Chapter Nineteen

                      SAUL/PAUL THE APOSTLE  (I).

       Acts reports that Stephen was taken out and stoned, the clothing of
those doing the stoning having been placed in the custody of a man named
Saul who held some sort of judicial civil service post for the Sadducees
(Acts 7:58).

       Thus the reader is introduced to the man who, more than any, was to
change, not only the direction of Nazarenism, but the entire course of
hiustory. His Hebrew name was Saul of Tarsus but he came to be known as
Paul the Apostle.

     "A man rather small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, with
      meeting eyebrows, a large, red and somewhat hooked nose.
      Strongly built, he was full of grace, for at times he looked
      like a man, at times like an angel."

       Such is the description of Saul by a second century Christian writer
named Onesiphoros. Aside from this description, we do not know very many
personal things about the man. He was born and raised in the city of
Tarsus, a metropolis of the province of Cilicia (modern day Turkey). He
claimed to have been raised in a pius family and who had a Pharisaic
orientation, and to have studied Torah with the famous Rabbi Gamaliel,
mentioned earlier in connection with the trial of Peter and John, in which
he urged the release of the apostles, having found no guilt in them.

       The Talmud appears to agree that he was indeed a student of Rabbi
Gamliel. The Talmud refers to Saul as OTO HA-TALMID, "that disciple".

     Rabbi Judah used to pray as follows: May it be Thy will, O L--d our
     G-d, to save me this day from the impudent, and from impudence in
     learning. They asked, What is meant by impudence in learning? He
     answered as follows, Rabban Gamliel would sit and teach ... but
     OTO HA-TALMID scoffed at him.
                         Sabbath 30b

       He claimed to be a member of the tribe of Benjamin. This however may
be more an identification with the Jewish king, Saul, who was a Benjaminite
than a historic fact of Saul's geneology. Saul's family were Roman
citizens, meaning that at some time in the past they had rendered some
service to the Empire. Saul was ever aware of this distinction and it was a
source of pride with him. As a citizen of Rome, he identified very strongly
with the Roman Empire. It is therefore not surprising that he would seek
the employ of the Sadducees who were collaborators with Rome. How this was
compatible with his being a Pharisee is unknown but his Sadducean
propensities would accord very nicely with his later rejection of Pharisac
tradition, and his slavish devotion to strict literal Biblical view of

       Saul had left his native Cilicia and come to Jerusalem to study
Torah, and to support himself, he had found a civil service position with
the High Priest's Sadducean party. This position seems to have been as some
sort of constable or balif for the minor Sanhedrin. The Sadducees were
determined to put a stop to the Nazarene movement,considering them as
dangerous as the Zealots. Saul appears to have become imbued with some sort
of passionate religio-political hatred of the group, and sought to
persecute them wherever he could ferret them out. But his zeal appears to
have been directed only against the Greek-speaking diaspora Nazarenes since
there is no mention of him doing any harm to the apostles at Jerusalem.
Again we are reminded of the hostility felt toward this particular group of
Nazarenes, and we are yet unsure of the genesis of this hostility, having
only unproven theories.

       Sometime shortly after the death of Stephen, Saul was commissioned
by the High Priest to bear certain letters to the Jewish leaders living in
Damascus. This was about the year 36 C.E. Nazarenism apparently by this
time, had established a stronghold in the Syrian capital, doubtless having
been spread there by the "Grecians" who had earlier been driven out of
Judea. Having spread the story of Jesus abroad, they constituted a kind of
"Nazarene diaspora" at least in Damascus, Alexandria, and Rome itself.

