecution of the Christians in King Aretas’ control would not exist. The thought would be “Bad for the Jews? Good for the King.”

This is as ludicrous as President Bush giving an order to the head of the FBI to arrest citizens in North Korea. The North Korean government would laugh as such an attempt. The FBI has no authority to act in a foreign country.

The idea of the High Priest interfering in Damascus is all but insane. However, the Roman Empire felt that Damascus was technically always under Roman Rule. The Author of Acts, writing in the late First Century, may have presumed it always was, and that the High Priest would have some authority. The author would be wrong.

Strike Two.

Why in the freaking blue blazes would the high priest commit to paper anything with Paul? It has been pointed out that it was written to the synagogues, not to the local government. So what? Who are the local citizenry going to complain about being arrested? We are talking about a political/police type action. If the letters said, “Kick ‘em out of the church” I would heartily agree that King Aretas would not care. These were letters to physically remove people, and even have them killed! This is not some local religious issue over whether communion should be served from the left or the right.

How, exactly, was Paul supposed to do this? Did he bring cages? Shackles? How many could he capture? If it were too many, there would be uproar. Maybe I better say it again—The High Priest had as much authority here as a Wichita Dog Catcher has in Berlin, Germany. I.e.—none.

What could possibly be in that letter? I am open to suggestions, here.

An introduction to Paul? Not hardly. Every record says that the persecuted and the persecutors knew Paul. (Acts 9:21; 9:13; Gal. 1:23; Acts 9:26) Why would Paul need introducing? He wouldn’t.

A mandate to persecute Christians? According to the author of Acts, the Jews were ready and willing to kill Paul upon his conversion. Would they need a mandate or order to do so?

Paul: I want you guys to persecute Christians.
Jewish Leaders: Naw. We are too busy. Big bar-b-q planed for this week.
Paul: A-ha! I have a letter from the Chief Priest that says you have to!
Jewish Leaders: Well. O.K. But we aren’t happy about it.

This sorta quashes the theory that Christians were persecuted. Why would the Jewish Leaders need a letter to do what Acts implies they were willing to do several days later?

Such a letter from the High Priest would be political suicide. It would directly tie him into attempting to exert control in a county that was hostile to Roman influence. King Aretas would be furious. The Emperor would be angry. The implications of even putting this in writing is frightening.

Why would a letter be necessary? If the Jews in Damascus were willing to persecute Christians, and Paul was the “High Persecutor” would a bit of writing be necessary?

It is all but inconceivable that a High Priest would put in writing something unnecessary, and would result in his death if discovered. There is no need; only problems.

Strike Three.

Who, exactly, was it that wanted Paul killed after his conversion? The answers seem to be all over the board.

An obvious reading of Acts 9:23 is that the “Jews” conspired to kill him. But Paul says in 2 Cor. 11:32 that it was the governor of Damascus that wanted to arrest him. Nothing about any Jews. (And one should note that in 11:24-26 Paul distinguishes the actions of Jews against him and Gentiles. So if it WAS the Jews in Damascus, wouldn’t Paul state so?)

A further oddity is that the author of Acts records Ananias (the healer of Paul’s blindness) as being a Disciple. (Acts 9:10) Yet the author records Paul saying that Ananias was a devout observer of the Law and respected by all the Jews. (Acts 22:12) Which was he? Could one be a Christian AND respected by the Jews? Then would the Jews have persecuted Christians? Or Paul?

Strike Four.

In order to maintain historicity in Acts one would have to maintain that a Pharisee aligned with a Sadducee (unlikely) to write a letter (dangerous, fatal and unnecessary) to perform an act that was either not occurring at all, or occurring regularly anyway.

In conclusion—Acts is not history. It does not conform to what Paul wrote. It does not conform to what we see in history. If a person is going to accept any explanation, no matter how contrived and contorted, to make it fit, I can do nothing about it. And what I see is a bias toward a proposition, and an insistence on maintaining it regardless of the probabilities.

That’s O.K, but I do not see a neutral jury buying it.


Anonymous said...

Dagoods, is it possible you silenced the opposition? This would be the first post of its kind! If so, my hat's off to ya!

DagoodS said...

John W. Loftus,

Not exactly. steve has posted a review:

I would invite anyone to read it.

