Paper presented at the Near East Archaeological Society Nat'l Meetings/ETS
Wednesday, November 16, 2005, 4:10 - 4:50 p.m. session
Radisson Valley Forge
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
As the light from my television flickered, I watched one of many cable documentaries on the life of a biblical character. This program was on the Apostle Paul. After hearing one bizarre theory after another on the life of this important historic figure, I looked around in desperation trying to find one those fake, red bricks to throw at the television screen. Unfortunately, I forgot to purchase one from the popular 1970's variety show called Real People, so I guess a crumpled piece of paper will do. Real People broadcast programs on the lives of the ordinary yet extraordinary people of the modern day. Indeed, Saul of Tarsus, who eventually became Paul the Apostle, was an ordinary yet extraordinary person of the first century. Who was the real person named Saul who became Paul? Some liberal academics claim that Saul's conversion from foe to Christian friend was not due to the unique intervention of Jesus of Nazareth but by an earthquake flash, is this true? Others believe that Paul embraced the pagan religion of Tarsus that some believe was Mithraism. Did Paul bring Mithraic baptism into Christianity and turn the Christian practice into a bloody pagan ritual? Did Paul's epilepsy, as some claim he had, prompt his ambition, drive and inflexibility rather than the leading of the Holy Spirit? If this belief is true, anyone, including those in this room, due to their firm stance on any issue should promptly visit a physician. These beliefs, touted by some in academia and the media, are pure nonsense. The intention of this paper is not to shame those with aberrant beliefs but to encourage those here today that your work is appreciated and critical to our cultures understanding of ancient history and the Bible.
Saul of Tarsus or Gaius Julius Paulus, as some claim his name may have been, lived in the city of Tarsus of Cilicia. This 4000 year-old Turkish municipality, once a minor provincial city, gained prominence under the Hittite's. Under the Persians, Tarsus became Cilicia's capitol. In 333 B.C.E., Alexander the Great rescued Tarsus from the Persians. After the death of the great conqueror, the Seleucids controlled the area until Roman domination. Under Cicero, Tarsus became the capitol of Roman Cilicia about 67 B.C.E. (Johnson 1980: 107-109). In 47 B.C.E., Julius Caesar visited the city, and it was renamed Juliopolis or Iuliopolis in honor of him (Gasque 1992: VI 333).
From Tents to Philosophy
Saul gained his knowledge of tent making in the city of his boyhood. Tarsian's made use of the linen acquired from the black shaggy goats making living structures possible, at the same time developing a trade for the locals. Others have conjectured that Saul was actually a "leather worker" or that he made the head garments known as Talitts that some have translated as tents of worship. Tarsus was an ancient University town that had schools of philosophy as well as rhetoric. Strabo, the Greek geographer and historian, praised the Tarsians for their devotion to education and believed that Tarsus was greater than Alexandria and Athens in this regard. Strabo's writings refer to Tarsian philosophers: Dionysides, Athenodorus, Marcus Cato (resident philosopher) and Athenod of Kana who, in an era of government corruption, sought reform. Perhaps Saul's role amongst Jerusalem's Jewish leaders was that of a philosopher or a thinker rather than a Rabbi (Johnson 1980: 107-110).
Saul was a descendant from the tribe of Benjamin and yet considered a Roman citizen. The late Professor C. Bradford Welles believed that Saul's grandfather may have received his Roman citizenship when Julius Caesar visited the city in 47 B.C.E., thus the aforementioned Gaius Julius Paulus as a potential birth name for Saul (Johnson 1980: 108-109). As a boy, Saul was hardly distinguishable from any other child, but as a Jew, he followed the dietary laws and observed the Sabbath. Saul probably had childhood friends that he ran around with expending youthful energy as most children do. Since Tarsus was not a Jewish locale, he probably knew many "good" non-Jews. Saul would write later, "Is God the God of the Jews alone?" "Is he not the God of the gentiles also?"(Romans 3:29). He undoubtedly sat and listened to poets, storytellers and the philosophers of his day in Tarsus. Years later, Paul may have been thinking of those that influenced his earliest philosophies when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians: "We too…once lived in our own sensuality and obeyed the promptings of our own instincts and notions" (Ephesian 2:3) (Synge 1982-1983: 260-263).
