Paul and Damascus
by R. E. Lay (September 21, 2003)

The New Testament account of the early Christian Church is set forth in the book called the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts we are told that the original name of the apostle Paul was Saul. This Saul first appears in Acts as a "young man" who participated in some strange way in the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr of the early church, and then took a leading part in the persecution of the church that followed, searching out church members and somehow causing them to be imprisoned.

After a digression on early church missionary efforts in Samaria and a strange story about Philipís conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch, Acts returns to Saul for the famous story of his conversion. The account is set forth in Acts 9:1-30, beginning as follows:

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.

As Acts continues its story, Paul experiences a vision of Jesus on his journey to Damascus and loses his sight. His attendants bring him to Damascus. God instructs one Ananias, "a disciple at Damascus", to go to him there. Ananias miraculously cures Paul of his blindness. Paul is filled with the holy spirit and is baptized. He preaches Christ in Damascus. The Jews of that city plot to kill him, "but his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket". He immediate-ly goes to Jerusalem. The disciples there are afraid of him, but Barnabas persuades them to accept him. He preaches against the "Hellenists". They conspire to kill him, but with the aid of the "brethren" he escapes to Caesarea and from there to Syria-Cilicia.

There are some obvious problems with this account. One problem is obvious on the face of the narrative. Why Damascus? Acts first concentrates the church in Jerusalem and then says that its members fled to Judaea and Samaria to escape the persecution, except for the "apostles" who remained in Jerusalem. In later chapters Acts includes Galilee among the area of the church (Acts 9:31) and refers to some of the church going as far as "Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch" (Acts 11:19). But distant Damascus is never mentioned. In beginning the story of Saulís conversion, the author of Acts simply assumes that there were people of "the Way" (by whom the author of Acts clearly means Jesus people or, as he usually calls them, "the church") in Damascus and that both Saul and the Jerusalem priests knew it. Still it seems an odd choice for continuation of the persecution when, as the author of Acts has just said, "the apostles" were still in Jerusalem and the "church" was scattered into nearby Judaea and Samaria. The lack of explanation here suggests that the author of Acts has changed his source material when he turns to the story of Saulís conversion and has not blended his sources together very well. It also raises some questions about the origin of these people of "the Way" in Damascus.[1]

The second problem is not self-evident from the narrative itself, but rather requires a bit of knowledge about the history of the period. It concerns Saulís purported authority granted by the Jerusalem priesthood. The author of Acts says Saul "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."[2] The problem is that the high priest or priests of the temple in Jerusalem could have had no authority over any Jews who may have lived in the distant city of Damascus and therefore nothing to grant to Saul for any mission there.

A digression on Damascus history is in order here.[3]

Damascus thrived as an Aramaean city state from about 1000 BCE to 732 BCE when its independence was terminated by the Assyrians. From the Assyrians it passed to other great empires in succession: the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks. When the conquest of Alexander the Great were divided among his military successors, Damascus wound up in the empire of the Seleucids. Originally a vast realm, by 100 BCE the area under Seleucid control had been reduced to Syria and was subject to almost continuous civil war among rival claimants to the throne. Damascus was still an important city, although it was no rival to the great metropolis of Antioch-on-the-Orontes, the Seleucid capital. Some of the Seleucid rebel claimants used Damascus as their home base. In 84 BCE the last of these unwisely went to war with the Nabataeans and was defeated. The Nabataeans, a kingdom of Arabic-speaking people with its capital at the desert city of Petra, took possession of Damascus.

