Section 3: Vision II. Ananias's
Topic 1.—Ananias's Description.
Of the vision itself there being but one account, by this singleness discordancy is saved.
But, of the description belonging to Ananias there are two accounts. One the historical, as before: the other, the unpremeditated oratorical account supposed to be given by Paul in the first of his two supposed speeches, as above; and, room being thus given for discordancy,—discordancy, as of course, enters—or at any rate a strong suspicion of it.
Per Acts, Ananias is a disciple: a disciple, to wit, a Christian; a disciple immediately of Jesus or his Apostles: for, such is the signification attached to the word disciple in the Acts: such he would on this occasion be of course understood to be; for, otherwise the word would be uncharacteristic and insignificant.
Materially different is the description supposed to have been given of this same Ananias by Paul in that same supposed unpremeditated speech; so different as to be not without effort, if by any effort, reconcilable with it.
He is now a disciple of Jesus and the Apostles; of that Jesus, by whom the law, i.e. the Mosaic law, was after such repeated exposure of its inaptitude, pronounced obsolete. He is now not only spoken of as being, notwithstanding this conversion, a devout man according to that same law; but, moreover, as having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, to wit, at Damascus. Of the Jews? Yes; of "all" the Jews.
If, notwithstanding his conversion to a religion by which that of the Jews was slighted and declared to be superseded, he was still so happy as to be the subject of this good report, which is as much as to say—of a correspondently unanimous good opinion; this, it would seem, would have been the man to preach to them that religion: especially if that part of the story were true, according to which he was distinguished by the same supernatural sort of communication; this man, who was already a Christian, this man, and not Paul, who of all opposers of Christianity had been the most fierce and the most mischievous, would naturally have been the man to receive the supernatural commission. Supposing his vision real, and the reports of it true, no difficulty, rationally speaking, could he have found in obtaining credence for it at the hands of the Apostles: those Apostles, at whose hands, from first to last it will be seen, never was it the lot of Paul, with his vision or visions, to obtain credence.
The audience, before which this speech was supposed to be delivered, of whom was it composed? With the exception of a few Romans, to whom it was probably unintelligible unless by accident, altogether of Jews; and these—no one can say in what proportion, probably in by much the largest, Jews not christianized. Hence then the sort of character, which the occasion and the purpose required should be given, to this supposed miraculously formed acquaintance of the person who, upon the strength of this acquaintance, was to be numbered among the Apostles.
Topic 2.—Mode of Conversation.
By this vision is produced a dialogue. Interlocutors, the Lord and Ananias. In the course of the dialogue, speeches five: whereof, by the Lord, three; the other two by Ananias.
In and by the first pair of speeches the Lord calls the man by his name: the man answers, Behold, says he, I am here, Lord. In the English translation, to atone for the too great conciseness of the Greek original, the words "am here" are not improperly interpolated. Giving to this supposed supernatural intercourse what seemed to him a natural cast—a cast suited to the occasion—seems to have been the object of the historian in the composition of this dialogue. But, upon so supernatural a body, a natural colouring, at any rate a colouring such as this, does not seem to fit quite so completely as might have been wished. On the road, when the voice,—which turned out to be that of the Lord, that is, being interpreted, Jesus's,—addressed itself to Paul, this being the first intercourse, there was a necessity for its declaring itself, for its declaring whose it was; and the declaration was made accordingly. Here, on the other hand, no sooner does Ananias hear himself called by his name, than he knows who the person is by whom he is thus addressed. Taken as it stands, an answer thus prompt includes the supposition of an already established intercourse. Such intercourse supposed—in what way on former occasions had it been carried on? Laying such former occasion out of the question—in what way is it supposed to be carried on on the occasion here in question? On the occasion of his visit to Paul,—the Lord, to whomsoever he may have been audible, had never, from first to last, as we have seen, been visible. On the occasion of this visit of his to Ananias—was the Lord audible only, or visible only, or both audible and visible? If both audible and visible, or even if only visible,—the mode of revelation was more favourable to this secondary and virtually unknown personage, than to the principal one.
