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The Book of Acts

                                                                                  Chapter 9

            1        And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the
                     Lord, went unto the high priest,

            2        And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of
                     this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto

            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.

            7        And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but
                     seeing no man.

            8        And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but
                     they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

            9        And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

            10        And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the
                     Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.

            11        And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight,
                     and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he

            12        And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand
                     on him, that he might receive his sight.

            13        Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil
                     he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:

            14        And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.

            15        But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear
                     my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:

            16        For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.

            17        And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on
                     him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as
                     thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the
                     Holy Ghost.

            18        And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received
                     sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

            19        And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days
                     with the disciples which were at Damascus.

            20        And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

In a text that does not lack for drama, surely no moment surpasses Saul's epiphany on the road to Damascus.  But A. N. Wilson is less interested in the effect that Christ had on Saul than on the effect that Paul had on the form and content of Christianity.  The Jesus of Wilson's book is a kind of hyper Jew, calling the Jewish people back to a stricter observance of Judaism.  In Wilson's view, it was Paul who turned Christ into the Messiah and turned his teachings into a universal message, accessible to non-Jews.  In essence, Paul becomes the creator of Christianity, perhaps even of Christ.

From what the critics say, this is not a particularly revolutionary thesis, in fact, some suggest it is quite hackneyed by now.  It does, of course, require that one accept the idea that Christ was a relatively minor historical figure who was subsequently inflated into a mythical creature by his followers.  Indeed, biographies like this one, or like John Dominic Crossan's books on Jesus, by their very nature are intended to drain Christ and Christianity of any divinity.  By seemingly impartial resort to various texts and the historical record, and the raising of inconsistencies and obvious inaccuracies in the Biblical record, they seek to cast all into doubt.  But these books have a curious defect, their inability to explain things much better than the Bible does, and the necessarily speculative nature of their attempts to reconstruct what "really" happened, is so unsatisfactory that they can't truly compete effectively with the original sources they seek, whether explicitly or implicitly, to debunk.

Even if the reader is perfectly willing to accept the notion that Christ never claimed to be the Son of God and that Saul never experienced his alleged vision on the road to Damascus, the author who wishes to dismiss it had better be able to replace it with an equally compelling story of why Saul became Paul.  Because A. N. Wilson has no such competing vision and because his critique is so random--drawing upon sources when they help his case, ignoring them when they don't, attacking them when they contradict him--it has the paradoxical effect of making the original look good by comparison.  After all, given two dubious versions of Paul's life, the Bible's and Wilson's, why wouldn't we choose the more awesome one, the one which has inspired Western Civilization for two thousand years ?

Wilson is a fine writer and he ranges across an impressive number of topics.  He appears to have done yeoman's work in sifting through the rather voluminous research on Paul and early Christianity.  The book is lively and interesting and readable.  It just isn't particularly convincing.  Having gone to such great lengths to try and show that we must be suspect of the historical version of the physical events of his life, it was perhaps foolish to try to recreate his psychology and the life of his mind.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

A. N. Wilson Links:

    -ESSAY: This man of letters has never met a terrorist cause he didn't respect: For A.N. Wilson, anyone who uses terror against civilians is likely to be his friend (Sam Schulman, Jewish World Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Victorians By A.N. Wilson (Martin Rubin, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Victorians by A.N. Wilson (Gertrude Himmelfarb, Atlantic Monthly)