In 63 BCE the Romans entered the scene, led by their general Pompey. Pompey simply occupied Syria, where a power vacuum existed, and made it a Roman province. At first Pompey allowed the Nabataean king to retain Damascus. A little later, however, either he or his successor in Syria took Damascus from the Nabataeans and made it a free city. At this time the Romans preferred autonomous city states as the political organization for the areas south of their province of Syria. They created one series of them along the Mediterannean coast, in Phoenicia and Palestine. They created another series inland in the desert fringe area. In the latter area, beside Damascus, there were such city-states as Scythopolis (Beisan), Canatha (Hauran), Gadara, Pella, Gerasa (Jerash), and Philadelphia (Amman). These desert-fringe city-states were placed together in some sort of loose confederation known as the Decapolis (because they numbered ten in all), with Damascus as the confederation capital. East of them the desert caravan trails were still controlled by the Nabataeans.[4]

In between these two series of city states were small area peoples, like the Jews, Samarians and Ituraeans. The Jews had taken advantage of the Seleucid decline to gain their independence under a dynasty of priest-kings, known as the Maccabees or Hasmonians, who eventually created a rather large kingdom for themselves, conquering Galilee in the process and populating it with Jews. When Pompey came, however, he largely dismantled this kingdom. The Romans eventually allowed one Herod, their favorite, to dispossess the Maccabees altogether and again construct a large Jewish state. In contrast to the Maccabees, Herod did not try to claim the high priest office for himself, but allowed it to be held in turn by members of several priestly families, a pattern which continued after him. On Herodís death his realm was divided among three of his surviving sons, but shortly thereafter the Romans took over the direct government of Judaea themselves. Such was the situation during the career of Jesus.

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Herod Antipas, the Herodian ruler of Galilee, resolved to divorce his wife, who was the daughter of Aretas, King of the Nabataean Arabs, in order to marry his niece Herodias (who was married to one of his brothers at the time). Aretasí daughter fled to her father. War between Antipas and Aretas followed. Josephus is not clear on when this war began or how long it lasted. From his description one might reasonably suppose that it was short and thus very near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, which would make it about 36 CE. Josephus only tells us that Antipasí army was destroyed. However, Antipas remained secure in Galilee and appealed to the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius ordered Vitellius, his governor of Syria, to crush Aretas by force, and Vitellius prepared to do so. But on March 16, 37 CE, Tiberius died and Gaius Caligula succeeded to the position of emperor. Vitellius called off his campaign to await further instructions. As it turned out, Caligula decided to make peace with the Nabataeans.

It is not clear what this peace consisted of. Some historians think it included the transfer of Damascus to the Nabataean king. Perhaps it did, or perhaps Damascus remained an independent city. Perhaps the Nabataean king only obtained certain rights over Arabs in Damascus as their "ethnarch". Whatever the situation was in Damascus, it held on throughout the reigns of Caligula and Claudius and into the reign of Nero until about 55/60 CE, when Rome annexed Damascus to its province of Syria as part of an effort to secure its border in the face of war with the Parthians.

Thus, at the time that the temple priesthood in Jerusalem supposedly granted Saul the right to arrest Jews in Damascus, that city was either an autonomous city state or under the control of the Nabataean kingdom. In neither case is it reasonable to assume that any agent of the Jerusalem priesthood could simply enter the city and order its Jewish community to deliver up to him such Jews as he specified for transport in bondage to Jerusalem. The priests could not have conferred such authority. Nor could the Herodian rulers Herod Antipas and Philip. Nor could the Roman procurator of Judaea.

Beyond this, Damascus must have been overwhelmingly a Syriac-Aramaic city,[5] with a population largely dependent on the desert caravan trade. It would seem an unlikely destination for emigrant Jews. Whatever small Jewish community existed there must have been composed largely of Jews who had insinuated themselves into the caravan trade and wanted to keep it going. Such a Jewish Community would not likely have been very receptive to any messianic message emanating from Judaea. Also, whatever shallow Greek veneer might have been pasted over Syrian Damascus during the Seleucid period likely disappeared quite quickly when it was lost to the Nabataean Arabs in 68 BCE. Whatever Jews were there in Saul/Paulís time would not have been much influenced by Greek thought. This makes the city all the more unlikely as a point of interest for Saul/Paul both before and after his conversion. There is nothing in his background, as best as it can be sketched out, that connects him with Damascus earlier in his life. The original question thus repeats itself: Why Damascus?

