Friday, January 14, 2011

A New Take on Paul's Damascus Road Encounter

Much has been written regarding the subject of Paul's encounter with the risen Jesus. Regarding what Paul actually experienced has usually been referred to as a Merkabah, a chariot-throne vision, associated mainly with Ezekiel 1.4-26. Cutting against the grain of this consensus is Timothy W.R. Churchill. Churchill, in a revision of his doctoral dissertation at the London School of Theology under the supervision of Steven Walton, argues in his forthcoming monograph, Divine Initiative and the Christology of the Damascus Road Encounter, that what Paul experiences is a "Divine Initiative epiphany."

Here is the blurb, to be published in April from Wipf and Stock:

 The Damascus road encounter between Jesus and Paul is foundational to understanding the early development of Christology, and, indeed, Christianity, since it is the first appearance of the post-ascension Jesus contained in the earliest Christian literature. This study examines the encounter as it is described in Paul's epistles and the book of Acts.

Since Paul interprets his experience within the Jewish tradition, this study begins with a survey of epiphany texts in the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish literature. This reveals two new categories for appearances of God, angels, and other heavenly beings: Divine Initiative and Divine Response. This survey also finds two distinct patterns of characterization for God and other heavenly beings.

These findings are then applied to Paul's accounts of his Damascus road encounter. Paul depicts the encounter as a Divine Initiative epiphany. This conclusion is significant, since it argues against the current view that the encounter was a merkabah vision. Paul's Christology in the Damascus road encounter is also significant, since Jesus is characterized as divine. Such divine characterization is not typical for heavenly beings in first-century CE epiphany texts. Thus, a high Pauline Christology appears to be present at a very early point.

The three accounts of the Damascus road encounter in Acts also fit the pattern of Divine Initiative—not merkabah—and exhibit the high Christology of Paul's accounts. In fact, the three accounts in Acts are shown to form an intentionally increasing sequence culminating in the revelation that Paul was called to be an apostle by Jesus himself on the Damascus road.

This looks like a really good read. With my project on theophanies right around the corner, this would have been an excellent source for the NT portion, unfortunately, this volume is not due out until late April, way past my deadline!
The webpage can be accessed here.

1 comment:

Gary said...

In which work of ancient literature do we first find this expression: "...kick against the goads"? If you said the Bible, in which Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus Road, you would be wrong.

This expression was first used in a book of Greek mythology, "The Bacchae", written by Euripides in circa 475 BC. The expression occurred in a fictional conversation between the god/man, Dionysus, and the king of Thebes, his persecutor.

Isn't it odd that Jesus would borrow an expression from Greek mythology in his appearance to the self-proclaimed "Thirteenth Apostle"?