Section 4: Flight From Damascus: Causes—False—True
The conception, which it was the evident design of this passage to impress upon the mind of the reader, is—that, as soon almost as he was arrived at Damascus, Paul not only went about preaching Jesus, but preaching to that effect openly, and without reserve, in all the synagogues: and that it was for this preaching, and nothing else, that "the Jews," thus undiscriminating is the appellation, purposely it should seem, employed, "went about to kill him:" that thereupon it was, that he made his escape over the wall, and having so done, repaired immediately to Jerusalem.
In this conception, there seems to be evidently a mixture of truth and falsehood.
That he addressed himself, in a greater or less number, to the disciples,—must assuredly have been true: to the accomplishment of his designs, as above explained, intercourse with them could not but be altogether necessary.
That, when any probable hope of favourable attention and secrecy were pointed out to him—that, in here and there an instance, he ventured so far as to address himself to this or that individual, who was not as yet enlisted in the number of disciples,—may also have been true: and, for this purpose, he might have ventured perhaps to show himself in some comparatively obscure synagogue or synagogues.
But, as to his venturing himself so far as to preach in all synagogues without distinction,—or in any synagogue frequented by any of the constituted authorities,—this seems altogether incredible.
To engage them to seek his life; to lie in wait to kill him; in other words, to apprehend him for the purpose of trying him, and probably at the upshot killing him,—this is no more than, considering what, in their eyes, he had been guilty of, was a thing of course: a measure, called for—not, for preaching the religion of Jesus; not, for any boldness in any other way displayed; but, for the betraying of the trust, reposed in him by the constituted authorities at Jerusalem: thus protecting and cherishing those malefactors, for such they had been pronounced by authority, for the apprehending and punishing of whom, he had solicited the commission he thereupon betrayed. Independently of all other offence, given by preaching or anything else,—in this there was that, which, under any government whatever, would have amply sufficed—would even more than sufficed—to draw down, upon the head of the offender, a most exemplary punishment.
In this view, note well the description, given in the Acts, of the persons, by whose enmity he was driven out of Damascus; compare with it what, in relation to this same point, is declared—most explicitly declared—by Paul himself.
By the account in the Acts, they were the persons to whom he had been preaching Jesus; and who, by that preaching, had been confounded and provoked. Among those persons, a conspiracy was formed for murdering him; and it was to save him from this conspiracy that the disciples let him down the wall in a basket.
Such is the colour, put upon the matter by the author of the Acts. Now, what is the truth—the manifest and necessary truth, as related—explicitly related—by Paul himself? related, in the second of his letters to his Corinthians, on an occasion when the truth would be more to his purpose than the false gloss put upon it by his adherents as above? The peril, by which he was driven thus to make his escape, was—not a murderous conspiracy, formed against him by a set of individuals provoked by his preaching;—it was the intention, formed by the governor of the city. Intention? to do what? to put him to death against law? No; but to "apprehend" him. To apprehend him? for what? Evidently for the purpose of bringing him to justice in the regular way—whatsoever was the regular way—for the offence he had so recently committed: committed, by betraying his trust, and entering into a confederacy with the offenders, whom he had been commissioned, and had engaged, to occupy himself, in concert with the constituted authorities of the place, in bringing to justice.
And on what occasion is it, that this account of the matter is given by him? It is at the close of a declamation, which occupies ten verses—a declamation, the object of which is—to impress upon the minds of his adherents the idea of his merits: viz. those which consisted in labour, suffering, and perils: merits, on which he places his title to the preference he claims above the competitors to whom he alludes:—alludes, though without naming them: they being, as he acknowledges therein, ministers of Christ, and probably enough, if not any of them Apostles, persons commissioned by the Apostles. Greater, it is evident, must have been the danger from the ruling powers of the place, than from a set of individual intended murderers:—from the power of the rulers there could not be so much as a hope of salvation, except by escape: from the individuals there would be a naturally sufficient means of salvation; the power of the rulers presenting a means of salvation, and that naturally a sufficient one.
Note here, by the by, one of the many exemplifications, of that confusion which reigns throughout in Paul's discourses: the result, of that mixture, which, in unascertainable proportions, seems to have had place—that mixture of nature and artifice. It is at the end of a long list of labours, sufferings, and perils, that this anecdote presents itself. Was it accordingly at the end of them that the fact itself had taken place?—No: it was at the very commencement: or rather, so far as concerned preaching, before the commencement. Only in the way of allusion—allusion in general terms—in terms of merely general description, without mention of time or place, or persons concerned,—are any of the other sufferings or perils mentioned: in this instance alone, is any mention made under any one of those heads: and here we see it under two of them, viz. place and person: and moreover, by other circumstances, the time, viz. the relative time, is pretty effectually fixed.
Immediately afterwards, this same indisputably false colouring will be seen laid on, when the account comes to be given, of his departure for Jerusalem: always for preaching Jesus is he sought after, never for anything else.
According to this representation, here are two governments—two municipal governments—one of them, at the solicitation of a functionary of its own, giving him a commission to negotiate with another, for the purpose of obtaining, at his hands, an authority, for apprehending a set of men, who, in the eyes of both, were guilty of an offence against both. Instead of pursuing his commission, and using his endeavours to obtain the desired cooperation, he betrays the trust reposed in him:—he not only suffers the alleged malefactors to remain unapprehended and untouched, but enters into a confederacy with them. To both governments, this conduct of his is, according to him, matter of such entire indifference, that he might have presented himself everywhere, as if nothing had happened, had it not been for his preaching:—had it not been for his standing forth openly, to preach to all that would hear him, the very religion which he had been commissioned to extinguish.
In such a state of things, is there anything that can, by any supposition, be reconciled to the nature of man, in any situation,—or to any form of government?
Three years having been passed by him in that to him strange country, what, during all that time, were his means of subsistence? To this question an unquestionable answer will be afforded by the known nature of his situation. He was bred to a trade, indeed a handicraft trade—tent-making: an art, in which the operations of the architect and the upholsterer are combined. But, it was not to practise either that, or any other manual operation, that he paid his visit to that country. When he really did practise it, he took care that this condescension of his should not remain a secret: from that, as from everything else he ever did or suffered, or pretended to have done or suffered, he failed not to extract the matter of glory for himself, as well as edification for his readers. In Arabia, his means of subsistence were not then derived from his trade: if they had been, we should have known it:—from what source then were they derived?17 By the very nature of his situation, this question has been already answered:—from the purses of those, whom, having had it in his power, and even in his commission, to destroy, he had saved.
And now, as to all those things, which, from the relinquishment of his labours in the field of persecution to the first of his four recorded visits to Jerusalem, he is known to have done, answers have been furnished:—answers, to the several questions why and by what means, such as, upon the supposition that the supernatural mode of his conversion was but a fable, it will not, it is hoped, be easy to find cause for objecting to as insufficient.
17 Paul says,
When ever we get a Temperamental and psychological view of Paul, we see verified the deductions of the author of this treatise, that he was a transparent imposter. An unscrupulous adventurer. With talent well adapted to dogmatically command the attention of the ignorant and especially those of organized hereditary idolatry, the extreme vanity, the vain glorious pretensions of this new priest was well adapted to obtain obsequious complacence from such people. He always presents himself in a controversial spirit of self-exaltation.
His egotistic diction could hardly be made more manifest than in the terms above quoted, to wit:—