For example, I am initially accused of being a “fuzz-brain” for indicating that Paul was not introduced by Barnabas in Jerusalem until 17 years after his conversion, whereas Acts implies it happened immediately after his conversion. I am informed what a buffoon I am, as Paul indicates two trips to Jerusalem.

Yesssss…….true…but on which ONE was Paul introduced by Barnabas? (Gal 2:1 and Acts 9:27) [Hint. The way to get around this is claim there was a 14 year gap between Acts 9:26 and 9:27]

The answer to the question of why a Pharisee would align with a Sadducee amounts to “just because” without an understanding of the differences, as well as a complete avoidance of the confrontations recorded in the Gospels and Acts.

I liked the response to Damascus being part of the Roman Empire. (Although being under a separate King was not addresses. Rome was part of the Roman Empire, yet the High Priest would have just as much authority (none) there as well.) The bit I liked is that in this regard Josephus is disregarded as a poor historian.

Was Josephus also a poor historian with the Testimonium Flavianum? Somehow I am guessing the claim would be “Not.”!

But please, do not take my word for it, nor take steve’s. Do the research on your own. A googlewhack of “Damascus History” ought to get a person started.

As to why Paul would need a letter of introduction, I saw no response.

Although the concept that it was a letter authorizing extradition was kinda funny. See, my next question is who was trying to arrest Paul, and I am told that the Jews and Damascus authorities would have to work together. (By the by, also implying that Damascus was under a separate authority.)

But if they were to work together, and needed the letter……are we saying that AFTER his conversion, Paul delivered the letter from the High Priest anyway? Oddest thing I ever heard!

See, when discussing with a literalist on the Bible, in one post they will say one thing and in the next, something that is completely contradictory to the first thing they said!

Post 1: “The letters were necessary to extradite the Christians.”
Post 2: “Both the Jewish authorities and Damascus authorities worked together.”

If they worked together, the letters weren’t necessary. If the letters were necessary, then Paul would have to have delivered them in order for the authorities to work together to kill him! Funny.

As to the point of Ananias’ Jewishness vs. Christianity, I was informed I failed to distinguish between the Diaspora and the Jerusalem Jews. Then Paul was going to Damascus to persecute the Jerusalem Jews? Shouldn’t he have been going to Jerusalem for that?

I don’t bother answering triablogue’s posts. Apparently I give them enough fodder to blog about. (I imagine another will come from this. Lol!)

I figure most people can see through the exhibited attitudes, and that the arguments boil down to words written--something….ANYTHING, and as long as it is cohesive English, it is presumed a “response” to the argument. A response? Yes. Actually addressing the issues? Only sometimes.

Sharon Mooney said...

As to why Paul would need a letter of introduction, I saw no response.

Because they wouldn't understand, unless they held a degree in theology (somebody like Dr. Robert M. Price would be on your frequency).

The average literalist won't get it. Therefore crickets..

honestly, I didn't know anything to weigh in on. So all I can say is "great post!!!"... I think. Ed B. might understand what you're talking about.

Remember the little people when you're writing...

Anonymous said...

RE: Paul's Road Trip

Being the apparently intelligent man that you appear to be, I'm sure you have done all the research necessary to come to the conclusions you did regarding Paul's journey to Damascus.

You've obviously read the relevant portions of Josephus' Antiquitates judaicae xiv, xiii, 3, dealing with the history of Rome and the elevation of John Hyrcanus, the high priest, to "ethnarch", which made him "head of an ethnic community" (cf. F. W. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd. ed. (2000), p. 276. You probably have read in I Maccabees 15:15ff, (esp. v. 21) that precedence for the high priest to extradite "pestilent men" was given to the high priest by the Romans. It is not unreasonable to assume that the title of 'ethnarch', and its jurisdictional rights were passed on to each succeeding high priest down to and including Caiaphas. He would therefore, have the right to pursue renegades into any Hebrew enclave in the Roman Empire.