On to Jerusalem
In Acts 22:3 Luke writes that Saul/Paul was "born," "brought up" and "educated" in Tarsus of Cilicia; then he was sent to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel. Saul may have entered Jerusalem as a boy but he grew into a man of unwavering convictions. The first time we learn of the zealous Pharisee named Saul is in Acts 7. The young Saul was standing amongst the garments of the executioners of a man named Stephen. Stephen, according to Acts 6, was a recent convert to a new belief system, later called Christianity, and it is said that he was a man of full of God's grace and power. He also performed amazing signs and miracles among the people (Acts 6:8). The Synagogue of the Freedman accused Stephen of blaspheming God and Moses during a debate session. A Jewish council questions Stephen to answer the charges brought against him. Pronounced guilty, Stephen was stoned to death outside of the city, and Saul was an official observer, or as the NIV interprets, "giving approval to his death" or syneudokon - "he consented to it with delight." (Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible).
After the death of Stephen, the Bible tells us that Saul, presumably with legal authority and arresting officials, went from house to house; dragging out men and women and sending them to jail (Acts 8:3), and others fled. Apparently, such activities were common yet limited to extreme situations such as the case in Josephus' War of the Jews, an account unrelated to the story of Saul, when homes in Jerusalem were pillaged, and Jews were carried off Jews to prison. Certain death awaited them yet no one came to their aid (Wars of the Jews 4.3.10). What is the legal background or authority for such action by the religious system? Flavius Josephus wrote that the oral Law was regarded as equal to the written Law according to the Pharisees (Antiq 13.10.6) (Russell 1960: 50). It is true that both the Pharisee's and Saducees trusted in the Law of Moses, but the Pharisaic elements in addition handed down "new law." Josephus wrote that there were, "certain legal practices which the Pharisees have handed onto the people by succession from their forefathers, which were not written in the Law of Moses" (Antiquities of the Jews (XIII.10. 6, Leaney 1984: 185). It is also true that Josephus told us that the Pharisees were "the most accurate interpreters of the Law, "(Jewish War 2.162) yet Gamaliel's concern in Acts 5, before Saul is introduced, is the creation and potential abuse of new Law (Stambaugh and Balch 1986: 99).
Gamaliel laid out his argument, "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men (Peter and other Apostles)… I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5: 35-39). I believe it was Gamaliel's intention to prevent the Pharisaical abuse of the ever-developing "new Law," imposed upon the Way and previous sects, as well as defend the rights of the current "good" which presumably he saw could be deriving from God. H. Wheeler Robinson writes, "Every religion that builds on a book is compelled to devise means to reinterpret that book so as to adapt its original meaning to the changing needs of successive generations…" (Russell 1960: 63). Those changing needs, which should have been clearly defined and regulated, undoubtedly lead to cases of abuse which lead to persecution.
Gamaliel, Agrippa and the Nazareth Inscription
There may be another possibility for Gamaliel's leniency toward Peter and the other members of The Way, though it is speculative. It is known that Gamaliel had ties with the family of Agrippa I (Pes. 88b, Encylopaedia Judaica: 1972: 296), perhaps Gamaliel and Agrippa discussed the strange events that we now read about in Matthew 27 (tombs being opened, saints walking around Jerusalem etc;) during the time of Jesus' trial, death and resurrection. Dr. Clyde Billington's paper on the Nazareth Inscription, a paper he presented in May of 2004 for NEAS in San Antonio, carefully laid out the relationship between Agrippa I, the Emperor Claudius and the how artifact may support the Resurrection. The Nazareth Inscription does not prove the Resurrection, as Dr. Billington will admit, but it does place the events of Passion Week early into the reign of Claudius thus dismissing the idea that the narratives were later inventions. Perhaps Gamaliel believed something extraordinary did occur in the spring of 30 A.D. and the events of that week were still under investigation. I am not saying that Gamaliel was a follower of Jesus but perhaps Gamaliel saw "the good" that the Way was producing (healings etc;) why not try to temper the emotions and actions of his colleagues until more was known?
“…But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for
letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them
bound to Jerusalem.” - (Acts 9:1,2).