If we had only Acts to consider, we might well consider that the author of Acts was mistaken as to the Damascus he got from his source material. Perhaps the Damascus that he assumed was the large city by that name was in reality a symbolic name in his source for some other location. There are certainly grounds for such an idea in the so-called Damascus Document, a product of 2nd Temple Judaism that was partially discovered in a Cairo synagogue in 1896 and rediscovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The product of some Jewish sect, it talked about its first members having made a "new covenant" with God in the "land of Damascus". It is possible that the author of the Damascus Document actually meant the city of Damascus or it near surroundings. It is also possible that he meant some location in the area of the Decapolis city-states. Aramaic-speaker might well have referred to the Decapolis territories as the "land of Damascus" since Damascus was the political center of the confederation. However, the most likely explanation is that the "land of Damascus" in the Damascus Document had a purely symbolic significance, based on a sectarian reinterpretation of one or two passages in the Jewish scripture.

For this role, Amos 5: 21-27 fits the bill admirably:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies, when you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings. I will not accept them and will not look upon the peace offerings of your fatted beasts. Take away from me the noise of your songs. I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

"Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

"Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You shall take up Sakkuth your king and Kaiwan your stargod--your images, which you made for yourselves.

"Therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus,"

- says Yahweh, whose name is the God of Hosts.

Now Amos was one of the earliest Hebrew prophets, and in his historical context it appears likely that, if he is prophesising anything, it is the removal of the royal house of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to some land so distant that it is beyond Damascus, as a result of their preferring sacrifices and offerings to real justice and their continuing to allow the worship of false gods.

Sects like the one that produced the Damascus Document, however, had an obsession with reinterpreting passages from Hebrew scripture to force them into prophecies relevant to their own times. In this process, they would readily change the apparent meaning of a passage to suit their own neo-prophetic notions. For them, "Damascus" remains a place of exile in concept. But instead of a place of punishment for unrighteous royalty, "Damascus" becomes a symbol for the place of refuge for righteous people, a self-imposed place of exile.[6]

Another prophecy which may be relevant here is the oracle concerning Damascus in Isaiah 17:1-3, which begins "Damascus shall cease to be a city," and then goes on to predict that Damascus and other nearby cities will become deserted ruins where flocks can lie down and not be afraid. The prophet here was predicting a conquest of the kingdom of Damascus by the Assyrians involving the destruction of its capital city and other cities in the land of Damascus. But the prediction proved only half true. The kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians all right, but the city of Damascus was not destroyed. Passing under the rule of successive empires, it remained a large city. By using the term "land of Damascus" or "Damascus" for their wilderness refuge, the sect that produced the Damascus Document would be providing a complete validation of Isaiahís prophecy, at least to its own satisfaction. "Damascus" would cease to be a city because for the members of the sect it would now refer to their wilderness refuge, where theyó-Godís flockó-could lie down to sleep and not be afraid.

It is going too far to directly connect the early Jesus movement with the sect that produced the Damascus Document, although such a connection is entirely possible. All that is necessary here is to suggest that, stemming from the Amos and Isaiah passages, "Damascus" became a symbolic term in some spectrum of related sectarian groups for a wilderness location where self-proclaimed righteous people gathered together in an attempt to insulate themselves from the perversions of the prevailing society.[7]

If "Damascus" is understood as meaning symbolically the location of some sectarian wilderness refuge that could be used by Jesus people, somewhere in or near Judaea itself, then the mission of Paul to "Damascus" becomes more logical. Whether his authority to act against Jesus people came from the Jerusalem temple priesthood, the Herodian ethnarch, or the Roman procurator, or some combination thereof, it would be limited to Judaea and/or its neighboring Herodian areas, and thus make some sense.[8] One can easily imagine a scenario where talk by Jesus people or by Paul himself about his expedition against a Jesus people wilderness refuge called "Damascus" later came to be viewed as an expedition to the large, well-known city of the same name by people who were ignorant of the wilderness refuge.