You most likely have read the chapters on "Tiberius" and "Gaius and Claudius", from The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. X, (1971) to get some background regarding the political situation. And too, J. B. Lightfoot's article, "The Chronology of St Paul's Life and Epistles," published posthumously, from his lecture notes in Biblical Essays (1893). Further, I'm sure you have at least casually looked at Sir William Mitchell Ramsay's, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (1909). You must certainly have seen Kirsopp Lake's, "The Chronology of Acts," in Beginnings of Christianity. The Acts of the Apostles, Volume V, pp. 445-474, (F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, eds. - 1933). These must have given you some context to piece together the time frame regarding Paul's going to Damascus, time in Arabia, and going to Jerusalem. You must have at least thumbed through Charles H. Talbert's, "Again: Paul's Visits to Jerusalem," published in the journal Novum Testamentum, 9 (1967) 26-40, or Robert Jewett's, A Chronology of Paul's Life, 1979, which was published separately as part of his doctrinal thesis.

Then too, you must have at least read one or two of the bibliographic references in Anthony J. Saldarini's article, "Pharisees," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, 289-303. (1992) and similarly from Gary G. Porton's, "Sadducees", 892-895, from the same volume. And you certainly have studied Arland J. Hultgren's, "Paul's Pre-Christian
Persecutions of the Church: Their Purpose, Locale, and Nature," Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1976) 97-111, not to mention Philip E. Hughes, "The Mention of Aretas in 11:32 and Pauline Chronology," Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 424-428. (1962), where he discusses that Damascus was in the hands of the Romans until Gaius (Caligula) who most likely gave it to (Aeneas) Aretas IV in A.D. 40, or perhaps earlier in 37, since Vetellius failed to march against Aretas once Tiberius was dead. But if you didn't happen to see this, you would also have found mention of Rome's control of Damascus in John McRay's article "Damascus," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, 5-9. Additionally, you would have found information on Damascus and a discussion of the term "ethnarch" in Margaret E. Thrall's, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Volume II, pp. 763-771. (2000). The change in leadership in Damascus from the Romans to Aretas IV, between the time of Paul's conversion (c. 33-35) and his return from Arabia to this city, some three years later, makes his hostile reception understandable given the relations between Antipas and Aretas.

And of course, if you are to discuss the New Testament critically, you read Koine Greek. You, therefore, understand that both citations from Phil. 3:5, "in regard to the law, a Pharisee" and as you put it, again, "Paul simply claims to be a son of a Hebrew" are idioms correctly used in context. The first emphasizing his interpretation of the law, and does not negate the passage in Acts 23:6, where he says he was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." In the latter phrase, Paul is not simply saying he was "a son of a Hebrew", but literally "a Hebrew of Hebrews" underscoring that he was not a proselyte, but a natural born Jew. One passage is dealing with his ethnicity, the other his religious affiliaton. Neither of these are in conflict. But you would understand that being a reader of the Greek New Testament. It just seems like a contradition based on your semantic shenanigans.

I'm sure that none of the above will convince you differently. As Gene Hackman said in the movie Class Action, "Lawyers never lie, we just tell the truth judiciously to guarantee utter confusion." But that aside, your arguments are more pretentious than substantive, as you are more interested an agenda than finding the truth. This is why most scholars will not respond to your insginificant stultiloquy.


DagoodS said...

Thank you, BillH, for an informative list of references. Some I had read, some not. Generally, I would hope for some explanation as to the basis of your argument, rather than a bibliographical list, but it is a start!

No, I do not read Koine Greek (to my chagrin.) If that “takes me out of the running” to be a scholar, or study these issues, in your mind, then feel free to disregard anything and everything I write. I’ll make it easy for you.

I also appreciate the psychoanalysis of my “agenda.” Normally, I would probably have to pay a hefty fee to get that sort of service. Seriously? I AM looking for the truth. I would love a chronology of Paul that makes sense. I just don’t see how Acts and Paul’s writings align.

Let’s talk about Paul in Damascus.

According to Paul himself, in 2 Cor. 11:32, at some point in time, Paul was being pursued under Aretas’ reign, and escaped by being let down by a basket. According to your post, this could have only occurred at the earliest in 37 CE.

Further, according to Paul, three years post-conversion he went to Damascus. (Gal. 1:17) Paul does not explicitly state that he was on, or in Damascus at the time of his conversion, but the use of the word “returned” implies that he was. Again, I do not read Koine Greek, but you seem to be implying that there were two trips to Damascus, three years apart, so I feel on steady ground, here.