With the power and authority of Jerusalem's religious system, the Pharisee named Saul journeyed to Damascus. It is believed that one of the reasons why Saul journeyed to Syria was to investigate and arrest those who were still identifying themselves as Jews but were current followers of the Way. The major religious issue may have been ritual impurity caused by new Christian converts from Damascus that journeyed to Jerusalem. Damascus may have been one of many checkpoints that led to Jerusalem for the feasts, and some Christians may have been identifying themselves with their former religion of Judaism. Dr. C.S. Mann believed that there may have been some form of identification presented at these checkpoints, and perhaps a common record or type of census existed throughout the empire (my insertion). It was known that discharged veterans and manumitted slaves carried libelli (certification or I.D. papers). Perhaps first century Jews did the same in the era of new sects, zealot actions and other aberrations to their faith and practice. Henry J. Cadbury, author of The Book of Acts in History, believed that excavators in Alexandria unearthed proof of libelli (a form of I.D.), but this assertion is still under investigation (Mann 1988: 332, 333). But what of Roman citizenship?
Being a citizen of Rome had it advantages, which Paul, formerly Saul, used to his full advantage. When Paul and Silas were imprisoned at Philippi, the city officials were alerted to the fact that they had arrested Roman citizens; the two men were promptly released and escorted to the city limits (Acts 16). In Jerusalem, a Roman commander who demanded to know why a riot had broken out arrested Paul and wanted him flogged. The accused asked the Commander, "Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn't even been tried?" The Commander was shocked and exclaimed that he too was a Roman citizen and it cost him plenty. Paul said he was a Roman by birth (Acts 23). Certainly, in both cases some form of census or public record was available for officials to examine. I do not believe "just trust me" would have been sufficient.
Saul's mission from Jerusalem to Damascus, a topic of interest for both Christian and critic alike, has produced many questions about the journey. Some queries are worthy of discussion while other beliefs produce bizarre scenarios and cast doubt. The media's daily influence on today's biblically illiterate culture is enormous and a major problem for the Christian and the seeker. What did Saul experience as he neared Damascus? Did he walk or was he on horse back? If he did fall off his horse or simply to the ground, did Saul collapse or roll down a hill? Sounds silly doesn't it? I am presenting these questions for a particular purpose. Did Jesus of Nazareth confront Saul on the road to Damascus, or did a flash from seismic activity blind the zealous Pharisee? These questions seem bizarre to the biblically literate, but these inquiries are sincere and need discussion.
When Saul set out from Jerusalem to Damascus, he had the power of the religious leadership behind his mission. Saul presumably used the quickest means available to complete his mission. If there were problems with members of the Way infiltrating Damascus synagogues and filtering down to Jerusalem for the festivals, then Saul would have wanted to take immediate action. Saul most certainly would have had arresting officials with him (his companions) and would have used the most efficient means (horseback) to deliver the letters to establish his authority and intent. Damascus was approximately 150 miles away from Jerusalem, a six to eight day journey. If word reached the followers of Jesus in Damascus ahead of Saul, they would have gone into hiding or fled the area. The road from Jerusalem to Damascus was undoubtedly heavily traveled so why walk and disregard the element of surprise and capture?
Charles T. Dougherty wrote an article in Bible Review Magazine on this issue called "Did Paul Fall off his Horse?" Though this issue is less than crucial to this paper, he does have some interesting observations on how Christians throughout the centuries viewed Saul's quest to Damascus. Dougherty analyzed 24 paintings and discovered that prior to Michelangelo's "Rachel's Tapestry," (1517) Paul was depicted on foot such as in the "Cappella Palatina," which depicts the Protestant view of Saul's mission. After 1517, Paul and many other figures were on horseback, the Catholic view. The horse and rider motifs depicted the greatness of the man (Dougherty 1997: 43, 44), but how great was the man, sent on such a pernicious mission)?
Stop, Drop, Roll and Convert?
Another issue is the manner or method in which Saul was converted. On The Discovery Channel's "Who Was Paul," the zealous Pharisee is shown walking with approximately twenty other people when he is struck down or converted by Jesus. When this event occurs, Saul screams and proceeds to roll down a steep hill not once, not twice, but four times. It looked like a bad Olympic event (The Discovery Channel, 2004). On A&E's "Mysteries of the Bible," (Paul the Apostle) Saul is walking alone to Damascus. How did Saul get to Damascus after his conversion and subsequent blindness if he had no one to assist him? Within the same program segment Robert M. Price, Professor of New Testament at Drew University, theorized that Saul's conversion on the road never occurred. In the same program, interviewee Reverend Robert Morris said Saul's conversion experience is similar to those that had had visions or is a common experience (The Arts and Entertainment Network, 1997). Somehow, these contradictory stories and varying opinions are supposed to inform the television viewer. How is that possible?