The foregoing analysis is, however, based on the assumption that all we need to deal with is the account of Saul/Paul in Acts. This is, of course, not the case. We must also consider the references to Damascus in two of the letters attributed to Paul, II Corinthians and Galatians. The majority of modern scholars consider both letters to be genuine Paul, although perhaps with a few later interpolations here and there.

In II Corinthians 11:32-33 we have the following statement:

At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands.

In Galatians 1: 15-17, after recalling Paulís days as a persecutor of the church, the authoró-either Paul or someone claiming to be him--goes on to say:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentile, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.

After three years, the report continues, Paul makes a brief trip to Jerusalem, then goes on to Syria-Cilicia.

By having Paul "return" to Damascus after his trip to Arabia, Galatians is in effect saying he had been there before. It is not clear from this wording that Damascus was the point from which he departed for Arabia or that the Damascus was the place of his conversion, but both conclusions can reasonably be inferred as facts assumed by the author to be known by his audience.

If either or both of these passages are genuine Paul, then it is difficult to refute a real connection between Paul and the city of Damascus. Paul gives no alternative explanation for "Damascus". It is most likely that the recipients would assume that the city was meant and that Paul would have known this, and there is no reason to think he would intentionally deceive them on such a minor point.[9] If such a real connection with the city of Damascus did exist, then we must either abandon altogether our earlier hypothesis that the "Damascus" of Saul/Paulís anti-church expedition was a sectarian wilderness refuge; or else posit the unlikely assumption that Saul/Paul was coincidentally connected with both Damacuses, first the wilderness refuge and later the city, and that after his death these two originally separate stories from his life became confused together so as to leave only the city as the Damascus of Acts.[10]

However, a good case can be made that neither the II Corinthians passage nor Galatians are genuine Paul.

With regard to Galatians the authenticity of the entire letter is in question. If Galatians was written by Paul before Acts was written, the author of Acts certainly had no knowledge that it existed and could refute his version of events. He either had no other source of information about those early events in Paulís career, or he did but left them out to suit his own purposes. There are reasons for believing it more likely that Galatians was written after Acts in order to counter the picture in Acts of a Paul subservient to the apostles in Jerusalem. In order to give his work more credibility than Acts, the real author of Galatians made it appear as the writing of Paul himself, rather than a second-hand account like Acts.[11]

As for II Corinthians, it may or may not be genuine Paul.[12] But the passage concerning Damascus appears to be a later interpolation. In Chapters 11-12 Paul is arguing that he is not inferior to some unnamed men who are presenting the Corinthians with a gospel different than his (referring to them sarcastically as "superlative apostles"). He therefore boasts about his own career, while at the same time saying quite often how relunctant he is to boast about himself. He talks about all the dangers he has faced, the punishments and imprisonments he has undergone, and the hardship, toil and anxiety he has suffered. But this is all in generalities. No specific event is ever described. Then comes another expression of his relunctance to boast. Then the Damascus incident. Then a bit more on his relunctance to boast. Then an abrupt change of subject to visions and revelations of Christ.

The passage on the Damascus incident appears like something out of order. It is not included in the general litany of hardships but rather is sandwiched in between two digressions on relunctant boasting, which, if it were not there, would form one consistent digression on relunctant boasting. It is specific, whereas everything before it on the hardship theme has been general. It looks like a marginal note that was later incorporated into the text.[13]

If the Damascus passage originated as a marginal note, it seems unlikely to have been written by Paul himself, although this is a possibility. Paul could have added it to the letter as an afterthought, after the original letter had been completed by his secretary. However, of all the dangers he had faced, why would Paul, who of course knew all of them, select that particular one for special attention? It is colorful, of course, but not a good example of the past suffering he had endured as a missionary, which was his theme, sinceó-and this is the most important point--it does not have any connection to his missionary work. It seems more likely that the note was added by a later reader of the letter, whose knowledge of Paulís past hardships as a missionary was quite limited. The colorful basket-escape episode was the one thing that stuck out in his mind when he read Paulís letter, and he noted it in the margin of the text for the benefit of future readers.

