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Conversion on the Road to Damascus

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 06, 2009 at 15:53

In Reply to: Conversion on the Road to Damascus posted by ESC on January 06, 2009 at 13:01:

: : "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

I don't know whether ESC looked up the whole phrase, beginning with "conversion," or just "road to Damascus." The latter is often used by itself to recall and signify that event and sometimes to compare someone else's dramatic conversion to that one. Like Saul, anyone can have an epiphany, a manifestation of a divine or superhuman being. It is sometimes also used to describe a sudden revelation of the truth, causing a dramatic change in someone's views (as ESC's reference has indicated in regard to Saul's conversion).

The word Epiphany, when spelled with a big E, refers to the holiday celebrated on January 6, the 12th day after Christmas (the 12th day of Christmas, the eve of which is called "twelfth night"), when the newborn Christ was shown to the Gentiles, in the persons of the Magi. With a small e the word is used for any manifestation of a divinity or a superhuman being. After the death of Jesus the apostles, especially Thomas, experienced an epiphany at the tomb when Jesus rose and was manifest to them.

The importance of Saul's conversion cannot be overstated. He was an extremely intelligent man, as well as a driven one. As Paul, his energetic proselytizing and his wise organization of the nascent Christian church is probably what made possible the s uccess of the Christian religion. A huge proportion of what most people think Chr istianity stands for rests upon the words and deeds of Saint Paul.