The Earthquake Helmet, the Epileptic and the Good Doctor
In the Discovery Channel documentary "Who Was Paul," neuro-psychologist Dr. Michael Persinger attempted to recreate Saul's conversion. Dr. Persinger developed, for the lack of a better description, an earthquake light helmet. This helmet covers the patient's head and part of the face. A device, attached to the patient, flashes light into the person's eyes. This device is supposed to duplicate what Saul experienced on the road to Damascus. The documentary producers developed the theory that the earthquake that hit Antioch in 37 C.E., produced an electromagnetic light shockwave, the cause of Saul's blindness (The Discovery Channel, 2004). No one knows the exact day Saul left for Damascus nor the year. Some have theorized anywhere from 31 - 37 C.E. (Reisner 1998, 73), guesswork at best. If an earthquake converted Saul, is it safe to presume that earthquakes are selective? If you view the program, only Saul was affected by the geologic phenomena. Dr. Persinger states, "These balls of light (produced by earthquakes and reproduced in his experiments) are so energetic that if you were close to them, they could induce seizures within your brain and actual produce unconsciousness and stimulate areas of the brain that may produce tremendous mystical experiences, particularly, the feeling of a sensed presence."
Lauren Sculthorpe, an acquaintance of Dr. Persinger, volunteered to do an on-camera experiment with the light helmet. Sculthorpe said, "I was a little afraid of course, because I heard that some people have really wild experiences in here. But I felt a presence which was not something I expected and a little bit of a visual experience, but the presence was very memorable; it was kind of like having a person in the room" (The Discovery Channel, 2004). After watching this ridiculous experiment on television, a thought came to my mind. Perhaps the "person in the room" and "the presence" was the nurse assisting her. Maybe?
The Discovery Channel program, "Who Was Paul," failed to disclose some important and unusual facts about Dr. Persinger. To start with, the doctor's previous studies include UFO's and ESP investigations related to geological disturbances. This fact was kept from the viewers. Persinger has also written extensively on issues pertaining to scientific experimentation's on woman as opposed to men. Women, as it turns out, are better subjects than men concerning tests in memory. In 1995, Persinger co-wrote the article, "Women Reconstruct More Details Than Men." This paper concerned the implications for right-hemispheric factors in the serial memory effect. He also wrote about verbal memory weakness in men as opposed to women in 1993 (Laurentian University, 2005). So what does this mean? It means that Dr. Persinger's experiment with his patient (Lauren Sculthorpe and the earthquake light helmet) was probably a set up! He knew what her reactions to the test would be (verbal and memory advantages over a man) before the cameras rolled. Is this honest science?
The final issue concerning Dr. Persinger and the documentary "Who Was Paul" concerns Saul or Paul's "thorn in the flesh." According to the documentary writer, epilepsy is the current diagnosis for Paul's malady. Interviewee Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor believes that because Paul was unwavering in his convictions and he believed others were wrong, on various issues, that is a sign of epilepsy. So I guess if anyone here has strong opinions on an issue you may want to make a doctors appointment. The narrator, actor Avery Brooks, makes the assertion that epilepsy may allow its victims access to a higher spiritual dimension that non-epileptics cannot attain. So, the Holy Spirit did not drive Paul forward on his missionary journeys, but illness was the cause? In 1995, Dr. Persinger wrote an article that I could not resist but to include in this paper. The title of his paper says it all: "Sudden Unexpected Death In Epileptics Following Sudden, Intense, Increases In Geomagnetic Activity" (Laurentian University, 2005). So let us reason this out. If Saul was an epileptic and an earthquake hit, he would be dead, right? Geomagnetic activity (earthquakes) would have killed him! No meeting with Ananias, no missionary journeys; no Acts, Romans etc; and a very short documentary.
As I stated previously, the intention of this paper is not to shame those with aberrant beliefs but to encourage those here today that your work is appreciated and critical to our cultures understanding of ancient history and the Bible.