Therefore we have two opportunities for Paul to have been pursued by Aretas’ Governor. At his conversion, or the return trip three years later. (Of course, in good apologetic form, one could also allege that Paul was in Damascus countless other times, and just did not mention it.)

Which trip was Aretas’ involved? The first or the second? Paul does not inform us either way. Now look at Acts.

Paul enters Damascus upon being converted and stays “three days.” Acts 9:8 (Note Ananias knows who he is, and why he is there, thus making “letters of introduction” ridiculous.) After being healed, Paul stays with the disciples “some days” 9:19. He immediately starts preaching. All who heard him (ALSO knowing his mission, ALSO demonstrating the uselessness of a letter of introduction) are amazed. “After many days passed” the Jews decide to kill him. 9:23 Paul escapes by a basket. 9:25.

According to a straight reading of Acts, the basket-escape of Paul happened within a very short period (“many days”) of his conversions. Making it the first trip to Damascaus. Making the letters of extradition happening during the Aretas’ reign.

Of course, we can have fun (not very scholarly, am I?) and make all kinds of goofy apologetic trips down explanation lane to avoid this apparent problem. The question is—how persuasive are they? How many of these do you see in a church?

1. Paul was let down by a basket to escape the Jews at conversion and Paul was let down by a basket to escape Aretas’ governor three years later. (Problem: Why doesn’t Paul list this persecution by the Jews in 2 Cor. 11?)

2. There is a lapse of three years between Acts. 9:22 and 9:23, even though it is not even remotely implied in the verses. (Problem: This makes the author of Acts a poor historian, because we already have a potential gap of 14 years between 9:25 and 9:26)

So—you’ve apparently read the books. What is the solution? When was Paul lowered by a basket, how many times, and who was pursuing him?

I would beg of you, don’t just respond. Be compelling, be persuasive. Explain it, argue it out, and show why it is a better solution than the author of Acts merely getting his facts mixed up on the story of the conversion of Paul.

Having read these books, how likely do you think it was that a Pharisee would ask a Sadducee Priest for permission to do something that Jewish leaders were wont to do in Damascus?

I had read Danker’s claim about 1 Maccabees.

Who are “pestilent fellows”? What Jewish laws were Christian’s breaking? If Ananias was following the law, how could he fear persecution? Had Judea’s status with Rome changed since the time of Simon? Did the High priest have more authority than the King in 35-40 CE?

More importantly, how authoritative were these letters from Lucius, in 1 Maccabees? He wrote the first letter to Ptolemee, right? Telling Ptolemee to deliver these “pestilent fellows that they may be punished according to their own law” to Simon? What does Ptolemee do in the very next chapter? Oh, that’s right—he kills Simon!! Now, does the Roman government step in? Nope.

This is bootstrapping at its best. We have a non-authoritative letter written years prior, that Danker wants to say becomes a grant of ultimate right of extradition by the High Priest. A right that curiously the High Priest completely forgets about when he wants to kill Paul. Acts 25. (And if Paul was exempt as a Roman citizen, how do you handle the Julius Caesar proclamations that Dankers uses to bootstrap the Lucius letter as still being good? There, Jewish law superceded Roman law, by exempting Jews from serving in the army. ‘Course Judea was a tributary state, then, too, which it no longer was as of 6 CE.)

And yes, I attempted to work out a chronology for Paul. Even the experts that hold to Acts as history disagree as to dates. As I question the validity of Acts being historical, this leaves me with Paul’s letters, and, as you know, the ONLY point of reference is the Aretas claim for a date.

I wish you had posted this response earlier, so others could have read it.

Anonymous said...

My reason for posting so late, is that I was only told about your blog about a week ago. The only reason I responded in the first place was that I was practically coerced by a co-worker, who knowing my background, was interested in what I would have to say on the subject. It is not my intention to get drawn into a long, protracted discussion. I’ve been in that situation before, to no avail.

If you “want to have fun” with this, I’d love to have you on a witness stand about now.