Between mortal and mortal, when it is the desire of one man to have personal communication with another whom he supposes to be within hearing, but who is either not in his sight or not looking towards him,—he calls to him by his name; and in token of his having heard, the other answers. From man to man, such information is really necessary; for—that the requisite attention has place where it is his desire that it should have place, the human interlocutor has no other means of knowing. Not considering, that the person to whom the information is supposed to be conveyed is a sort of person to whom no such information could be necessary, the historian represents his Ananias as giving to the Lord, as if to a mere mortal, information of his presence. Behold, Lord! I am here.
Topic 3.—Lord's Commands and Information: Want of particularization a disprobative Circumstance.
The conversation being thus begun, the interlocutors proceed to business. In speech the 3d, Lord delivers to Ananias, the devout Jew, a command, and thereupon a piece of information. The command is—to repair to a place therein described, and find out Paul: the information is—that at the time then present Paul is praying; and that, at an anterior point of time not designated, he had seen a vision.
In the command, the designation of the place wears, upon the face of it, the appearance of that sort and degree of particularity, the exaction of which is, in these days, in which genuine visions are never exemplified, matter of course, on every occasion on which it is the real intention, of those on whom it depends, that through the medium of personal testimony the truth should be extracted. On every such occasion, the object in question, whether it be an event or a quiescent state of things, is endeavoured to be individualized: and, for the production of this effect, the individual portion of space, and the individual portion of time, are endeavoured to be brought to view together.
On the occasion here in question, towards the individualization of the portion of space some approach is made: the town being foreknown, to wit, Damascus, the street is particularized; it is the street called Straight: as in Westminster we have Long-ditch, and in London Crooked-lane. Moreover, the house is particularized; it is the house of Judas. To this Judas had any one of those marks of distinction been added, which in that age and nation we find to have been common,—as in the instance of the too notorious Judas the Iscariot, i.e., the inhabitant of Iscara, and in that of Judas Barsabas, i.e., the son of Sabas, or, as we should say, Sabasson, not long after mentioned, Acts 25:22,—it would have been something. But, destitute of such limitative adjunct, Judas of itself was nothing. In that age and country, even without reckoning notorious traitors, there was never any want of Judases. Not inferior in plenty were Ananiases: in the Acts we have three of them;—this private inhabitant of Damascus: the High Priest, whose seat was at Jerusalem; and the husband of Sapphira: and in Josephus they vie in abundance with the Johns and Jesuses.
But, on the occasion in question, and to the purpose in question, though a distinctive adjunct as above would have done something, it would have done very little. In the field of time,—seven-and-twenty years at least, and we know not how much more, according to the received chronology, was the distance between the event in question, and the report given of it in this history. Neither in Damascus nor yet in Jerusalem was any such thing as a newspaper,—not even an enslaved newspaper, in existence; no, nor yet so much as a printing-press,—not even an enslaved printing-press. For writing, the materials were expensive; and handwriting was the only mode of copying. Publication was not, as under the printing-press, promiscuous: unless by accident, for an indefinite length of time, into no other hand did any copy find its way, other than those of the author's confidential friends, or friends separated from the author by a greater or less number of removes, as it might happen; but all of them linked to one another by the bonds of amity, and unity of principle and practice.
In such a capital as Damascus, Straight Street might have been as long as Oxford Street; and, unless the style of building in those earlier days had much more of convenience and luxury in it than in these latter days, was much more crowded. Conceive a man at this time of day, going to Oxford Street with the intention of finding the house, in which, thirty years ago, a man of the name of Brown or Smith had his residence,—to wit, on some indeterminate day, of the number of those included within the space of an indeterminate number of years; and this, for the purpose of ascertaining whether, on this indeterminate day, and by this Smith or this Brown, a vision, not seen by anybody else, had been seen. Suppose a man in Rome set out on such an errand—and then say what would be the probable result of it.
Topic 4.—Vision reported to Ananias by the Lord as having been seen by Paul.