Thus, it is not unreasonable to believe that both Galatians and the Damascus passage in II Corinthians were not written by Paul himself, but rather by later people who did not have Paulís knowledge of his own life. If this is the case, a rather wide variety of possibilities opens up.

Certainly the connection of Saul/Paul with the city of Damascus can no longer be simply taken for granted. But neither can it be casually dismissed. The "events" pertaining to Damascus in Galatians and II Corinthians may not have been historically accurate, but it is unlikely that they were entirely fictional. They were more likely based on traditions that had developed from historical fact with various twists and turns. There are connections that point to such earlier tradi-tional material.

First of all, there is the basket-escape episode connection between II Corinthians and Acts. Both accounts have Saul/Paul escaping from Damascus in a basket through the city wall. Thus, the basket-escape story likely comes from a tradition grounded in historical factó-Paul did in fact make such a basket escape at some point in his early career.

There is, however, a major difference between the two versions. In Acts Paulís enemies are the Jews of the city. In II Corinthians his enemy is the local representative of the king of the Nabataean Arabs. Actsí depiction of the enemy must be rejected. It is too obviously a product of later resentment by Christians against the Jewish majority that had eventually rejected them, and it makes no sense in the time frame in which it occurred. The enemy depiction in II Corinthians merits credibility precisely because it has no such easy explanation. It comes out of nowhere. Why would anybody make it up?

There is no reason to think that the Nabataean king had any animosity to Saul/Paul because he was a Jew in general or because he was a Jew belonging to a particular sect. The effort to arrest Saul/Paul appears to have been directed against him as an individual, not as a member of a group. The Nabataean Arabs, pagans themselves but long familiar with the Jews, had no reason to persecute Jews in general or any Jewish sect in particular. Paul would not have been an Arab target because of his religious beliefs, even if we posit the very unlikely assumption that he had made some sort of nuisance of himself during some period of preaching in the Nabataean kingdom.

If we look to some alternative explanation for the Arab kingís effort against Paul, we are inevitably drawn to the Robert Eisenman contention: that Saul/Paul was himself a Herodian. Eisenmanís position on this particular subject will not be expounded here,[14] but by itself it is quite reasonable, whatever oneís opinion of his overall theory. Membership in the Herodian family seems a far more likely reason for Saul/Paul to be singled out for special attention by the Arabs than his religious beliefs.[15] Even so, however, we need a situation in which that family connection becomes relevant to Arab hostility.

In any event we have another connection that calls out for some historical source: the Nabataean Arab connection. Galatians has Paul making a trip to Arabia sometime in the three years following his conversion. II Corinthians has the King of the Nabataean Arabs as his enemy. Why Arabia and the Arabs? As in the case of the city of Damascus, there is no apparent reason for Saul/Paul to go to Arabia. Of all places, it is one of the least likely locations for him to want to visit, whether to preach, meditate, study or whatever.[16]

With regard to this Arab connection, we may recall the previously mentioned war, reported by Josephus, between the Herodian Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, and Aretas, King of the Nabataean Arabs, in 36 CE. This war could well have coincided with the career of Saul/Paul in the time following soon upon his conversion. If Saul/Paul was a member of the Herodian family, this period of warfare would certainly provide the situation in which the Nabataean Arabs would be making a special effort to lay hold of him.