       The letters that Saul was to deliver contained warnings to the
Jewish community of Damascus not to give aid to the Nazarenes dwelling
there, and, in fact, probably declaring them outlaws. Again we have to
remember that we are dealing with the "Grecian" Nazarenes who doubtless
were carrying on some kind of political messianism such as inciting to
riot or rebel. Since they were sure of Jesus' imminent return, they felt
that they had nothing to lose in acts of daring against the Roman
authorities. They may even have tried to enlist the sympathy and aid of
certain non-Jews. These are the people who probably are the ones eventually
"thrown to the lions" that we have heard so much about. Nowhere in any New
Testament writings is the reader aware that Saul tried to harm the native

       Interestingly enough, it is also at this juncture that the reader
is introduced to the mission of Philip the Apostle to the Samaritans.
This theme is not really ever developed in the New Testament, and it is
curious that the author of Acts breaks off his narrative of the stoning of
Stephen and the persecution of the "Grecians" to relate a story that takes
the reader by surprise.

       Philip, himself a probable "Grecian" from what we have explained
earlier, leaves Judea and travels to the city of Samaria to preach the
story of Jesus to the Samaritans. It would be sufficient to remember the
words of Jesus himself when he strictly forbid his disciples from going to
the Samaritans and other gentiles (Matthew 10:5) which would give us pause
at the story of Philip's mission. But it is not even necesaary to refer to
this to be in doubt as to the authenticity of this story. Jesus himself
avoided travelling through the city of Israel's enemies and even on the
one occaision that he and the disciples DID travel thorugh Samaria, they
encountered hostility. (Luke, chapter 9). Jews would not have anything to
do with Samaritans much less discuss anything of a religious nature with
them. It is therefore curious that Acts reports that when Philip went to
Samaria, that many of the people of the city became converted to the belief
in Jesus as messiah, even though Acts attributes the Samaritans' conversion
more to the healing miracles of Philip than to Samaritan empathy with
Philip as a Jew. Immediately after this, the author of Acts tells us that
the Holy Spirit directed Philip to go to Gaza and preach the message of
Jesus there. Upon his arrival in the vicinity of the old Philistine city,
Acts recounts that Philip met and converted a servant of the Ethiopian
queen Candace, afterwhich he moved up the coast till he came to Caesarea.
If these stories have no basis in history, as I believe they do not, why
has Luke seen fit to insert them into the narrative at this particular
moment? One possible explanation is that they are symbol stories. In
general, the Jews of the Greek speaking diaspora were more inclined to try
to convince their gentile neighbors of the validity of the Torah and to try
to convert them to Judaism than the natives of the Land of Israel. Philip,
as a diaspora Jew, is merely elaborating on this propensity. But secondly,
and more importantly, the story comes immediately before the story of the
conversion of Saul who himself became the apostle to the gentiles par
excellence. That is, the story of Philip's approach to the gentiles, as a
precedent, lends credence and acceptance to the idea of taking the Nazarene
faith to the sympathetic G-d-fearing non-Jews. In this, Philip is a
prototype for Saul, his fellow "Grecian".

       The story of Jesus and his Jewish Followers now takes a rather
dramatic turn. For it is at this point that we come to the major event in
the history of Jesus' followers which irrevocably altered history. It is
the so-called Damascus Event. It is related by Luke three times in Acts,
each retelling has its variations but the major detailed outline is the

     "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the
      disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of
     him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of
     this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound
     unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and
     suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he
     fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul,
     why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the
     Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to
     kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said,
     Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him,
     Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou
     must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless,
     hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth;
     and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by
     the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days
     without sight, and neither did eat nor drink."
                        Acts 9:1-9

     "And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering
    into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear
    me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I
    received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring
    them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. And
    it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto
    Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light
    round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying
    unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who
    art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom
    thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light,
    and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to
    me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me,
    Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all
    things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see
    for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were
    with me, I came into Damascus."
                           Acts 22:4:11

     "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things
     contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did
     in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison,
     having received authority from the chief priests; and when they
     were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished
     them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and
     being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto
     strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and
     commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the
     way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining
     round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were
     all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice in the Hebrew tongue,
     Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick
     against the pricks.  And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I
     am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet:
     for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a
     minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen,
     and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee."
                          Acts 26:9-16

       Many have been the theories and the "psychological explanations"
offered to account for this phenomenon of Saul's vision, and his subse-
quent conversion to the camp of his erstwhile enemeies, the followers of
the Nazarene Jesus. Here I do not feel adequate or qualified to agree or
disagre with any of these "explanations'. I must take Saul at his word that
he did see a vision of the risen Jesus without inquiring into either a
psychological profile of Saul or into the objective reality of the vision
just as I do not inquire into the objective reality of the resurrection of
Jesus. Obviously, as a commmitted traditional Jew, I do not subscribe to
those realities, yet I am aware that they were accepted as real theological
occurences by those people who experienced them.