Q. “Sir is it your testimony that you do not read Konie Greek?”

A. “Yes, it’s true, I do not read Greek.”

Q. “Did you further stay in your last blog reply that, quote, “I had read Danke’s claim about 1 Maccabees.”

A. “Yes.”

Q. It is therefore your testimony that although you do not read Greek, you have read Danker with reference to 1 Maccabees. You do realize sir, that Danker is the editor of the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, and says nothing regarding John Hyrcanus, and the reference to him in BillH’s reply was only in regard to the word definition of the word “ethnarch”! One can only wonder what you have actually read.

Kidding aside, I must tell you up front, that I am neither a minister, nor a college professor. I guess you would categorize me as an “informed layman”. Yes, I have read the books, and articles I referred to, and, in fact, I not only have read them, with the exception of The Cambridge Ancient History, which I borrowed from our local public library, not being worth the “return on cost” for my purposes, and Jewett’s book, which I have purchased, but has not yet been received, I own the rest, including the journals. (Sorry for the run-on sentence.)

In between the time I first posted, and today, another journal article has come to my attention that brings even some of my previous ideas into question. Douglas A. Campbell, “An Anchor for Pauline Chronology: Paul’s Flight from ‘the Ethnarch of King Aretas’ (2 Corinthians 11:32-33),” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002) 279-302. This should be on the top of your reading list, as it appears to answer many of the questions you brought up.

My purpose in responding to your blog, is not so much to convince you of anything, though that would be a plus, as to inform you of what material is out there that will perhaps answer your questions.

As to Luke’s being a historian, you could always take the approach of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul a Critical Life, where he says, “On methodological grounds alone, Paul’s first-hand account is certainly to be preferred to Luke’s second-hand version, which moreover is a tissue of implausibilities.” (p. 6). I view I do not subscribe to. Obviously, when it comes to history, some things may never be resolved simply because we don’t have enough information, or, data simply has not survived (e.g. Tacitus’ books on Gaius).

Seriously, you need to read Campbell on this subject. I think you will find it enlightening.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Regarding Pompey’s slaying Simon, nobody said Pompey was a nice guy. There were a lot of despicable acts back then, by some very nasty characters. Incidentally, here 1 Maccabees 16, and Josephus Antiquitates judaicae XIII, vii, 4, disagree as to whether or not Simon was actually killed. But this is a digression, and has nothing to do with the subject of Paul.


DagoodS said...

Thank you for the direction, BillH. I was not able to access Campbell’s article on-line, the file was corrupted. Although I did manage to squeak some out of it from a discussion on dating Paul’s letters on iidb.

If, from what I read, it indicates Paul escaped from Damascus in 36/37 CE, and relies upon the historicity of Josephus regarding the animosity between Aretas and Herod Antipus. I have no problem with the dating, and actually rely upon the animosity in my blog, if you notice.

Unfortunately, I do not have time to read all of the material available on all of the subjects I would love to study. I will admit that early Christianity is something I have only dabbled in, and would dearly love to devote more time to it.

What is most disappointing of all, is that I am communicating with someone that clearly has done the study, and yet does not want to engage in any discussion upon it, other than to list all the books he has studied.

As humans we tend to “project” our own desires, motivations, and compulsions on others. What we find compelling or enticing, we presume others do as well. I, personally, cannot fathom how someone is not drawn by salty snacks. I crave them, and unconsciously presume that others must crave them as well.

I do have an agenda, and when others do not as well, despite my recognition of “projecting” my desires into others, I find myself disappointed when they do not share it. See, BillH, in my field of work “knowing” a subject is not enough. What is important is being able to persuasively argue one’s position. I enjoy the study of Christianity, and crave various subjects, books and articles in the field. But that is not enough. I like to test myself and see if, not only can I know the subject, but can I know it enough to actually argue my position.

My agenda is that I like testing out my arguments, pushing them, tearing them apart, re-forming them, and if I am not clear, re-explaining them. Rarely do I point out books and say, “Go read them” because I feel that if I have read it, and I believe it, I should be able to explain it to someone else. Again, though, I understand this is my human frailty of “projecting” coming into play. Not everyone could OR should be like me. A very boring world, if that was true!

Like your co-worker, I would have been interested in what you have to say in this discussion. But from what I have seen, all you did was provide me with a list of books and articles, without telling me how they address the problems I raise. I presumed, you see, that you had read them, and rather than my having to re-trace your steps, you could explain their resolutions to me.