In this regard it should be kept in mind that Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, also held an area immediately to the east of the lower Jordan and the Dead Sea, known as Perea. It was the only part of his domain which shared a border with the Nabataean Arab kingdom. It therefore was likely in Perea that Antipasí army was destroyed. Given this massive defeat, Perea was likely overrun for the most part by the Arabs, except perhaps for a few fortified places. If we assume that Saul/Paul was in Perea when this happened it would explain a lot. Aretasí governor in newly conquered Perea learned that a member of the Herodian family was holed up in some fortified place and sent a small contingent of armed men to seize him. Saul/Paul, however, managed to escape them through the basket episode. He may have later returned to this place after the Arabs left Perea. Paul must have liked to recount this colorful episode in his life even though it had nothing to do with his missionary work.

Most likely, the place from which Paul escaped was that "Damascus" which was the sectarian wilderness refuge that received Jesus people. If it was not Qumran, it would have been a place much like Qumran, with exterior walls protecting it. If so, then the "Damascus" identified with Saul/Paul would most likely be located in Perea.[17] Possibly it was located in the northernmost part of that territory, near the independent city-state of Pela, and the Jerusalem Community leadership fled to the same site after the execution of James in 66 C.E.[18]

Apart from the misunderstanding of "Damascus", the account in the II Corinthians interpolation is basically accurate. With regard to Galatians, it was not really a matter of Paul going to Arabia but rather Arabia coming to Paul. The author of Galatians had an historical kernel to work from but got it wrong.[19]

Of one thing we can be fairly sure. Wherever the basket episode occurred, it would not have been in the city of Damascus. If that city entered into the war story at all it would have only been as part of a peace treaty arranged by Caligula to satisfy the Nabataean Arabs, as compensation for their evacuation of Herodian territory. Once that peace treaty was concluded there would have been no reason for the Nabataeans to arrest any Herodian when they took control of the city of Damascus. The connection of the basket episode with the city of Damascus was thus a later creation, after the city had displaced the sectarian wilderness refuge as the presumed location of Paulís conversion in the various efforts to tell the story of his early career.[20]

In summary: Acts portrays a period of persecution of Jesus people in which Saul/Paul took a leading part. Assuming this persecution did take place, it is unclear who were its chief movers, the Jerusalem priests (as Acts would have it), the Romans, or Herod Antipas. Probably they all cooperated. In any event, a young kinsman of Herod Antipas, Saul, was chosen to lead the persecution effort in the streets. After driving out Jesus people from Jerusalem, Saul led a small armed force against a pro-Jesus people refuge called "Damascus" in Herodian Perea. However he went through some sort of epiphany in the process and wound up in the "Damascus" refuge as a convert to the beliefs of those very Jesus people. While he was there the war broke out between Herod Antipas and the Nabataean Arab king Aretas, and the Arabs occupied Perea. The Arab kingís governor of Perea discovered the presence of an Herodian kinsman in the area he controlled and tried to arrest him, but Saul escaped through the basket episode. He returned to "Damascus" when the Arabs evacuated Perea following a peace treaty in early 37 CE.

Finally, it seems clear that the "Damascus" site was essentially Essene, much like Qumran if the ruins there were actually once the home of the sectarian group that hid the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes would not have been entirely uniform in doctrine. By the very nature of the sect, people with varying visions and scriptural interpretations would arise frequently. People like John the Baptist and Jesus may have formed subsects within the larger Essene movement, differing in details but not in general belief. Even if the overseers of Essene wilderness centers did not entirely approve of these subsect leaders, they may well have sympathized with them enough to open their wilder-ness centers to them when they came as refugees from persecution by the hated establishment authorities. In the case of the wilderness refuge called "Damascus", however, the overseer there may well have been a Jesus believer, both at the time of Paulís conversion experience and later on.

The foregoing analyis works best if one accepts two assumptions that are outside the mainstream of Christian origin scholarship: (1) that the Damascus references in the Pauline corpus are not genuine Paul; and (2) that Paul was a Herodian. I submit that both these assumptions are arguably correct and that, by accepting them, we can arrive at an explanation of the Paul-Damascus connection that is better than any alternative.