       What we have here is nothing less than the grand Christian theo-
phany which brought about the conversion of Saul. But this was no ordinary
conversion. It is in some way the Christian counterpart of the story of
Moses at the Burning Bush. The most unlikely man, he who was the sworn
arch-enemy of the Assembly of the Faithfull, - now was to be become the
Assembly's chief ambassador to the non-Jewish world. To be sure, they who
were the "chief apostles of Jerusalem" were cool to Saul, firstly because he
had been, after the Sadducees, one of their most hatefull persecutors, but
secondly and more importantly, because of his unorthodox views of Jesus and
his mission. For his part, Saul would not allow this cool reception deter
him. In fact, he used the story of the vision on the road to Damascus as
justification for his non-reliance on the authority and tradition of the
Jerusalem apostles.

     "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of
      me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was
      I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
                          Galatians 1:11-12

       In the face of resistance to him and his mission on the part of
Jerusalem apostles, and in view of their claim that he had no real
authority to teach a non-historical Jesus, Saul would assert that he had no
need of their imprimator since he did not receive either tradition or
authority from them but directly from heaven itself. Indeed he accounted
himself equal with Peter and James since Jesus had appeared to him as well
as to them. And heaven had made him an apostle, not Peter and James.

     "And that he was seen of Cephas(Peter), then of the twelve: After
     that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom
     the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen
     asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
     And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due
                             I Corinthians 15:5-8

     "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb,
      and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might
      preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with
      flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were
      apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again
      unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to
      see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the
      apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother."
                          Galatians 1:15-19

       Thereafter, even though he acknowledged (and indeed needed) the
HISTORICITY of Jesus, he would not need to rely on the story of the real
flesh and blood Jesus. He rarely refers to Jesus' life deeds or teachings
other than to report that Jesus lived, was tried, was crucified, and rose
from the dead.

     "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though
      we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we
      him no more."
                            II Corinthians 5:16

       Paul was to dwell on this Damascus experience inwardly for many
years before beginning any active mission of his own. When at last he did
begin to actively preach about Jesus, he gave his listeners a novel
interpretation of the the death and resurrection of the Nazarene; and that
very death and resurrection, not the life and political-messianic
asperations of Jesus, became the central theme of Saul's message. We have
stated that the disciples' immediate interpretation of the death and rising
of their master was that it was meant to overcome the worst that the Roman
enemy could do to G-d's Anointed. By becoming a martyr AND overcoming the
enemy's uttermost punishment, Jesus became the invincible Jewish hero who
would usher in the golden age. But when it became evident that the Parousia
was to be delayed, it is possible that the apostles invested Jesus' death
and resurrection with an additional meaning. Saul said that he did not rely
on the apostles for any significant received tradition but only upon
heaven. Therefore when he announces the "good news" of Jesus' death, it is
difficult to ascertain Saul's source. Did he indeed receive it from Peter
and James, or was it just a result of his own divine vision?  He states:

     "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received,
      how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures."
                             I Corinthians 15:3

       Here, in its bare simplicity, is the central theme of Saul's
message, namely, Jesus' messiahship is not that of Jewish nationalistic
liberation but rather of humanity's salvation from death and the dark
powers of the anti-G-d forces. "Christ died for our sins."  At his
death, so died "old" humanity and its sins; at his resurrection, the
new humanity, embodied in the Church of believers (or the NEW Assembly
of the Faithfull), arose - free of sin and destined for Glory! How
Saul/Paul came to accept this doctrine, we shall see shortly.

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