Please take this the correct way, but it seems to me that all you said was, “I have read a great deal more on this topic, here is a list of reading materials, I do not want to share the resolutions because I do not want to get into a long protracted discussion, and you wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

From what I have read about Paul’s chronology, people tend to resolve some of these issues by placing Paul’s escape from Damascus on his second stay, three years post-conversion. What I have NOT seen is how they get around the fact that Paul blames the governor in 2 Cor., whereas Luke blames the Jews in Acts 9. Further, one would have to address that issue that in the paragraph previously, Paul was differentiating between the Jews persecuting him, and local authorities, and places the Damascus incident with the local authorities NOT the Jews.

If you read Koine Greek, I would have hoped you could explain some grammatical verbiage or word by which we would have a clue that Luke was talking about two different incidents between Acts 9:22 and 9:23. More importantly, that you could develop a set of criteria by which we could determine (since Luke apparently does this “year-skip” thing again between vs. 25 and 26) when Luke is skipping years, and when he was not. For example, simply picking and choosing places to put “numerous years” how can I not say that Pentecost happened 10 years after the ascension of Jesus? What set of criteria do we use as to say, “Here we add years, Here we do not.”

As I was reviewing Paul’s chronology on-line, it was amusing to see how many people line up Acts with his letters, and place this escape in the second trip. In one column they put Paul’s letters, another Acts, and a third when he could be where. And almost universally, they place a “skip” of the first visit and the second visit between Acts 9:22 and 23. I challenge anybody. Give Acts 9 to another person. Tell them they have to add “3 years pass” between 2 verses. Out of 1000 people, 1000 would NEVER place that between 22 and 23. EVER!

Surely at least one of these books you had read provides us with a solution to this quandary. I cannot be the first person to ever notice it! Yet now I would have to dig this same trench, in the hopes of unearthing the solution, when you have it right on the tip of your tongue. I hope you can see why this is disappointing!

Or I would hope, that in your reading, we could see why Paul would need letters of introduction, since he was obviously so well-known by everybody. Or why Aretas would recognize an extradition order, and if he would, why would Paul be taking it to the synagogue in Damascus? And whether the Jews and Aretas were working together, in light of Aretas’ animosity with Herod?

And why would Paul be headed all the way to Damascus, when there were plenty of likely prospects in Judea, or Galilee, or even Samaria? Or, in light of the tensions between Sadducees and Pharisees, which Paul recognized, why a Sadducee would see need to give a Pharisee to do something?

But alas, I will not have those solutions here. You are right, I may not be convinced by your argument; I may not be convinced by these books. Someday, as time allows, I will take up this study again.

Thanks, again for the list. I apologize for my disappointment, as you can clearly see it is nobody’s fault but my own projection of my own agenda. :-)

Anonymous said...

Your interest does sound genuine, but in a way you also seem to want the answers all handed to you. You don’t want to have to “re-trace your (my) steps”, but that is exactly what all Ph.D. candidates do—not that either of us are. I don’t mean to sound abrasive, but I don’t want to compose a dissertation.

Nevertheless, my initial thoughts are that Damascus was notunder the control of Aretas on Paul’s first visit to Damascus, (which is what I tried to infer in my previous posts) since it happened probably somewhere between A.D. 33-35. At this point Damascus was still under Roman control. If after a period of “many days” he leaves (escapes?) from Damascus as Luke says because of Jewish persecution. He then goes to Arabia for approximately three years. Paul says he returned to Damascus, which was probably around A.D. 37-38 (cf. Campbell). By this time Aretas had either “received” or “captured” Damascus, and Paul’s reference to the hostility under Aretas in II Corinthians would therefore be accurate. This is when he escaped in a basket. [When it comes to Luke’s account in Acts about Paul being let down in a basket. Who’s to say it wasn’t done twice? If it worked once, it apparently worked again. I say this tongue-in-cheek, as it is more likely that Luke has conflated the two events, but I will have to leave that for further discussion.]