[1] The new use of the term "the Way" to describe the early Jesus community is itself an indication the author of Acts has turned to new source material. "The Way" is most likely a reference to Isaiah 40:3: "A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord", which Mark 1:3, applying it to John the Baptist, has as "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord." The fact that Jesus people were described as "the Way" connects them with both John the Baptist and with the Essenes described by Josephus as living in wilderness refuges.

[2] This description of Paulís mission and authority is repeated twice: when Ananias informs God he knows about it, and when the other members of the church in Damascus inform Ananias that they know about it.

[3] Most of what follows is taken from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1973 edition.

[4] These city-states were obviously dependent on Rome for their continued existence and no doubt looked to Rome or the Roman governor of Syria for direction in their external affairs. Nevertheless they were autonomous in internal affairs and not part of any Roman province.

[5] Aramaic was the paramount language of the Palestine-Syria-Mesopotamia region in the period before Alexander and remained one of the two main languages, along with Greek, thereafter. Syriac is that version of Aramaic that prevailed in Syria.

[6] There is a sort of shorthand process in operation here, where the "land beyond Damascus" becomes "the land of Damascus" and then simply "Damascus".

[7] Robert Eisenman has pioneered this view that "Damascus" became a code word for "in the wilderness". Although he notes that the Damascus Document quotes Amos 5:26-27, he does not expressly state that the use of the word "Damascus" for a wilderness refuge derived from the interpretation of scripture. See Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 320 and note 19 (p. 1007).

One might object that no text in the Dead Sea Scrolls validates the Amos and/or Isaiah passage interpretations suggested here. However, we only have the scrolls and scroll fragments that managed to survive. We have no way of knowing what did not survive. [Note: per Sid Greenís account, the reference to the Amos passage in the Damascus Document is a pesher which quite stongly suggests that "Damascus" was a code name for the location of the group that produced that document. I cannot account for the difference between the version of Amos 5:26-27 in the Damascus Document, as quoted by Sid Green, and the version in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible that I quoted.]

[8] The Qumran site is one obvious possibility. But Josephus suggests that the Essenes had more than one wilderness site. Any wilderness refuge location available to Jesus people could have called itself "Damascus".

[9] Difficult but not impossible. Paul may have explained what he meant by "Damascus" during the time of his presence as a missionary. Or he may have simply used the term without caring whether his audience understood what he meant. Such explanations are more acceptable for Galatians, where the author just tosses in the reference to Damascus, than for 2 Corinthians, where the author actually refers to Damascus as a city.

[10] Eisenman does believe that both the Galatians and 2 Corinthians passages are genuine Paul. It is very difficult to reconcile this opinion with his other opinion that "Damascus" meant the wilderness area location that was the target of Paulís expedition and the place of his conversion. At one point Eisenman suggests that Paul spent the three year period mentioned in Galatians as an Essene novitiate at the wilderness "Damascus" (James the Brother of Jesus, p. 320). At another he says that it is impossible to distinguish between the two Damascuses.

[11] This is a summary of an argument given with much more scholarly detail by Frank R. McGuire in an article entitled Did Paul Write Galatians?, which can be found on the Radikalkritik website at The Dutch Radical G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga also attacked the authenticity of Galatians in an early 20th century article entitled The Spuriousness of So-Called Pauline Epistles: Exemplified by the Epistle To The Galatians, which can be found on the Journal of Higher Criticism website, Several of the arguments he sets forth are technical in nature and require the expertise of a scholar in the field to question or rebut. As far as I know, however, they have not been seriously addressed by scholars who uphold the authenticity of Galatians.

[12] The majority opinion is that it is genuine. But the Dutch Radicals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries argued quite intelligently that none of the letters attributed to Paul were actually written by him, and a minority of modern scholars are inclined to agree with them. As for II Corinthians, many scholars believe it did not originate as a single letter, but is rather a collection of smaller letters somewhat awkwardly pieced together by a later editor.

