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Conversion on the Road to Damascus

Posted by Tim B on January 06, 2009 at 09:48

"Conversion on the Road to Damascus" has been interpreted by me for years to mean a late and insincere change in a person's outlook or behaviour when faced with the inevitability of the imposition of a penalty for wrongdoing.

This is apparently wrong. The original Biblical "conversion" took place when a Roman citizen Saul - an energetic persecuter of Jews in Jerusalem - apparently had a visitation from God whilst walking to Damascus to continue his persecuting work. The visitation was accompanied by a terrific flash of light and God's voice, pointing out the wrongfulness of his acts. The flash temporarily blinded Saul, who continued to Damascus, regained his sight and changed his way of thinking about the Jews. Saul underwent a lasting fundamental change in his philosophy by virtue of his experience, changing his name to Paul as an outward sign of the change wrought in him.

The phrase is often misused to describe a minor change to a person's opinions. It appears it is meant to reflect fundamental and lasting change to a person's way of life on the basis of a single moment of reflection.

Does anyone else have anything to say about the origin of the phrase?