As to the Pharisees and the Sadducees working together, I think a previous post was pretty much right when he/she said they were using each other. (Don’t the two parties in the current congress sometimes work together, even though their ideology is in opposition to one another?) The Sadducees were well connected to the Roman government, but the Pharisees had the ear of the people, and the Sadducees well knew it. On the strength of the Pharisees, see Hugo Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin, p. 265 passim. While Mantel is discussing a different subject, he says, “The Pharisees knew their strength, and with the people on their side. . .”

If you reside in a large metropolitan area, or near a university or seminary library, they would have copies of JBL with Campbell’s article. Your local public library might also have access to JSTOR, which is an on-line service (available only by subscription) that would also have the full article.

For the past two years I have been corresponding with a friend of mine regarding the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet). Presently we are only up to chapter five. This, in addition to holding down a full time job, and trying to complete an indexing project that I have been working on for the past 35 years, you can see why I am reluctant to get into another lengthy discussion.

I agree that anyone who has studied a subject should be able to “re-explain” them. The problem here is that we are dealing with, not only a considerable amount of data, even if meager by historical standards, and attempting to piece together some detailed biblical / textual minutia. Better men/ women than I have grappled with the problems, and I rely on their judgment as well, which is why I read. My responses regarding Acts 9, will take a considerable amount of time, if I am to be at all thorough, though not necessarily convincing. Please be patient, if I don’t post for a couple of weeks, should I find the required time to do this.


DagoodS said...

Yes, BillH, real lives have a nasty habit of interfering with our internet discussions :-) I look forward to your responses whenever you have time. And yes, I most certainly DO want the answers handed to me! I am as lazy as the next guy, if an answer is provided that makes sense, I see no reason to not accept it. Remember, one of your first comments to me was that you were sure none of this would convince me, but at least it would be nice to see.

If there were two Damascus incidents, than I would agree that Luke confused them. Which causes even more consternation as to his ability to accurately record history.

Paul himself never records getting letters from the Chief Priest.
Paul never records even being a Pharisee. (and I did read your explanation)
Paul doesn’t say he goes to Damascus to persecute.
Paul doesn’t recount a visionary salvation experience.
Paul doesn’t indicate being blind for three days.
Paul doesn’t indicate meeting Anainias.
Paul doesn’t indicate preaching in Damascus.
Paul doesn’t mention being persecuted by Jews in Damascus.

Yet all of this is recounted by Luke. Paul DOES mention being persecuted by Aretas’ governor, being in Arabia for three years, visiting Jerusalem once, seeing Peter and James, and then visiting again with Barnabas. All of which Luke does NOT record, or is extremely sloppy with his timing and chronology. Luke either did not know, or ignored the letters of Galatians and 2 Corinthians. Which is problematic.

Honestly, if we only had Galatians, and I told you that Paul had a vision, was blind, visited Damascus, was persecuted by Jews, left and came back after three years, you would call me crazy. It simply isn’t there. Or, if we did not have Galatians and two verses in 2 Corinthians, and I told you that Paul visited Damascus twice, between 9:22 and 9:23, and the second time was persecuted by local authorities, you would equally call me crazy.

It is only when we attempt to align these two passages that the headaches begin. One of the biggest disappointments, after becoming an atheist, was apologetic treatment of the Bible. Attempting to line up these passages by introducing two trips to Damascus, stating Luke is talking about the first one, and Paul about the second. We may as well align the various accounts of the resurrection by saying Jesus did it four times! (Or five, counting 1 Cor.)

It is obvious that in any other situation, we would say the two authors were mistaken. One (or both) for whatever reason, got it wrong. That is the same, obvious solution here. But apologetics will not allow us to do so. Therefore, we invent two trips to Damascus.

Yet why stop there? Under what set of criteria can we use to determine a conflict vs. a non-recording?

For example, let me switch up this apologetic. I propose that Acts 9 is talking about Pauls’ first trip to Damascus. I further propose that Paul is ALSO talking about his first trip in Gal 1 and 2 Cor. That the reason Paul left Damascus and did not return for three years was that he felt only safe when Aretas was dead which, if 36/37 is the right date, just happens to be three years later. Matches well.

You may say Luke confused the basket-dropping of the second event with the first trip, I say (in my apologetic) that Luke confused the Jews with the Governor in the first trip. We both have a confused Luke, and an equal apologetic.

Did the Governor pursue Paul on the first or second trip? You say “second, because Luke confused the basket” I say, “first, because Luke confused the Jews.” Who is right?