Book-related and General Links:
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Paul  The Mind of the Apostle By A.N. Wilson
    -REVIEW : of STAINED GLASS ELEGIES By Shusaku Endo. Translated by Van C. Gessel (A. N. Wilson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of G. M. TREVELYAN A Life in History. By David Cannadine (A. N. Wilson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Gospel According to the Son by Norman Mailer (A.N. Wilson , Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life By D M Thomas (A. N. Wilson, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW : of Dark Horses By Karl Miller (A. N. Wilson, Literary Review)
    -ESSAY : They probably thought Bulgaria was part of Serbia (A N Wilson, Independent on Sunday, (London) - May 2, 1999)
    -ESSAY : On the day the Church of England announced that some divorces will have permission to marry in Church A. N. Wilson congratulated the Pope for his defiance of trendy thinking (London Evening Standard, January 25, 2000)
    -INTERVIEW : THE MIND OF THE APOSTLE (David Gergen, Newshour Online,   April 18, 1997)
    -INTERVIEW : God's Funeral : A conversation with A. N. Wilson (Karl Giberson and Donald Yerxa, Books & Culture)
    -ESSAY : Little god, big Wilson (Roger Kimball, New Criterion)
    -ESSAY : The founder of Christianity: Jesus or Paul? : A response to the Wright - Wilson Debate on May 27, 1997 (Answering Islam Home Page)
    -ESSAY : A.N. Wilson Errata (Kathryn Lindskoog)
    -ESSAY : The Birth of a Mystery : Jesus of Nazareth remains the most famous unknown man in history (GARY KAMIYA, Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : "A. N. Wilson" (Slate)
    -REVIEW : of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle By A N Wilson (Paul Johnson, Literary Review)
    -REVIEW : of  Paul: The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson (Jack Miles , Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder  of Christianity? By N. T. Wright and  Paul: The Mind of the Apostle. By A. N. Wilson (Luke Timothy Johnson, First Things)
    -REVIEW : of Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, A.N. Wilson (George Grant, World)
    -REVIEW : of Paul : The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson (Dean Sarnecki, Western Catholic Reporter)
    -REVIEW : of Paul : The Mind of the Apostle by A.N. Wilson (Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle)
    -REVIEW : of Paul (Michael Coren, Alberta Report)
    -REVIEW : of GOD'S FUNERAL By A. N. Wilson (1999)  (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization by A.N. Wilson (Marina Malenic , American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of God's Funeral (Paul Matthew St. Pierre, BC Catholic)
    -REVIEW : of God's Funeral (Anthony Campbell)
    -REVIEW : of God's Funeral (Jason Cowley, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of  God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization by A.N. Wilson (David Bromwich, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of God's Funeral by A.N. Wilson (Andrea Collare, Charlotte Austin Review)
    -ESSAY : God, Our Pet : A.N. Wilson's God's Funeral And the Death of God the Father. (Derek Copold, Texas Mercury)
    -REVIEW : of Jesus A Life By A. N. Wilson  (1992) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of JESUS By A. N. Wilson (Evelyn Toynton, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DREAM CHILDREN By A.N. Wilson (1998)  (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  THE RISE AND FALL OF THE HOUSE OF WINDSOR By A. N. Wilson (1993) (Caroline Seebohm, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DAUGHTERS OF ALBION By A. N. Wilson (1992) (Joel Conarroe, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of C. S. Lewis: A Biography  By A. N. Wilson (1990) (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of C. S. Lewis: A Biography    By A. N. Wilson (1990) (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of A BOTTLE IN THE SMOKE  By A. N. Wilson (1990) (Ann Arensberg, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEWS of STRAY  By A. N. Wilson and  TABITHA  By A. N. Wilson (1990) (Alida Becker, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of EMINENT VICTORIANS By A. N. Wilson (Michael Rosenthal, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Incline Our Hearts By A. N. Wilson (1989) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Love Unknown (1987) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Love Unknown (1987) (Webster Schott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of GENTLEMEN IN ENGLAND. By A. N. Wilson (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of GENTLEMEN IN ENGLAND A Vision. By A. N. Wilson (1986) (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of SCANDAL Or Priscilla's Kindness. By A. N. Wilson (1985) (Michael Wood, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of HILAIRE BELLOC: A Biography. By A. N. Wilson (1984)(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  HILAIRE BELLOC By A. N. Wilson (1984) (Winifred Sheed, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of WISE VIRGIN. By A.N. Wilson (1983) (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of WISE VIRGIN By A. N. Wilson (Michael Gorra, NY Times Book Review)

    -Saint Paul's Home Page  @ Third Millennium :   An RTS Student Project
    -ESSAY : Reassessing an Apostle : The quest for the historical St. Paul yields some surprising new theories (JEFFERY L. SHELER, US News)
    -REVIEW : of What Paul Really Said by N. T. Wright (Mary C. Orr, Society of Biblical Literature)

    -Society of Biblical Literature