Saturday, October 15, 2011
Saul of Tarsus: a perpetrator struck down by a flashback when on a mission – of Justice? Vengeance? What?
Coming soon on Amazon
The Apostle Paul and Post-Traumatic Stress,
From Woundedness to Wholeness
Reading a work on Post-Traumatic Stress about the effect of violence on the violent can bring even more of the Great Apostle’s story into place. Nevertheless, let’s start earlier in young Saul’s story; I think the perpetration issue will then make even more sense.
Studies on “complex” PTSD had come out earlier – focusing on abused children and women who stay in abusive relationships. We don’t know anything about that with Saul, of course, although once he did remark about an heir can be treated like a slave prior to coming of age to receive his inheritance.
The complexity of Saul’s childhood and adolescence situation must have played a part in what followed. If you run your references to King Saul in Jewish history you will certainly come up with some questions why a baby boy would be named after that particular name sake.
Then there was Tarsus. To be born there was a good start for complexity: here is a Jewish boy born in a Greek cultural context, and a citizen of Rome on top of that. Then thousands of Jewish slaves were brought there from Galilee after an armed rebellion about the time he was born and that would fit in somewhere. From his later life it would be a good bet that as a young adult he would be fluent in – and consequently think in – four languages: Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin.
The Saul, about whom we are concerned, was fathered by a strict Pharisee. This father moved the family, or sent his son, to Jerusalem for only in Jerusalem would a Pharisee feel fully able to live that life style out. In Jerusalem his son must have been an outsider driven to excel. Here, one would think, Saul probably would have first found friends in the Greek speaking Jewish group whose religious fervor reminds me of today’s nationalistic. So it was that Saul was a brilliant student in Jerusalem at a time when Pharisees were sending out investigating committees to question a man who was coming to be known as “the Son of David” - a prophetic preacher whose charismatic brilliance threatened their position.
There – again the “however” - he studied with the great professor, Gamaliel, known to Christians for his tolerance and compassion towards the earliest followers of Jesus. Saul, however, wound up in a supportive role in the lynching-like stoning of such a follower. That apparently erupted into a witch hunt in which later Saul – twenty years later and who had become Paul – confessed he had voted for the death of others. Sounds cold blooded, doesn’t it? And complex. That won’t surprise some readers, out of their observations of persons who are caught up in violence.
On that mission to Damascus he would be struck down by a flash of light (or was it enlightenment?).
When we read in the Book of Acts and come to a chapter heading entitled, “The Conversion of Saul” (or some such wording), you and I are entitled to regard that as simplistic, don’t you think?
Well, whatever motivated Saul on his journeying from Tarsus to Jerusalem and on a mission to Damascus, I’ll bet we who live in the time and space of the world wide web are in some ways in a position to better understand him as a person than were the men accompanying him.