[13] In ancient and medieval documents explanatory or expository notes were sometimes written into the side margins by readers of the document, for the edification of future readers. In the present case, a reader of the document may have written the Damascus passage, or something like it, as a marginal note. Some later copyist of the document, assuming the note to be by Paul himself, then included it in his copy of the text. Not knowing exactly where to put it, he chose to put it in the middle of the relunctant boasting passage, perhaps for no better reason than its location in the margin.

[14] It can be found in the article Paul as Herodian on the Journal of Higher Criticism website, Oddly, Eisenman does not use the basket-escape episode in support of his argument. If he does so in James, the Brother of Jesus, I do not remember the reference and cannot find it.

[15] Assuming Paulís Herodian family membership would also provide some explanations with regard to the activities of Saul in Judaea before his conversion. If Saul/Paul was a Herodian then he must be regarded primarily as the agent of Herod Antipas during the period in which he persecuted the Jesus people, although the Jerusalem priesthood likely cooperated in that effort. Herod Antipas had first imprisoned then executed John the Baptist as a potential disturbance to his rule in Galilee (per Josephus), and he might well view Jesusís followers in the same light. Paulís position as a Herodian acting for Herod Antipas would explain his prominence in the persecution of Jesus people as a young man. It also serves to explain his ability to search out Jesus people and bring them back to Jerusalem in bondage, whether in Judaea or in territory under the rule of Herod Antipas.

[16] At one point in James the Brother of Jesus, Eisenman suggests that Paul interrupted whatever he was doing in "Damascus" to go off and visit relatives in Nabataean Arabia. The kinship connection here would be that Paulís ancestor Antipator married an Arab woman (per Josephus). This Eisenman conjecture is based on his beliefs that Paul was a Herodian (which I tend to agree with) and that Galatians is genuine Paul (which I tend to doubt). At other places in James, the Brother of Jesus, Eisenman suggests that the term "Arabia" as used in Galatians does not necessarily mean the Nabataean kingdom at all, but rather could mean other middle eastern kingdoms.

[17] The Nabataean Arabs would never have ventured openly into Roman territory. It is possible, however, that Aretasí governor of Perea sent a small band of armed men surreptitiously into Judaea to try to kidnap the Herodian Paul at Qumran, which is not very far from the border.

[18] Eusebius reports that the Jerusalem Community leadership went to "Pela in Perea." Since Pela was not actually in Perea, but just to the north of it, Eusebius may have slightly mistransmitted a source that actually said that they went to a place in Perea which was near Pela. Eusebius would certainly have known where Pela was, but he was likely hazy on Perea, which probably had long ceased to exist as a geographical unit by his time. Neither the city of Pela nor any place within its territorial jurisdiction would itself have been the "Damascus" that was the target of Saul/Paulís persecutory expedition for the same reasons as we have already applied to the city of Damascus itself. Pela, like Damascus, was a free city.

For some more wild speculations, how about these: (1) the story of Jesusís temptation by Satan in the wilderness following his baptism by John originated as a story about Jesus at a wilderness refuge like "Damascus"; or (2) the story of two of Jesusís followers meeting him on the road to Emmaus after his execution originated as a story about some of his followers (his brothers James and Simon?) fleeing to the "Damascus" wilderness refuge (note the similarity of the city names, give or take a few consonants and a minor vowel change); or (3) the connection of Jesus to "Damascus" was preserved in some traditions which eventually produced the medieval Gospel of Barnabas.

[19] Alternatively, one might conjecture that Saul/Paul was captured by Nabataean forces after the basket escape, taken to Arabia, and released only after peace was concluded.

[20] This requires an assumption that the authors of Acts, the II Corinthians interpolation, and Galatians all shared a common misconception that "Damascus" meant the city of Damascus. While I am generally skeptical about such coincidences, this one seems understandable. None of them knew anything about the sectarian wilderness refuge that went by the same name.