Damascus and Ananias
After Saul's brief encounter with the risen Jesus, he was led to Damascus and to the house of Judas who lived on Straight Street. Saul did not eat or drink anything for three days. Ananias, a believer in Damascus, received a vision from God telling him to go baptize Saul at the house of Judas. Ananias was hesitant to obey because he had learned that Saul had persecuted believers in Jerusalem. Within three days of Saul's entry into the city, permission was granted to arrest those in Damascus (Acts 9:14). Presumably, the letters from the religious leaders of Jerusalem to Damascus reached the local synagogues, courtesy of Saul's companions. It would seem that arrests or rumors of capture were spreading throughout the city without the assistance of Saul.
Christian Baptism and Mithra
Once Ananias laid his hands upon the bed-ridden Saul, the Bible describes something like scales falling from the Pharisee's eyes and then he was baptized. Saul then arose from his bed, had something to eat and regained his strength.
Mysteries of the Bible interviewee, Robert M. Price, supports the theory that the baptism that Ananias gave to Saul, as well as many other instances of the religious practice throughout the first century, had its origins in the bloody pagan ritual known as Mithraism (The Arts and Entertainment Network, 1997). Did Paul and other figures of the New Testament plagiarize the cultic Roman practice that originated from Persia? Mithraic cult ceremonies took place in artificial caves, thought to be symbols of the cosmos. By the way, do not be surprised, if in the near future, a television producer's documentary will attempt to parallel the caves of Mithra with the recent baptismal caves found at Kibbutz Tzuba. The location where some believe John the Baptist baptized. The Mithraic caves could fit between thirty and fifty people. At the far end of the cave, an image of the cult Mithras, a representation of the god holding a knife about to slay a sacred bull, was present. It is the belief that the blood of a sacrificed bull dripped down covering the participants, creating a pagan form of baptism (ie; the sprinkling of water). According to my sources, there is no proof that bulls were sacrificed during these rituals. An exception may by the practice known as Taurobolium. In this ritual, the participant goes into a pit. The blood of a sacrificed bull flows through a grate above, down onto the individual. This bloody ritual was practiced in exceptional cases only and dates to the fourth century (see Predentius, 375 C.E., Yamauchi 1996: 513). There is no evidence to show that Tarsus had a Mithraic sect. (Merkelbach 1992: IV 877, 878).
Baal Tars, The Last Supper and Baptism
Baal Tars, not Mithra, was the chief god of Tarsus. Coins have been recovered that bare the image of Baal Tars, a Zeus type figure with both Greek and Persian traits (Johnson 1980: 106). Undoubtedly, many beliefs filtered in and out of Tarsus but as far as can be determined, no Mithraism. The ABC special Jesus and Paul: The Word and the Witness, hosted by Peter Jennings, attempted to group Mithraism with Jesus' Last Supper and the symbolic drinking of Christ's blood. There is no historical support for Christians taking pagan rituals and developing portions of the New Testament for first century use. Roman Mithraic practice started about 66 C.E., (Merkelbach 1992: IV 877. Yamauchi 1996: 509) at least thirty-five years after the Last Supper, John's baptismal practices and other means of ritual purity.
Preaching in Damascus
After Saul's conversion, the Bible tells us that Saul went immediately into the synagogues of Damascus to argue that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps it was his desire to get into the Jewish places of worship before word spread about his new beliefs. One must assume that the locals still considered Saul a persecutor, a means for him to enter the synagogues. If the theory of the libelli (Identification) can be trusted, then perhaps Saul used his old identity as a Jew to enter in and preach. That fact would be an ironic twist since the libelli may have been one of the main reasons why he journeyed to Damascus in the first place as a suppressor.
After Saul preached, the Jews were amazed that the persecutor had now become a follower of Jesus. The Jews said amongst themselves, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on his name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" (Tyndale, 1993). This question lends more support for the idea that Saul's companions delivered the letters to the Damascus synagogues while Saul was at Judas' house. The manner in which the locals received the information about Saul's mission is unclear. The purpose for Saul's visit must have spread quickly throughout the city because only 3 to 4 days had passed since the persecutor's arrival (Acts 9:9).
