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Conversion on the Road to Damascus

Posted by ESC on January 06, 2009 at 13:01

In Reply to: 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?

It is a dramatic, soul-deep, permanent change. Upon hearing the voice of Jesus, Saul went from being an enemy of Christians to being Paul the apostle. (Acts 9 --;&version=9; )

3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5 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.
6 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.

One reference interprets the phrase in this manner: "The point at which a dramatic change in viewpoint occurs, owing to some miraculous intervention, or someone is converted by sudden insight to a sharply different opinion." "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions" by Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1999). Page 469.

It is similar to Shakespeare's "sea change" -- see There is another Bible-derived expression, "mountaintop experience," that I think is more a moment of clarity or understanding rather than a dramatic change. See