What I hate about apologetics. It never recognizes that “any explanation” is not a remarkable feat to align human errors. It makes the Bible look more human, not less, with human solutions to human contradictions.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Bible IS human, but it is a wonderful piece of history, and proverb, and insight that deserves more than apologetics.

O.K., I will get off my soap box.

And BillH, I would disagree that “better” men and women have grappled with this problem. No matter who they are, as time passes, you have more access to more knowledge than they do. Einstein was a “better” person at math, yet any college student that takes quantum physics knows more than he did. Think about it.

I will attempt to get my hands on Campbell, but no promises.

Thank you VERY MUCH for the invigorating conversation. They come few and far between in these areas. I enjoy it more than you can possible understand.

Anonymous said...

Your mixing Apples and Oranges! Aertas IV did not die until at least A.D. 40. Coins were still be struck with his image Aretas IV and Queen Shuqailat dated 39/40. Seriously if you keep changing the facts, we may as well quit now. Additionally, you keep broadening the scope of this discussion (your laundry list of “Paul ‘doesn’ts’” we’ll never end this. All of which brings me back to one of my original statements:

It is not my intention to get drawn into a long, protracted discussion. I’ve been in that situation before, to no avail.


DagoodS said...

BillH, my wording was awkward, and therefore unclear.

You hold to Paul’s visiting Damascus in 36/37 CE. O.K. Aretas dies in 40 C.E. Approximately 3 years later. Paul says he returns to Damascus three years later. Coincidence? I am proposing that another apologetic could be that Paul was harassed by Aretas’ representative in 36/37 C.E. and only returned once Aretas was out of the picture.

The “basket-lowering” would have to be on the first trip, not the second.

A problem with a “second trip” harassment apologetic is that Luke is confusing two incidents. A problem with a “first trip” harassment apologetic is that Luke is confusing the Jews with Aretas. Either apologetic does not paint Luke as an accurate historian.

And that was my point with “apologetics.” There seems to be no set of criteria to use as to which one is better, or more probable than any other, other than “any explanation will do.” These attempts to align Paul’s letters with Luke’s history result in these Herculean leaps, that still leave us questioning Luke’s source, or his accuracy.

We have no methodology in place, by which we can confirm or deny these facts, so how I am “changing” them is unknown. Paul gives only hints of historical markers (I agree with the premise that Paul felt that Jesus lived recently) and the only real one is this Aretas claim. But as we see, it is problematic in lining up with Acts.

The author of Acts gives some historical markers, but seems to be all over the board. Further, the claims seem to be more of a defense of the history of Christianity, than an actual history. As I have said, I do not hold Luke as a critical historian.

I am not trying to “broaden the discussion” as much as I am making sure we understand how problematic this is. What I see in apologetics is a continual “refining” of the problem to get to the minutest segment, then the attempt to resolve this segment, without realizing the big picture.

The most probable and obvious solution is that Paul and Luke, being both human, completely contradict. One, or both, is/are wrong. I tend to lean towards Paul being accurate, since he is writing it himself, and that Luke was wrong. It is simple, obvious, and requires no convoluted apologetical leaps that still leave Luke as incorrect.

It works like this. Imagine I claim that my neighbor mowed his lawn yesterday. You claim he had a lawn service do it.

I point out that I saw him getting out his tractor, and filling it with gas yesterday morning. You start to apply apologetics, and point out how people use lawn tractors for things other than mowing, and that perhaps he was moving dirt instead.

I point out how:

1) He is money conscious
2) He was sharpening his blades
3) He had fresh-cut grass clippings on his mower later
4) He had a sunburned head.

You point out:

1) Perhaps it was cheaper to have a lawn service for once,
2) Just because he sharpened the blades doesn’t mean he didn’t use them
3) His mower could have picked up the grass clippings when driving, but not mowing,
4) He could have been outside working elsewhere.

That is apologetics. Taking each minute item from the big picture and attempt to explain it away. I like to keep the big picture in mind.

BillH, you keep saying you do not want a discussion, and you keep discussing. Would you prefer that I stop responding to your not discussing, so that you can have the last word? I am interested in this topic, but no reason to beat a dead horse, of course.

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