The Great Escape
The Bible tells us that soon after Saul preached in Damascus, there were those within the city that desired to take his life. Saul fled quickly. The Apostle may have received the first of five Damascus synagogue beatings at this time (2 Corinthians 11:24), the reason for his first flight from the city (Hengel and Schwemer: 1997: 93). It is the belief that Saul left Damascus for Arabia where he stayed for 3 yrs. Authors Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer believe that Saul may have spent less time in Arabia, any where from two to two and one half years. (Hengel and Schwemer: 107).
Why Did Saul Flee to Arabia?
The Jews considered the Nabataeans, descendants of Ishmael (son's of Abraham). The Idhumeans, descendants of Esau (son's of Isaac), converts to Judaism through John Hyrcanus I. The Nabataean's were geographically close to their important neighbors. Both groups shared cultural, political and economic exchange. Aretus IV encouraged trade and urbanization. Undoubtedly, Jews lived within the cosmopolitan city of Petra. Other Jews dwelt between Jerusalem and Petra. Archaeologists have unearthed records of a woman named Salome, who lived among Jews at Mahoza, located at the Southeast corner of the Dead Sea (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 110 -112). Saul went to Arabia for many reasons. He probably journeyed there to clarify what had happened to him (a persecutor of Jesus to follower of Jesus) and to plan his future. Saul probably desired independence. A Jewish traveling companion may have delayed Saul's goal to reach both Greek and Jew. Saul's multi-ethnic background from Tarsus undoubtedly fed his desire to reach all of his hearers. (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 109 -112).
The Return to Damascus and Jerusalem
Once Saul left Arabia, he returned to Damascus. Authors Hengel and Schwemer believe that Saul may have fled Arabia and/or Petra due to his preaching to Jews and non-Jews in the city. With the recent territorial conflict associated with the death of Philip (34 C.E.), Saul's preaching may have been considered political and a threat to an uneasy peace. Saul returned to Damascus from Arabia, another city under the rule of Aretus, and resumed preaching (Acts 9). Inciting both Jews who wanted him dead and the political forces under Aretus, he fled Damascus for the second time around the year 36 C.E. Luke wrote that Saul was lowered over the city wall in a basket and he fled into the night. (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 127-130).
When Saul returned to Jerusalem, he entered the city in secret to avoid assassins. Saul met with only Peter, James and perhaps a Nephew (Acts 23:16-22). Barnabas may have introduced Saul to Peter. The Apostle Peter may have been the mediator between Saul and the rest of the Jerusalem Church. The followers of Jesus were probably suspicious of Saul, the former persecutor, and probably kept close watch. Saul stayed with Peter for fifteen days. Saul may have left the city under threat of assassination. Saul left for Caesarea and then journeyed home to Tarsus. (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 135, 140, 150).
To Tarsus and Antioch
Saul journeyed home to Tarsus. Saul's hometown was second only to Antioch economically, culturally and politically within the region. He may have traveled home to gather linen for his trade as a tentmaker. A place of higher learning, Saul may have eavesdropped in on the current philosophical arguments, updating his knowledge, in order to reach the Greeks, and he probably visited Jewish relatives. Three archaeological records support the fact that there was a Jewish population in Tarsus. Two were discovered at Jaffa, "Judas, son of Joses, a citizen of Tarsus," the second, "Here lies Isaac, the elder of the Community of the Cappadocians, linen merchant of Tarsus. The third is a letter addressed to Caligula from Philo where he states that Cilicia is one of the provinces where the Jews lived (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 159-161).
Barnabas went to retrieve Saul at Tarsus. One must assume that Paul was not idle. Antioch was the third largest city in the empire falling short to Alexandria. Population statistics vary from 180,000 to 600,000 persons, 300,000 inhabitants, the current figure. Antioch had a large number of synagogues that attracted Greeks (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 179, 186) . Josephus wrote, "and through their worship they (the Jews) attracted a large number of Greeks and in a way made them a part of themselves." At Antioch, the Hellenists first preached to the Greeks, then Barnabas addressed the people, and then Saul joined Barnabas. They stayed one year to strengthen the Church of Antioch where the followers of Jesus where first called Christians. The term Christian was probably a public designation not necessarily a name they called themselves (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 189, 227).