Of the report then given of this anterior vision, the character is too remarkable to be given, as it were, in a parenthesis: it is therefore referred to a separate head.
Topic 5.—Ananias's Objection to the Lord's Commands to visit Paul—He informs the Lord what he had heard about Paul.
By the two first speeches of this dialogue, we are given to understand that Ananias had already held intercourse with the Lord; an intercourse which, the nature of the two parties considered, could not have been other than a supernatural intercourse: yes, and on this very subject: for, if not on this particular subject, the subject of it, whatever it was, could not but have called for notice and communication. But, no sooner does this next speech commence, than we are given to understand that there had not—could not have been any such intercourse: for if there had been, what follows would have been rendered useless and needless. Upon receiving the command, Ananias's first thought is—to endeavour to excuse himself from paying obedience to it; for in this endeavour it is, that he gives the Lord a piece of information; to wit—of what, in relation to Paul's character, he (Ananias) had heard.
A question that here presents itself is—Since it was from many, i.e. many men, that Ananias had heard, not only what everybody had been hearing for weeks, or months, or years,—viz. of the evil that Paul had been doing to the Jerusalem saints, but of the authority that he had so lately received, to bind at Damascus all the Damascus saints he could find—since it was from so many, who then were these many? How was it, that in the compass of the three days (ver. 9), during which Paul had remained without sight or nourishment, a commission,—to the execution of which secrecy was so obviously necessary,—had to such a degree transpired? Suppose the secret to have thus transpired,—two results would, in any natural and credible state of things, have been among the consequences. The persons thus devoted to destruction would have made their escape; the commission by which alone the supposed proceedings against them could have found a justification or a cause, not having been delivered. On the other hand, hearing that Paul was there, and that he either was, or pretended to be, in the house in question, or in some other, in the extraordinary condition above described,—the persons spoken of in the Acts under the name of the Synagogue, would not have left him there, but would have convened him before them, and, if he really had any such commission, have caused it to be produced, and read it: convened before them, not only Paul with his supposed commission, but those companions of his that we have already heard of, if any such he had.8
But of these there will be occasion to speak in another place.
Topic 6.—The Lord's Answer, obviating the objection, and giving intimation of his designs in favour of Paul.
This objection, no sooner has the Lord overruled it, than he undertakes to answer it, and to explain to this his so singularly favoured old disciple the intentions he had formed in favour of his intended new convert, whose conversion is, however, as yet but in progress:
Meantime, as to the Lord's having thus stopped short, this we shall see is in full contradiction with the account which the historian makes him give in his supposed second reported speech, to wit, the supposed premeditated one, spoken before Agrippa, who, under the proconsul Festus, was king of the Jews, and who, on that occasion, is spoken of as being assessor to the said proconsul Festus. On that occasion the Lord is represented as explaining himself more fully to Paul himself, than here, for the benefit of Paul, through Ananias.
8Another question that here presents itself is—How could it have happened that, Jerusalem being under one government, and Damascus under another (if so the case was), the will of the local rulers at Jerusalem found obedience, as it were of course, at the hands of the adequate authorities at Damascus? To the question how this actually happened, it were too much to undertake to give an answer. For an answer to the question how it may be conceived to have happened, reference may be made to existing English practice. The warrant issued by the constituted authorities in Jerusalem expected to find, and found accordingly in Damascus, an adequate authority disposed to back it. In whatsoever Gentile countries Jews, in a number sufficient to compose a synagogue, established themselves, a habit naturally enough took place, as of course, among them—the habit of paying obedience, to a considerable extent, to the functionaries who were regarded as rulers of the synagogue. Few are or have been the conquered countries, in which some share of subordinate power has not been left, as well to the natives of the conquered nation as to any independent foreigners, to whom, in numbers sufficient to constitute a sort of corporate body, it happened from time to time to have become settlers. After all, what must be confessed is—that, in all this there seems nothing but what might readily enough have been conceived, without its having been thus expressed.