From Jerusalem came the prophet Agabus, who prophesied a famine. This famine may have started around the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Claudius who reigned from 41-54 C.E. In response, Saul and Barnabas sent relief to the people of Judea (Hengel and Schwemer 1997: 241).
The First Mission and Sergius Paullus
Saul and Barnabas, separated from other prophets and teachers in Antioch, began the first of three journeys. They traveled from Seleucia to Cyprus, the hometown of Barnabas (Acts 4:26). Cyprus, according to Philo, was full of Jewish colonies (Philo, Leg. ad Gaium 282) (Reisner 1998: 273). From Cyprus, they traveled to Salamis and preached at several synagogues (Acts 13:5) with John Mark as their assistant. From Salamis, they journeyed to Paphos where they met the Proconsul Sergius Paullus and the Jewish occultist Bar-Jesus or Elymas.
Paphos, a town on the Southwest coast of Cyprus, was famous for the temple to the Phoenician goddess Astarte, the cult that the Greeks adapted to the worship of Aphrodite. Tacitas recalls the pagan shrine in 69 C.E. as "renowned among both natives and foreigners" (Tacitas, Histories 2.2) (Blaiklock 1983: 352). Bar-Jesus may have frequented the shrine of Astarte and blended Judaism with the cult practice. The Proconsul Sergius Paullus was apparently a Jewish sympathizer, yet he still allowed occultism within his court. ...Archaeologists have recovered at least three potential archaeological confirmations for the man named Sergius Paullus. The first inscription comes from Soloi at North Cyprus. The Greek script that bears his name is dated to about 126 C.E., too late to be the same person of Acts 13. The second inscription is also from Cyprus, at the location known as Kythera. Is Quintas Sergius, Sergius Paullus? This person did hold office during the reign of Caligula (37-41 C.E.) but the inscription is fragmented and unresolved. The last inscription may be the Sergius Paullus from the book of Acts. Discovered at Rome on an obelisk, Lucius Sergius Paullus held office during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 C.E.). According to my sources, Sergius Paullus was a rare name. Sergius Paullus may have been the grandson of L. Sergius L. f. Paullus (see inscription discovered at Psidian Antioch). The family owned large estates in Galatia. Saul may have left from Cyprus for Galatia for this reason (Acts 13) though the theory is speculative (Reisner 1998: 138-140).
Josephus made mention of Atomos, another Jewish occultist similar to Bar-Jesus, allowed into the region, ruled over by Felix (Reisner 1998: 137). These two examples make it clear that there was little delineation between Judaiac truth and pagan error within the ruling classes. Saul and Barnabas would have had to first clarify the truths of Judaism to the peoples of Paphos before they could introduce them to Jesus.
From Saul to Paul
How did Saul arrive at the name Paul? Writers before time of Origen believed that Saul took the name of Proconsul Sergius Paullus to appeal to non-Jews. Paul was probably a double name, a name used for the Apostle to all nations. Rainer Reisner believes that the name Paul was an alternative name, a Supernomen or Signum, every Roman citizen had to have a Roman name (Reisner 1998: 143-145).
Just as Saul, also known as Paul, dealt with the strange philosophies if his day, we must do the same. Using our knowledge of scripture, science and future research we can reach those who have been discouraged and perhaps led astray by those within the various media forms and in educational institutions (ie: television, film, literature or the classroom). It is difficult to be zealous for the truth in a world when one perspective (the anti-biblical one), is primarily broadcast on cable and in the theatres at a ratio of 85% to 15%. Can science and scripture compliment each other? The belief that scripture and science cannot is cancerous. Be encouraged. Your work is appreciated and critical to our cultures understanding of ancient history and the Bible.
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Hengel, Martin and Schwemer, Anna Maria. Paul: Between Damascus and Syria. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
Johnson, Sherman E. "Tarsus and the Apostle Paul." Lexington, Kentucky: Lexington Theological Quarterly, October 1980.
Leaney, A.R.C. The Jewish and Christian World: 200 BC to AD 200. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
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Mann, C.S. "Saul and Damascus." Edinburgh, Scotland: T.&T. Clark. The Expository Times, August 1988.
Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible (Source for Syneudokon). http://bible.crosswalk.com, 1995-2005.
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Stambaugh, John E. and Balch, David L. The New Testament in its Social Environment. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Westminster Press, 1986.
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